Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Date Night) latest family fun flick Real Steel (2011) opens nationwide this Saturday the 7th. While at first glance the title Rock-em/Sock-em Robots comes to mind but based on his past success, especially in the family oriented films, I believe Real Steel will fill the post Summer/pre Christmas gap nicely. Jackman plays a title winning boxer who can’t keep up with the sport when the world changes from raving over boxing men to boxing bots. This is going in my AMC queue.
The protagonist robot in Real Steel is Atom a junked training bot Jackman and his son clean up for a shot at the boxing title. This name has the most direct connection to atomic power which was often the creator of powerful robots in film. The names robots are given often reflect their nature or hint at a deeper level within the character.
Bishop | Aliens (1986) | Lance Henriksen
The “synthetic” in Alien, played by Ian Holm was named Ash. In the sequel Aliens the artificial person donned the name of Bishop. This trend was continued in Alien Resurrection with the name of Call. Each Alien franchise film had a different director at the helm so this pseudo continuity is a rarity, loosely tying the androids of the Alien universe together.
Data | Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) | Brent Spiner
Data is my favorite android, appearing in over 170 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and in all 4 ‘Next Gen films his character has hundreds of hours of backstory, continuity, development and intrigue. The names of Data’s family each have some significance. His brother and immediate predecessor Lore wields his emotions viciously and is black sheep of the family. Lore also refers to history and the past, elements that Data is trying to reconstruct as he attempts to learn about his origins and his creator “father”. Data’s Brother B-4 a construct prototype developed by Dr. Soong well before Data and Lore, being less developed he can barely speak let alone carry a conversation. Data attempts to overlay his positronic brain “mind” with B-4 to progress his development.
Dot Matrix | Spaceballs (1987) | Joan Rivers (Voice)
Voiced by Joan Rivers and animated by the mime artist Lorene Yarnell Jansson, Dot Matrix is a play off of the old 80’s printer. Known for their perforated edges lined with holes to keep the paper aligned through the machine Dot Matrix printers have long been usurped by ink jet and laser printers, but it sure was fun in computer class to fold the hole strips into little accordions and springs! In Spaceballs Dot Matrix is the companion counterpart to John Candy’s Barf and even sports a pair of gold roller-skates in the climatic chase scene. Her look is a direct interpretation of a female C-3PO.
HAL 9000 | 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)| Douglas Rain (Voice)
One of the ultimate “misunderstood” villain robots. While he does not sport a humanoid shell, instead being housed within the entire Discovery space ship HAL is one of the most human representations in regard to emotion and understanding. Incrementing each letter of “HAL” gives you “IBM”. Writer Arthur C. Clarke claimed this was unintentional, and if he had noticed ahead of time, he would have changed it. HAL stands for Heuristic Algorithmic Computer. IBM product placements appear in the movie as well, including the computer panels in the spaceplane that docks with the space station.
Johnny 5 | Short Circuit (1986) | Tim Blaney
Johnny 5 is alive! This lovable robot-turned-alive-by-lighting was originally called S.A.I.N.T 5 (Strategic Artificially-Intelligent Nuclear Transport). He adopts his human sounding name after hearing the song “Johnny’s His Name” on the radio. Johnny 5’s voice was provided by the robot puppeteer Tim Blaney. The director believed that real-time interaction with the robot prop would make the vocal interaction seem more natural on-screen than if they edited Johnny’s voice in during post-production. No disassemble!
Maria | Metropolis (1927) | Briditte Helm
Known as the first film robot, Maria plays the roll of the “Heart” in the city of Metropolis where the workers “Hands” slave away for the upper class citizens “Head”. When the ruler of Metropolis looses his daughter he transfers her mind into the android Maria, by keeping the daughters name she keeps her humanity as she battles between the hands and heads of Metropolis. Maria is also a strong influence for the look of C-3PO in Star Wars.
Optimus Prime | Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) | Peter Cullen
The only robot I would vote for if he ran for president. Optimus Prime. Optimus is a fair and just leader, caring greatly for his fellow autobots and humanity. Leader of the Autobots, this amazing 80’s franchise has found new life in the Michael Bay action films. In the film versions it is revealed that “Prime” designates a leadership cast on Cybertron, Optimus was believed to be the last Prime until Sentinel Prime was discovered on Earth’s moon in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It was universally decided by both Bay and fans of the television show that only one man could voice Optimus, Peter Cullen. Peter has an extensive resume of vocal work including being the definitive voice of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
R2-D2 | Star Wars (1977) | Kenny Baker
R2-D2, the companion to C-3PO earned his name from an everyday occurrence in the film world, passing film reels in the editing bay. George Lucas recounts that he was asking an assistant to hand him Roll 2, Dialog 2 or R2-D2 and the name stuck in his head. This name along with countless others (Obi-wan, Jedi, Starkiller) stayed locked in Lucas’s mind until penned into the script for Star Wars. Actor Kenny Baker brings R2-D2 to life in each of the 6 films of the Star Wars Saga, it’s good to know that in a CGI world there is still room for an actor to reprise a most cherished role.
Wall-E | Wall-E (2008) | Ben Burtt
His acronym stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class and his function is to dig humanity out of their piles of trash. Wall-E shares his naming scheme with several robots from the film, most ending with the -E for earth class. Wall-E’s voice, Ben Burtt is most famous in Sci-Fi circles for his work on the Star Wars Saga. Burt was practically a one man sound department, recording the tell tale sounds with would become a Wookiee’s growl, or a lightsabers rhythmic hum.