Hollywood’s new obsession: robots

Posted by · 11:02 am · August 5th, 2011

Trends are hardly new in Hollywood, but I can’t help but react to the escalation of robot-themed projects in the works as of late, all of them, no doubt, looking to cash in on the multi-billion-dollar “Transformers” franchise.

First there is the Hugh Jackman-starrer “Real Steel” later this year. Then, whenever he decides to get around to it, Steven Spielberg will dive into the adaptation “Robopocalypse.” An adaptation Daniel Wilson’s book “How to Survive a Robot Uprising” is also in the cards (which would dovetail nicely with a take on the Max Brooks classic “The Zombie Survival Guide”).

Yesterday a reboot of “Short Circuit” was announced, and today, /Film reports that “Monsters” director Gareth Edwards is working on an untitled project “about a young human child (probably around 5 years old) and a robot who travel across the galaxy in search of mankind’s origin in a world void of humanity and filled with robots.” The director is apparently pitching the project as “a robot Star Wars.” Well, that’ll certainly get the suits listening.

Travis Beacham’s “Pacific Rim” really hits the mother load in this vein, given that his original screenplay features robots (technically mechs, he reminds) AND aliens, with an added boost from Guillermo Del Toro’s vivid imagination sure to make it rise above the fray. Beacham is also working on a top secret project with J.J. Abrams called “Zanbato,” which involves Japanese history and robotics and has been described as “swashbuckling robots with swords.” Given his talent as a writer, I have more faith in those projects than most of the others mentioned here. But that’s seven, and I may even be missing a few.

I don’t want to be unfair to these projects, because any of them could be classic and brilliant and well worth the investment. Nevertheless, when I notice these kinds of things happening, I always get a little sad. Not because of a dearth of creativity (though that’s certainly part of it), but because it seems like the industry is so eager to capitalize on something, it ends up invariably behind the curve. The film hits, the moment has passed, the money comes in short and it’s back to the drawing board. “What’s hot now?”

“Now” is kind of the key stumbling block. Spend all that energy on “next” instead, and maybe you’ll hit the jackpot. Try to be ahead of the curve. And the only way to do that is fresh, innovative, non-derivative ideas.

It’s a humble suggestion, but what the hell do I know? Now, off to dust off that “Gobots” spec…

[Photo: Bloomsbury USA]

→ 23 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

23 responses so far

  • 1 8-05-2011 at 11:19 am

    Maxim said...

    Actually, Robopocalypse has less to do with robots then it does with viscious artificial intllegence and computers.

    So if it’s anything like the book at all then it’s really not going to be *that* kind of movie. I for, one, am really excited for this because it’s got some real horror elements (and the screenwriter of Cloverfield seems like a perfect choice to adapt it).

    Besides, if Spielberg really wanted to make a movie about (giant) robots, don’t you think he would have directed Transformers? This is really a case of it looking like one thing but actually being something else.

  • 2 8-05-2011 at 11:22 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Okie dokie.

  • 3 8-05-2011 at 11:23 am

    Rashad said...

    I’m reading Robopocalypse now, and it’s very interesting. Sort of like Conquest of The Planet of The Apes structured like World War Z. Fits in with Spielberg’s recent distrust of technology in a bunch of his films.

  • 4 8-05-2011 at 11:25 am

    James said...

    Can’t wait for Robopocalypse whenever it happens. Also Guillermo Del Toro’s return for Pacific Rim could be fun.

  • 5 8-05-2011 at 11:27 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Interesting Twitter exchange on all of this worth conveying:

    @travisbeacham: “Robot stories are popular because they appeal to pop anxieties about autonomous tech, and mechs aren’t autonomous.”

    @adamccasey: “I think that speaks volumes about the cultural differences between the West and Japan.”

    @travisbeacham: “I think you’re right on. And it was a very conscious choice for me. I wanted a story in which technology *solved* a problem.”

  • 6 8-05-2011 at 11:36 am

    will said...

    I see a lot of people upset about this Short Circuit remake …

    I gotta be honest. Maybe I’m too young for this to mean anything to me, but I have never seen Short Circuit. I always imagined it was one of those horrible, kitschy 1980s movies full of neon and sound effects that haven’t stood the test of time. Am I wrong?

  • 7 8-05-2011 at 11:52 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It is a horrible, kitschy 1980s movie. That I loved as a kid. Rebooting it just feels weird, but maybe that’s because I’m getting old.

  • 8 8-05-2011 at 11:52 am

    Jacob S. said...

    Don’t forget “Transformers 4: Robots of the Deep” AKA “Battleship.”

  • 9 8-05-2011 at 12:14 pm

    Chris138 said...

    @Jacob S. – I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought that the trailer for Battleship just looked like another Transformers movie…

  • 10 8-05-2011 at 12:29 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    If you look at the trailer for the 2007 Transformers movie and the trailer for Battleship, you can see just how similar they are. It’s painfully obvious that whoever cut the Battleship trailer took cues from the Transformers one.

  • 11 8-05-2011 at 12:45 pm

    americanrequeim said...

    kris dont you know beacham personally? you say hes a talented writer but wasnt he responsible for the atrocious clash of the titans? im sure his script went into production too early or he wasnt finished but it was just so awful. im guessing he has better stuff ive missed

  • 12 8-05-2011 at 1:23 pm

    Drew said...

    Jacob S: I think it’s a little more than the trailer that’s taking cues.

  • 13 8-05-2011 at 2:19 pm

    Kob said...

    Can’t be long now before Hollywood gets round to making that Voltron film.

  • 14 8-05-2011 at 2:37 pm

    Loyal said...

    Robopocalypse never managed to live up to it’s potential. It’s hard to read it and not see the book as World War Z’s less interesting younger brother.

  • 15 8-05-2011 at 4:13 pm

    Daniel said...

    Does Hugo count?

  • 16 8-05-2011 at 4:23 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    req: I do know Travis, but there’s very little of what he did to Clash left in that film. If he had his druthers, I believe it would have been an LOTR-style epic. I’ve read Pacific Rim and it’s grand. More impressive is the script that really got him in the game, A Killing on Carnival Row, which was a stunning spec.

  • 17 8-05-2011 at 7:33 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    I would actually love a Zoids show. I watched New Century Zero and as the season ended, the plot became really engaging and interesting. I think it could get a solid adaptation if the screenwriters stick to that.

    Personally, I like giant robots.

  • 18 8-06-2011 at 2:22 am

    Ron said...

    Now is the time for that long-delayed Evangelion live-action movie, which WETA has already made a lot of designs for, to be made.

  • 19 8-06-2011 at 8:42 am

    Casey Fiore said...

    I just wrote an essay about Apocalypto and the state of the action genre and I focused mainly on the quality of trends that have defined the genre over time. For the past decade it has really been comic movies, which I consider tragic because its such thin territory for stylistic diversity as opposed to, say, Sci Fi action or early Westerns. All of the minor superheroes are just congealing into one mediocre formulaic movie. I think the industry standard business model of more of the same is appalling and completely missing the point. Its easy to hide behind “giving the people what they want” when you control their choices. It seems to me that a robot trend might no be so bad just because that’s really vague, but it certainly hasn’t started off so great.

    When I see the phrase”Short Circuit reboot” it isn’t the first 2 words I worry about necessarily. The reboot-remake-reinterpretation phase Hollywood is entering is shameful and pathetic. The studios are coming straight at us and telling us that the original talent in contemporary cinema isn’t worth our time, and we should just make them work on old shit. On the philosophical level this is a massive failure of whoring, but it is also completely useless in practice. How many older films, or even film concepts, really need to be rebooted or remade? How many franchises could see interesting new adventures that hold to the originals? I contend not very many. Worse, how many existing films are there that legitimately have the potential to become great movies? I really don’t think there are many films that need to be remade at all. If they were already good, please leave them alone; if they were bad, there’s probably a reason they were bad, and they don’t need a remake. Only films that failed to live up to their potential need remaking.

  • 20 8-06-2011 at 9:09 am

    Rashad said...

    For the past decade it has really been comic movies, which I consider tragic because its such thin territory for stylistic diversity as opposed to, say, Sci Fi action or early Westerns.

    Huh? If anything, it can be the most diverse (disregarding the fact that most are of the sci-fi action genre). The Batman films look and feel nothing like Marvel’s work. The pageantry of Thor in the costumes and designs of Asgard is something not seen in most movies, let alone the genre. And if we look at 300, Sin City and Road to Perdition, you can see photography and style that is as impressive and stunning as any film.

    Obviously there’s a bland quality to a good amount of them, but it’s really no different to the lack of style in a lot of films.

  • 21 8-06-2011 at 10:56 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah, what Rashad said. It’s unfair and somewhat elitist to think comic books can’t have the same depth and “stylistic diversity” (though I’m not really sure what that means) as other genre fare.

  • 22 8-06-2011 at 1:12 pm

    Casey Fiore said...

    Perhaps I should’ve revised my grammar, but nonetheless, I don’t think that was an elitist comment in the least. What I meant was that the only thing necessary to make a Western is a location and maybe clothing. It’s vague and has significantly more room for experimentation that, say, a comic adaptation. The trend hasn’t been merely comics, but superheroes. It’s too specific because the trend isn’t just a setting or a backdrop, it is a narrative and a character arc. I understand that Bruce Wayne has an inherently different arc than Peter Parker or Wolverine or Thor etc, but what I’m pointing out is that the reason Nolan’s Batman movies are, imo, so far above the average movie coming from this trend, is because they are almost all about masked crime fighters with supernatural powers and righteous intentions. They almost all have stock nemeses with notable exceptions, and few have unique psychological or personal challenges. On top of that, I take umbrage with the notion that 300 and Sin City, a movie a quite like, have photography as stunning as any film. Again, my intention was to look at superheroes, because Sin City, Road to Perdition, and A History of Violence were not really part of a trend, they were isolated adaptations.

    Anyhow, my point was not to do with the comic trend so much as the abandonment of original material in favor of reboots and remakes and now I suppose its fair to say adaptations, because we’re not just talking about novels and plays anymore, but board games.

  • 23 8-06-2011 at 1:17 pm

    Casey Fiore said...

    I would also contend that the style of the majority of the Marvel movies have not been particularly unique. The work on Asgard was interesting, but most of the Earth set action in Thor could’ve been taken right out of Iron Man. Singular visions have not had an impact in Marvel Studios, and for the most part they seem to be tailored to match in a way that makes each film part of a whole which will centralize with The Avengers.