Cinophile: ROBOT JOX

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Who doesn’t love giant robots? Other than giant aliens, not a lot of people.Though the technical geek in me wants to insists we call them ‘mech suits,’ because they are piloted, ‘giant robot’ just sounds better. A mech suit is something you may see Ripley in at the end of Aliens. Giant robots punch giant holes in things. Giant robots fight other implausibly giant stuff. Giant robots are as easy to operate as a video game. Giant robots don’t have to make sense!

The crowning glory of the giant robot movie is without doubt Pacific Rim, but a few people have noted its similarities to another cinematic entry into the giant robot world, Robot Jox. Even the latter’s director, Stuart Gordon, has alluded to the resemblances between the two. But he has a penchant for such big comments and, besides, it’s the giant robot genre. It involves a conflicted character to pilot and other giant things to punch or batter down with a cyclonic downpour of missiles and lasers.

Anyway, Gordon made a giant robot movie and called it Robot Jox. It’s not a great film. It’s not even one of his five best movies. But Robot Jox was never intended to be. In the last Eighties there was still a vibrant home VHS market that outlandish low-budget stuff could feed on. Today we sorta, kinda see that with some Syfy stuff, but Robot Jox aimed a bit higher than, say, Sharknado. Not a lot, but you can see the effort.

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So why watch a bad b-movie from the late Eighties? Well, giant robots! Granted, Robot Jox cannot recapture my imagination as much as the little kid who saw it all those years ago. But it holds up in a strange way and is just lathered in future society cheese. After a nuclear war, the world decides to settle territorial disputes with giant robot battles. Seriously – at the time we enter this saga, the Confederation (USSR) crushes a fighter from the Market (US) and next up is Alaska, because it has oil or something.  Our hero is Achilles, Market champion and set to fight the evil Alexander. I’d say he chews the scenery, but that may make it sound like everyone else isn’t.

Achilles also has competition from new clones bred to be robot pilots, something happens, crisis of confidence, someone’s spying, blah, blah, etc. The story is very straightforward and completely predictable. But who watches giant robot films for the story? Granted, Robot Jox did not have the greatest special effects budget and that shows. But you still get stop-motion robots firing their fists at each other.

Look, maybe I’ll just watch anything that has giant robots in it and isn’t some bizarre psychobabble about the human condition. Maybe I cut Robot Jox too much slack. But, you know what? This.

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Robot Jox would bankrupt its production house, but it only cost between $6 million and $10 million. The following year’s Total Recall cost ten times that. This resulted in the film being shelved for a year before appearing in 1990. The robot battles were largely at fault – shot in a desert location, frequent weather problems kept hampering the shoot and destroying miniature sets.
Stuart Gordon got the idea for a giant robot movie from Transformers and later enlisted the help of his friend, science fiction author Joe Haldeman. But the two would start clashing over the tone and direction of the film. Haldeman wanted a deeper experience while Gordon opted for flash-bang entertainment. Considering the eventual production value and dubious dialog, it’s lucky Gordon won out, though the two would only bury the hatchet many years later.
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Robot Jox had a sequel, though which movie that is remains an open topic. There was Crash and Burn, dubbed an official sequel, but had nothing really to do with the original. Some fans refer to it as a spin-off. Then there was Robot Wars, a movie that had absolutely nothing to do with Robot Jox. But it did namedrop the movie on its cover and has some of the Robot Jox actors in it.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: October 13, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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