Monday 22 November 2010

Rob's Top 5: Underrated Robots

Robots. Not often the first thought when you think of awesomeness, but why the hell not? Some of the greatest creations in science-fiction TV, movies and video games have been robotic. Who can forget the iconic scene in The Terminator where Arnie operates on his own face? Moreover, where would any of the characters in Star Wars be without the antics of C3PO and R2-D2? Rotting on some backwater planet or dead, that's where!

Nevertheless, our mechanical friends do indeed get the raw deal when thinking of all things E14, and some robots are overlooked even more so than others. In no particular order, therefore, are my Top 5 Underrated Robots.

Calculon - Futurama

"What, Rob?! Calculon from Futurama? There are so many other robots worthy of inclusion in that show." This is true, oh watchful reader, but Calculon is a work of comedy genius. The Troy McClure of Futurama, he's that guy you see in absolutely fucking everything on TV. Add to this that he's voiced by Maurice LaMarche, one of the most underrated cartoon voice actors going, and you have Instant Win - just add Awareness.

One of the things I like most about Calculon is that he's a very subtle character in many ways, and seems to be a very sly dig at TV soap actors. He's a complete ham, stuck in a long-running soap opera, much like Joey in Friends except somehow more robotic when he acts. I suspect that it's because he is in fact a robot, but even then he'd have to go some to outdo Dr Drake Ramore.

One of my favourite memories of Calculon in Futurama is in the episode entitled The Honking, where Bender is run over by a were-car and goes in search of the original to remove the curse, where his quest brings him to Calculon. Hearing him recite his explanation of how he has changed his identity every few decades was funny enough, but when he implies that he used to be David Duchovny (remember him, kids? Wasn't he awesome?) I spat my drink out.

Wait, actually, my favourite line of his is simple, reacting to Bender's audition in Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV:

"That was so terrible, I think you gave me cancer!"

HK-47 - Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

If you could think of a small addition that would make a robot more awesome, would 'Assassin' be on the list? Thought so. What about 'complete misanthropy and contempt for humanity, calling every human a "meatbag"'? Yep, me too. How about 'a way of delivering all your witty dialogue in an even more witty way'? Wow, your opinion syncs up with Darth Revan. How about that?

HK-47 is an assassin droid from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and represents a different proposition altogether. In the game, you purchase HK-47 from a merchant on Tatooine for his knowledge of the Tusken Raider language, with his abilities as an assassin somewhat relegated to the background. At first glance he seems like another member of your party, but once the big story reveal occurs his origins are much clearer.

From the first meeting with the robot, every exchange that follows is pure comedy gold, almost on a par with an E14 Exchange, which is pretty good going really. From HK-47's utter contempt for the human race, save for his creator, all the way to the way he utters his dialogue options with a statement of emotion. For example, if I were forced to use it, I would say:

"Blatant Sarcasm: I'm a massive massive fan of the concept of The X-Factor, a completely legitimate and in no way dubious show, and the contestants this year are nothing short of spectacular. Especially that Katie Waissel, she deserves nothing but success in life."

Only kidding. Fucking cabbage.

Roy Batty/Baty - Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

What do most human beings want, if you ask them honestly? More time. Whether it be to start a series of detective novels based on two brilliant yet troubled web journalists originally from Kent, or simply to enjoy more of what life has to offer, most people would relish either more time or knowledge of precisely how much time they had to achieve as much as possible. Personally, I'd wish for eternal life simply to see what becomes of humanity as there must come a crunch point where reality shows are destroyed in a hail of heavenly wrath and destruction, possibly involving Godzilla. Awesome.

Anyway, ultimately that's what makes Roy Batty (let's stick with Blade Runner spelling for the sake of ease) such an excellent creation and such a compelling character. Though he is technically a robot in that he is a mechanical being, his desires and thought process are all very much human in their nature. One of the striking things about Rutger Hauer's portrayal in the movie is just how little you really find yourself identifying with him. It's the mark of a good villain when you're a little disappointed to see them falter.

As an added bonus, a bit of trivia for you: In a 2001 interview, Hauer stated that Blade Runner was his favourite movie that he was involved in. High praise indeed, and more reason why his performance is just so bloody good. Who knew that twenty-seven years later, that same actor would be taking out a restraining order against our own Brad Harmer for this touching piece of literature?

Marvin (The Paranoid Android) - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Of course, no E14 countdown would be complete without the inclusion of everyone's favourite character in the Douglas Adams classic. Though the picture is from the original TV series run, both versions are quality in their own way. One of the first things that strikes you about Marvin is the stark contrast in which he is set. The story of one man's ascent into the massiveness of the universe, and the overwhelming nature of space, is brought crashing down when you first meet Marvin and he hates everything.

What I think people identify with when it comes to Marvin is the fact that, simply put, a robot shouldn't behave this way to begin with. He's misanthropic, with an inflated sense of his own self-importance; though he's probably right when he says he has a "brain the size of a planet", it's unusual to see a robot say these things of himself.

Another nice thing about Marvin is that most people, if they're honest with themselves, have a friend like Marvin: hopelessly depressed no matter what, and there's no pleasing them. If you've not got a friend like Marvin, and you have no idea what I'm talking about, you could well be a 'Marvin' for everyone else. And what a great name Marvin is for a massively depressed robot. I've only ever known of one person called Marvin, and he was quite a famous (and probably cheerful) soul singer who was tragically killed. The name just doesn't come with much luck attached already.

On a completely unrelated note, the amount I'm having to spellcheck seems to be conclusive proof for me that I need to make sure that the coffee I drink has a more watery consistency than the sludge I just imbibed. When the stuff rolls down your throat like an avalanche with M.E, that's your indicator that it's too strong.

Inspector Gadget - Inspector Gadget

Ah, my 'Wild Card'. This fifth spot was a tough one to fill at times, but then I had a browse of the net looking for inspiration and it hit me: Inspector Gadget is a cyborg. Part man, part machine, he solves crimes and foils his enemy using his array of implements as well as his detective skills. Now, if the network had pitched it like that, the show would have been the biggest cartoon of all time. Instead, they make Gadget a complete dork in the vein of Shaggy and Scooby, and put the cleverness in the hands (or rather mind, I suppose that's more accurate) of a precocious young girl named Penny and a dog. Kudos, television. You managed to essentially ruin the Borg equivalent of Sherlock Holmes.

One of the best things about Gadget is the fact that he is ultimately reliant on his cybernetic implants. One of the most frustrating things that you see on TV is when a hero has powers that don't get used, or when the powers themselves are completely inane. Take Captain Scarlet for instance. The guy's invincible, so why the hell should I care about whether or not he succeeds in his mission? People say "Oh, but he has double agents of the Mysterons all around him, and he still succeeds." Yeah, of course he fucking does: he's indestructible!

Here's a twist: the show is about the Mysterons trying to corrupt Captain Scarlet to use him for their own devious ends. Now that would actually have some interest to it, and I'd have watched the shit out of that show. Hell, I'd have bought the Special Edition Blu-Ray with the bust of Captain Scarlet's unemotive face! I sincerely hope that someone from a television network reads this and pitches it to their network. Mainly because now that I've put that idea out in public domain, it could never be copyrighted by the network. In fact, a strong case could be made for me to obtain royalties if it was successful.

That'd be awesome.

Anyway, Inspector Gadget was a great character, but if anyone was taking orders for a reboot, I'd like to see Robot Chicken's Inspector Gadget/The Terminator crossover taken to a full series, where Gadget is hooked up to Skynet against the wishes of Penny and the dog, only to go on a murderous killing spree using his Gadget extensions. Possible scenes include a sprinkler of blood and guts perpetuated by his Gadget helicopter attachment.

Failing that, whack a cyborg into Poirot.

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