Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Robot Jox (1990)

Robot Jox started life as Robojox, but this was deemed to be too close to Robocop in name so the title was changed. Empire Pictures most expensive movie at around $10m, it actually bankrupt them and sat on the shelf for two years before it found a distributor. Directed by Re-Animator and From Beyond director Stuart Gordon it was based on a story by Gordon and acclaimed SF writer Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) provided the screenplay.

Plot summary:
50 years after a nuclear war, the two superpowers handle territorial disputes in a different way. Each fields a giant robot to fight one-on-one battles in official matches, each piloted by a man inside, known as robot jockeys or jox. The contest for possession of Alaska will be fought by two of the best. The conscientious Achilles fights for the Americans. Opposing him is a Russian, Alexander, a ruthless and bloodthirsty adversary who has killed his previous nine American opponents. With a traitor feeding the Russians secret weapons information and new, genetically-engineered jox looking to take his place, Achilles faces obstacles at every turn in the hardest battle of his life.

Now Empire Pictures made a lot of Low Budget films in the 80's and producer Charles Band has made over 200 films. But there's low budget films like The Terminator, Dark Star, Silent Running, The Evil Dead, Brain Dead etc... and there's Charles Band low budget. Not to say that he's not made some fun pictures but this same $10m in the hands of the right director and Robot Jox could have been a classic.

The film stars Gary Graham as Achilles and Paul Koslo as his rival Alexander, both actors having a lot of TV and film work behind them. The main female lead Anne-Marie Johnson has since gone onto appear in shows like Babylon 5,The X-Files and JAG.

Concept design for Robot Jox was handled by Ron Cobb (Alien, Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, The Abyss) and Steve Burg (The Abyss, Contact, Leviathan) I think the trouble is some of Ron Cobb's designs though cool on paper aren't translated well in the film, the cockpit of the robot, seen below, looks pretty cheap in the film. And quite a lot of the films sets have a fairly naff look to them, it's amazing how some films can take a few dollars and make it look like 100 times more and some films spend money and make it look like crap.

The robots themselves are neat designs, and brought to life either by puppetry or stop-motion animation. A lot of the miniature work was shot on location in the desert and so some shots have a really nice look to them, the ones which do stand out more today are the stop-motion scenes by the late David Allen and his crew. They're neat shots and I love stop-motion work but they don't seem to fit with a lot of the miniature shots using the puppetry techniques. Also the optical FX when the robots fly into space leave a lot to be desired. Robot Jox was one of those films just before the advent of CG work in films like The Abyss, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. I'd rather see stop-motion work than poor CG anytime, and I suppose had they been able to afford CG back when this film was made it would have been fairly bargain basement and probably as equally dated by now. But today these robots could be done to look so cool with modern FX techniques.
I mean the idea for Robot Jox is pretty neat, who doesn't like to see giant robots kicking the hell out of each other ?! And I'd love to see someone else do a film in a similar vain to this, maybe Transformers will start a glut of big robot movies.

All in all Robot Jox is an OK 85 minutes of light viewing, not a true low budget classic, but a hell of a lot better than Crash and Burn also by Charles Band.
There was also a sequel to Robot Jox in 1993 called Robot Jox 2: Robot Wars but sites like Amazon seem to get this film confused with the robot smashing TV series Robot Wars when showing the VHS cover. According to the IMDB it only had a running time of 60 mins in the UK and starred Barbara Crampton from Re-Animator.


allen said...

Ya gotta love a sci-fi movie that has a fat guy in a cowboy hat.

Andrew Glazebrook said...

Especially one with a hat that big !

Matt J said...

God, I remember this! CRASH & BURN too.