Big Bot Double Feature: Robot Wars & Crash And Burn

robot wars posterSeveral years back I was in the enviable position of being on Shout Factory’s PR list thanks to working at ToyFare. Because of that, I got a lot of interesting DVD sets, some of which I haven’t even watched yet. The Giant Robot Action Pack featuring Robot Wars and Crash and Burn is one such selection that I decided to finally watch over the weekend and I was surprised at the results.

I’ve actually tried to watch Robot Wars — directed by Albert Band and released in 1993 — a few times, but never really made it through for various reasons. This time, I was set to watch the film and actually succeeded. A kind of sequel to Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox — which is also getting the Shout Factory treatment — this movie takes place in a future world where one scorpion-like robot carries people from a protected city to one that was abandoned and preserved in 1993. After terrorists take over the robot, it’s up to our brash hero, his co-pilot, a reporter and an archaeologist to find another robot and save the day.

Though the title is pretty misleading — two robots fighting does not a war make — I had a lot of fun with this film. The stop motion on the robots looks better to my eye than the bad CGI that would be used today and the characters, while broad and oftentimes goofy, are charming and fun to watch (it wasn’t until this latest viewing that I realized the reporter is actually Lisa Rinna in an early role).

While this is far from the best giant robot movie I’ve ever seen, I appreciate that everyone involved seemed to be doing their best and trying to create something fun and interesting. Full Moon would sometimes swipe heavily from other projects, but this felt pretty original to me. That might not sound like the most thrilling endorsement, but it went pretty far for a low budget 90s sci-fi action film. It helps that my experience with huge robots doesn’t extend much past loving Transformers as a kid and loving Pacific Rim.

crash and burn posterThe other film on the set — Crash And Burn — is another kinda-sorta-not-really sequel to Robot Jox (they were marketed as such overseas, but share nothing in the way of continuity). This one actually really surprised me because it was such a mix of genres and movies that I love.

It starts off with a guy on a futuristic motorcycle traveling through the desert to visit a factory-turned-TV studio run by a rebellious old man who rails against the corporation that runs everything (and also employs the motorcycle driver). Once there, we meet an eclectic cast of characters that includes Bill Moseley, the old man’s granddaughter played by Dark Skies‘ Megan Ward, blowhard talk show host and a pair of women who…are there for some reason. Soon, an important character is murdered and the search is on to find out what happened. It just so happens to involve killer (human sized) robots and a huge robot outside that doesn’t work (BUT IT WILL!).

So, with this one movie you’ve got the seclusion of the desert with the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland-type set up mixed with the group-of-stranded-strangers motif (because there’s a radiation storm of some kind) plus the whodunnit mystery (though it’s pretty clear who the killer is if you pay attention to footwear), the someone-isn’t-who-they-seem thing AND THE ROBOTS.

Let’s jump into SPOILER TERRITORY for this graph because I don’t want to ruin an old movie I do actually want you to check out. I tried to paint with broad strokes above, but here’s the deal. If you happen to notice the murderer’s ridiculous boots and then wait about five minutes until you see the cast together once again, you’ll know who the murderer is. Of course, it’s not revealed until AFTER they do a take on the test from The Thing that doesn’t quite go as planned. But once the killer is revealed, it’s a damn delight to watch him go absolutely bonkers, knock off a few randos and then have a big fight at the end that eventually involves the big robot.

All in all, it’s a perfectly crazy movie. While I appreciated Robot Wars for being better than I expected, Crash And Burn actually surprised me by being more aware of what it was and playing with the audience before finally giving them what they wanted in ways they might not have known that they wanted it. I can’t think of another movie I’ve watched recently where I had little-to-no expectations and yet was so pleasantly surprised.

Computer Movies: Arcade (1993)

arcade poster After watching Cyborg again fairly recently, I fell down the rabbit hole that is director Albert Pyun’s filmography. While poking around, I spied a film called Arcade that sounded like something I wanted to check out. I actually had this disc from Netflix on hand when I watched Evolver last week, but the disc was cracked and I couldn’t watch it until they sent me a new one.

Before getting into the plot of this movie, I’ve got to talk about it’s pedigree a bit. Not only is Arcade directed by 90s straight-to-video maestro Pyun who did a lot with not much all the time back then, but also features a script penned by David S. Goyer and Charles Band who also acted as producer. You’ll recognize Goyer’s name from little films like Batman Begins and Man Of Steel. And then you’ve got the cast which includes Megan Ward (Dark SkiesEncino Man), Seth Green (Buffy, Dads), Peter Billingsley (Christmas Story) and even Don Stark (That 70s Show). Needless to say, I got more and more excited as the credits rolled on this film I knew almost nothing about.

Plotwise, this film follows Alex (Ward) and Nick (Billingsley) as they try to figure out what’s going on as the terribly named new virtual reality arcade game Arcade and it’s console cousin seem to be absorbing or destroying their friends. Much like Evolver, the kids wind up heading to the game company — good thing they live in California, I guess — and then using that knowledge to confront the game and save their friends and family.

It would be pretty easy to write this movie off as another Charles Band cash grab, but I’ve got to say, I found it pretty absorbing. I liked how the main kids all seemed like they could be in high school and were outsiders, but not complete degenerates. Even though you don’t see them together a ton, you get the feeling that there’s a lot of history in their crew. I also thought the plot itself was solid and included some pretty heavy elements. The movie opens with Alex remembering when she found her mom post-suicide and we eventually learn that the video game company used the brain cells of a murdered boy to help create the game’s villain. Plus, how great is it to see one of these kids-against-something-crazy movies with a female lead?

As it turns out, Band and Pyun weren’t happy with the first batch of CGI special effects and had everything redone. Those results can be seen in the trailer posted above while the original graphics can be seen below.

All in all, even though the CGI is pretty distracting for the modern audience, I had a really good time with this imaginative, sometimes scary adventure story revolving around the rad world of video games. I’ve also got to admit that I was relieved by the plot of this film because I’ve been kicking around an arcade-based story idea that is not similar to this at all. It’s always relieving to find out your not accidentally treading old ground.