Archive for October 5th, 2020

Screen capture from 1990’s “Robot Jox” reviewed by Jamie Uhler as part of Halloween Horror Fest 2010


by Sam Juliano

The pandemic is again gathering fearful momentum as America prepares for the most important Presidential election in modern history. The President’s COVID diagnosis has shocked many, though most see reckless decision-making as paving the way for it to happen.   Both topics of course have dominated all means of coverage and attention as some are trying hard to usher in the autumnal season and Halloween.  Here at Wonders in the Dark October 31st is bring honored with our stupendous annual Halloween Horror Fest courtesy of it resident founder Jamie Uhler.  This week we have two fabulous capsules to add to the series.  This past week Jim Clark continued his seminal Ingmar Bergman series with a masterful essay on 1976’s Face to Face.  I also have added my latest entries in my nearly-completed Top 27 Night Gallery FB countdown, with only the #1 choice still to come.  Wishing everyone to stay safe!

Robot Jox (S. Gordon… 1990) 

The tale of gladiatorial bouts where men represent country company state teams while manning large (roughly) 6 story robots with the technology to match the movements of the pilots inside them. If this wasn’t enough, the twist comes in the outcome as we’re in a hellscape more or less, so the loser gets stomped to death or just parishes in explosion, approximating the fighters to futuristic gladiators, the representatives for global multinationals that fight for territories rich in resources. Early, a match between a Russian (or a generic facsimile of the Soviet bloc) and American cowboy one has Alaska’s oil and forests as the price, but it goes tits up and hundreds of lowly spectators are killed. In the aftermath the American hero retires (as this is his last contractually obligated 10th fight) and the plot spirals out of control. You could guess where it’s going when his sudden, budding love interest, a female human created in a lab as the perfect robot jock, is set to replace him against the Russian in the rematch, since the spectator murderous bout ended in a draw. Yeah, he comes back to fight and be the reluctant hero. 

For Gordon this lacks his usual exhilarating panache, the fights—all models and practical effects on sound stages—move and look hokey, and his no name cast (Jeffrey combs has just a small cameo) is mostly dull. Plus, while the concept is ripe for satire, it’s really dry, desperately calling for the razor edge of, say, Starship Troopers. Sure, Transformers begat Robot Jox, and Robot Jox certainly gave us del Toro’s Pacific Rim, but while this film has a small cult, I won’t ever be one of them. Pass, or watch Pacific Rim again, which, for what it is, is a masterful work (or, if you want obscure Gordon, do Space Truckers or Castle Freak or hell, his masterpiece From Beyond). I don’t blame Gordon, del Toro had 20 times the budget to muck about with.  (more…)

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