Friday, April 22, 2016

*batteries not included

   As far as charming, inoffensive, creative, and feel-good sci-fi flicks go, you could do much, much worse than *batteries not included. It's a straight-forward and well-meaning movie that is honestly more fantasy than it is sci-fi, but since the plot of the movie revolves around a pair of personality-rich flying robots who come to the aid of some downtrodden strangers- how can you not label it sci-fi regardless? Yet at it's core, the movie postulates about miracles and faith. It's less concerned with the technical why's and how's of the robotic visitors than it is with character drama, friendships, and the all-too-real scary bits of life as well.

   "It's the 80's! Nobody likes reality anymore!" a character yells at one point. Which is funny to me because *batteries not included focuses more on the 'reality' of it's characters than your average 80's sci-fi/fantasy would. It's a small ensemble cast. The elderly couple, the pregnant lady with an absentee boyfriend, the reclusive ex-boxer, and a frazzled artist. Sure, some of them are ultimately rather cliche, but if you find that a problem you're in for a bumpy ride and should probably get off now.

   While it's admirable that the movie is willing to sidestep the obvious sci-fi questions about the origins and intent of the robotic-alien visitors, it also means it can get away with nonsensical stuff ending up looking more like magic instead of sci-fi technology. The movie is also kinda inconsistent about a few things. For example, the robots have magic repair beams. It's shown several times. Whatever's broken, no matter how complex, their little glow-y beam can fix it right up. But... at several points in the movie, things are broken, and the robots act super distressed like they can't do anything about it. Wait, what?

   Of course these are honestly minor nitpicks because the movie overall is just a big ball of fun. It's full of simple, but effective and well-written humor that never stoops to being outright slapstick. And, in vein of your average Disney flick, there's plenty of moments that'll make people get all choked up and whatnot. I was surprised at how much emotional mileage the filmmakers were able to get out of robots who can't talk, or smile. Roger Ebert himself once wondered if the filmmakers screen tested the robot from Real Steel. I kinda wonder if the same thing went on here. These robots are adorable, only I can't figure out precisely why. Oh well.

   It's written not only by Brad Bird (The Incredibles) but also by Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson- the duo behind Tremors. Not to mention it was Spielberg himself who shepherded this movie away from the small screen and towards the big screen. It's easy to compare it to movies like Short Circuit and such, and it's a welcome comparison at that. The two movies would make a decent double feature. Though *batteries not included might not have a robot that can crack jokes and say funny stuff, it also doesn't bother with even the most basic of movie-science. The movie is free to be as fantastical as it pleases, letting not only the characters speculate freely about the origin and intent of the robots, but the audience as well.

   Of course, it's a miracle, and as one character points out- miracles tend to go away when you start asking about them. Just like the logical consistency of the movie, don't question it. Just accept it. You'll have a lot more fun with it then. As a fantasy/sci-fi flick that the whole family can enjoy, *batteries not included is easy to recommend. It's not insulting to an adult's intelligence, and it's not overly 'talky' for the younger crowd. It's full of impressive special effects and good-natured humor. What's not to like?

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