Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Giant Robots” with a minor in “Cowboy Hats”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week we finish our end of semester double feature with Robot Jox!
Fifty years after the nuclear holocaust of WWIII open war is forbidden by the surviving nations. Now, gladiatorial giant robot fights decide territorial disputes between the factions. Robot Jockey Achilles is ready to retire after his tenth and final contract fight, but his opponent, the bloodthirsty Alexander, has killed his last nine opponents and there is evidence that a traitor has been feeding secret weapons information to the enemy. Achilles’ last fight will be the most difficult of his entire life and the only thing higher than the robots themselves are the stakes. This is the world of the future! The world of Robot Jox!
Robot Jox is a 1990 post-apocalyptic sci-fi starring Gary Graham as Achilles, Anne-Marie Johnson as Athena, Paul Koslo as Alexander. Director Stuart Gordon stated that the initial inspiration for Robot Jox came from the Japanese Transformers toy line: “While there have been animated cartoons based on these giant robots, no one has ever attempted a live-action feature about them. It struck me that it was a natural fantasy for the big screen–and a terrific opportunity to take advantage of the special effects that are available today.” Under the direction of producer Charles Band and Empire Pictures, Gordon teamed up with special effects artist David W. Allen who had previously done special effects and stop motion on Ghostbusters II, Young Sherlock Holmes, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and even Flesh Gordon, the erotic spoof of the Flash Gordon serials, to create a demo reel of stop motion test footage. This footage impressed the film’s potential backers and eventually became the film’s opening title sequence.
Science-fiction author Joe Haldeman, author of the Forever War series, wrote the screenplay and co-wrote the story with Gordon, whose original idea was for a sci-fi adaptation of the Illiad. Haldeman claimed his and Gordon’s visions for the film clashed: Haldeman wanted a dramatic, serious sci-fi film while Gordon wanted a more audience-friendly, special effects-driven action film with stereotypical characters and stylized pseudo-science. “I would try to change the science into something reasonable; Stuart would change it back to Saturday morning cartoon stuff,” Haldeman said. “I tried to make believable, reasonable characters, and Stuart would insist on throwing in clichés and caricatures. It was especially annoying because it was a story about soldiers, and I was the only person around who’d ever been one.” Several times, Haldeman feared that this clash would lead to him being dropped from the project, but the film’s producers sided with him during pre-production. Gordon later recognized that the Haldeman was “writing a movie for adults that children can enjoy” while he had been “directing a movie for children that adults can enjoy.”
Visual Effects Director David Allen chose to film the robot fight sequences at El Mirage lakebed in San Benardino County, California due to its bright skies and unobstructed panoramic view; however weather elements frequently delayed filming. According to Gordon: “Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. There were sandstorms, flooding, and sets getting destroyed by winds. He wanted to shoot it outside. Normally, you shoot miniature work in a very controlled environment, but Dave had this idea that he wanted to shoot it against real skies, and real mountains, and really give this thing a sense of reality.“
Initially budgeted at $7 million dollars, the film would be the most expensive film Empire pictures had ever produced. Although originally scheduled for release in 1989 to coincide with the publication of the novelization of the film, Robot Jox was delayed due to the production studio Empire International Pictures going bankrupt during production. Eventually Triumph Films would release Robot Jox on Nov. 21 1990, but its limited run and scant media coverage prompted science fiction writer Foardner Doziois to remark that “Robot Jox… was supposedly released this year, but if it played through Philadelphia at all, it must have done so fast, because I never even saw a listing for it, let alone the movie itself.” Robot Jox would eventually earn a total domestic gross of just $1.27 million.
Those who did see the movie gave it poor reviews, partially due to the struggle to balance between adult and child audiences, because its Cold War themes had become less relevant in the US, and because the popularity of Transformers, which Robot Jox had hoped to capitalize on, had diminished. Even the writer Haldeman was unsatisfied stating, “it’s as if I’d had a child who started out well and then sustained brain damage.”
But even the most brain-damaged movies eventually find their way to an appreciative audience. Robot Jox has developed a minor following of devoted fans who’ve labeled it a true cult classic. In 2009 Isthmus film critic Mark Savlov wrote that the computer-generated imagery in Terminator Salvation “still can’t hold a candle to the stop-motion and very endearing goofiness of Stuart Gordon’s 1990 Robot Jox,” in 2010 Alex Fich praised the Gordon citing Robot Jox as an example of how the director “can mix satire with special effects to great aplomb.”
After the trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s film Pacific Rim was released in December 2012, online critics and bloggers began to revisit the film, noting the similarities between the two. Bloomberg Businessweek writer Clarie Suddath noted that Pacific Rim was “a mash-up of the 1980s B-movie film Robojox and Godzilla on steroids”. In 2014, Gordon stated that Pacific Rim was like “déjà vu”, expressing that if he had done a sequel to Robot Jox, it “would have been robots fighting aliens”.
Robot Jox has no critical reviews but a lukewarm 42% audience review on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.2 on IMDB. It’s also got all of the best Giant Robot B-movie clichés:
- Robot Rocket Punches!
- Obviously evil, constantly smirking, black wearing, bad guys
- Incompetent referees
- LAZER BEAMS!
- Badass boasts, Evil Laughs, and Future Slang Catch Phrases!
- A post apocalyptic world where everyone spends all their money building giant robots
- Genetically modified jerks
- Illiterate main characters
- Robot Transformation sequences
- Injector guns that look good in close up but are obviously glue guns in wide shots
- And the best of all: Chainsaw Dicks!
But it was CHUD.com reviewer Michael Monterastelli who summed it all up best in a 2013 review describing Robot Jox as “part serious science fiction, part Saturday morning cartoon and…one hell of a good time.”
We end this semester and tonight’s double feature with the best Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots movie around! Crash and Burn!
The Supercult show is proud to present Robot Jox!