Friday, October 18, 2013

Short Circuit (1986)

Short CircuitShort Circuit is one of those movies that when it came out in 1985 I remembered walking out thinking what a fun film that was. Alley Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg were a great screen team. And fresh of Saturday Night Fever ad Wargames, director John Badham really showed the compassionate side of humanity. This is a warm and friendly family film for everyone.

The plot is simple aren't they all? The military develops a device meant for war and `first strike' and decides to take it to the officials of the government for funding. Five very unique and laser-powered robots are built. Something happens to one of them, "Number 5", during the demonstration where an electrical storm creates an electrical surge and super jolts Number 5. Guess what? He comes alive! Complete with a personality and a small amount charm. He escapes (accidentally) and befriends an animal activist Stephanie (Sheedy) while Newton (Guttenberg) is assigned to chase him down and get him back.

Now add the adversary of the military trying to destroy him and you've got a great chase movie. Filled with laughs, bits, gags and a few scene stealing lines, this movie makes you believe that Number 5 IS alive! Some great supporting character roles and a lot of technically puppetry that would make even George Lucas jealous the energy in this movie is great.

The DVD extras include a commentary with the director and writers as well as the original 1985 interviews with cast and crew. This is definitely a fun family film and something everyone who likes science fiction and fantasy mixed together will enjoy this a lot!

In 1986, the film "Short Circuit" was released in theaters and made over $40 million domestically. The film about a US military robot gone awol after an electrical surge and eventually developing a conscience attracted moviegoers.

The film is directed by John Badham ("WarGames", "Blue Thunder", "Point of No Return") and a screenplay written by S.S. Wilson ("Wild Wild West", "Ghost Dad", "Tremors") and Brent Maddock ("Wild Wild West", "Heart and Souls", "Ghost Dad").

The film kicks off with a military testing as NOVA Robotics is showcasing five robots developed for the Department of Defense. The military looks to use these robots against Moscow (note: This film was released during the Cold War between the US and U.S.S.R.) and we see the robots taking out tanks and vehicles with their laser beams.

Due to weather, everyone is brought inside of the laboratory to celebrate the robots and a Senator requests for the PR director of NOVA Robotics Howard Marner (played by Austin Pendleton, "Glass Houses", "Dirty Work", "Christmas with the Cranks") to meet the designer Graham Crosby, Ph.D. (played by Steve Guttenberg, "Police Academy" films, "Veronica Mars", "Three Men and a Baby" films) and his partner Ben Jabituya (played by Fisher Stevens, "Lost", "Awake", "Undiscovered").

While the NOVA staff, military and politicians are admiring the robots, the five military robots are being prepared for the Department of Defense but while the robot No. 5 is still hooked up to a generator, a lightning bolt hits the generator which produces a surge affecting the robot.

Next thing you know, No. 5's programming has been affected and he undergoes a malfunction and as he strays around inside various rooms, he is ushered into a garbage truck and taken out of the facility and is on the loose.

Because the robots are literally military weapons, NOVA Robots officer Skroeder (played by G.W. Bailey, "Mannequin", "Police Academy" films) and other soldiers go after the robot. Skroeder has a hatred towards the robots and feels it must be destroyed but Marner and Crosby feel that the robot should be brought back in one piece.

Meanwhile, No. 5 manages to sneak into a food truck driven by Stephanie Speck (played by Ally Sheedy, "St. Elmo's Fire", "The Breakfast Club", "WarGames"). Stephanie is an animal lover and when she discovers No. 5, she automatically assumes that he is an alien from outerspace. She eventually communicates with No. 5 and tries to help him understand the world around him. Providing him books and access to television.

She eventually finds out through a mishap that No. 5 belongs to Nova Robotics and contacts them to pick up their robot but while she is with him, No. 5 accidentally jumps on a grasshopper and asks for Stephanie to reassemble it and she tells him that the insect is dead. When No. 5 figures out that disassemble means "dead", he panics and he takes Stephanie in a joyride to escape from Nova Robotics.

Meanwhile, Crosby and Jabituya managed to find Stephanie and No. 5 and Stephanie tries to explain to Crosby that the robot has a conscience but Crosby who developed the robot doesn't believe its possible since robots run via software. Skroeder and Nova Robotics manage to reclaim No. 5.

While in captivity, No. 5 (who's body is shut down) which is still awake (the head portion) manages to find a way to activate the whole body and commandeer the van and kicking out the passengers. No. 5 returns to Stephanie's home but now Stephanie must find a way to protect him. But can she trust Crosby into helping protect No. 5 from Nova Robotics?


Surprisingly "Short Circuit" is presented in 1080i High-Definition Widescreen (2:40:1) instead of 1080p. The film has scenes that are quite vibrant and look great for a film that is 23 years old but then some parts seem a bit off at times. The good news is that there is grain present in the film but there is also dust present as well (although not that bad). The bad news is that certain indoor scenes look a bit darker. Even certain outdoor scenes seem to be dark (as if there was an overcast of clouds that came and disappeared). But overall, picture quality is a bit inconsistent at times.

As for the audio quality, the film is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (and also Dolby Digital 5.1). The film is primarily front and center channel driven. Dialogue is clear and for the most part, El DeBarge's "Who's Johnny" theme song seems to be the only scene where hear a lot of bass. But there is surround channel usage during the actions sequences and the thunderstorm but I was hoping for a more immersive lossless soundtrack but overall, the soundtrack was satisfactory.

Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.


"Short Circuit" special features are in 480i Standard Definition and in Dolby Digital 2.0. Included are:

* Audio Commentary by Director John Badham and writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock The three discuss the making of the film and the storyline. Badham is very detailed in his commentary about certain scenes and bringing the script to life.

* The Creation of Number 5 (6:46) An old school featurette featuring director John Badham and the effects crew and the making of Number 5.

* Cast and Crew Interviews Featuring interviews from 1986 with Ally Sheedy (2:18), Steve Guttenberg (2:24), John Badham (2:06), Syd Mead Talking about the production end and going to Japan to look at robots and how to make No. 5 a genuine character for the film (17:36) and Eric Allard Discussing the special effects for the film (35:02).

* Behind-the-Scenes Footage (3:48) Behind-the-scenes clips of the making of the film and Director John Badham and crew recording certain scenes from the film.

* Isolated Music and Effects Track Watch the film with only the music and special effects.

* Biographies Text based biographies that you can view via your remote.

* Production Notes Production Notes from the original 1986 press kit. You can view and turn pages of the production notes via your remote.

* Robot and Production Design Still Gallery View the robot and production design gallery via your remote.

* Original Theatrical Trailer (1:50) The original theatrical trailer in its old school glory.


I grew up watching "Short Circuit" and watched it in the theaters and watched it countless times on cable but part of the reason why I wanted to watch this film was that it was directed by John Badham, which I loved his movies "WarGames" and "Blue Thunder" and the fact that he is reunited with Ally Sheedy who was also on "WarGames" and one of my favorite actresses from the 80's.

And the fact that she and Steve Guttenberg (another favorite from the 80's) were together, let's say I was feeling nostalgic and I wanted to see "Short Circuit" again. The first thing my toddler asks me if this is a new "Wall-E" film and to tell you the truth, I never thought for once that the two look similar (but looking on Google, it seems that many have).

Overall, the film is campy but "Short Circuit" has that 80's charm. Yeah, it's campy but it's "fun campy". A robot developing a conscience and next thing you know he's dancing to El DeBarge's "Who's Johnny" and John Travolta on "Saturday Night Fever" and repeating things he sees on television. But it has its share of action as well with soldiers and an ex-boyfriend wanting to take on No. 5.

Sure, for today's audience it may not attract them but having grown up with this film, I enjoyed the film when it came out and watched it again and still enjoyed it today.

Granted, I wish I could tell parents that you can show this film to your young "Wall-E" loving toddlers but the film has its share of profanity. I actually made the mistake in thinking this was a children's film and had my son watching the film along with me. (note: Although it says PG, there is no description of why it's PG. I figured it was for the more action-based sequences).

As for the Blu-ray, it's one of the cheaper Blu-rays available to find online (usually under $10) and it's a release that is not in 1080p but 1080i. There are a good number of special features but nothing new added and for the most part, picture quality is not spectacular and the lossless soundtrack is average at best.

Overall, "Short Circuit" is fun, campy 80's film. Granted, with today's audience, "Wall-E" seems to have won the hearts of many viewers and No. 5 has been forgotten. But with a remake of "Short Circuit" being developed, for those who want to go down that nostalgic road like I did (and the fact that you can find it for under $10 which is not bad), then you may want to give this Blu-ray a try.

Buy Short Circuit (1986) Now

I'll save any potential blu-ray customers the hassle and tell you right now that if you already have the special edition of Short Circuit on dvd, you might as well keep it, because this blu-ray isn't much of an upgrade at all. But for those who still haven't bought the movie, is this version worth buying on the superior format? Again, no. In fact, if you just plain want the movie and don't have to have all your movies on blu-ray, I recommend going with the dvd instead.

For those who didn't see it in the 80s, Short Circuit was a pretty big movie for its time. It's the story of Number Five, aka Johnny Five, a robot who was originally part of a line of military weapons, meant to turn the tide of war in our favor. But he was struck by lightning one day, and as a result, began to think for himself rather than follow orders to kill and destroy. He eventually meets a woman named Stephanie who helps Number Five develop a personality and shows him how people live. Number Five just wants input (any information available, be it in a book, on tv, etc.) and to live his life, but the military wants him back, as do his developers.

There isn't a whole lot to the movie itself, especially when you watch it now and don't let nostalgia blind you. While it is a pretty fun and cute comedy, it's hard to look past some things as being lame or borderline offensive. Fisher Stevens caked on the brown makeup and plays an Indian man here, and eventhough he did go to a dialect coach to learn how to 'speak Indian', I can see his role irking a lot of people. I thought he was funny as a kid, but now, why didn't they just go with a real Indian guy? And sadly, most of the scenes that don't have Number 5 are fairly boring. But when he's on-screen, it's impressive to see how much work was put into him, and seeing all the parts in his face and arms move, seeing that each item has a function. The message of the movie still holds up, like trying to teach a robot about life and death, and why things in the world are the way they are, even if there's no set reason for it. There's not much more to say about the movie other than if you've never seen it, and don't like movies from the 80s, you should pass. But for people looking to enjoy a robot comedy movie or are just nostalgic, give Short Circuit a shot, and definitely check out the sequel, since it did everything better.

Now here's the problemthe visual quality on the blu-ray is a mixed bag. Certain scenes look great while others are a mess. Just when a scene would look beautiful, everything would suddenly become grainy and dull, almost like it was taken from the vhs version. Don't expect much from the transfer here, and you should be fine. The audio though, is much better thanks to the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1. It's nothing that'll show off your home entertainment system, since the movie doesn't have a whole lot of explosions or gunfire, save for a few scenes, but it got much better treatment than the picture quality did.

Special features are fortunately back, after mysteriously vanishing from the second dvd release. The commentary track with the director and writers is here, and the guys do a good job of using their time to talk about technical details and fun stories on how they got the actors for their roles and why they went with some things, like having Stevens play an Indian man. They also talk about the trouble working with Number Five and the budget problems too. 'good commentary track here. Next is nearly an hour's worth of interviews with the cast and crew, though most of the time is spent talking about Number Five's development. Oddly enough, there's a featurette dedicated to the creation of Number 5 that runs under 10 minutes, and is hilarious to watch if only because of how 80s it is. An isolated music/sound effects track is on here as well, though I don't know why. This isn't exactly a movie that's known for either the music or sound effects, but I guess someone out there's been waiting for this. Finally are the Behind the Scenes (very short footage of people on the set/behind the cameras) and the press kit, which is just the trailer, photo gallery and bios and production notes. Overall the extras are good, but only for the die-hard fans of Short Circuit.

Once more, if you already have the special edition dvd, there's no reason to get Short Circuit on blu-ray unless you absolutely need all your movies on the format, or if you don't already have it and for some reason don't want the dvd. It's worth watching once if you haven't seen it, but the people who'll get the most out of it are those who still get something out of the more fun, zany movies from the 80s. You could do a lot worse than Short Circuit, that's for sure.

Read Best Reviews of Short Circuit (1986) Here

What would you do if your $11 million killer robot suffered a serious power surge, escaped, and now, rather than blowing up tanks and troops and stuff, was out chasing butterflies and convincing animal loving Ally Sheedy that a) he's not a martian, and b) he's alive? Why, you'd send out the military/goon types to bring him back so you could disassemble him and find out what went wrong. Right?

Well, disassembling a robot is an awful lot like dissecting an animal, and it doesn't take long for that ingratiating buckets of bolts who calls himself Five ("Five alive!") to figure any of that out. With the resourceful Ally on board Five is soon learning about life and eluding his bumbling pursuers. Among those in pursuit is Five's creator, Steve Guttenberg, and his vaguely Indian or Pakastani assistant Fisher Stevens. The movie indicates that there's an urgency to finding the errant robot before the guys with the guns do, but it's hard to tell the actor Guttenberg doesn't do `urgency' terribly well, and Fisher Stevens seems an over-caffienated bundle of energy. While in most movies either character would be too much (or too little,) in SHORT CIRCUIT the two rather neatly cancel each other out.

SHORT CIRCUIT is one of those movies you like despite yourself. It's corny and obvious and seemed aimed at non-discriminating 10-year-olds. Guttenberg is a cinderblock of an actor, and while I bought Five's breathless declaration "Five alive!" if I heard Guttenberg say it I'd probably ask for proof. Whatever humor you can milk from ineptly gung-ho military types is milked dry long before they put away their guns. Still, this one seems safe and relatively acceptable to all age groups. Sheedy's a marvel, and her scenes with Five contain whatever magic this story holds. Probably not a classic, but touching in spots. Medium strong recommendation.

Want Short Circuit (1986) Discount?

A feature with a feel I consider to be slightly different than others. This movie bases itself around a piece of machinery that becomes much more. Like many movies out there it explores concepts of AI, but further more artificial emotions. Expressed in what I feel is a highly entertaining and humorous manor, it is definately worth a viewing, and perhaps owning.

Of course there is the draw back, of the fact the DVD is letterbox widescreen, meaning that if you have, or plan to get a widescreen TV the quality will be short of that of an anamorphic version which appears not to exist at the time, it is the sole reason for 4 versus 5 stars.

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