Short Circuit (1986)
When I was a sci-fi hungering kid in the early ‘80s, a common fantasy of mine was to be taken into space by friendly aliens. It’s remarkable that there are quite a few movies from that very era which reflect this same desire, from E.T. (1982), The Last Starfighter (1984) and to Short Circuit (1986), just to name a few. All right, Short Circuit is not about aliens or space, but the main character in this movie, delightfully played by a bubbly Ally Sheedy, has this exact reaction when she first encounters the newly-intelligent robot Number 5, which is rambling around the small-town countryside in his first and very accidental exploration of the world that he is suddenly aware of. She thinks it’s an alien, and is ecstatic that some aliens have finally found her! She soons succumbs to disappointment on this particular point, but still forges a warm friendship with the endearing robot.
The movie is about how Number 5 gained self-awareness by being struck by lightning, and as he accidentally escapes the military laboratory compound where he and his fellow robots are best developed and tested, security forces come after him in force, believing that his weapons capacities are wildly dangerous. Number 5, however, has become a creature of wonder, being emotionally affected by butterflies and television and all sorts of natural and cultural phenomena. But the evil military is hot on his heels…
Impressively, Number 5 is lively and believable as a character, owing to very good special effects. It’s also interesting to note that the 2008 Pixar movie Wall-E basically took the design of Wall-E from Number 5 – we even have a fun bit with a cockroach in both movies.
Short Circuit does not take itself seriously, nor would it be appropriate if it did. Instead, it coasts along on the best style of ‘80s funny dialogue for young adults (plenty of good puns) and good all-ages fun, despite the violent shenanigans of some bumbling security forces. It sure brings back memories of how much fun the ‘80s could be. And it’s no coincidence, either, as it is directed by the director of quintessential ‘80s classic WarGames (1983, also, of course, starring Ally Sheedy), which is a great favorite of mine.
I am actually not sure I ever saw Short Circuit before now, but back in ’88 or ’89 I did catch the sequel theatrically, and still have fond memories of it. Fisher Stevens comes into his own in the sequel (where he is the main character) far more than in the first movie, where he is actually the comic relief sidekick (amusingly sporting a strong Pakistani accent), but is much more fun than the somewhat wooden Steve Guttenberg. Ally Sheedy’s character is very well-realized, complete with a sleaze-bag ex-boyfriend, and much of the movie really revolve around her happy and indomitable personality. As well it should; she’s great.
Short Circuit is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on November 19. The movie is not important enough in the scheme of things to have received a major restoration for the Blu-ray release, and it is also from a period when the quality of the film used in most motion pictures was not conducive to ultra-sharpness. As a result, the new Blu-ray reviewed here, while decent-looking, does not come close to the kind of excellence we see in digitally restored and remastered classics; significant graininess remains on the screen, although this is rarely enough to detract from the enjoyment of the experience.
There is a quite impressive handful of extras on this disc. There are short interviews with the cast and director from back when the movie premiered, and longer, newer interviews with the effects people. There is also a commentary track, a short behind-the-scenes feature, and trailer. A short feature on the creation of No. 5 rounds out the package very nicely. This is a sweet deal!
Director: John Badham
Cast: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, G.W. Bailey and others.
Runtime: 98 min.