Michael C here to celebrate some of cinema's lesser known machine life.
Artificial Intelligence is such a rich idea, if it is introduced into a film more often than not it is going to be the centerpiece of the story, as is the case with titles ranging from 2001 to Blade Runner to Her. Even when it is not the main attraction, like with the droids from Star Wars or the synthetics of the Alien movies, those films still have to take the care to craft a world in which these robots make sense.
That said, there are those rare films that introduce A.I. into the storyline seemingly at random. “Oh yeah, forgot to mention. There are sentient machines in this world.” To introduce such a big concept in such an offhand manner is always jarring, and can often be unintentionally hilarious.
Jor-El Hologram in Man of Steel (2013)
By the time the Superman finds the last recording of his deceased father late in Man of Steel, the audience is primed for some variation on the scene from the original Superman where hologram Brando boots up to impart some prerecorded wisdom to his son. Instead we essentially get Russell Crowe’s Jor-El brought back from the dead. He can respond to new information and run around the ship opening doors for Lois Lane. Hologram Jor-el even has an emotional confrontation with Zod about things that happened after Zod murdered him. The idea that this is even possible is frankly way more interesting than the giant space jackhammer the audience is supposed to care about at that point during the climax.
Sico in Rocky IV (1985)
So the fourth film in the Rocky franchise is plugging away, hitting all the typical, roided out, 80’s sports movie beats, when out of the blue Rocky gives Uncle Paulie SICO, a fully intelligent robot butler, as a Christmas gift. Paulie and the bot proceed to develop a wacky odd couple relationship, at least until things go next level bonkers and Paulie reprograms the robot to be female (which for some reason dumb old Paulie is capable of doing). The Rocky films weren’t exactly bastions of realism by the fourth entry but it is difficult to put into words just how bizarre it is to have this A.I. subplot dropped into the middle of a boxing movie. It is the equivalent of the next Fast and the Furious sequel having an appearance by The Great Gazoo who floats next Ludacris during chase scenes dispensing wise cracks.
Alsatia Zevo in Toys (1992)
Unlike the total randomness of Rocky IV’s subplot, everything in Barry Levinson’s Toys should prepare the audience for the appearance of a humanoid robot. After all, Toys is little more than two hours of elaborate gizmos. Yet it is still so very weird when it’s revealed that (20 year old spoiler warning) Joan Cusack’s character was a robot the whole time, built by Robin Williams’ toy maker father as companion for his oddball son. Like the rest of Toys, the twist is designed to be sweet and charming but lands squarely on unsettling. It’s a combination of the way the twist doesn’t add up and the movie’s bizarre foreshadowing that Alsatia is not quite human (She enjoys mayonnaise sandwiches…just like a robot would?)
Box in Logan’s Run (1976)
Around the 2/3 mark of the dystopian thriller Logan’s Run, Michael York and Jenny Agutter are trying to escape through an ice tunnel to the mythical “sanctuary” when they encounter Box, a giant tin foil robot who speaks with the warm tones of Babe narrator Roscoe Lee Brown and who looks like he was designed for the original Star Trek show after it had blown the whole budget on tribbles. At first it seems like Box is going to be like all the other soulless computer programs in the movie, but he is different, describing himself as “More than machine or man. More than a fusion of the two.” Not only is Box a conscious being but it quickly becomes clear that he has been down in that ice cave alone waaaay too long and has lost his little robot mind. For five minutes our heroes listen to Box ramble like a street corner prophet, making grandiose nonsense declarations (“The deep grottos whisper my name. Box…BOX…BOOOOOX!”) going on and on about plankton, and finally attempt to murder them while cackling like a loon. Nothing in Logan’s Run is explained with too much depth but the Box interlude is especially nutty - nothing about it makes a lick of sense or even attempts to - but damned if it isn’t one of the most memorable scenes in the film, random or not.
Do you have any other "favorite" examples?