Blu-ray Review – Short Circuit (1986)

Short Circuit, 1986.

Directed by John Badham.
Starring Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, G.W. Bailey, Brian McNamara and Tim Blaney.

SYNOPSIS:

An experimental military robot becomes sentient after being struck by lightning and befriends a young woman, who attempts to help him from being recaptured by the army.

Let’s take a trip back to a simpler, more civilized age – the 1980s, where military robots enjoyed nothing better than settling down in front of the TV to watch old Marx Brothers movies or busting out some John Travolta dance moves to Saturday Night Fever, as opposed to obliterating humanity and taking over the world. Well, that’s not quite true of course (one only needs to look at The Terminator for evidence of that), but it’s certainly the case when it comes Number 5, the protagonist of director John Badham’s (the aforementioned Saturday Night Fever) 1986 smash hit sci-fi comedy Short Circuit, which receives a shiny new Blu-ray HD re-release today courtesy of Second Sight Films.

Created by scientist Newton Crosby (80s favourite Steve Guttenberg) and his assistant Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens) as one of five prototype robots reappropriated by the military to unleash on those pesky Russians during the Cold War, Number 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney) becomes alive after being struck by lightning during a storm. Wandering out of the military facility, Number 5 eventually arrives at the residence of the animal-loving Stephanie Speck (80s favourite Ally Sheedy); initially mistaken as an extra-terrestrial, the malfunctioning robot seeks ‘input’ from Stephanie, soaking up information from books, magazines, old movies and trash daytime TV to develop a personality and an awareness of his own existence.

While Number 5 explores his new found ‘humanity’, Crosby’s employers at Nova Laboratories are keen to recapture their $11 million investment (and avoid a potential PR nightmare, should Number 5 realise he’s carrying a super-powerful laser on his back and decide to put it to use on the local populace). The company dispatches head of security Captain Skroeder (Guttenberg’s Police Academy nemesis G.W. Bailey) to capture the robot, but naturally Number 5 doesn’t take too kindly to the thought of being ‘disassembled’ and with the help of Stephanie, he sets out to convince Crosby of his sentience so the trio can go on to live happily ever after.    

So, how does Short Circuit hold up after all these years? Well, for a start it looks great, thanks in part to a decent HD restoration for the Blu-ray release, but credit is also due to Eric Allard (Stuart Little) and his VFX team for the fine practical effects employed to bring Syd Mead’s (Blade Runner, TRON) Number 5 design to life. Still, it’s also a product of its time – the “wholesome 80s family entertainment movie” – complete with standard performances from its then box-office draws, a sprinkling of adult humour to keep the parents happy, and an Indian character portrayed by a white actor (Fisher Stevens) who puts Apu Nahasapeemapetilon to shame as a stereotype, but still manages to steal most of the laughs.

If you have fond childhood memories of Short Circuit, then it’s certainly worth a watch for nostalgic purposes; Number 5 remains an endearing enough character (if a little annoying at times) and his zany antics will surely still entertain the young ‘uns of today, while the film’s basic premise of discovering the value of life is almost Disney-esque in its timelessness. There’s also an “edgy, darker” remake featuring a “brooding” Number 5 in the works from Tim Hill, the man who brought us Muppets from Space, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Hop, so this might be your last chance to revisit the original before its memory is sullied forever.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★

Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.