I decided to spend my evening watching a childhood favorite, Short Circuit. As a kid, I remember loving the movie, wanting a million animals like Ally Sheedy’s character, some form of a toy with tank-like wheels for myself, and, oh yeah, a robot best friend who does not have a normal robot personality. Re-watching the film as an adult, I was surprised at all the cheesy adult humor I missed as a kid and found myself enjoying the show even more.
NOVA Laboratories develops five prototype robots called Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport’s or S.A.I.N.T.’s for the US military. After a presentation, one of the bots, Number 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney), is struck by lightning, ends up reprogrammed, and manages to find himself off the lab’s campus. Because of his dangerous nature, a full-blown military style search led by Skroeder (G.W. Bailey) ensues. Also searching for Number 5 are his creators, Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) and Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens).
Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy) finds Number 5 while he is recharging himself in her food truck and mistakes him for an alien. Number 5 educates himself, satisfying a need of “input,” with her books and television. Stephanie attempts to turn him in to NOVA when she realizes he is a military invention, only to discover they want to disassemble him. Number 5 learns to understand the term disassemble when he accidentally kills a grasshopper, and realizes it cannot be reassembled. He tries to flee but is captured by Newton and Ben. Number 5 escapes and returns to Stephanie for protection, sparking interest in his creators because of his unusual “I’m alive” behavior.
Following numerous escapes from the soldiers, Stephanie and Number 5 meet up with Newton and convince him that Number 5 is alive. However, when they are discovered by the soldiers, Number 5 tries to escape and is blown up by a helicopter. This devastates Stephanie and Newton. After they leave the scene, Number 5 reveals himself, having used the spare parts in Newton’s work van to create a fake Number 5. Now that he is a free individual, he decides he needs to have a real name. He chooses Johnny 5 based off El DeBarge’s song “Who’s Johnny?”.
Now that I am watching this as adult, I have a little more appreciation for the film. First, I love the relationship between Newton and Ben, two nerd creators whose lives are spent inside their lab. Their lack of social interaction with the outside world leads to some awkward and hilarious conversations and moments.
Speaking of conversations, here is a list of some quotes that tickled my fancy, some of which I would not have understood as a kid:
Number 5: Hey, laser lips, your mama was a snow blower.
Number 5: [confused when Stephanie is in the bathtub] Stephanie… change color! Attractive! Nice software.
Ben Jabituya: With excitement like this, who is needing enemas?
Ben Jabituya: “As we are fond of saying in my country, market place make dull home for rodents.”
Newton Crosby: “Where are you from anyway?”
Ben Jabituya: “Bakersfield originally.”
Newton Crosby: “No, I mean your ancestors.”
Ben Jabituya: “Oh, them… Pittsburgh.”
Ben Jabituya: I am thinking she is a virgin, or at least she used to be.
Ben Jabituya: Newton, you know what is out there in the great outdoors? Girls. Mmmmm! With brassieres and legs – mmm. You have a working knowledge of girls?
Newton Crosby: No, but I read about ‘em.
Ben Jabituya: Oh, then… maybe I can furnish you with some schematic drawings?
Aside from newly appreciated adult humor, the movie does bring up an interesting topic: what happens when a robot is able to think for itself, becoming ‘alive’?
Machines are usually considered intelligent because of the vast knowledge they are programmed with. This movie shows the positive side of when a machine can think for itself. However, what about an angry robot? With the information they have about almost anything and everything, they could be a danger. I guess it would depend on how they received their knowledge. In the instance of Number 5, he gained his “input” through books owned by Stephanie, who is positive and caring (I mean, look at all her animals…) and television, which includes watching The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Fever (for dancing lessons). Moreover, with the support of Stephanie, he has more of a ‘good’ personality versus the destructiveness usually portrayed by self thinking robots because of their oppression by the human race.
So, like humans, if a robot becomes an ‘alive person,’ will the outcome of their personality and choices be based on nurture over nature?
Or am I thinking too hard for a fun good-natured film? It;s quite possible my grown-up brain is trying to get in the way of some simple entertainment. But, now that I have enjoyed it as an adult, I may even dive into the sequel, 1988’s Short Circuit 2. I do not remember much of it now, but I am sure I will possibly enjoy the trip down memory road as much as I did re-watching this.