Short Circuit (1986 film)
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
|Directed by||John Badham|
|Music by||David Shire|
|Edited by||Frank Morriss|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Box office||$40.7 million|
Short Circuit is a 1986 American comic science fiction film directed by John Badham and written by S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. The film's plot centers upon an experimental military robot that is struck by lightning and gains a more humanlike intelligence, with which it embarks to explore its new state. Short Circuit stars Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton and G. W. Bailey, with Tim Blaney as the voice of the robot named "Johnny 5". A sequel, Short Circuit 2, was released in 1988.
Number 5 is part of a series of prototype U.S. military S.A.I.N.T. (Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport) robots built for the Cold War by NOVA Laboratories. The series' inventors, Newton Graham Crosby and Ben Jabituya, are more interested in peaceful applications including music and social aid. After a demonstration of the robots' capabilities, Number 5 is hit by a lightning-induced power surge, scrambling its programming and giving it a sense of free will. Several incidents allow the robot to escape the facility accidentally, barely able to communicate and uncertain of its directive. In Astoria, Oregon, Stephanie Speck (who cares for animals and mistakes Number 5 for an extraterrestrial visitor) grants Number 5 access to books, television, and other stimuli, to satisfy his hunger for 'input'; whereupon Number 5 develops a whimsical and curious childlike personality. When Stephanie realizes Number 5 is a military invention, she contacts NOVA who send out a team to recover him, bringing one of the other robots along to help. When Number 5 accidentally crushes a grasshopper and gains an understanding of mortality, he concludes that if NOVA disassembles him he too will cease to be alive. Horrified, Number 5 steals Stephanie's van and flees, but the pair are cornered by NOVA, including Crosby and Ben. Although Stephanie attempts to reveal his newly discovered sentience, Number 5 is deactivated and captured. Being taken on the way to NOVA, he manages to turn himself back on and escapes despite a tracker that had been placed on him. Returning to Stephanie for protection, Number 5's unusual actions catch the attention of his creators, but NOVA's CEO Dr. Howard Marner turns a deaf ear to their wild hypothesis.
From this follow several adventurous escapes from the soldiers, led by NOVA's security chief Captain Skroeder (G. W. Bailey). Having humiliated Stephanie's ex-boyfriend Frank and three of the remaining prototypes (that have been reprogrammed to imitate The Three Stooges by Number 5), Stephanie and the robot convince Crosby of the robot's sentience. Shortly after, the trio are cornered by Skroeder, who has secretly taken over NOVA's security, and the Army, both of whom chase after Number 5, whose only concern is Crosby and Stephanie's safety. Number 5 flees across the fields until a US Army helicopter sweeps over a nearby rise and its missiles blow the helpless robot to pieces. Crosby and Stephanie are devastated over the loss, Crosby resigns from NOVA. Marner is also disappointed at the destruction of years of research, and seeing the security team celebrate, quickly dismisses Skroeder for insubordination. Stephanie leaves with Crosby, who plans to head to his father's estate in Montana and start over. During their drive, Number 5 reveals himself to them, surprising his friends by revealing the warmongers actually blew up a duplicate he made out of spare parts. Elated in their reunion, Number 5 renames himself "Johnny 5" after a song "Who's Johnny" that he heard when he escaped from NOVA's van. He accompanies Stephanie and Crosby to their new home.
- Tim Blaney as Johnny 5 (voice)
- Ally Sheedy as Stephanie Speck, who befriends Johnny 5
- Steve Guttenberg as Newton Crosby, Ph.D., the designer of the prototypes
- Fisher Stevens as Ben Jabituya, Newton's assistant (in Short Circuit 2 his name is Benjamin Jahrvi)
- Austin Pendleton as Dr. Howard Marner, President of Nova Robotics
- G. W. Bailey as Captain Skroeder
- Brian McNamara as Frank, Stephanie's abusive ex-boyfriend
- Marvin J. McIntyre as Duke, one of Nova's security officers
- John Garber as Otis
- Penny Santon as Mrs. Cepeda, Stephanie's housekeeper
- Vernon Weddle as General Washburne
- Barbara Tarbuck as Senator Mills
- John Badham as Cameraman (uncredited)
The voices of Number 1, Number 2 & Number 3 are uncredited
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This film was conceived after the producers distributed an educational video about a robot to various colleges. Studying other films with a prominent robot cast (like the Star Wars series) for inspiration, they decided to question human reactions to a 'living' robot, on the premise that no one would initially believe its sentience.
According to the commentary in the DVD, Number 5 was the most expensive part of the film, requiring several different versions to be made for different sequences. Almost everything else in the film was relatively inexpensive, allowing them to allocate as much money as they needed for the robot character. Number 5 was designed by Syd Mead, the "visual futurist" famous for his work on Blade Runner and Tron.
Mead's design was greatly influenced by the sketches of Eric Allard, the Robotics Supervisor credited for "realizing" the robots. John Badham named Eric "the most valuable player" on the film.
Most of the arm movements of Number 5 were controlled by a "telemetry suit", carried on the puppeteer's upper torso. Each joint in the suit had a separate sensor, allowing the puppeteer's arm and hand movements to be transferred directly to the machine. He was also voiced in real-time by his puppeteer, the director believing that it provided for a more realistic interaction between the robot and the other actors than putting in his voice in post-production, although a few of his lines were re-dubbed later.
During Stephanie's impromptu news interview, director John Badham makes a cameo appearance as the news cameraman.
The sequence in the film depicting Number 5 watching the movie Saturday Night Fever (and imitating John Travolta's dance moves) is an in-joke: Saturday Night Fever and Short Circuit were both directed by John Badham.
Fisher Stevens said that when he was originally hired to play Ben Jabituya, the character was not intended to be Indian. Stevens was fired and replaced by Bronson Pinchot at one point, but then Pinchot left to do the sitcom Perfect Strangers, and Stevens was rehired. To portray the role he had to grow a beard, dye his hair black, darken his skin with makeup, turn his blue eyes brown with contact lenses, speak with an East Indian accent and "walk hunched over like a cricket player."
In 2009, Austin Pendleton, who had gone to college with Short Circuit director John Badham, stated "some stuff was cut out of my part in [Short Circuit]. And also the two leading roles were cast with really talented, attractive people who were not right for the parts. [The] script was just heartbreakingly beautiful to read. And now it's a nice little slightly bland kids' movie. Nothing exactly wrong with it. Those two people who are in the leads are good, very likeable, easy-to-work-with people, and have done some good work; they just weren't those people that were written in the script. And I said to John when it was about to open, 'Why did you cast them?' And he said, 'That was what the studio insisted on.' And it sort of ended the discussion. I said, 'Okay.' The film kind of works, but again, it was going to have been quite a beautiful film."
According to Pendleton, the role Steve Guttenberg ended up playing "was a person who could not relate to other human beings, so he poured all that into the creation of the robot. Well, Steve, he's a lovely guy, and I think he's talented... He had a wonderful kind of charisma. Very easy, but utterly social. He's just so very engaging and open with people. He's wonderful to be on a movie with... [But] he does not bring onscreen with him the problem that the character in that movie has... The perfect person for the role, 20 years earlier, would have been Dustin Hoffman. That thing that Dustin brought to The Graduate that a more affable actor would not have... A sense of utter alienation from everything around him."
In 2008 Varèse Sarabande issued David Shire's score as part of their CD Club series of limited edition releases. The DeBarge song was not included or mentioned in the liner notes. The last three tracks are source music.
The booklet claims the end title song is not used in the film. It is, however, on the soundtrack. The finale mix and end title are combined into one track, but used separately in the film.
|Short Circuit [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]|
|2.||"The Quickening/Off The Bridge"||2:44|
|3.||"Discovering Number 5/Sunrise"||4:32|
|5.||"The Attack/Coming To"||3:47|
|6.||"Road Block/Bathtub/Robot Battle"||2:42|
|8.||"Night Scene/Joke Triumph"||4:17|
|9.||"Danger, Nova/Escape Attempt/Aftermath"||3:48|
|10.||"Finale/End Title: "Come And Follow Me" - Max Carl and Marcy Levy"||5:04|
|11.||"Source Music: Rock"||3:39|
|12.||"Source Music: Bar"||1:51|
|13.||"Source Music: The Three Stooges"||1:08|
A video game developed by Ocean Software for ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC was also made based on the film. It featured two parts: one arcade adventure where Johnny 5 had to escape from the lab, and one action part where Johnny 5 escapes across the countryside, avoiding soldiers, other robots, and animals.
The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. It currently holds a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus: "Amiable and good-natured but also shallow and predictable, Short Circuit is hardly as deep or emotionally resonant as E.T. -- though Johnny Five makes for a charming robot protagonist." Trade paper Variety wrote, "Short Circuit is a hip, sexless sci-fi sendup" and praised the writers "for some terrific dialog that would have been a lot less disarming if not for the winsome robot and Sheedy's affection for it. Guttenberg plays his best goofy self." In The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "The movie, which has the clean, well-scrubbed look of an old Disney comedy, is nicely acted". The Sun-Sentinel gave a good review, saying, "Number Five is the real star of this energetic film. Sheedy, Guttenberg and company are just supporting players." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated it 1.5 out of 4 four stars and called it "too cute for its own good".
Short Circuit debuted at No. 1 in the US box office. It grossed a total of $40,697,761, ranking it 21st for 1986 in the United States; it performed slightly better than other 1986 hits like Pretty in Pink, The Fly, Three Amigos, Little Shop Of Horrors and About Last Night.
Awards and nominations
- Honored with the Winsor McCay Award [for career achievement]
|Best Director||John Badham||Nominated|
|Best Science Fiction Film||Nominated|
|Best Special Effects||Eric Allard, Syd Mead||Nominated|
|BMI Film Music Award||David Shire||Won|
Sequel and remake
The sequel, Short Circuit 2, premiered in 1988. There was a script for a possible third film written in 1989 and rewritten in 1990, but it was found unsatisfactory by the producers, and the project was subsequently scrapped.
In April 2008, Variety reported that Dimension Films had acquired the rights to remake the original film. Dan Milano had been hired to write the script, and David Foster to produce it. Foster said that the robot's appearance would not change.
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