Sometimes a movie fails to inspire. Maybe it’s too slow, or the dialogue is flat. Maybe the characters spend too much time looking at the horizon, knitting their alabaster brows, feeling things so complex and soulful that normal people fall asleep watching them. Maybe it’s my editing heart or just my human desire not to be bored, but I often find myself thinking “What this movie needs is... an OCD fisherman on a meth binge” or “...a few more rabid dogs” or even “...Satan, arriving on a bicycle to rule the earth for a thousand years.”
Since writing my book, which features robots in a prominent role, I’ve been obsessing on robots I love in the movies. A movie with a robot in it has never really let me down. I’m not sure I can establish an absolute cause and effect relationship here, but if vampires and zombies can be surgically added to beef up the entertainment value of familiar tales, then I feel robots can be applied medicinally to movies that fail to excite. Here are ten movies I can really see improving after a stiff shot of robot.
If two women are central to a movie, you can bet your box of tissues that one of them is going to become fatally ill, linger, and then die. Mothers and daughters, sisters, friends: there’s a bad kidney lurking, or some kind of malignancy — depend upon it. This movie is all about the friendship between two women: C.C. and Hillary. Sometimes they fight; sometimes they’re friends. Sometimes they have boyfriends; sometimes they have careers. UNTIL the writers remember the importance of killing off one of any female pair, at which point Hillary pops out a heart condition and begins to aggressively die. Enter the robot.
An artificial heart would cure Hillary’s medical problem, then the movie could end cheerfully, instead of bumping off into a puddle of despair, and leaving “Wind Beneath My Wings” with us as the most ambiguous tearjerking song of the decade. “You are the wind beneath my wings,” bellows C.C. That’s right, bitch. MY wings. You are the insubstantial jet of air whose only significance is the way you create lift under my brilliant plumage as I soar. I am the soaring plumage. Had Hillary lived with a robot heart, she might have even gotten her own wings. Then C.C. and Hillary could have taken more turns trampling and inflating each others’ enormous egos.
Eat Pray Love
In my robot-infested version of this movie, the world would be under attack by a robotic horde. Their objective can be anything reasonable: world domination, religious conversion, eating at Chipotle just like the humans do, or whatever. The important thing is that our heroine, Liz Gilbert, has a good reason to travel to Rome, India, and Bali — because robots are there, killing all the people! Traveling the world to find yourself is intolerably insipid, but traveling the world to quell a robot uprising is quite fantastic. Their tagline: “Let yourself go.” My tagline: “Let yourself go... fight robots!”
Steel Magnolias is about a bunch of women in a social group that forms around a hair salon. Not only are they all friends, but there is a mother-daughter pair right in the middle of it, so you know right away that the daughter is marked for death. Sure enough, Shelby Eatenton has diabetes, and spends the movie sweetly expiring. Oh, first she has a baby. But then she dies.
You may think I am going to call up a dialysis robot, to save Shelby and the day. But Shelby’s illness and death are so critical to the movie that subtracting that part of the plot would deflate the whole film. Steel Magnolias is a tense, emotional, Southern movie, where lots of feelings go unspoken, and lots of anxiety rampages around unseen and unspoken while women are wisecracking and biting their tongues. What this movie really needs is a hairdressing robot. A comical robot that can humorously misfire and scald an old lady, or chop the tresses off a prom queen, or give a goat a perm. Comic relief, a problem in common for all the frenemies in the movie to unite against, and it could wear a funny, frilly apron.
The English Patient
In the forties, in the desert, everything was very difficult. When your girlfriend got shot, you had to leave her in a cave for three days while you wandered around getting lost, captured, and burned up in a fire. Your girlfriend, in the past, had to die alone in despair, causing you to spend the rest of your life in a guilty funk, poisoning everything you touch. In the future, in the desert, everything will be easy! You can leave your android companion with your girlfriend to minister to her needs in the cave while you are gone. Or, better yet, you can send your android companion to get help. And your android companion will actually get help, and bring it back. I’ll confess I have always thought that a real man, upon reaching town, would have calmly explained his presence, instead of getting pissy with the cops and being thrown in jail. Robots don’t get pissy with cops. Robots just report the cave’s location, and the medical requirements of the people inside.
Terms of Endearment
The Steel Magnolias Principle: Mother + Daughter = Death. For this movie, I would still not save the daughter with a medical robot. I would use a robotic spy plane death drone to first document and then punish the adulterous transgressions of the daughter’s husband. First, his name is Flap. Have you ever heard of anyone in all of literature or pop culture named “Flap”? No. Having a name that no one else has might be cool if the name wasn’t “Flap.” But it is. Second, he looks like Jeff Daniels and is a college professor and yet has a passionate affair with a young graduate student named Janice while his wife dies of cancer. Flap and Janice. Now Flap (I can hardly say his name without throat punching him) makes it through the theatrical release of Terms of Endearment by mumbling and deflecting, but in my version, he would be hunted by attack drones and killed without mercy.
In this movie, three sisters, played by Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, and Lisa Kudrow, have a lot of conversations, wear clothes, and try to figure out what to do with their disagreeably dying father. In my version, there’s a fourth sister, a robot, whose job it is to kill the father and blame it on the others. Instantly better! That’ll give the ladies something to talk about on the phone. “Have you seen Sally?” “Yes, she’s in my living room right now, a coil of brutal steel and wire, planting evidence in my purse!”
The Terms of Endearment Principle: When mother and daughter are together in a movie, one of them will die a lingering death. This movie is no exception. As we all know from our old but vibrant emotional scars, Beth dies. But the problem here isn’t Beth’s illness. It’s really the fact that the movie just has too many freakin’ women in it. Six female main characters? It’s a marvel the attrition rate to slow diseases wasn’t even higher. My solution would be to turn Marmee and Aunt March into genderless robots. While we’re at it, let’s make them warring robots. Marmee would be the good robot (obvs) and Aunt March would be the one with the glowing red eyes, and they could fight for the souls of the four sisters. Forget pickled limes and darning and community theater. Let’s talk futuristic weaponry. Oh, you don’t think I should mess with Little Women? Weren’t you the one complaining that Winona Ryder’s portrayal of Jo March was gutless and insipid? Yeah, but okay, robots will ruin the movie. Blame the robots.
Good Luck Chuck
High concept movies are supposed to be easy to understand. For example, this movie is about a man who is cursed in such a way that whoever he sleeps with marries the next person she sleeps with. Clear? Except, the movie doesn’t seem to be about that at all after the first five minutes. What about this: Chuck is a man cursed in such a way that every girl he sleeps with becomes a robot and tries to take over the nearest corporation, utilizing its manufacturing pipeline to replicate itself. Robot armies form. Chuck is forced into celibacy — or is he? Yep, NOW we’re clear.
500 Days of Summer
Here is a movie about the terrible angst and unbearable heartache caused by engaging in a semi-okay relationship that lasted less than a year with someone you weren’t sure you really liked. The director of the movie has admitted that Summer (played by Zooey Deschanel) was not meant to be a real girl, but a phase that Tom (male main character) goes through. She’s an immature interpretation of perfection. Okay, let’s take that one step farther, since the movie as it is now gave me seven cavities in my teeth right before my head fell off from the preciousness of it all. Tom’s architecture degree could be utilized by creating a robot Summer that will do everything Tom wants her to do, and never wander off or get distracted by bricks and how they stack and are red. Maybe Robot Summer can fight Real Summer, or else both the Summers can turn on Tom and teach him a lesson about growing up. In the face.
Adding robots to Twilight is all about triangulation. There are vampires and werewolves already, and now there are also robots. Since the werewolves are all boys, the robots should be all girls. Tell me you don’t want to see an urban gang of lesbian robot chicks vying for Bella’s attention, to offset the earthy testosterone of Team Jacob. I’d watch it. Think Pris from Blade Runner. Now thing Pris from Blade Runner popping Edward Cullen’s head off.
Wouldn’t it be nice if one could apply these fixes to movies while watching? Sort of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” where Choice A was “carry on sucking” and Choice B was “start being awesome with a robot.” I’m sure there are other movies that need robots. Meet Joe Black would be vastly improved by an android that fulfills the function of Death. City of Angels would be much more interesting if the angel inadvertently fell in love with a Roomba. And Shallow Hal? Well let’s just say that a movie that claims it is “surprisingly moving” and yet has a vestigial tail as a plot point needs a Terminator, stat.
To what movie would you add a robot? Tell me in the comments.
Lydia Netzer is a writer, a reader, and a mom, living in Virginia with her two redheaded kids and her android cyclist husband. Her novel, Shine Shine Shine, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press on July 17, 2012. It has robots in it already. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.