The good news is that I maintained my new habit of going to the Foothills Cinema once a week for a late-night screening. This time I saw Robots, which was both better and more Bean-friendly than I had expected it to be. Perversely, though, I'm disappointed that it wasn't more overtly incoherent.
Back when I first started to watch movies with an eye to analyzing them afterwards, I found myself drawn to pictures that failed in some way. If a film seemed ill-suited to its target market, out of step with the industry's look of the moment, uncertain of its story's ramifications, then that film was the one I wanted to take apart. Although my models for the interpretation of popular culture derived principally from Kim on the one hand -- horror, film noir, "American Realism" -- and Joe and Annalee of Bad Subjects fame on the other -- science-fiction, buddy films, ensemble pictures -- I set out on the proverbial road less travelled in spite of my fealty. Sometimes I managed to persuade one or more of them to see a movie through my eyes. More often than not, though, I ended up being interested in precisely the sort of details that their better-schooled eyes deliberately overlooked.
The best example of my deviant approach is the fact that, of all the interesting films being produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the one that I spent the most time thinking about, the one I used in one rejected paper topic after another, was Backdraft, which is about as far from a classic as an A-movie can get, since it's not even bad enough to warrant redemption as a "cult classic." I recently found the picture on DVD for five dollars. Maybe some day I'll revisit my thoughts on it for your "pleasure." For now, it's enough to state that I was sorry to learn that Robots is no Backdraft.
This is not to say that Robots is devoid of incoherence. As I've been arguing lately when I discuss the rise of the computer-animated blockbuster, the very fact that films like Shrek 2, The Incredibles, and Robots have to please 6-12 year olds and their parents equally guarantees that they show signs of schizophrenia. Because the humor in Robots is pitched a little lower and sillier, not to mention a little less postmodern, than it is in similar films, however, this quality doesn't stand out the way I was wishing it would.
When I sit in my lonely seat thinking, "Skylar would think this is funny," or "Skylar would understand most of this scene," as I did throughout Robots, I know that the movie in question is not on the cutting-edge of cinematic confusion. Interestingly, while this perception annoyed me at first, I ended up being able to put it aside and just laugh.
For all that, though, Robots is still a film about robots. And films about robots invariably have an allegorical dimension that no amount of slickness can wholly eliminate. Robot films are about work, who does it and who has someone else do it for them. To their credit, the makers of Robots, like their counterparts in I. Robot, never lost sight of this important fact. No matter how palatable Robots is, the aftertaste of labor still lingers in the mouth.
What this means in the context of a film whose production required the drudgery of computers and the drudges who made them is an interesting question. What it means in light of the film's diligent effort to fuse the technocratic sheen of the 1930s with the funkadelic vibe of the 1970s is an ever better question. There's plenty to mine in Robots. I just wish that the veins of valuable metal weren't so embedded in the rock of competence.