Thursday, January 29, 2009

Movies Featuring Giant Robots (That Michael Bay Pretends Don't Exist)

If you've been paying attention to the entertainment news lately a small incident might have slipped passed you. We all know Michael Bay, acclaimed producer of such films as "Armageddon", "Pearl Harbour" (both of which he also directed... oh the talent!) as well as the man who has bastardized just about any horror film you've loved in the last 25 years. Somewhere in his career he managed to direct two films that were actually fantastic; "The Rock" and, of course, "Transformers".

In a bout of being a complete baby, Bay recently took a jab at director McG while, promoting his upcoming film "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen". He stated, "Okay it's time to turn up the heat on 'Transformers - Revenge of the Fallen'. We've waited low in the weeds letting all the summer movies get their stuff out. We've seen the great year-end movies, and watched the upcoming clips of the upcoming summer fare. We've seen certain movies coming out even try to duplicate Transformer size robots in their ads. Please, come on." Oh, indeed Mr. Bay. Come on. He is referring to the McG helmed flick coming out this summer, "Terminator: Salvation", which has shown that some massive terminators will be featured in this highly anticipated film.

Rather delightfully, McG responded, "It bothers me to tell you the truth. Ultimately, our large robots have nothing to do with the 'Transformers' robots. I say with respect, giant robots have been the theme of film for a real long time . So we want to do everything we can to create separation..."

Well, I'll say, with every ounce of disrespect implied that, Mr. Bay, you're an enormous ASSHAT and you, in fact, did not create GIANT ROBOTS. Here's some instances of films that, unless you live in Michael Bay's fantasy universe, did indeed sport large mechanical beings, of the robot variety.

5. Voyage Into Space (1970)
This will be the first of several entries on this list that will feature Japanese films, because, as we all know (or should) the Japanese came up with everything cool before anyone else did.

This film is actually a conglomeration of several episodes of a TV show that aired on American International Television in the early 70s. It was called "Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot". The show was originally aired on TV Asahi, in Japan, from October 11, 1967 to April 1, 1968 as Giant Robo (Jaianto Robo) and spanned 26 episodes. Yes... the show was called GIANT ROBO (and in some cases actually GIANT ROBOT in the US).

In the show a terrorist group known as Gargoyle (Big Fire in Japan), headed by an alien emperor of some sort, are kidnapping the world's scientists to create giant monsters, with which to then attack the Earth. Through a fantastic little slip of serendipity a young boy, Johnny Sokko (Daisaku Kusama in Japan), ends up crashed on a remote island, because one of Gargoyle's monsters happened to attack a ship he was on. Bet they were sorry about that! On this island, he eventually finds one of the many giant monsters being made by a scientist, Dr. Lucius Guardian. This brilliant mind of science, that has managed to create a giant, virtually indestructible, robot decides it's a perfectly good idea to give control of this masterpiece to the young child, and then the hilarity ensues.

This film (and show) has a cult status due to it's cheesy plot, look and violence. Most children's shows that were brought to US shores from Japan were heavily edited due to their violent nature, but "Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot" somehow managed to escape censors. As a result, it's a giant robot film that, although you may not know of, is still a classic.

In a side note, another giant robot that is very similar in appearance to Giant Robo is Jet Jaguar (based on Mazinger Z, which I'll explain later). Jet Jaguar was the creation of a young Japanese boy in 1972, from a contest hosted by Toho (the production company behind Godzilla). Originally named Red Arone (changed at the last moment to Jet Jaguar), he was going to star in his own film, "Jet Jaguar vs. Megalon", but after some screen tests in the early stages of the film, Toho didn't think he could carry the film on his own, and made the film into a Godzilla flick (Godzilla vs. Megalon). That's enough about Godzilla, however. He'll turn his ugly head further on into the list.

4. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
"Sky Captain", as I recall, was one of the first massive movies to be filmed entirely on a green screen lot. I also believe it was to be a trilogy of films starring Jude Law as well as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi.

Regardless, this film, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", follows the story of reporter Polly Perkings (Paltrow) and Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan (Law) as they battle the evil Dr. Totenkopf. Guess what Totenkopf uses as a weapon against humanity?

GIANT ROBOTS.

The giant robots that are seen in this film actually pay homage to "The Mechanical Monsters", a Superman episode (1945), which was also homaged in Hayao Miyazaki's "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" (or "Castle In The Sky" in the US).

In the film the giant robots attack New York City, circa 1939 (alternate timeline, of course), as well as major centres all over the globe. As a result Perkins and her old flame, Joe Sullivan, end up on some wacky Indiana Jones-esque adventures through the US and Nepal to stop the evil doctor and his legion of robots.

3. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
No, I don't mean the recent 2008 remake starring Keanu Reeves. I haven't seen it, but I'm sure it contains massive robots. I'm talking about the original 1951 film. Now, all of you that have seen it might be thinking, "The robot in that isn't very big." Yeah, well he's bigger than normal, damnit, and it's my list, so he counts.

The robot I'm referring to if, of course, Gort. Always loved that name. The film follows Klaatu, a being from space that descends to Earth in a flying saucer carrying a message of peace to all people. He is met with the aggression that only Earthlings can dish out, and the movie follows him attempting to find a forum to deliver his message. In the end we find out that since we have discovered nuclear power and made our way into space, the other space-faring beings in the Universe are afraid. Our violent nature has them worried, so Klaatu's come to warn us of a group of GIANT ROBOTS that they've created in the Universe's defense. Should we step out of line, they will destroy Earth, so we'd better be good... or else.

Like I said, Gort's not several stories tall or anything of that nature, but he is definitely supposed to be bigger than your average human being, and I think he fits into the giant category. So suck it up, and lets move on to much bigger things.

2. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Also known as Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster and Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster, this was Toho's 14th film in the Godzilla franchise.

This film is of major cult status, and I'm going to explain why by simply stating the premise. Please make sure you're properly seated before reading this. A prophecy is made that when a black mountain is seen in the sky that a monster will appear and attempt to destroy the world. However, when this occurs a red moon will set and two suns will rise, one being an elliptical illusion from the west, and that these two suns will fight to save the world. Seems like some deep, symbolic, stuff, huh?

Well here's the story. Several archaeologists uncover a statue of the protector of Okinawa, King Caesar (how much you wanna bet it really is him?). Around this time a massive black could appears in the sky and Godzilla hops out of Mt. Fuji and starts tearing shit up. For some reason the people that believe in the aforementioned divination don't think Godzilla is the monster said to destroy the Earth. Eventually the real Godzilla shows up and we find out that this impostor is, in fact, a GIANT ROBOT created by... wait for it... Alien apes from the Third Planet from the Black Hole. Yes, I know, ingenious!

So, anyway, King Caesar is summoned and helps Godzilla in destroying Mechagodzilla and saving the world.

Just to put this out there, even though I'm not listing the rest of them, there were at least four more films featuring Mechagodzilla, a GIANT ROBOT, that I can think of. Those are "Terror of Mechagodzilla", "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II", "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" and "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." Don't forget the previously mentioned "Godzilla vs. Megalon" starring Jet Jaguar, who would come back in Godzilla films, "Godzilla Save the Earth", "Godzilla: Unleashed" and "Godzilla Unleashed: Double Smash". That's a lot of giant robots!

1. Tetsujin-28 (2005)
This one is the big one, guys. Translated from Japanese (see I told you, all things cool) as Iron Man #28, "Tetsujin-28" is, quite literally, the grandfather of all giant robots. If you're still wondering what this is, that's because in North America, "Tetsujin-28" was known as "Gigantor".

To begin, the film I'm speaking of wasn't released in North America, as far as I know. I think the UK had a release of it through Manga Entertainment, but that doesn't matter. The film is based on the massive anime and manga created under the same title.

Tetsijin-28 was a manga written and illustrated by Mitsuteru Yokoyama in 1956. Guess what else this guy created? Giant Robo! You get that Bay? This guy created GIANT ROBOTS! Well, technically no, but still. I think it's safe to say that they are as pervasive in our culture as they are due to his work. The manga's story was that the Japanese had developed a giant robot to turn the tides of World War II. Tetsujin-28-go was the 28th, and finally successful attempt. When it is finally finished, however, the war is over, and the robot comes under the control of a 12-year old boy (son of the developer) and is used to fight criminals and other enemy robots. As you can see, Johnny Sokko was heavily hinged on this earlier work.

This was the first manga to ever show a giant robot and, of course, became a huge anime in 1963 (which would cross borders to the West as "Gigantor" in 1980 in a colourized format, around the time of Astro Boy). It spawned a sequel, "Tetsujin-28 FX", which is further into the future and follows the son of the original boy and his own new giant robot, as well as some anime movies and the live-action film.

The story of Tetsujin-28 has inspired so many Japanese mangas and animes that it's almost impossible to imagine. The creator of Mazinger Z (Tranzor Z in the US), Go Nagai, has claimed that Tetsujin-28 was the inspiration behind his 1972 anime. Mazinger Z (told you it'd come up later) was the first ever mecha anime to be developed. If you know anything on the subject, then you know that mecha are giant robots that are technically vehicles. Human occupants pilot these mecha, which is why I didn't include them into the list. That being said, in my mind, these fit in as GIANT ROBOTS, so I just wanted to list a very small fraction of the mecha animes out there, inspired by Mazinger Z, which in turn was inspired by Tetsujin-28:

Robotech (aka Macross - film being produced now, starring Tobey Maquire), Voltron, Patlabor, Gundam, Power Rangers, Escaflowne, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Evangelion, Aura Battler Dunbine, Force Five: Aired pre-Voltron - five different Japanese shows (featuring giant robots) that were aired during the five weekdays in the US. The shows were Danguard Ace, Starvengers, Spaceketeers, Grandizer and Gaiking (US titles).

There have also been countless films, many of which are actually live-action, that star mecha, such as:

Robot Jox and Robot Wars (semi-sequel to Robot Jox), the latter of which was actually directed by Stuart Gordon (Re-animator, From Beyond). Also there's The Returner, Crash and Burn, Gunhed and (technically) the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds (although the giant robots were piloted by aliens) which subsequently has been adapted in many different formats, including a blockbuster movie by Stephen Spielberg, starring Tom "Crazy Man" Cruise. Hell, there's even a show with mecha in it that starred puppets called Starfleet (similar to shows like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet).

Oh, and let's not forget TRANSFORMERS, a cartoon/anime that first appeared in 1984! You didn't even make up Transformers, Bay, let alone GIANT ROBOTS!

All I have to say to you, Michael Bay, is this: There can only be one Highlander. Check and mate.

4 comments:

Cole D'Arc said...

You certainly know your giant robots. The Iron Giant was obviously inspired by the number one entry as well. It;s a very good subject which I think merits another list or two.

Cole D'Arc said...

Also, look for the Miyazaki-style robots in the Batman: The Animated Series episode, "Heart of Steel (parts One and Two). Just goes to show that good shows and movies are inspired by...other good shows and movies.

Shane said...

Wow, man, this was an education on giant robots and their rich history.

Glad to know that someone else is aware of Jet Jaguar. :)

I might as well point out South Korea's robot representative. Called Robot Taekwon V (or known as Voltar the Invincible in the US)first appeared in a hugely popular animated film in 1976. The creator admitted being directly influenced by Mazinger Z but wanted to create a hero for Korean kids to look up to. I`m happy to say that I`ve seen large statues of this robot in person. He`s like a national symbol of freedom.

RyHo said...

Gotta love Jet Jaguar, or as the Japanese would pronounce it, Jet Jaggarrrr! His theme song is a must hear.

Yeah, Heart of Steel definitely goes back to Miyazaki, and I think also Superman from the 40s.

I actually did have a section for Iron Giant. It actually was in my original list, as well as Tetsujin-28. Then I decided it was really the same thing, and intended to make a paragraph about it in the last part, and forgot.

Freedom never looked so good as Voltar the Invincible.