Finally, a recent movie I’ve reviewed from the good ol’ days that looks better to me now. The last three I reviewed (Ghosthouse, Witchery, Howling II) were stinkers, it’s nice to finally see a flick I haven’t seen since it first hit cable become more likable.
I’m not sure if this recollection is correct or not but I kind of remember when I first heard Stuart Gordon wanted to make this movie. I seem to think he mentioned somewhere, in some magazine, probably Fangoria, that he wanted to make some kind of live action transformer-type movie and I thought, well, that’s a cool and all but with our current state of FX he’ll never pull that off in live action. And then I came across photos of this Robot Jox and thought, ‘shit, he’s actually making that movie.’ I wish I could remember exactly where I first saw photos of it.
I now have to go check Fang’s index and see if they covered it. No, no mention of it listed, but it could have been mentioned in an interview they did with Gordon. I wish I had more concrete memories of where this was covered.
I’ll probably get more facts from Gordon himself when I listen to his commentary, but in the meantime according to IMDB: “Empire Pictures went bankrupt during the filming of this, its most expensive film ever. The film was bought by Epic Productions and finished and released nearly two full years after having been first started.” This fact here does kind of jog my memory of hearing about it and then not actually seeing it on cable until years later. Release date as stated by IMDB is November ’90, so I probably didn’t see it then until sometime in ’91 or ’92. And keeping in tune with the “vague memories,” back in the early 90s I remember a lot of movies I wanted to see coming on late at night on cable where I would set the VCR’s timer and then the following morning, late morning, go out to the living room, retrieve the tape and take it back in my bedroom to watch before I ever got up. I seem to think Robot Jox was one of these.
I had my doubts about this one though before I watched it last night, because I vividly remember not liking it at all when I first saw it that aforementioned morning. In fact I remember being disappointed in it, so much so I don’t think I ever saw it all the way through. I think I may have done some fast-forwarding because the robot fight scenes looked familiar but that was about it. Well, you’ll be glad to know this is one movie the absence of which made my heart grow fonder on.
It was nice seeing Gordon populate his cast with the “usual suspects” of actors that have appeared in other movies he’s made and other Empire Pictures. Not surprising to see Jeffery Combs (Re-Animator’s Herbert West himself) cameo as a civilian betting and cheering on the combatants. Gordon’s wife, Carolyne Purdy-Gordon (Re-Animator, Dolls, From Beyond) appears yet again, and again plays wife to Ian Patrick Williams (Re-Animator, Dolls, Terrorvision). They both played husband and wife in Dolls, and speaking of Dolls, Hilary Mason has a small role as a scientist who created the “tubies,” as they’re referred to, test tube humans specifically created and trained for manning the giant robots. Mason was Hilary Hartwicke in Dolls, the wife of the toymaker. And last but not least Robert Sampson makes another appearance in a Gordon flick, this time playing Commissioner Jameson, we all know Sampson more from his role in Re-Animator (1984) as Megan Halsey’s (Barbara Crampton) father Dean Halsey. Oh, and before I forget Stuart Gordon himself shows up as a bartender.
Jox takes place 50-years after a nuclear war as mankind is trying to rebuild itself. Their solution when it comes to countries having problems with one another is to have them build these giant robots and pit them in a life and death battle with each other. Well, you have to admit, it’s better than nuking each other again. And in this new world order there are only two major national factions, The Market (USA) and The Confederation (USSR), Each have their own “robojox” stars and over the years the US hasn’t faired so well due to what robot designer, Matsumoto (the late Danny Kamekona), believes are security leaks. They have a spy among them. While he and retired Jox/strategist, Tex Conway (Michael Alldredge), are at odds over the capability of this actually happening, the movie focuses on reigning Jox, Achilles (Gary Graham), who is now forced to fight Russia’s resident Jox psychopath, Alexander (Paul Koslo).
In the midst of all this the Market is breeding test tube fighters who will eventually replace the residing “naturally grown” Jox pilots. Achilles even trains them from time-to-time hoping to bestow upon them what it takes to be a Jox and a winning one at that. Anne-Marie Johnson (In The Heat Of The Night series) plays, Athena, one of these “tubies” whom Achilles has a love/hate thing for. Feelings are mutual. When it comes to the battle with Alexander everything seems to be going predictably but when he pulls an illegal move that involves a rocket powered fist attack that goes awry and heads straight for the bleachers, Achilles attempts to save the spectators but blows it big time when he’s struck and knocked down, and I mean right onto the bleachers killing 300 spectators. Worst accident in Jox history the news informs us and out of sheer guilt Achilles announces his retirement.
Now a tubie has to to be chosen and guess who wins?
Yeah, that’s right, Athena, forcing Achilles to come out of “retirement,” but Athena doesn’t like to be played like that so the day of the battle, she drugs Achilles and takes his place in the robot and this leads to all sorts of human-on-human and robot-on-robot and robot-on-human mayhem on the battlefield, and in space!
Believe it or not this movie actually has a happy ending, and not one you’d expect.
This is the first movie I had ever seen Gary Graham in and after this he went on to star in that Alien Nation TV series (’89-’90) and all the subsequent Alien Nation TV movies. This’ll be the second flick I own with him. The second is Necronomicon (1993), he has a small part in the “The Cold” story of that horror anthology film.
MGM had Robot Jox previously out on DVD starting in 2005, but back on July 7th Scream Factory (Shout! Factory’s horror/scifi sub-label) finally released it on blu-ray!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English subtitles only.
Video and audio were excellent.
- Audio commentary with Director Stuart Gordon
- Audio commentary with Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Mechanical Effects Artist Mark Rappaort and Stop-Motion Animator Paul
- Behind The Scene Footage (14:16)
- Still Gallery: On location (7:00)
- Still Gallery: Illustrations (3:40)
- A Look back With Paul Koslo (10:14)
- Archival 2003 Interview: Stuart Gordon (Director) (7:27)
- Archival 2003 Interview: Joe Viskocil (Pyrotechnic Supervisor) (7:57)
- Archival 2003 Interview: Paul Gentry (Associate Effects Director) (7:14)
- Archival 2003 Interview: Paul Jessel (Stop-Motion Animator) (7:48)
- Archival 2003 Interview: Chris Endicott & Mark McGee (Animation & VFX) (9:29)
Missing from these extras is input from actors, Gary Graham and Anne-Marie Johnson and Empire Pictures owner, Charles Band, but at least they managed to get Director Stuart Gordon for a commentary (moderated by Red Shirt Pictures owner, Michael Felsher) and put together a second commentary with three of the guys who worked on the robot FX. I listened to a little bit of the technical commentary but found Gordon/Felsher’s to be more to my liking. Gordon did jog loose another memory when he said the movie was originally titled, Robojox, but they had to change it once Robocop (1987) came out. I do remember now first hearing of the movie under it’s Robojox title. Gordon briefly mentions how FX artist, Paul Gentry, is trying to finish Allen’s The Primevals and suggests, maybe, Shout! Factory could financially help out.
And, yes, he does confirm The Transformers and Macross (aka Robotech) toons was what kicked off the idea.
It was interesting to learn Gordon had an idea for a sequel that involved the Jox pilots fighting aliens, which as he also mentions is what Pacific Rim (2012) did. Obviously there are comparisons made with that film as well, and I never realized until now how similar both are. I know Del Toro has stated anime is what Rim is an homage to but there’s some Jox in there too.
The Behind-The-Scenes footage is my other favorite extra just because I get a kick out of seeing on-the-set footage from my favorite decade, the 80s, and here it’s 14-minutes of the late David Allen and his crew in the middle of the Mojave Desert working their magic to bring their robot models to life.
Through out the extras the main thing you’ll hear is how really great David Allen was to work for and befriend and how he was the driving force of Robot Jox during it’s 4 years in the making. After finishing the disc off last night even I was left wishing I had met him.
And that concludes my Robot Jox review.
Crash and burn, guys.