Friday 23 November 2012


When S.A.I.N.T droid Number Five gets struck by lightning following an arms presentation, he finds himself that most magical of things, alive. On the run with the security forces trying to blow him to pieces, Number Five encounters Stephanie (Ally Sheedy), a free spirited young woman who believes he is alive and wants to protect him.

If you were a child in the late '80s, there's no way you aren't familiar with Short Circuit. Mixing equally quantities of technological fear, quasi-futuristic robots and cuteness, Number Five is easily one of the most lovable characters of the 1980s and one that works as an instant reminder of that time. The story may share a number of similarities with Steven Spielberg's ET (and I'm sure by no coincidence, the basic silhouette of Number Five does bear a strong resemblance to the little alien, but then so does Pixar's Wall-E to Number Five), but coming from the director of War Games, there's much more of a technological warfare slant to this fish out of water tale.

Fresh from the Breakfast Club, Ally Sheedy stars as Stephanie Speck, an archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl living in a cottage surrounded by abandoned animals with her mobile bakery business parked out front. It's the only entry in the MPDG canon that I can think of that sees the aforementioned Manic Pixie servicing the whims and needs of a robot, but it's also a prime example of the genre. She gives him all the input he needs, shows him just enough skin to keep him interested (her "software") and even shares a late night dance with Number Five (in a scene recreated from Saturday Night Fever, also directed by John Badham).

Voiced by puppeteer Tim Blaney (who also worked on this week's other big re-release, Flight of the Navigator), Five is like a child full of wonder, slowly discovering the nice things in life, such as flicking light switches on and off and staring at butterflies. An unwanted immigrant to the world brought about by pure chance, he's a character that is hard not to like and one that you want to succeed over the cold, heartless corporation that his creators (Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens) work for.

Source of so much playground racist bullying, Benjamin Jabituya (before he was given a slightly less "hilarious" surname in the sequel) is the muddled English speaking stereotype played by a young Fisher Stevens doing a slightly shameful 'brown-face' act that is probably best not to dwell on for too long. Little more than a comedy sidekick here, at least Stevens and the writers worked on this act for the (in my eyes, possibly better) sequel, juxtaposing Five's wide-eyed newcomer with that of Benjamin's ambitious young inventor in the big city, in a story that manages to bring even more heart to a collection of nuts and bolts. It's quite telling that Fisher Stevens may have become a well respected documentarian who has won an Oscar, but it's for this role that he will always be remembered.

As this film was made in the mid-1980s, Steve Guttenberg stars as Newton Crosby, Number Five's creator and potential human love interest for Stephanie. As Benjamin and Newton try to find out if Number Five's claims are real, who better to act as a nemesis to Steve Guttenberg than G.W. Bailey, instantly recognisable as Captain Harris from a number of the Police Academy movies and a strong contender for ultimate '80s bastard along with Vernon Wells and William Atherton. He doesn't have any scientific interest in whether or not Number Five's claims of a soul are real, he just wants to get the disassembling job done without incident. As he so rightly states following a series of embarrassing mis-haps, "this little fart of a robot is giving me the red ass!".

I hope that the rumours of a remake/reboot of Short Circuit prove to be untrue, as nothing will ever be able to rival the feelings of nostalgia that this film brings with it. A childhood classic that's full of fun, action and a big pop-culture spouting robot, Short Circuit is not only one of the most memorable films of the 1980s, it may be the film that the entire decade was made for.


Short Circuit is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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