'Robots': Film Review

Judging by the technology on display here, it won't be long before robots truly do take over the world

Mike Slee's giant-screen film introduces us to new technology that results in the creation of lifelike humanoid robots.

As if the growing number of jobs being outsourced to developing countries wasn't bad enough, human beings may find themselves increasingly replaced by humanoid and android robots. That's the unintentional cautionary message of Mike Slee's giant-screen film that illustrates in graphic detail just how close these artificial creations are to replicating human behavior. This fascinating documentary provides a real-life correlative to the plethora of robot characters recently inhabiting such films as Chappie and Ex-Machina. It's currently being screened in large-format theaters around the country in both 2D and 3D versions.

The film's engaging onscreen host is "RoboThespian," voiced by actor Simon Pegg employing suitably dulcet tones. He guides the audience on a tour of robot labs in various countries where technology is producing some truly impressive creations. Among those to whom we're introduced are NASA's "Robonaut," performing handyman activities in the International Space Station; "Atlas," a 6-foot, 330-pound search-and-rescue robot designed to navigate rough terrain; "Justin," who has an uncanny knack for catching balls; "Asimo," a Honda creation that can run at speeds over five mph as well as unscrew a lid and pour liquid into a cup; "PR-2," whose ability to manipulate flexible materials would make him ideal for working in laundromats; and "Chimp," who can see by using laser light.

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Making clear the robots' uncanny abilities by contrasting them with footage of humans engaging in similar physical activities, the film further ups the wonderment quotient by showcasing robots that can talk — "What should I do?" one asks, awaiting further instructions — and androids designed to look exactly like us. One creepily displays a wide variety of facial expressions designed to imitate human emotions. A scientist is seen sitting with his android doppelganger, and you'll be hard-pressed to tell them apart at a quick glance.

One robot is seen performing dance moves slinky enough to make him a hit at its local disco, while another small version is shown playing with a group of children who seem delighted to have a new playmate.

Yes, the film makes clear that robots have a long way to go in terms of fully matching human skills, with RoboThespian assuring us that "the human brain is the best computer on the planet." But judging by the awesome technology on display here, they're catching up pretty fast. What was once science fiction may soon be science fact.  

Production: Day's End Pictures
Director: Mike Slee
Screenwriters: Jini Durr, Richard Panek, Mike Slee
Producer: Jini Durr
Director of photography: Sean MacLeod Phillips
Editors: Harry B. Miller III, James Ruxin
Composer: Mark Korven

Not rated, 40 minutes