Movies We Love: Short Circuit


We love movies…a lot. In fact, I would bet that if you gave the writers of Film School Rejects a choice between taking a leisurely cruise on a boat filled with women in bikinis and/or men flaunting banana hammocks or spending a day locked in a theater with some of the best movies of all-time, nine out of ten times we would choose the theater, with number ten being someone who simply just got lost on the way to the theater and wandered onto the boat by accident. So it really comes as no surprise that we really need a column around here that expresses our deep, primal, almost creepy passion for movies. And by creepy I mean making out with DVD cases. Yes, I know that if you open and turn them horizontal they kind of look like a giant mouth, but that’s no excuse. You know who you are. I’m not naming any names. Without compensation, of course.

Without further ado, Film School Rejects would like to present the Movies We Love series. These are movies that represent to us everything that makes movies awesome. You will find box office successes and failures, critical darlings and turds, films long forgotten, cultural icons, and stuff you’d find in the dollar bin at Wal-mart. This is a celebration of the films that had a profound influence on us as movie writers, critics, and DVD-case French-kissers. You have been warned.

Short Circuit (1986)

An adorable military robot with a frikkin’ sweet laser, codenamed S.A.I.N.T. FIVE (voiced by Tim Blaney), is punished by God for his destructive ways with a lightning bolt to the melon following a government demonstration. Malfunctioning, Number-Five manages to escape Nova Robotics and winds up in the home of Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy) where he begins to believe that he isn’t just a robot, but actually a sentient being. Chasing him are the two engineers that designed him, Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) and Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens), as well as the head of security at Nova, Skroeder (G.W. Bailey), who wants nothing more than to destroy him.

Why We Love It

I picked Short Circuit up a few weeks ago to prepare for Movies We Love, and I realized very quickly that this wasn’t the same movie I fell in love with when I was eight. Then, I mostly loved Number-Five’s animated dialogue and cutesy behavior, along with some of the more slapstick comedy, such as when Number-Five reprograms a few robots sent to capture him to mimic a very recognizable trio from a television show Number-Five had encountered while staying with Stephanie Speck. In fact, I remember one particular Christmas where, after my dad had so kindly put together one of my new toys, I ran around the house yelling, to quote the iconic line from the film, “DISSASSEMBLE? NO DISSASSEMBLE!” Yeah, I was kind of an asshole, and here I always wondered why my dad drank so much eggnog at Christmas (Hint: that deep tan color isn’t achieved by cinnamon and nutmeg, kids).

This time, however, it was the witty and hilarious banter between Newton Crosby and Ben Jabituya that won me over at the beginning of the movie. When we first meet these two, Jabituya is sent by his boss to bring Crosby out to socialize with the military professionals interested in meeting the engineer responsible for designing these robotic weapons. The dialogue here is great, and really just a precursor to great dialogue (especially from Jabituya) for the rest of the film. I didn’t get most of it when I was younger, so I highly recommend checking this movie out again now if you haven’t seen it in years. One example being when Jabituya says, “I am sporting a tremendous woody.” Effective, hilarious, and completely overlooked by an eight-year-old.

It’s Number-Five’s antics, however, that really fuel this movie. From the moment we meet him, he gets himself into one hilarious situation after another, always making us laugh with his naiveté and comically literal view of the world. Once he finally meets Stephanie, Number-Five is given the chance to drink in our culture when in search of “input.” He reads dictionaries and watches a ton of television, and since this becomes his basis for reacting to our world, we are treated to him doing things like dancing to Saturday Night Fever, quoting George Raft from the 1932 film Scarface and John Wayne, and developing a practical appreciation for the Three Stooges.

Number-Five’s dialogue is good, but what makes his character work is the amazing puppeteering by Tim Blaney, who also does his voice. Number-Five’s expressions are the key to loving his character. We begin to feel and appreciate him as a living entity, not simply a puppet, in terms of props, or a robot, plot-wise. His emotional expression gives him charisma, which makes him able to connect with the audience. Perhaps you recall another robot who accomplished that recently? Notice whom he looks like?

The Moment We Fell In Love

One of the most memorable scenes involves Number-Five jumping like a grasshopper as he follows one across Stephanie’s lawn. Unfortunately, the grasshopper stops, and Number-Five keeps jumping, landing on top and killing it. He does not understand why the grasshopper cannot simply be reassembled, and Stephanie gives Number-Five his first lesson on death. It’s a moment that may be easy to overlook because of the humor immediately preceding and following it, but make no mistake—it’s a beautifully poignant scene and one of the best in the film.

Final Thoughts

There is so much to love about Short Circuit. Johnny-Five is just the kind of robot a young kid wants to have as a best friend—funny, nice, helpful, and sportin’ a wicked laser. There is also plenty here for us to come back to years later, with witty dialogue, interesting situations, and even cerebral ruminations on what exactly it means to be alive, if that’s your thing. This is an entertaining movie that may not look like much on the surface, but if given the chance, manages not only to make us laugh out loud but also tug on a few heart strings. As one character so eloquently puts it, “Life is a not a malfunction.” Damn straight, and through his malfunction, Number-Five (later taking the name Johnny-Five) anchors a film that takes us on an enjoyable ride through the exploration of life and how we, as humans, define it. Short Circuit is one of the quintessential movies of our childhood, and we hope that maybe you are a little closer to understanding just why it’s a movie we love.

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