Friday, March 11, 2011

One More Robot's Top 50 Robots 10-1

As seen in: South Park

The AWESOM-O 4000 is the robotic alter-ego of one Eric Cartman. A creation that only Cartman could surely have envisaged. Hardly a fully functioning robot, AWESOM-O is no more than young Eric in a cardboard suit, speaking in a robotic voice. It’s more than enough to fool South Park simpleton, Butters Scotch, and Cartman hopes to utilise his devious costume to glean embarrassing information about Butters by becoming his dream companion: a robot friend.

In gaining his victim’s trust however, AWESOM-O discovers that Butters has some blackmailing material of his own to use against Eric, in the form of an incriminating videotape, forcing Cartman to maintain the charade in order to obtain the tape. During his time spent with Butters, Awesom-o helps him insert anal suppositories, inspires a ragtime ode entitled ‘My Robot Friend’ and accompanies him a trip to Los Angeles to visit his aunt. It’s on this trip that the robot attracts the attention of a Hollywood studio, faces the perils of the casting couch and is captured by the US Military for research purposes.

In short AWESOM-O is the definition of a joke going too far, backfiring, but being in too deep to do anything about stopping it. He has no cool powers or fancy technological wang-dangs, but hey, he had us in hysterics. Reason enough for his inclusion. ‘Lame.’ --Se├ín Earley

09. Optimus Prime
As seen in: Transformers

I’m sorry, what was that? You were the one little boy growing up in the eighties who didn’t think transforming robots were frickin’ deadly? Well, that must mean you are a figment of my imagination, because you don’t exist. Quite simply Transformers took everything any little boy could want in a Saturday morning cartoon/toy and rolled it all up into one. Big and badass vehicles of all descriptions? Check. Robots. Check. Aliens. Check. Intergalactic laser battles over the resource Energon that was actually a metaphor for oil based conflicts in the Middle East… Ok so maybe not the metaphor bit, but definitely the rest.

Optimus Prime was the fearless leader of the Autobots (the goodies), tirelessly battling the Decepticons (the baddies) week after week, with virtue, and honour, and a baritone voice I prayed would be mine when puberty hit. And his name! Think about that name! OPTIMUS PRIME. Optimus – the best. Prime - the first. C’mon people, what more does a name need to say about you? As awful as those movies were I still got goose bumps seeing him transform on the big screen for the first time. Then in the second flick he took on four Decepticons single handed and was bested in one devastatingly emotional scene. No, I didn’t have something in my eye. That was a tear. A manly tear. Roll out! --Stephen Rogers

08. Robot B-9
As seen in: Lost in Space

All too frequently in classic science fiction, robots are portrayed as baddies: perfect soldiers, focused killers, emotionless tyrants. Countering this negativity, the accordion-armed robot from the classic series Lost in Space is entirely good. His concern lies almost solely in preventing his human companions from coming to harm. In fact, he is so benign that his creators beat Star Trek by almost 50 years and built it into his designation: “Robot B-9.”

Likable and benevolent, B-9 is one of the all-time most famous robots in television history. Repeating one of the most memorable catchphrases in television history every week, the robot protected the space family Robinson as they travelled the galaxy, warning of hidden danger on every planet. In fact, he often seemed to do little else. It was his personality rather than his abilities which made the character memorable. Although technically advanced and fantastically complex, the robot was also capable of expressing human emotions. He was frequently shown laughing at the crew, especially Dr. Smith who referred to him as a “bubble-headed booby,” and a “ludicrous lump” among other things. For many people, it was Smith’s relationship with the Robot which defined the show and made it a classic. --David Bolger
07. HAL
As seen in: 2001: A Space Odyssey

HAL (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic Computer) is the sentient computer onboard the Discovery One Spaceship from Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL speaks with a conversational, polite tone and seems to take pride in his work – betraying the fact that the computer may, in fact, be more than just a computer, having developed genuine emotions and a form of artificial intelligence.

HAL has become synonymous with our fears about the rise of A.I. He insists that a fault in the spaceship is due to human error, before attempting to murder it’s crew by terminating the life support systems and attacking the crewmember that tries to identify the problem. HAL does this in the name of self-preservation, to avoid being deactivated.

This level of artificial Intelligence is a quality that, thankfully, does not exist in our modern technology. While many of us state how reliant we are on our iPhones, Blackberrys or similar, if they started demonstrating emotions, manipulating us and preserving themselves from being replaced or shut down, we would run, screaming, for the hills. Although many people would argue this is already happening in a very subtle and insidious manner, with our utter dependence on technology that did not exist 10 years ago, until our iPhones start talking to us in creepily, soothing tones like HAL, we can presume we are safe. But maybe that’s what they want us to believe… --Brogen Hayes

06. The Terminator
As seen in: The Terminator

“Listen, and understand. That Terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” Those were the cautionary words of Kyle Reese, which served as a perfect introduction and summation of one of sci-fi’s greatest and scariest villains. And if there’s one thing watching the Terminator films has taught me it’s that Kyle Reese knows what he’s talking about and you’d be damn smart to listen to him.

The Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, if you want to get technical (and I do), was terrifying in the first Terminator film because of all the reasons Reese gave and then some. What I think makes the T-101 a truly great character however is that after becoming one of sci-fi’s most iconic villains in 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the role in the 1991 sequel and created one of the genre’s best and most enduring heroes by being a slightly softened version of same thing. Having a character switch sides morally or literally is a risky prospect in storytelling at the best of times, but the Terminator managed to be the ultimate murderous bad guy initially and in the next instance be the valiant protector, father figure, and martyr only to be loved even more. This is why The Terminator is a pure and true icon of cinema. --Stephen Rogers

05. Johnny 5
As seen in: Short Circuit

Ah, the eighties; when runners were boots, jumpers were huge and the most advanced piece of technology we could imagine looked rather like Meccano mounted on a remote control car. In a way, it’s that retro harking back to a time before Steve Jobs and Apple managed to convince us that every iRobot worth its malware has to be shiny and white that keeps all of us in love with Johnny 5.

The tale of Number 5, as he is in the first Short Circuit movie, has more in common with E.T. than The Terminator. Future Governor Arnie may have begun stomping about the 20th Century a couple of years before but we still hadn’t been hard-wired to distrust intelligent robots on sight just yet. When Ally Sheedy finds him hiding out in her van it’s all delightful misunderstandings and adventure; even his Cylon voiced evil brothers wind up as Larry, Curly and Moe, hardly the sight to inspire dread of the robotic menace.

The world (or the USA at least) had a bigger menace in those days anyway: the Ruskies. In the midst of cold war paranoia movies like Red Dawn and Invasion USA, Johnny 5’s cheery fascination with the world told us all to stop and smell the roses, even as his high-tech construction subtly reminded everybody of the superiority of western technology. In the end though, all that really sticks with us is the image of Johnny 5 chasing happily after a butterfly and the robot’s earnest message to an anxious and materially obsessed decade: Life is not a malfunction. --Declan Aylward
04. Marvin the Paranoid Android
As seen in: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

What makes movie and TV robots so dangerous is that they are full of data and information about life, the universe and everything in it, yet their artificial intelligence is accompanied by a stone cold lack of emotion. They know everything but care about nothing. No wonder they try to destroy the planet even 10 minutes.

Marvin (from the book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, as well as it’s TV and film adaptations) does not lack emotion; in fact he’s is infested with it. Marvin is the robot embodiment of the human condition. He gets how people think and, more importantly, how they feel, he just doesn’t care very much. He, as the most depressed robot in history, has the basic motto that life, and his position in it, suck. After all, anyone with a brain the size of a planet who is asked to do nothing but menial tasks, unworthy of his great acumen, would get kind of bored.

Marvin is the failed prototype of Sirius Cybernetics GPP (Genuine People Personalities) programme and due to unresolved flaws in his programming he is stuck with the intelligence to do great things but the will and drive to do very little. He is a good guy to have around when you are in a bad mood because no matter how bad you feel you know he is going to be more down than you are. I think that is why we love him. He has a hard time of it and no other robot knows, or could know, what it is like to be that under appreciated. So we’re appreciating him. He needs the love. --Rachael Murphy

03. Bishop
As seen in: Aliens

Bishop will no doubt remain a polarising figure, both within the narrative of the Alien saga, and in how viewers approach the character after viewing both Aliens and Alien 3. Played by Lance Henriksen who, much to his misfortune, looks like a slimy, second-car salesman, Bishop is an android ‘The Company’ send along with the crew of high-tech colonial marines as they return to LV-425, the site of Ripley’s first encounter with the infamous Alien creatures. Indeed, his appearance of deviousness, and the unease which Ripley engages him, points to the multi-faceted nature of his place within the series. Claiming to adhere steadfastly to the first rule Isaac Asimov sets out for Robots, namely, never to injure or harm humans, Bishop is a robot the audience is never entirely sure of, and indeed, countless fans have speculated on how entirely benign his actions in Aliens truly were compared to his ‘changed’ nature in Alien 3. The implication, as Ripley strains to withhold saying, is that Bishop was indeed complicit in the laying of the Alien eggs.

The positing of Bishop as an android, (although he himself states: “I prefer the term ‘Artificial Person’ myself”) adds to the unease as he displays human emotions and engagements, but with a precision the viewer knows only a robot could possess. As robots go, he’s is a tricky customer, but on account of saving Ripley’s life, I think we’ll have to give him the benefit of the doubt. --Jason Robinson

02. Bender
As seen in: Futureama

Hard drinking, cigar-chomping and more foulmouthed than a drunken Mel Gibson, Bender is perhaps the best loved character in Futurama. He is certainly the show’s greatest breakout character, having appeared not only in The Simpsons, but also having a background cameo in Family Guy.

Built in Mexico by his industrial robot mother, Bender’s full name is Bender Bending Rodriquez, and he is alternatively 40% titanium, lead, zinc, dolomite, chromium and osmium. Bender requires near constant intake of alcohol to recharge his power source but probably drinks more than is necessary. Bender wants to be loved and struggles with his feelings for humanity, alternating between expressing fondness for his friends to declaring his intention to kill all humans. Perhaps the best example of Bender’s nihilistic nature comes when a bomb is planted inside him, set to detonate if he says a certain word. His reaction is to start listing words at random in the hope of setting it off. Despite being created as a mere bending unit, Bender is able to turn his hand to anything; from folk music to cooking to being a God, with the last being the only job suitable to his huge ego.

One interesting aspect of Bender is his age. Although he is built only two years before the show’s pilot, in season three he travels back in time to 1947. His head is left behind in the desert as the ship departs, where it waits the intervening 1,055 years for rescue. Subsequently, in 'Bender’s Big Score', he travels back 955 years to kill Fry. There, he waits the same amount of time before arriving in the “present” at the climax of the episode. As of this latest season, Bender’s head is over 2,000 years old, and his body (and ass) almost half that. --David Bolger

01. R2-D2
As seen in: Star Wars

At a glance, R2-D2 is an unremarkable robot. Gliding around on little wheels, making gentle beeps and squeaks that somehow people can understand, he seems like an unlikely candidate to top this poll. Yet, when you think about it, no other machine comes close. Over the years hundreds of different robots have appeared in popular culture. They’ve been servants, overlords, invaders; the list goes on and on. Yet R2-D2 stands alone at the top of the pile. A robot who is, quite simply, a friend. A mildly snarky, but undeniably lovable, friend.

While most robots have multiple functions R2-D2, for the most part, wasn’t capable of much more than just wandering around, getting into peril and hacking the occasional mainframe. The prequel trilogy tried to imbue him with incredibly random extra abilities such a highly convenient mini saw which I found diluted his charm somewhat. After all, this is a robot that has always been greater than the sum of its parts. He’ll journey with you to distant planets, he can pass important messages, serve drinks if needs be; he is there for you.

Regardless of the more recent changes, since the original Star Wars R2 has become deeply rooted in every generation’s subconscious since. Any one of his trademark sounds, like his nervous squeak, or his playful whistle will instantly stir the inner child within most of us. Really, when you think about it, he is quite the pop culture heavyweight. Star Wars has spread its influence over movies, music, books, video games... there really is no part of the world of entertainment that it hasn’t touched, and if I had to choose a character from this gargantuan media empire to represent it, it would be R2-D2, standing in some desolate desert wasteland, staring at you indifferently. Darth Vader may have been tall, dark and menacing, Luke Skywalker may have been the main character, Han Solo may have been Harrison Ford, but R2-D2 is the face of Star Wars and in a way, that makes him the face of popular film, which is funny because he’s just a robot that can’t really do much apart from prodding you with his unnecessary electric baton thing that he has inside himself somewhere. --Jesse Melia

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