Sock ’em ro­bots

Real­steel sees a world where

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By FRANK LOVECE real­steel,

REAL Steel used real ro­bots. Oh, there are com­puter-gen­er­ated ro­bots as well, of course, in this film about bot box­ers in the near fu­ture. But for most scenes out­side the bouts them­selves, the movie crew built 26 (and a half) of what the press ma­te­ri­als call “an­i­ma­tronic ro­bots” – a friendly phrase in­vok­ing a Coun­try Bear Jam­boree folksi­ness but that’s as re­dun­dant as “mo­torised cars”.

“They were ro­bots, man, pe­riod!” marvels An­thony Mackie, who plays an un­der­ground fight pro­moter op­po­site hus­tling, hard­scrab­ble ro­bot owner Hugh Jack­man. While ra­dio­con­trolled and not au­ton­o­mous,

“They were full-size, eight to nine-foot tall, huge ro­bots that ac­tu­ally moved. It’s hard to fo­cus on some­one,” he points out, laugh­ing, “when there’s a nine-foot ro­bot be­hind them, look­ing around and mov­ing its arms!

“That first scene be­tween Hugh and I, where he comes to me look­ing for a fight for (his ro­bot), we’re talk­ing and that ro­bot is mov­ing and reach­ing over his shoul­der, and when­ever it was time to say my line I would be so freaked out!”

“When I saw them for the first time,” Jack­man said at a news con­fer­ence for the Set in the near fu­ture, ro­bots dom­i­nate the ring. film, “there’s a pic­ture of us – me and Dakota (Goyo, his then 10-year-old co-star) – see­ing them, and both us look like 10-year-olds. It’s amaz­ing that in this world where I’m used to a green screen and a stick with a tennis ball on it” – to give an ac­tor a vis­ual tar­get of where a CGI el­e­ment will be in­serted later – “that (ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Steven) Spiel­berg ac­tu­ally said to Shawn (Levy, the di­rec­tor), ‘You should re­ally have real el­e­ments where you can.’ ... Ba­si­cally, if they’re not walk­ing or fight­ing, that’s a real ro­bot.”

Iron­i­cally, such dis­cernible phys­i­cal pres­ence hu­man­ises the be­he­moths in a way you don’t get with the more car­toon­like, CGI ro­bots of the Trans­form­ers movies. And that’s the­mat­i­cally in keep­ing with the low-tech, fa­ther-son story at the heart of this sci-fi fam­ily film.

“Steven Spiel­berg had been de­vel­op­ing this thing for eight years,” says Levy (the Night At The Mu­seum films). “Once Steven and I met, I took a big swing and said, ‘Steven, look, you’ve been try­ing to mount this movie a long time’ – there was a pre­vi­ous di­rec­tor (Peter Berg), whose work I like, all good­will

in­deed, the on-screen credit reads specif­i­cally that it was only “based in part on” the tale.

Mathe­son – whom Levy says “is thrilled with see­ing the world of his story fleshed out to this ex­tent” – had faith­fully adapted Steel for a 1963 episode of The Twi­light Zone, in which broke and des­per­ate ex-boxer Steel (Lee Marvin) and his part­ner and me­chanic, Pole (Joe Man­tell), bring their bat­tered bot, Bat­tling Maxo, to a small arena in May­nard, Kansas, where a dis­guised Steel has to get into the ring and fight a ro­bot af­ter Maxo breaks down.

Real Steel keeps the Mid­west­ern set­ting and un­fu­tur­is­tic mi­lieu of the orig­i­nal, with Jack­man play­ing the more rak­ishly down- there – and I kind of de­clared a new par­a­digm for the movie: It was not go­ing to be about ro­bots but (would be in­stead) a hu­man un­der­dog story about a fa­ther re­con­nect­ing with his son.”

That’s de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent from its source ma­te­rial, sci-fi mae­stro Richard Mathe­son’s short story Steel, orig­i­nally pub­lished in the May 1956 is­sue of The Mag­a­zine Of Fan­tasy And Sci­ence Fic­tion –

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