Week four in Netflix’s basement. Dear god do I wish I looked at a calendar before embarking on this project. Five Wednesdays? Who knew October would have five Wednesdays?

Okay. This week’s offering is a little gem called Robotropolis. The movie is pretty progressive in that it actually used a robot for the lead actress. Her builders even went so far as to give the acting bot a human name, Zoe Naylor. Wait, hold on. I’m being told Zoe Naylor is not a robot…she’s a human? Really? I could have sworn from her abject lack of empathy and perpetually wooden visage that she’s a robot. Wow. Well this changes everything.

With an eighty-two minute runtime, Robotropolis houses perhaps half an hour of actual story. The plot centers on a trio of reporters doing a live, for some reason, exposé on the city of New Town, a non-specific place in South East Asia where oil rig workers live in peace and harmony with non-sapient robots. After fifteen minutes of utterly tedious back story made manifest through the movie’s on-going gimmick of a news report, the actual plot begins with a robot killing a person during a game of pick-up soccer. FYI: Zoe Naylor’s character, Christiane Nouveau, refers to soccer as “kick ball”. Here I thought we stopped calling it “kick ball” after the third grade.

Shortly thereafter, the red shirt of the news team gets kidnapped by robots and subsequently dies. After about another half an hour of green screen newsroom shots and recycled footage, the actual Robot rampage begins somewhere around the start of the movie’s third act. Though for budget reasons most of the machine on meat slaughter is implied through fog machines, marinara sauce posing as blood, and CG shots.

I will give some begrudging credit to Robotropolis in that its CG robots don’t look terrible. However, I’ve seen similar special effects in various low budget web series as well.

Despite the carnage which accompanies even this sophomoric robot uprising, there’s surprisingly little emotion coming off any of the actors. With nothing to interact with but green screens and imagined robots, I expected the cast would work with each other to create some genuine tension. Attempts therein were paltry at best. Rarely is an apocalypse, robot, zombie, or otherwise, met with such stoicism.

My thoughts quickly turned to the episode of Futurama with Doctor Zoidberg’s uncle Harold Zoid, the famous silent movie director. In said episode Harold continually reminds his actors they are working on a “talkie” and that he wanted them to “emote”. Whenever Zoe Naylor and her supporting cast, with one notable exception, were on screen I too found myself yelling “People, you call that emoting?”

The only person who could rightfully call what they did during this movie “acting” is Farscape alum Lani John Tupu. Tupu plays Gordon Standish, billionaire oil mogul and robot inventor. Where the rest of the cast perpetually under acts, Tupu positively chews the scenery. If only director Christopher Hatton knew how to block a scene, then Standish’s multiple impassioned speeches to solve the robot uprising wouldn’t look like they were delivered to an empty room.

While we’re on the subject of direction, I would offer a piece of advice to Mr. Hatton, Byron Werner, Robotropolis’ cinematographer, as well as anybody else looking to make a movie on a budget: shoulder mounted camera shots suck the devil’s ass. Get a dolly or lose me forever. Unless you’re Shawn Ryan, who elevated “Rogue” filming to an art form in The Shield, there are ways to save a buck without subjecting your audience to an acute bout of seasickness. Also, actors shooting themselves while they run from CG robots is a bad idea.

To Robotropolis’ entire sound editing team, I offer one of the internet’s finest memes: You lose. Good day, sir. There is absolutely no justification for one actor’s mic being so hot I hear muffled audio feedback while another’s, within the same scene, is barely audible.

Ultimately the movie’s worst decision is framing almost all of the key scenes within the fake newscast. No good comes from this. In fact, I started to think that the director is presuming a morbid stupidity on the part of the audience. Why else would we need to have a news crawl recapping the previous scene? Or perhaps we can account for this distracting element as a certain sort of creative bankruptcy. Moreover, the lazy green screen work with the desk reporter and his tedious prattle evokes memories of a cut scene from the 1995 PC game Command and Conquer. I did mention this movie was made in 2011?

 

Roboropolis is, however, surprisingly funny to watch, but not in any sort of intentional way. Nearly everything about this movie, right down to cheap sound library screaming effects, smacks of phoning it in. Attempts to convey urgency from the cast, save for Lani John Tupu, fall so flat that it’s hard not to laugh. It is the sort of movie which would make for a great drinking game were I ten years younger and needed a pretense for such things.

Robotropolis

Written and Directed by: Christopher Hatton

Starring:  Zoe Naylor, Graham Sibley and Edward Foy


Adam’s Robotropolis Drinking Game

Drink once when:

A principle actor conveys emotion

Somebody says “kill bot”

Lani Tupu yells

The executive producer of the newscast looks smug

Maranara sauce poses as blood

Drink twice when:

The newscaster makes you feel stupid

The news crawl reinforces something that just happened

When you identify recycled footage from within the movie

Do a shot when:

An extra misses their mark on interacting with a CG robot

You can identify a sound effect used in another movie

A speaking character is obstructed in frame by a non-speaking character