As brilliant as the upcoming August film "Robot & Frank" may be (starring the always brilliant Frank Langella), the trailer for it gives the vibe of being an odd little film. One reason for that is because it gives the impression of a movie that could have been filmed in the 1970s or '80s rather than 2012. It's a film showing us artificial intelligence companions available in a not-too-distant future, yet physically looking like a robot you would have seen in a sci-fi "Star Wars" knockoff from 35 years ago.
Even if that looks strange, it may pertain more to reality than showing a robot that looks too human to be realistic. When you see the robotic advancements in Japan lately, the robot in "Robot & Frank" looks just like one of the Japanese variety doing things like a human, yet well distinguished as purely mechanical. Let's thank Japan for setting such a path when we know they can also make robots that look too startlingly like "The Terminator", the robots in classic "Westworld", or David the cyborg in "Prometheus."
The culmination of movie robots looking human seems to have hit its peak in the Steven Spielberg-Stanley Kubrick hybrid "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" back in 2001. Irony behind that movie releasing in 2001 was likely intentional. Consider that from "2001: A Space Odyssey" up to "A.I.", robots in movies slowly progressed into much more intelligent beings, even if they still talked in robotic-like cadences.
Movie robots also became much friendlier dealing with human beings thanks to "Star Wars" progressing them as amiable companions rather than HAL 9000 adversaries. There was something about making a movie robot look human, though, that just wasn't working. "A.I." is still brilliant on its own terms, yet the idea of making a robot who can do the things shown in the film still doesn't seem entirely possible without expecting continual mechanical breakdowns.
As outdated as HAL 9000 is today, we still envision a robot much like him in today's terms, especially after witnessing IBM's Watson clean up a win on "Jeopardy" back in 2011. Ultimately, the robot in "Robot & Frank" is part of the devolution away from Ray Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric" take that a robotic companion could be so human that we can't distinguish between human and robot. We've grown to accept artificial intelligence as one of us, but it may be giving us the willies to see them look like us--particularly when they pull the facemask off.
If we're embracing the mechanical side of robots, then "Robot & Frank" is also turning the tables on the humans convincing the robot to do wrong. The movie's plot has Frank Langella's Frank apparently tempting his new robot buddy to do a jewel heist for him, which the robot later realizes is wrong. Or at least the trailer appears to show the robot remarking to Frank that what they've both done is wrong.
The word "both", however, will be where "Robot & Frank" may finally go into new territory with the robot tale. If Isaac Asimov's original Three Laws of Robotics in "I, Robot" still applies here, it still has confusion on how to apply the legal system to either blame the robot or its companion/creator if the robot does something unethical.
- Technology & Electronics
- Frank Langella