Robot Jox is a movie scientifically engineered to appeal to the eight-year-old boy that exists in all of us. This part of our personality is what’s responsible for our potty humor, our moth-to-a-flame-like lust for new dinosaur facts and – yes – our innate desire to see giant robots fight to the death. Even the “X” in Robot Jox is like throwing chum to the adolescent male in our noggin – everybody knows boys can’t resist words that end in the letter “X.” It’s wired into their cortex (another word that drives boys wild).
A 1988 film from Stuart Gordon, Robot Jox was the film that killed Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. Once a mighty studio able to fill the world of all its Ghoulies-related needs, Empire Pictures was permanently handicapped when it decided to bankroll the latest film from Stuart Gordon, a man who had helped put the studio on the map with his films Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dolls.
Robot Jox was to be a collaboration between Gordon and famed science fiction writer Joe Haldeman. The two had met in the ‘80s when Gordon was hired by the Chicago public television station to direct a four-part adaptation of Haldeman’s novel The Forever War. When funding was slashed, Gordon worked with Haldeman to turn a portion of the script into a stage play.
Later, following Gordon’s initial successes with Empire Pictures, he called up Haldeman and asked him to help develop an idea – a sci-fi adaption of The Iliad. That initial idea would be the genesis for Robot Jox, a film set in a post-apocalyptic future in which war has been outlawed and the world’s two remaining super powers settle their disputes with single-man combat. One catch, though – each combatant is piloting a multi-story death-bot with a varied supply of weapons including chainsaw penises, jet-propelled rocket punches and green lasers!
Haldeman’s more high-brow approach to the subject matter clashed with Gordon’s Saturday morning cartoon intent. The result is a perfect storm of late ‘80s silliness, beautifully sparse stop-motion animation and some of the greatest cartoon caricatures to be stuffed into skin-tight spandex and given a wonderful looped rat-tail hairdo. There’s a portly southern robot pilot named Tex who wears a cowboy hat and is played by Michael Alldredge for crying out loud! Also leading up the film’s cast is Alien Nation’s Gary Graham, In The Heat of the Night’s Anne-Marie Johnson and The Omega Man’s Paul Koslo.
Robot Jox is a live-action Saturday morning cartoon through-and-through. In fact, if you concentrate hard enough while watching the film, you can actually begin to taste Lucky Charms cereal inside of your mouth. That’s either proof of the power of filmmaking or a sign that you have brain cancer.
Charles Band would later follow up the mild success of Robot Jox with two films from his Full Moon Studios, Crash and Burn and Robot Wars. Despite being sold as sequels to Robot Jox in some territories, neither film has any real connection to Gordon's film.
This August, you have two chances to see Robot Jox on the big screen in 35mm. First up, on Sunday, August 5, the Alamo Drafthouse – Mason Park will be teaming up with MechCorps, a Houston-based gaming group that operates BattleTech combat simulators. MechCorps will have a few of the simulators at the theater the day of the screening – allowing audience members a chance to follow up Robot Jox with a few minutes spent piloting a giant egg-shaped robot simulator. This is how the heroes of tomorrow’s rouge AI revolution will be trained!
In Austin, Robot Jox will screen as part of The Late Show series on Friday, August 24 and Saturday, August 25. Both screenings will be in 35mm.
So gear up, strap on your silver spandex and head to your nearest Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for a night of robot carnage so inspired it would cause even Michael Bay to take a momentary break from masturbating in front of a lit match to nod in appreciation.