They’re the mechanical men who invade our movies. They’re the synthetic women who inhabit one’s dreams and can often haunt our nightmares. They’re not even alive – in the biological sense. These are the mechanized men and electronic women who star in fantastic science fiction movies and thrilling TV shows like “Metropolis” (Maria), “The Day The Earth Stood Still” (Gort) or “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (Data).
Maria – “Metropolis”
She was a real synthetic beauty, but her true motives were always deceptively deadly. Maria’s simple, but seductively captivating look is one of the most iconic robot forms in all of cinema history. The German word for her is a mouthful – “maschinenmensch” or “Machine-Man”. Director Fritz Lang was inspired to create his massively complex “Metropolis” when he first laid eyes on the breathtaking skyline of New York City. Sadly, the original Maria prop that was used for the film has been lost.
Gort – “The Day The Earth Stood Still”
He served his master Klaatu (Michael Rennie) well, but if was crossed, or if Klaatu was threatened, he could become a planet destroyer. With a smooth, metallic sheen to his skin, and a foreboding visor which opened to reveal a real death ray, Gort was all business. Apparently, the prop suit which was used for the film was so stifling hot, the man inside almost passed out a few times. In the Keanu Reeves 2008 remake, Gort is reborn as a humongous entity – though this one is comprised of tiny robots, or nanotechnology.
Robby The Robot – “Forbidden Planet”
Robby could do everyhing from being a blinking, gear growling booze baker to creating dazzling, priceless jewels. He could also protect us from bad guys and even had a handy, dandy disintegrator. Wouldn’t anybody want a Robby The Robot in their own home? For several thousand dollars, you actually can own a replica of Robby, by buying one from Fred Barton or The Robot Man.
Robot B9 – “Lost In Space”
A cousin of Robby The Robot if there ever was one, but while Robby was capable of amazing feats, B9 was pretty standard in his powers. He could analyze soil samples, warn of danger (Danger, Will Robinson!) – he was really great at that – and he did have an electric charge as an offensive weapon. Above all however, B9 was a great companion to the Robinson family, and that can be more valuable than jewels or booze. A feature film version of the TV show launched in 1998 gave us a radically redesigned B9 robot, and though cool, much of his cuddly charm sadly was lost.
Twiki – “Buck Rogers In The 25th Century”
What do you get when you cross a dwarfish, silver robot with the unmistakable voice of Bugs Bunny? Twiki’s physical look was kinda cute, like a blinking Troll Doll, but the veteran voice actor of dozens of Warner Brothers Looney Tunes characters, Mel Blanc, really brought him to life. Twiki wasn’t so great in a fight, and he wasn’t really a brain, but Blanc’s one liners kept everybody in stiches. Comic relief can be just as important as super robot antics.
Data – “Star Trek: The Next Generation”
Brent Spiner fleshed out this artificial character created by Gene Roddenberry. We’re introduced to him in the fantastic Holodeck – a place where dreams come true. Commander Riker meets Data, who’s struggling to whistle a tune. When Riker finishes the musical challenge easily, Data is truly impressed. It was a most clever way of reminding the audience that although Data is stronger, faster and arguably more ‘intelligent’ than most of humanity, there are simple things we take for granted which may elude him for eternity. In the feature films, Data finally starts using his emotion chip – introduced in the TV show. As Data’s EQ – “emotional quotient” – evolves, we’re right there marveling at him.