Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ROBOT JOX (1990)

ROBOT JOX (1990)
Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: PG
Duration: 85 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Anne-Marie Johnson, Paul Koslo, Gary Graham, Danny Kamekona, Robert Sampson, Jeffrey Combs
Somehow this is the one Stuart Gordon joint I just never got around to watching in my youth, I've seen the classic stuff (Re-Animator, From beyond) and even most of the more obscure stuff (Fortress, Space Truckers) and the more current (Edmond, Stuck) but this one has eluded me, until now. I was worried that since I didn't catch this one on VHS back in the day that just maybe not having a sense of nostalgia might skew my enjoyment of a mecha-combat kids movie - because this is totally something aimed at the 80s kids who loved Transformers, Voltron and Battle of the Planets, and I think having loved those animated shows as a kid probably amped up my enjoyment of this one.

Fifty years after the nuclear bombs have dropped the remaining people of Earth have split into two separate factions, the Western-influenced Market and the Russian-themed Confederation. Now the Market and Confederation land-resource disputes are settled through gladiator-styled matches fought by human-piloted robots, the pilots are knows as "robot jox". 

The film opens on a snow-covered battlefield in Siberia as the camera pans past the corpses of destroyed robots. The Russian, oops, I mean Confederation pilot Alexander (Paul Koslo) cripples the Market robot piloted by Hercules. Despite being judged the winner of the match the bastard stomps the defeated bot killing Hercules -- what an asshole

The next robo-battle is for the mineral and forestry resources of Alaska, this time the Confederation warrior Alexander is up against the battle-scarred Market champion Achilles (Gary Graham), and it ends in a draw despite some unfortunate human casualties when Alexander misfires a banned rocket which hurls towards hundreds of spectators in the stands. Achilles maneuvers his robot o block the rocket but is knocked back by the blast onto the spectators, crushing a few hundred to death. In the aftermath Achilles declines to the rematch, having already served his ten-fight tour of duty for the Market, angering both his fans and his sworn enemy Alexander, both of whom taunt the pilot as a coward.

In Achilles place is a female robot jox, or a "gen jox", a genetically engineered warrior bred pilot who has been engineered to have no fear. These genetically engineered jox are termed "tubies" by the veteran pilots, and the two faction don't get along so well. We have some decent sexual-tension between Achilles and Athena though I don';t see why either would be attracted to each other, there's zero chemistry between the actors or their character. Eventually Achilles agrees to the rematch angering Athena which forces her to take drastic measures to ensure she has her chance piloting the robot.

There's also a sub plot involving a robot designer "Doc" Matsumoto (Danny Kamekona) and Southern-fried Texan strategist named Tex Conway (Michael Alldredge), there's apparently a spy selling top-secret information to the Confederation which some believe lead them to Victory, which alongside the Love story only serve to detract from the awesome stop-motion robotic warfare. 

The special effects seem to be a mic of green-screen and vintage stop-motion, masterminded by the late and very great stop motion animator David Allen (Dolls, Puppetmaster)  who was a definite student of the Ray Harryhausen school of stop motion. Love the nostalgic herky-jerky articulation style and the scale model robot looks fantastic, I love this stuff. Love the battle scene, each robot has an array of weaponry they employ to defeat the enemy combatants; lasers, rockets, enormous buzz saw, and a very phallic chainsaws -- some great stuff. 

Gary Graham, whom I loved from the Alien Nation TV show, is in fine form as the Confederate robot jox, but everyone comes fully loaded with an arsenal of silly dialogue on Robot Jox -- so prepare yourself for some goofy verbal vomit, particularly the venomous Alexander played with plenty of Cold War-era vileness by Paul Koslo. While the love-story is a joke and the espionage angle s tolerable the one thing that almost ruined this for me was the anger-inducing final moment of the movie, never before has a fist-bump so angered me!

Audio/Video: Robot Jox debuts on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with an HD master provided by MGM. The many optical effects shots make for an uneven viewing experience but I am happy to report the 1080p HD image is pretty strong, with some additional grain and dirt present in the optical effects shots. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 is strong, a nicely balanced stereo mix of dialogue, score and sound effects that is pleasing to the ears, free of distortion and crisp. There are optional English subtitles available.
Onto the extras we have two commentaries, one from director Stuart Gordon moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures and a second technical commentary with Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Mechanical Effects Artist Mark Rappaport, And Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel who go into detail about creating the myriad of stop-motion and other effects used in the movie, both are good stuff. 

There's a new commentary with Actor Paul Koslo who played the role of Alexander in the film and looks back at his time on the film with joy, not the most in-depth interview but a nice extras just the same. There are also about 30-minutes of archival interviews with Director Stuart Gordon, Pyrotechnic Supervisor Joe Viskocil, Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jesse and the Animation and Effects Artists Chris Endicott And Mark McGee.

There's some great behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the movie, quite a few with the late stop-motion master David Allen in the desert while shooting the film. Bonus content is finished up with a pair of still galleries, a trailer and TV spots for the movie, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork. 

Special Features
- Audio Commentary With Director Stuart Gordon moderated by Michael Felsher
- Audio Commentary With Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Mechanical Effects Artist Mark Rappaport, And Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel
- Brand-New Interview With Actor Paul Koslo
- Archival Interviews With Director Stuart Gordon (7 Mins)
- Archival Interview with Pyrotechnic Supervisor Joe Viskocil (8 Mins)
- Archival Interview with Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry (7 Mins)
- Archival Interview with Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel (8 Mins)
- Archival Interview w. Animation Effects Artists Chris Endicott And Mark McGee (9 Mins)
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage (14 Mins)
- On Location Gallery (7 Mins)
- Illustrations Gallery (4 Mins)
- Theatrical Trailers (1 Mins)
- TV Spots (1 Mins) 

It pleases me to see Stuart Gordon's Robot Jox on Blu-ray where I could enjoy it for the first time with the benefit of a nice HD presentation. The disc has some strong A/V qualities and a wealth of extras to enjoy, this was quite a fun smash 'em up robot battle movie that I think kids of the 80s and their offspring should enjoy quite a bit, recommended. 3.5/5