Release Date(s)1990 (July 7, 2015)
Studio(s)Empire Pictures/Orion/MGM (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A+
Empire Pictures was a company mostly known for releasing a plethora of horror movies that didn’t make tons of money at the box office, yet were received well by fans of the genre. It was also a company that dreamed much bigger than it could actually afford, and no movie that it ever produced was more guilty of that than Robot Jox.
Years before Guillermo Del Toro put people inside giant robots to fight aliens from another dimension, Stuart Gordon, who was mostly known for adapting H.P. Lovecraft stories into horror films (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon), teamed with writer Joe Haldeman to help put Gordon’s ideas about giant robots fighting each other on paper. Charles Band’s Empire Pictures produced the movie with a budget of around $10 million dollars and, amid disagreements about the movie’s tone between Gordon and Haldeman, it was released to unfavorable reviews and poor box office. Fortunately, it gained a cult status and lived on through repeat cable showings and rentals.
Although it has been compared recently to Pacific Rim (despite it being released many years prior), Robot Jox isn’t nearly the same story that most people who haven’t seen it thinks it is. Taking place in a dystopian future wherein war has been outlawed, the only way to battle for territorial dominance is to train people from each region to fight in giant, mechanical robots against one another. After a stalemated fight that many pay the price for, contract fighting jock Achilles is suddenly reluctant to return and fight, much to the distress and desire of another fighter who may be his better.
One can go on and on about the similarities between this movie and Pacific Rim (which I also loved, don’t get me wrong), but it should begin and end with the giant robots. Nearly everything else is different, including the reason for fighting in the first place. It’s actually interesting seeing similar ideas being carried out in different timeframes with different directors and evolved technology. It just shows you how big Robot Jox could have been and how high of a mark that Empire Pictures was aiming for. Gordon himself has even said that if it had been successful and he had made a sequel, it would have been about robots fighting aliens, so who knows where it could have gone?
Unfortunately for me, it’s also a movie that I hadn’t seen until this release of it. It really comes off as something that I would have loved as a kid, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s not necessarily violent, sexual, or chock full of bad language. In fact, much of Stuart Gordon’s sometimes twisted personality is put aside, except for a couple of spontaneous moments. It plays more like a fairy tale in an odd sort of way, never becoming overtly serious, or for that matter, unpredictable. Basically it’s a comfort food kind of movie, if you will.
And even though the movie features some beautiful stop-motion effects, as well as plenty of old school visual effects and explosions, it doesn’t hold up very well today. However, for me, that’s part of the charm, and a part of the romance of what I love about movies, which is the work that goes into them. As stated previously, this movie’s ideas are bigger than its budget. All of the elements are already there for an entertaining blockbuster. It unfortunately misses that mark, but in a grand B movie kind of way. Regardless, it’s still an entertaining movie to watch that I fully admit to unapologetically falling in love with.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray transfer of Robot Jox yields some pleasing, if somewhat imperfect results. First and foremost, this is a transfer that really brings out the crudity of the special effects: matte lines, models on wires, etc. I personally don’t have a problem with it as it’s something that’s always been there, but hasn’t been seen as clearly on home video until now. There’s a natural grain structure with a very nice amount of detail, especially as it pertains to surfaces, costumes, and facial textures. Skin tones look mostly natural, and the color palette, while not lush, has been given a nice boost. Blacks are fairly deep with some nice shadow detail, and contrast levels are quite satisfactory. The opening credits of the film are actually the most troublesome as far as cleanliness is concerned, but overall, it’s a mostly clean presentation. I also didn’t notice any signs of digital tweaking either. The soundtrack, which is a single English 2.0 DTS-HD track, reproduces the film’s sound very well. Dialogue is always clean and clear, while the sound effects and score have some nice boost to them. There’s also some decent dynamic range from time to time, especially during the robot fight scenes. There isn’t a vast amount of low end to be found, nor is there any overt distortion. It’s really a soundtrack that sounds its age, not that that’s a bad thing. Overall, it’s a very satisfactory presentation that isn’t perfect, but is both quite pleasing and a definite upgrade from standard definition. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
The extras on this release are quite excellent, and I would go so far as to say that they’re one of the most satisfying set of extras for a Scream Factory release ever, which is saying a lot. They feature a lot of ported over material that has been upgraded to HD, including two audio commentaries: one with director Stuart Gordon, and the other with associate effects director Paul Gentry, mechanical effects artist Mark Rappaport, and stop-motion animator Paul Jessel; a new interview entitled A Look Back at Robot Jox with Paul Koslo; separate archival interviews with director Stuart Gordon, pyrotechnic supervisor Joe Viskocil, associate effects director Paul Gentry, stop-motion animator Paul Jessel, and animation & visual effects Christ Endicott and Mark McGee; behind-the-scenes footage; the movie’s original theatrical trailer; a TV spot; and two still galleries, one featuring On-Location stills and the other featuring illustrations for the movie. All of this material is terrific informative and equally entertaining.
Scream Factory’s release of Robot Jox is a bit of a revelation to me. Being a fan of Stuart Gordon’s work, it’s one that I’ve always wanted to see but just hadn’t taken the time to do so... and I’m glad that I waited. This is a terrific release that should more than satisfy even die-hard fans of the movie. My hope now is for Scream Factory to somehow get their hands on the movie’s indirect straight-to-video sequels Robot Wars and Crash and Burn. More movies in this universe is a good thing, and certainly movies that I wouldn’t mind checking out.
- Tim Salmons