Android (1982) Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
As any true fan of science fiction will tell you, special FX alone do not a good science-fiction movie make. Now don’t get me wrong—dazzling special FX can be really cool and entertaining. But if an SF movie consists solely of high-dollar, well-executed FX, then it’s nothing more than a pretty picture. It’s compelling eye-candy, sure, but it has no real substance. SF is a genre of intellectual substance. So first and foremost, good SF films are built on intriguing ideas that are then wrapped in an engaging story. If the film also has skilled actors, ones who can create sympathetic characters to whom viewers can relate and thereby vicariously experience the story ideas, then it’s more than a good SF flick—it’s a GREAT SF flick. And this is often true even if the special FX are mediocre. 1982’s ANDROID, directed by Aaron Lipstadt, is one of those great SF flicks. Well, okay, so maybe it’s not GREAT. But it certainly is a damned good SF flick, in spite of the cheesy FX.
The primary thing that makes ANDROID a damned good SF flick is that the script is very well written and contains some pretty thought-provoking ideas. It tells the story of an android, name of Max 404 (Don Opper, who also co-wrote the script), who lives and works on a somewhat derelict space station with only the companionship of his self-centered and egotistical creator, Dr. Daniel (Klaus Kinski). As an android, Max is your typical Pinocchio type, studying human culture and dreaming of visiting Earth and becoming a real “boy.” Unfortunately for Max, Dr. Daniel is working on a new generation of android that will render Max obsolete. It seems that androids have been outlawed on Earth because of a malfunction that resulted in an uprising against their human masters, and Dr. Daniel hopes to restore his reputation, as well as the legal status of androids, by creating a better, more fool-proof android. Once he achieves success, Daniel plans to deactivate Max and return to Earth. However, Daniel’s plans are thwarted and Max’s dreams pushed back within his grasp when the space station receives an unexpected visit from three strangers.
As in the case with many androids in SF stories, Max faces a constant dilemma between his duty to his creator and his desire to become more human. But what raises ANDROID above the standard cliche is that the story is not about how Max strives to achieve his humanity; rather, it is about what Max does with the humanity he has already acquired. Soon after the film begins, things happen that make it clear that Max has already become human without even realizing it. Or he has at least developed characteristics that are clearly human-like and therefore raise him far above the level of mere machine. For example, he shows signs that he is capable of desire, love, loneliness, jealousy, and an appreciation for the arts, and he even questions the idea of blind faith in his creator. And it is made equally clear that, like some humans do, Max can also lie, cheat, and manipulate others. Indeed, he even commits murder in order to achieve his goals and fulfill his desires.
Because it was released the same year as Ridley Scott’s more famous android flick BLADE RUNNER, some fans and critics tend to decry ANDROID as an inferior imitation, but both the comparison and the depreciation are unfair. Based on the sardonic novella DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by Philip K. Dick, BLADE RUNNER is essentially a critique of human society that questions both human ethics and the various stratification systems prevalent in most (if not all) human social structures. ANDROID, on the other hand, ponders the nature of humanity itself and questions what it means to be human. Where BLADE RUNNER says that we humans are often wrong in our treatment of both our fellow humans and other intelligent beings, ANDROID hints that some of those very foibles, as well as our decisions to either embrace or reject them, are part of what makes us human. In many ways, ANDROID is much more thought-provoking, and way less preachy, than BLADE RUNNER.
The second thing that makes ANDROID a damned good SF flick is the acting. In his portrayal of the Frankenstein-like robotics scientist Dr. Daniel, Klaus Kinski restrains his usual over-the-top intensity and delivers a very believable performance. As Max 404, Don Opper acheives the necessary balance of naive innocence and unfettered cunningness to make the android both a sympathetic character and a scary reflection of humanity gone askew. Although her part is small, the beautiful Kendra Kirchner is frightening as the mechanically icy Cassandra, Dr. Daniel’s “ultimate” android. And supporting actors Brie Howard and Norbert Weisser, who play two of the unexpected visitors to the space station, are very good. Only Crofton Hardester, playing the sociopathic third visitor, takes his performance a few notches too far over the top, but he’s not bad enough to spoil the overall production.
Yes, ANDROID is a product of low-budget king Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, so the sets and the special FX in ANDROID lean towards the cheesy end of the scale. It has long been rumored that film’s sets were leftovers from another New World cheapie, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980)—although this is disputed by Lipstadt and Opper in the DVD commentary, the sets do look strangely familiar—and most of the computer-screen FX in the film are clearly lifted straight off the screens of early 8-bit microcomputer consumer products like Vectrex video games and Commodore 64 computers. Still, the writing and characterization are so strong that the cheesy FX detract little from ANDROID’s overall substance and convincing verisimilitude.
Anchor Bay’s DVD release of ANDROID presents the film in anamorphic widescreen at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The digital transfer is reasonably clear and crisp, with vibrant colors and few noticeable filmic artifacts, and the original mono audio comes through very nicely on the Dolby 2.0 two-speaker soundtrack. Bonus features include an interesting feature commentary with director Lipstadt and star and co-writer Opper, as well as the original theatrical trailer. At amazon.com’s reasonable price of admission, ANDROID should be in the collections of all fans of compelling SF cinema.
About Android (1982)
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Brie Howard, Don Keith Opper, Norbert Weisser, Kendra Kirchner
Runtime: 80 minutes
Director: Aaron Lipstadt