18 January 2019

The Top 25 Best Science Fiction Combat Scenes!

Since the first hunting stories where told around a fire, humans have been captivated by tales of combat and heroism. That just who we are at our core and those primitive stories have been upgraded due to the progress of technology and scientific understanding to forge the genre of science fiction. Today, tales of space warriors battling among the stars with laser swords and ray-guns are commonplace within the realm of popular entertainment. When most think of science fiction combat scenes from sci-fi on TV, in anime, video games, or in popular films; they imagine those large-scale space battles with starships trading colorful bolts of killer light. Quite recently, I was thinking of space battle scenes in sci-fi while watching an episode of  Star Trek: Enterprise on cable and decided it was high time FWS rank the top sci-fi combat scenes in the visual medium. After some posts on the Twitter and the Facebook to get the input of the FWS community, I came up with a list of the top 25 sci-fi combat scenes. Of course, I could not include every suggestion and I had to cut a few that I wanted to include, but the list could not be 50 or 100 examples. ENJOY!

The Criteria for Selection
These were tough choices and the FWS community helped me out to narrow down the massive amount of choices that exist in the whole of visual science fiction. Some of these were chosen for the historical importance and/or impact on the sci-fi as whole such as the Battle of Yavin IV from A New Hope and HALO 3: Landfall. Others were chosen for their gut reaction that had caused me to say: “I need a towel and a cigarette” afterwards.
When it came to works that contain a vast amount of sci-fi combat sequences, like Trek or Wars, the decision was much tougher. This list could be packed with examples from Star Trek, B5, Stargate, and Star Wars, but that would be not fair or representative of the wider realm of sci-fi combat in the visual medium. So, that meant that I had to boil down to the core of the battle scenes in those franchises. Some key moments in those franchises were not included like the first encounter with the Jem Hadar that resulted in the first combat loss of a Galaxy class starship, the first combat use of the Defiant, the Battle of Section 001, and the Battle of Proxima III.
One of the most dramatic battles in Star Trek history was the Battle of Wolf 359 and there are some that suggested that I include it on the list. However, we only see a brief moment of it in the series premier to DS9 and the aftermath in TNG. While critical important to Trek history, it cannot be included because we never see it. I did not include the Battle of Coruscant, which are critical moments in Star Wars canon due to their timing and placement in the canon. Tough choices had to be made. The Battle of Coruscants was a popular choice, but after watching it, the battle is more about Obi-Wan and Anakin which was the same for the epic face-off between Darth Maul and the Jedi in Episode I. Another thing that was deeply painful for me was not being able to include any combat scenes from Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato/Space Battleship Yamato 2199. I tired, but I felt that there was just better combat scenes and the second Starblazers TV series, the White Comet Empire, was just not aired in enough American TV markets to justify the inclusion of the final battle. 

1. The Battle of Yavin IV from Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Most of the time, FWS does not assign numerical value to Top 10 lists, but here the number one slot is the actual number one combat scene in all of science fiction. While epic and thrilling, the Battle of Yavin IV was a revolution in special effects, audience engagement, and space battle sequences. Star Wars threw down the gauntlet and the rest of sci-fi had to pick it up. Until that 1977 film and its groundbreaking SFX, there had been few if any noteworthy sci-fi combat scenes and most were Godzilla kicked down Tokyo or invaders from Mars.  When audiencse witnessed Rebel assault on the first Death Star, what they would expect from sci-fi films was forever altered and just like in the fictional Star Wars universe, there is a before the Battle of Yavin and After the Battle of Yavin in sci-fi cinema history.

2. The Battle of New Caprica from Battlestar Galactica (2006)
For nearly a season, there had been buildup to the Colonial liberation of the occupied New Caprica and we were not disappointed. When the plan finally came together, we were treated an amazing moment in sci-fi combat scenes: Adama Maneuver. Having the Galactica burn into the atmosphere of New Caprica from a FTL jump, deploy fighters, then burn out using the FTL jump system was amazing. Then Galactica took on several basestars. With the end of the Galactica in sight, the Pegasus arrives and unleashes hell onto a basestar, destroying it and saving the Galactica. However, the Cylon force proves too much and the Pegasus, the second to last Battlestar in the known universe and the last of the Mercenary class is destroyed, but the Galactica is saved. Many have praised the combat scenes in this episode as the finest in the entire show and one of the greatest moments in sci-fi combat.

3. The Hawkmen Assault on War Rocket Ajax from Flash Gordon (1980)
Okay, I’ll admit it that this one is completely out of place because it is from one of the cheesiest sci-fi movies of all time that is also entertaining as hell. That does not take away from the power of the Hawken Assault on the War Rocket Ajax. I watched this movie repeatedly back in 1982 when it came on HBO as a wee lad and it has always stayed with me. With the booming power of Brian Blessing’s “DIVE!”, the organismic pounding of Queen’s score, and the overall kinetic nature of the scene all adds up to I need a towel and the soundtrack STAT.

4. The Battle of B5 from Babylon 5 “Severed Dreams”(1996)
Since Season Two of this great-but-uneven-show, there has been a conflict building between EarthGov and B5 and it peaked when President Clark attacked the breakaway colonies, forcing Sheridan to declare the independence from the Earth Alliance. This action causes Clark’s regime to send in a taskforce of Omega class and Prometheus class warships to force the station into surrendering. It is here that two independent Omega class warships join the fight with the station and we see just how good the defensive upgrades are.
What results is one of the finest space battles outside of Deep Space 9 and Stargate SG-1. It is one of the finest hours of the entire show. It was not just limited space combat, but also fighting within the station when EarthForce Marines board the station and engage the security forces in close quarters warfare. When EarthGov sends in reinforcements, it looks like the end for B5, and then Delenn shows up with a few Minbari cruisers and utters one of the best lines in the entire series. This was overwhelming chosen by the FWS community and I cannot agree more. 

5. The Battle of the Homeworld from Ender’s Game
In the realm of military science fiction literature, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card looms large and the science fiction community was excited by the news that a live-action big budget film was being made due to the popularity of the Hunger Games. While the film flopped, it was not due to the battle sequences and none where more epic than the final showdown at the homeworld of the Buggers. It was even better if you understood the twist. It was like Ender was a master conductor and all of the rest of the players on the battlefield and in the C3 center was the orchestra being perfectly guide to victory. 

6. Invasion of Planet P from Starship Troopers (1997)
This is where the tables turned for the Earth forces and their war effort. Unable to make the direct strike on the Bug homeworld of Klendathu after a bloody failed invastion, the plan was to "planet-hop" back to their homeworld. It is here, on Planet P, that once home to a illegal Mormon colony, that the Federation forces locates a brain-bug. In the 1997 film, there are two battles shown on Planet P. One was the scouting expedition to the Mormon outpost by the Roughnecks and then the full-on assault by the Federation forces to capture the Brain-Bug. Both battles are amazing, kinetic, over-the-top, and unlike anything seen on film before. With massive battles on land, underground, and in space, the overall invasion of Planet P is one of the best science fiction combat sequences with all of the humors and spent brass one would expect from SST.

7. Battle of Hoth from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Well, of course this one is going to be on the list…how could it not be? The Battle of Hoth is an amazing achievement in 1980 SFX technology and it works perfectly to clearly broadcast the military power of the Empire. This was one of the first to show combined arms in science fiction as well as live-action mecha-like vehicles. It was also awesome to see ground-to-space artillery on-screen as well. Very thing is here in this battle.

8. Battle of Geonosis from Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (2002)
When Lucas finally announced that the prequels would be made, he was cashing a check he’d written in the original trilogy: that we’d see the Jedi Order at the apex of their power. All we had seen of the Jedi was a cyborg with breathing issues, a farm boy half-trained, and an old man well pass his prime. Now, it was finally time to see the Jedi as promised. Certainly the dual between Master Jinn, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul was thrilling, it was not the massive Jedi battles we had expected when imagining the Clone Wars.
That promise was fulfilled when the Battle of Genosis unfolded. It was during the Jedi assault on the arena that first saw a mass Jedi force engage an enemy force of insect aliens and droids. During the research phase for this entry, I learned something shocking about the Jedi Strikeforce sent to Geonosis. Over 200 Jedis were sent and only 32 survived. After watching the arena scene, I realized how much of a mess this part of the battle is and how it pales in comparison to the when the Clones arrive with Master Yoda. That is when the battle really picks up and we see the new hardware of the Clone Army.

9. Operation Return from Star Trek Deep Space 9 (1996)
While there had been a few massive space fleet combat scenes in Trek, there was nothing like what we witnessed on November 3rd, 1997 with the launching of Operation: RETURN. 627 Federation ships of all eras, types, and even some assembled from the mothball fleet were present against over 1200 Dominion and Cardassian warships. It was a mammoth battle that was unlike anything ever seen in Trek history and in sci-fi TV. To accomplish this, the production turned away from traditional methods and used CGI. Many of us watching Sci-Fi TV at the time thought the October 12th , 1997 Battle for Earth in B5’s “Endgame” would be the most epic battle of the year, then came the retaking of the station by Starfleet along with Miles and Julian reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade as a prelude to the epic battle. This one of the most bold starship battles ever attempted at the time and still looms large over the genre. While some argue that the final battle at Cardassia is the peak of the Dominion War, however, that has the cardinal sin of space battles: recycled footage. This is not the Masters of the Universe cartoon okay?
10.  The Normandy Beach Assault from Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
One of the best science fiction movies and a damn fine novel is the 2014 Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. There is so much that this film does that we fans of sci-fi wanted for many years: infantry in exo-armor, a massive realistic sci-fi battle, and even a beach landing. While some of this was fulfilled by the excellent 2011 Battle: Los Angeles, Edge of Tomorrow’s Normandy Beach assault is one of the finest sci-fi battlescenes ever filmed and we get to see it over and over without it being tired. The only downside to the battlescenes in Edge of Tomorrow is the aliens themselves. I dislike their design and I nearly replaced this entry with the bridge battlescene from Battle: Los Angeles due to that, but then I rewatched the film and realized that this promise kept.   

11. Attack at the Atmosphere Processor ALIENS (1986)
Prior to this moment, the audience had only ever seen one Xenomorph creature on screen, but when the Colonial Marines tracked down the colonists at the atmospheric processor on LV-426, the stage was set for an amazing moment for the audience and something that had not been seen in sci-fi cinema before. What resulted was a master class in depicting a chaotic battle and building tension. It was a moment unlike any military sci-fi history and that was just an introduction for the battle of the Operation centers just an hour later in the film. This was combat, in in most personal and kinetic manner. Ending with Hicks shoving a shotgun into the mouth of a warrior drone and one of the greatest lines in the film, this battle is still amazing.

12. Battle of the Mutara Nebula from ST II: TWOK (1982)
Star Trek never had great combat scenes until 1982’s The Wrath of Khan and it was not a space battle between the Klingons or the Romulans, but Federation starship vs. Federation starship! After Khan’s Reliant deeply wounds the much larger refit USS Enterprise, the stage is set for a rematch…but given the damage to the Enterprise, Kirk orders the heavy cruiser into the Mutara Nebula to even the odds. What follows is a tense game of hunter-pray between Federation starships with beautiful special effects, great acting, and unforgettable music. When the end comes for Khan, he quotes Moby Dick and unleashes the forces of creation. While Star Wars had space fighter combat, Star Trek had ship-to-ship space battles. Sadly, it would be four movies until we got something close to the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in Star Trek VI.

13. The 2372 Klingon Assault from Star Trek Deep Space 9 (1995)
For many years, Star Trek as a whole has been writing a check about the Klingons that the franchise would have to cash at some point, that moment came on October 2nd, 1995. Aired as a feature length episode that is broken up over two episodes in syndication, it was a game-changer for Star Trek as a whole in terms of the bar being raised for space battle sequences. It also finally showed the Klingons in direct combat with the Federation in a major combat engagement. Prior to this, there had been a few space combat sequences for Trek here and there, but nothing in terms of scale or complexity as the 2372 Battle for Deep Space 9. The two hour episode “Way of the Warrior” features the Defiant engaging the Klingons to save Cardassian VIPs, the station using its upgraded weapons grid, and close quarters combat inside the station and the Root Beer scene. For me, this was the high point of DS9. It was here that great deal of story elements were laid down for the battle scenes that followed in the show and in any other Trek shows. 

14. HALO 3: Landfall (2008)
In 2008, the marketing campaign for HALO 3 was bold and expensive with Microsoft/Bungie diving in with a live-action “prequel” to the opening of HALO 3 featuring a ODST unit on a special mission. We fans of HALO and Military SF were very excited by the tense, realistic nature of the three part short videos directed by raising star Neill Blomkamp. When collected together, these shorts were called “Landfall” and it would serve as a template for the possible Peter Jackson produced Neill Blomkamp live-action HALO film project.
That aborted effort can be seen in Landfall and it stands as a testament to what could have been. Transforming a video game into a live-action visual product is very difficult proposition and the corpus of previous attempts litter DVD resale shops bins and Youtube videos. Somehow, Landfall was not a failure at all and wetted the appetite of us fans of both HALO and MSF. Landfall is military sci-fi combat like we’d almost never seen before and it was versatile, brutal, and involved ground combat. Plus, it did not feature any SPARTANs, but a live-action Warthog! I was deeply impressed by Landfall and I still am.   

15.  The Battle of Antarctica from Stargate: SG-1 (2004)
Often mentioned for inclusion on the list was the Battle of Antarctica seen in “The Lost City Pt.1 & Pt.2” when the SG-1 TV show came to a conclusion…just in case. In some ways, SG-1 in its 7th season was ready not to be renewed with the new show, Atlantis, being somewhat introduced in these two episodes. This battle was like many on the list here, it had building for some time and it was time to show it.

16.  The Siege of the City of Atlantis from SG: Atlantis (2005)
Since the beginning of the SG: Atlantis show, there had been a big battle written into the DNA of the show: when the Wraith get to Atlantis. That came in the excellent three part season 1-2 bridge “The Siege” episodes. I watched these at the time and they stand out as some of the best of the entire show and all manner of combat is shown: air, land, and space. When the Daedalus shows up and starts teleportaing nukes inside the Wraith warships is a moment we fans of Trek have wanted to see for years and Atlantis delivered on that. Even if you are not a fan of Atlantis, these are worth watching.

17. The Battle over Area 51 from ID4 (1996)
While regarded today as a somewhat cheesy 1990’s sci-fi flick, there is no doubt the power of ID4 when it first aired back in the summer of 1996 and we loved it for what it was. I saw this movie in the theater in Wichita with my fiance at the time just before she left for the Army and it was a great time. While this movie ages quickly, like yogurt left in the Texas sun it was an amazing experience with an amazing speech. When the final battle comes over Area 51, it was a great moment in sci-fi combat scenes even with that space hacking moment with a pre-Apples-are-the-coolness-computers Mac PowerBook 5300 laptop. 

18.  The Battle of Endor from Star Wars: ROTJ (1983)
This was it and we all knew it in 1983: the end of the story. The climax of the original trilogy was going to be shown in ROTJ and we were not disappointed despite the recycled Death Star and the Ewoks. It is here that all of the story and SFX come together to show one of the last pivot battles of the Galactic Civil War. Luke and Vader finally have their showdown, Han and Leia get together, the Rebel and Imperial fleet fight, and we see how much good is within Darth Vader. On the special effects side, the Battle of Endor is the top of the game for ILM with the surface combat on Moon of Endor, the space combat, and the dual between Luke and Vader. So far, there has not been a battle like this in the SW universe with the final showdown in the Prequels being Anakin and Obi-Wan and the jury still out on the sequel trilogy.

19.  Assault of the Thoth Station from the Expanse (2018)
One of the best science fiction TV shows on at present is the SyFy Channel's The Expanse. One example that came up repeatedly from the FWS community was the assault on Thoth Station by the OPA Guy Molinari, the defeat of the stealth frigate and the boarding of the station. This is a powerful sequence showing something very close to an "hard science" space battle and watching the little warship dance around the larger warship was memorizing while KEWs tracers dance in the blackness of space. I also enjoyed the Swiss cheese effect of incoming projectiles had on the inside of the Guy Molinari.  

20.  The Mass Effect Trilogy End Battle Scenes (2007-2012)
Before the Andromeda debacle, the Mass Effect trilogy by BioWare was one of the most celebrated sci-fi stories in all of sci-fi video games. Naturally, the end of the each game was epic in scale and emotional impact. I could not just pick one, I had to pick them all. For me, the end battles of one and three were awesome, but less involvement for the player. While the second game (my least favorite in the series) had one hell of a player guided battle at the end that had real long-term impact.  All of this adds up to some of the best in cinematic sci-fi battle sequences in one of the best Military SF video game franchises.

21. Battle of Scarif  from Star Wars: Rogue One (2016)
While I am not a fan of the messy Rogue One film, the Battle of Scarif was one often mentioned by the FWS community, and I agree with them. This battle was a combination of space, air, and ground combat that is a kinetic storm of everything that made Star Wars what it is and it is done with awesome special effects. The cherry on the cake was that moment when Darth Vader takes matter into his own hands. When that red lightsaber lights up the darkened corridor onboard the Rebel starship, you know shit was about to go down.

22. Future War Scenes from The Terminator (1984) and T2 (1991)
Many of the best sci-fi combat scenes listed here are in the cold void of outer space, but one of the finest battles in a future setting shown on the big screen was the darkly beautiful and haunting War against the Machine scenes in The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2 (1991). There have been few future wars seen as bleak as in Cameron’s 1984 masterpiece and these dark scenes were built upon to show a large-scale battle between the machines of Skynet and John Conner’s resistance group in the explosive opening to the 1991 sequel.
There was to be more in T2 than just the battle, showing the raid into Skynet’s temporal laboratories and the Resistance locating the proper infiltration model. Despite the age of these films, the 2029 battle scenes in the dark future are a wonder that is unique among military science fiction.

23. The Reavers vs. the Alliance Battle from Serenity (2005)
Many of the battles on this list are the culmination of the central conflict of the story. Within the DNA of the much celebrated and very shiny Firefly was the Reavers and the Alliance. While the TV show did not feature any space battles due to the setting outside the transformative Battle of Serenity Valley, many fans believed that if the show had continued, that the showdown between the Alliance and the crew of the Serenity was coming. In a brilliant move, Joss Whedon decided to wrap the Firefly storyline with the 2005 film.
When the truth of the Reavers was discovered by the crew of the Serenity and the Alliance was destroying anyone assoicated with the little firefly class vessel, they turned to the worst enemy of the 'Verse: the Reavers. To prevent Reynolds from getting to the broadcast equipment of Mr. Universe, an Alliance fleet was waiting for Serenity, but they did not count on a massive Reaver fleet showing up behind him. Space harpoons, leaves on the wind, thrilling acts of heroics, and River being unleashed all add toppings to a wonderful sundae of sci-fi action and storytelling. This amazing memorable climax that caused me to cry. Love that gorram movie and I cried at the end of this movie...RIP Wash. 

24Magog Assault on the Andromeda from Gene Rhoddenberry's Andromeda (2001)
It is rare that an entire series can be summed up by one episode, but the uneven Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda is such a show with the season one finale: “Its Hour has come around at Last!” Here, an older version of the AI Rommie takes control of the High Guard warship and embarks on its last mission prior to Hunt taking command: evaluating the World Ship of the Magog. The entire is slaughtered and it looked like history was going to repeat itself. Everything works here and the Magog assault on the Andromeda Ascent is filled with emotions and brutal combat for survival. The apex is when Harper and Tyr battle Magog, run out of juice for their DE weapons and they prepare to engage in hand-to-hand combat with knives. Powerful stuff and the finest moments in the series that was mostly downhill from there.

25. The Assault of the Zentrendi Armada On Earth from ROBOTECH (1985)
This was a tough one for me because there are number of classic battle scenes in the ROBTOECH series and in anime in general. I researched various battles and gauged my physical reaction and then I know…it had to be the Zentrendi Armada assault on the Earth from ROBOTECH. The episode “Force of Arms” is an experience I can still remember from my first watch of ROBOTECH Macross back around 1985/1986 and it still provokes an emotion reaction to this day.  At the time, I had the same reaction as Lisa Hayes when she cried out that the Zentrendi could not be doing what they are doing: killing millions of Terrans in the blink of eye.
In minutes, an apocalyptic holocaust of unimaginable scale is reaped on the Earth. The vast majority of the human race is killed in the assault by 4.8 million alien warships and the surface of the Earth is scarred. The brave defenders of the RDF, their allied Zentrendi forces along with the Grand Cannon attempt to save what little is left of the human race and mother Earth from the enemy. This was the apex of the Macross stoyline and even features the only Lynn Minmay song I actually like and tolerate. There some beautiful scenes in this episode especially when Rick rescues Lisa and they watch the battle from the ruins of Alaska Base. While this one is a personal choice, I felt like it could not be ignored given the impact of ROBOTECH/Macross and how it scarred/inspirited a generation. 

Next Time on FWS...
I've been admirer of Ken Burnside's words and wisdom for sometime via AtomicRockets and it is finally time for FWS to review three of Ken Burnside's technical manuals on hard science space warfare, along with interviewing the man himself. Join FWS next time for a special Book Review blogpost!

05 January 2019

FWS Broken Promises: ROBOT JOX (1990)

During the second wave of anime, one of the foundational concepts and hallmarks of military science fiction came flooding into the United States: combat mecha. Works like ROBOTECH, Gundam, Voltron, and Saber Riders and the Star Sheriffs all featured mecha fueling these manned metal warriors to become icons of these shows that nearly eclipsed the characters. The popularity was not lost on other markets, toy and model manufactures capitalized on the trend with turning out plastic and diecast representations of mecha. However, live-action mecha was illusive and only a few examples were made prior to the advent of CGI special effects. All of us that lived through the heyday of Mecha (along with the giant robot crazy) anime/manga want badly to see live-action mech-on-mech combat as we were acting out with our toys or on the hexagon battlefields of BattleTech. Then in 1990, our hopes and dreams seemed to be answered with the release of a live-action film called Robot Jox that featured mecha! In this latest installment of Broken Promises, FWS will be looking at the betrayal that was Robot Jox.

The Origin Story of Robot Jox 
According to an August 1989 Starlog magazine article, the spark that began this film came to director Stuart Gordon came when he was in a Toys R US and saw the famous Transformer toyline. He was quoted in the Starlog article as saying that he loved the box art showing “maintenance workers climbing over the giant robots”. As far as I know, there is no Transformer toy box that has an illustration like this. It more likely that Gordon was talking about the legendary 1984 Revell Robotech Factory model kit. Upon seeing the model box art, Gordon naturally assumed that giant robots would make a great film and that the special effects industry was able to delivery on that promise.
This seed of Robot Jox was presented to Empire International Pictures head Charles Band and original shot down due to the assumed expense of showing live-action mecha on screen. However, Band changed his mind and funded an SFX demo reel for proof-of-concept with David W. Allen in charge of bring the dream of Japanese anime mecha to life. On the strength of the demo reel, funding was granted for $7 million. This made Robot Jox the most expensive film ever undertaken by Empire. To pen the script, Gordon called on a titan of the science fiction literature: Joe Haldeman. Yes, the same Haldeman that wrote The Forever War.
Haldeman and Gordon knew each other when the director was working on adapting this 1975 military sci-fi book into a four-part TV special. When that project fell through, Gordon transformed into a 1983 stage play…which Yoel profiled for FWS here. According to an September 1990 Starlog interview with Joe Haldeman, the two worked on an idea of sci-fi take on the Iliad with mecha. When the pitch was presented in LA, it was accepted and then Haldeman rewrote the film script six times. After another terrible script was penned by another writer, Haldeman was flown to Rome during filming to write as the film was in production.
He was able to see his words acting out and alter things to adjust to the actors. Haldeman loved it and spoke positively of the production and Gordon. Original, Haldeman wanted the film to be called “the mechanics”, but was overruled. In total, according to Gordon’s calculations, Robot Jox had 11 scripts and the two never resolved the critical issue of different the POV on the film. Haldeman was writing an adult film that kids could enjoy, while Gordon wanted a kid’s film that adults could enjoy. Later, Haldemen’s tune changed and thought the movie suffered “brain damage”. The filming was wrapped up in 1987 with Empire eyeballing a 1989 release. There was another year of filming associated with the mech scenes (who were designed by veteran Ron Cobb and possibly built by Danny Chambers) in a dry lakebed in the Mojave Desert to capture depth of field with working with the robots. Due to the expense of the hero models, many stunt models were constructed for the battle damage and explosions effects. Some say that the final Alexander robot was destroyed on camera and a few of the screen-used robot fighter models have found their way into the hands of collectors over the years.

The World of Robot Jox
Fifty years after a nuclear war, the world is far different. Out of the devastating war emerged two political and economic blocs: the Common Market (mostly the old USA and Japan) and the Confederation (Russia, parts of Europe, some of the rest of the world). Given the horror of the nuclear war, all out warfare was ban by treaty between the two blocs. To settle issues over resources/land that could not be resolved via diplomacy, there was a form of gladiatorial combat that involved 120 foot piloted robots.
These armed contests became a key economic, governmental, and social focus that caused the best minds in resource to build the best mechs, people placed bets, and the Jox were recruited from the cream of the crop. These jox are followed like Football stars and they are contacted to 10 fights…if they live that long. At the opening of the film, the Confederation best Jox, Alexander, kills a Market Jox after his mech was broken and destroyed. With the loss of Alaska at risk for the Common Market, the best Jox in the Market is sent to deal with Alexander: Achilles. Prior to their showdown, Achilles and retired Jox, Tex, meet the new genetically engineered Jox crop. It is hoped that these “tubbies” will help the Market win more matches than just new weapons and equipment on the mechs.         

The Historical Context of Robot Jox
There are many times on FWS when we discuss the historical context, we often bring up that the work in question was not released at the right time or not in the right way…that is not the case for Robot Jox. When Robot Jox was completed in 1989, the conditions on the ground were ripe for a live-action military science fiction mecha movie. Anime was being liberally distributed across the American TV markets; toy and hobby stories were carrying mecha-related products, and the VHS rental market was well established. It should have been a slam-dunk for Robot Jox to come in and be a hit…but it wasn’t.

The Broken Promises of Robot Jox
For something to break your heart and be long regarded as a broken promise it has to have a place in your heart…and Robot Jox did for many of us that grew up at the time of the second wave of anime into America. When we saw the trailer for Robot Jox on another rented VHS tape or the movie poster, we fans of mecha rejoiced that entire live-action mecha movie was coming and it was made for the western market by a studio that seemed to understand  what they were undertaken and started off with the desire to make a mecha movie. Then we saw it and wasn’t what we wanted or even hoped for.
At the heart of the majority of the broken promises associated with Robot Jox are not the stop-motion special effects, but the most basic element of a good film: the writing. Using elements of the Cold War mixed with mecha combat in a post-nuclear holocaust world was not a bad place to start and it fits with the timeframe that the film was made in. However, the film is packed to the gills with tropes that were played out even in 1990 and it crippled the film from being more than the sum of its parts. Most of the dialog is terrible with racist/sexist comments paired with either over the top acting or wooden performances.
Some of the actors in the film, like Gary Graham, are good in the right role (he was awesome as Soval in Star Trek: Enterprise), but here, no one shines. The best bit of dialog was the moment Gary Graham yelled at Alexander that he was going to kick his ass. Then there is the mech combat, which is the reason any of us give two shits about this movie in the first place. After playing games like CityTech, watching anime like Voltron or Mobile Suit Gundam, seeing the AT-ATs in Empire Strikes Back, our collective hopes were high. The combat between two giant mecha in Robot Jox was geriatric at best and played out more like a game of rock’em, sock’em robots than BattleTech! While I understand the limitations of the special effects of the production, there was just breaks in tactical thinking and logical.
At one point, Athena blinds Alexander with a pulse of bright light. As he is stunned and unable to see, Athena does nothing. Not a damn thing. She does not alter her position or engage any weapon system. She stands there and then when Alexander recovers; he leaps on her mecha and pounds the hell out of her. So much for the superiority of her modified genetics! Following this, Achilles takes control of the mech, and once in the pilot seat, he launches his massive robot into outer space. What. The. Hell. Am I to believe that these 120 foot tall (you would not believe how long it took to find that information!) behemoths are equipped with solid rocket boosters in their boots that would allow them to enter into orbit then reentry the atmosphere and that is a valid tactical maneuver in the realm of Jox tactics? Yeah…I call bullshit on that.
Despite this insane moment in the film, it does not lead to anything save for Achilles being hit in the heel…I can’t even…and then Achilles engages Gerwalker mode. During the final battle, Alexander engages a couch-mounted chainsaw to buzzcock Achilles. Silly stupid shit. These sins among others add up to a mecha movie that was still wanting for a stronger, better script that makes the most of the well-designed  5 ½ foot miniatures.       

Wasn’t there a sequel or two?
During the dark ages before the internet and during the apex of the reign of the VHS tape, it was easier for production companies to lie to you and that is how Robot Jox got not one, but two “sequels”. In reality, there is no real sequel to Robot Jox due to the terrible performance of the film in its limited theatrical release, the poor reviews, and the first studio going out of business. The director of the film has gone on the record stating that a sequel was planned having the Robot Jox from both governmental blocs unite to repeal an alien invasion. This could have been completely deliciously terrible in a trash-but-good-way like Taco Bell. Due to the notoriety of Robot Jox, some other direct-to-video titles that featured mecha and were under the banner of Full Moon Features were tied into Robot Jox without being related in setting or story. The two films linked by misleading marketing are 1990’s Crash and Burn and 1993’s Robot Wars. Both of them are terrible in their own unique ways and not worth the hours of your life you would waste in watching them. Starship Troopers 2 looks like high art compared to these two “films”. Crash and Burn shares having Charles Band involved in the productions of Robot Jox and Crash and Burn, the misleading box art, and the words “crash and burn”.
Given this, the international releases of Crash and Burn title it “Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn” to attempt to tie to a more well-known film. Then that brings us to other more well-known "sequel": 1993’s Robot Wars. Again, this film linked to Robot Jox due to Charles Band production involvement and the subject matter of mecha battling each other in a barren post-apocalyptic landscape using the same special effects techniques as used in Robot Jox. However, it is a even more terrible film with somewhat better robotic combat action than either Crash and Burn or Robot Jox. Much like Crash and Burn, Robot Wars was packaged as a sequel to Robot Jox, with promotional material and box art claiming that was the 3rd film in the "Robot Jox film series"! It was all VHS box lies to get people to rent these two terrible movies. None of this good for either the two other films that just happen to feature stop-motion mecha along with the progenitor of Robot Jox. These other two films, that where are very different in most every way to Robot Jox, where forced by marketing decisions to live under the shadow of Robot Jox and any fans of these films had to live with that...much like fans of Macross feel about ROBOTECH. 

My Personal Experience with Robot Jox
I mostly grew up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and one of the local video stores was the site of my introduction to Robot Jox. On the wall of Mega Movies in the Eastland Shopping Center (which is now a ghost town), there was the poster for Robot Jox and I felt in that moment that the promise of Battletech was going to be fulfilled in beautiful live-action.  For what it seems like my entire life, I’ve been interested in mecha, and I grew playing with Japanese robot toys, building mecha out of Legos, and playing games like CityTech. So, when the promise of a real live-action film portraying mecha battling it out…I was all fucking in. It took weeks for my brother and me to get our hands on the only copy that Mega Movies had (rental VHS tapes were about $100 back then). Then we finally saw it in its entire broken promise spender and I was heartbroken. It wasn’t the “special effects” that bothered me, but the story that was just so dumb, like diving into a pool with no water. The film lacked any depth, grandeur, or real mech combat like I had played out in CityTech. I labelled this film just another dumb sci-fi movie that littered the shelves of most 1980’s video stores and paid it little mind for decades. Hell, I enjoyed 1990’s Hardware more than Robot Jox, at least it was bold and had Lemmy from Motorhead.  Until this blogpost, I never watched the film again, and when I did, I was just as pissed off as I was back in 1990. 

What Happened to Robot Jox?
After filming was complete in April of 1987 in Rome and the lengthy work on the special effects sequences was undertaken, things began to fall apart for Charles Band’s studio. By the end of the 1980’s, Empire International Pictures was bankrupt and its assists were seized by their French bank creditors and either sold or placed to Epic Entertainment in May of 1988 that had a relationship with Crédit Lyonnais. This delayed the 1989 target release date for Robot Jox and the film languished while in post-production as the fate of Empire International Pictures holdings was decided by Epic. While David W. Allen’s crew was actually filming the robot combat scenes in the Mojave Desert, the collapse of Empire cause for the production in the desert to be shut down twice.
 Finally in November of 1990, Epic Entertainment/ Crédit Lyonnais/Trans World funded the finishing touches after seeing the promise in the footage to the film and then released Robot Jox in 333threaters via Triumph Films. It made a whopping $1.2 million in ticket sales in its short stay in theaters and not even half-a-million on its opening weekend. That was not even close to the rumored $10 million budget. It was then released around 1991 on VHS for the rental and home market. This is how the vast majority of us that witness the heartbreaking reality of a live-action mecha movie saw the film. 

The Legacy and Impact of Robot Jox  
Time can be very kind to films that do not perform well. It happened for Blade Runner and in some small ways, it happened for Robot Jox. At the time of the release of Robot Jox, it was made no money in its limited theatrical run and it is more likely that it made more money being sold to the VHS rental market with the tape being sold to video retailers for $100 ($183 in today’s money). For the first months it was out at the video store, it was a hot rental, at least in my corner of Oklahoma. At the time, its impact was that this was an honest to god live-action mech-vs.-mech movie that did not star Godzilla or was on an icy battlefield on Hoth. Then it faded rapidly due to word of mouth that this movie was just not that good. For many years, Robot Jox was aired on networks like the Sci-Fi Channel late at night and found in bargain bins, and it was mentioned here and there.
Then came the first trailers for Pacific Rim in 2013. It was then that I noticed that internet started resurrected Robot Jox for a whole new generation to learn about the legendary fist-bump of Achilles and Alexander. When someone mentioned that Pacific Rim was the first live-action mech movie, people would immediately bring up Robot Jox along with other forgotten Japanese titles like 1989’s Gunhed. That was one true legacy of Robot Jox that it can claim. It was the first western live-action mecha-centered movie and one of the first in the cinema history despite how terrible unfulfilling the film is to us fans of mech combat.
The 1990 film enjoys a cult following to the point that Austin-based Alamo Draft House screened the 35mm print of Robot Jox in 2012 in their Austin and Houston locations. In a nod to the culture that triggered Robot Jox life in the 1980’s, the Houston screening also had the sphere-shaped BattleTech simulation video games on-site to fulfill your jox fantasies. One article I read on the event had this golden nugget of excellent writing: “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”. Bravo, sis, bravo.

Next Time on FWS...
  There are science fiction battles scenes then there are science fiction battles scenes and it is high time for FWS to examine and rank the best 25 science fiction combat scenes (both on land and in space) that is seen in throughout all media mediums. FWS reached out on social media and collected suggestions from the FWS community and this going to be a fun one and conversational.