The Origin Story of Robot Jox
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
The Historical Context of Robot Jox
The Broken Promises of Robot Jox
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?
My Personal Experience with Robot Jox
What Happened to Robot Jox?
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.
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.