Robot Jox (1989)
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Joe Haldeman, Stuart Gordon
Starring: Anne-Marie Johnson, Danny Kamekona, Gary Graham, Hilary Mason, Michael Alldredge, Paul Koslo, Robert Sampson
ROBOT JOX (1989)
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Available on Blu-Ray in Arrow Video’s Enter The Video Store: Empire of Screams Boxset
Set five decades after a nuclear Armageddon destroys much of the world, traditional war has been outlawed. To settle their territorial differences, the United States/NATO aligned Market and the Soviet-influenced Confederate do battle with gigantic robots instead which are operated by human pilots known as ‘robot jox’. The Market side suffers defeat after defeat at the hands of Alexander, the Confederate robot jock, who seems to always have inside knowledge about the secret weapons up Market’s sleeve. With the state of Alaska, that is rich in oil and other resources, at stake, Market’s top pilot Achilles must use all his skills to stop Alexander’s win streak and end the Confederate’s power and land grab. When an unforeseen incident rocks the Market, can they pull together in order to defeat the Confederates?
Out of all the movies in the Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams boxset from Arrow Video, Robot Jox seems to be the one that has had the most budget thrown at it. Battling giant robots? I’m in! Which kid (or big kid) isn’t going to love the rough and tumble, or should that be ‘crash and burn’, of human-operated titans?
Long before the likes of Pacific Rim, Charles Band’s production company pumped out this gem in the late 80’s. A lone hero in the shape of grizzled Achilles stands in the way of the Confederate. With his contract almost up, a line of test tube pilots, known as tubies or Gen Jox, have been created to take up the bot’s seat after he vacates, but that’s if he survives the onslaught that Alexander will surely have lined up for him.
Achilles, played by Gary Graham, is a hardened warrior having fought and won against nine other opponents. He’s no slouch and is confident that he can take out the opponent his team mates could not. However, his achille’s heel is that which separates himself from the tubies: a conscience. A ruthless Alexander takes no prisoners, even after being declared the winner, so Achilles knows that getting on the battlefield opposite him is a matter of life and death. If he doesn’t win, he won’t be coming home.
A great amount of effort has been put into Robot Jox to create the training facility, Market’s HQ and the robot battles, the latter of which have become a spectator sport for the mask-wearing, surviving population. The robot jox themselves are seen as celebrities, like those in Rollerball, and people place their bets on who they think will win, oblivious to the political ramifications the results will have. In Market’s headquarters, Achilles, his manager and former jox champion Tex Conway, and the Japanese scientist, Dr Matsumoto, who’s in charge of creating new weapons for the robot, realise the importance of winning the event. If the Confederates win, then it is just the start of their American invasion.
The hero versus villain story flows really well, and has a considerable plot interwoven between the battles to give threat and meaning to the combat. Outside, we see the friction between Achilles and Alexander, as well as with other potential jox who are jostling for Achille’s future empty seat. With one of the Gen Jox being a woman, named Athena, there’s a few stereotypical comments flung in her direction, but they only serve to humiliate the characters speaking them, showing them to be a bit pig headed and chauvinistic, if only initially. Athena and the other Tubies, who’ve been created using the very best genetics, seem to be the perfect future Jox, but can they really succeed where others have failed?
As hoped for, the battles between the robots are thrilling to behold. Flying fists, lasers, gun and missile attacks, as well as hand-to-hand combat, there’s so much here to enjoy. Stop motion is utilised brilliantly to create the battle in which the two sides collide. Cut with shots of closeups of the faces of the jox, as well as the peasant population rooting for their favourite fighter in the bleachers, gives a real fist-pumping atmosphere as the fights unfold. The fights could go either way, and as we watch the Market giving Achilles’ his orders, it’s interesting to see how the two sides choose to play out their game of death.
Paul Koslo appears to relish his role as the wicked Alexander opposite the battle-weary Achilles, with plenty of opportunity to create mayhem for his enemy, whether it’s on the battlefield or at the bar. Michael Alldredge is another larger-than-life character, as big mouth Tex Conway, who’s riding on his past triumphs and wants to get the same out of the jox he coaches. Gary Graham’s Achilles character is more reserved than these two, a reluctant hero, but has the passion to fight for what he believes is right, whilst Anne-Marie Johnson oozes strength and confidence as Athena, but whose genetically-created persona leaves chinks in her armour that could leave her exposed. This combination of personalities flourishes in a plot that offers that bit more than what is expected from a film of this nature – a film that more than punches above its weight.
Big, bold and bolshy, Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox is what badass robot battle flicks should be all about. Hollywood filmmakers, take note!
ROBOT JOX is available on Blu-Ray as part of the Enter The Video Store: Empire of Screams boxset from genre label Arrow Video.
With a new 2K restoration by Arrow Films from the original negative, featuring original lossless stereo audio, the movie looks great, with the detail and colours popping amidst the action whilst retaining its authentic B-movie imperfections.
ROBOT JOX – Arrow Video Blu-Ray Special Features
Archive audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon
DVD producer and filmmaker Michael Felsher hosts with Robot Jox director Stuart Gordon for this insightful commentary on the creation, ideas and making of the movie. Gordon starts right with the opening scenes that were used to sell the movie with the robot design changing for the actual film. Felsher prompts and probes Gordon with questions about the film and his inspiration throughout the commentary, such as whether the Transformers craze had an impact on Gordon when he created it. A great listen for fans of the movie.
Archive audio commentary with associate effects director Paul Gentry, mechanical effects artist Mark Rappaport, and stop-motion animator Paul Jessel
This audio commentary with the FX team is fantastic for anyone with an interest in how things are created from an artist’s point of view. Gentry, Rappaport and Jessel provide a detailed breakdown on the effects and technical pieces, including working in the desert for the stop-motion animation. A fascinating listen as they discuss various aspects, such as scale modelling, and the initial work of the opening scene, which was completed in 1986, with subsequent live action bits added later on for the movie.
Crash and Burn with Gary Graham (17 mins 09 secs)
In this new interview with actor Gary Graham, who plays Market’s robot jock, Achilles, Gary discusses the combat scenes and fight choreography, and the ending that was originally in the script which he had preferred to the one we got. He also talks about working on the movie, with co-stars Paul Koslo and Anne-Marie Johnson, and tells a few stories about the working environments.
Her Name is Athena with actress Anne-Marie Johnson (13 mins 25 secs)
In this new interview with actress Anne-Marie Johnson, who plays gen jock Athena, Anne-Marie shares her experiences working on the film and the martial arts and fitness training she underwent for the physical scenes of her role, including the climbing frame! She talks about working opposite Gary Graham, and how she loved the strong, female role she had been chosen for. Anne-Marie seems to have good experiences from the film, although a wild hairdressing moment nearly had her up in smoke! She talks also about the fan reception she’s received since the film came out, and the resurgence once Pacific Rim hit the cinema.
The Scale of Battle: David Allen and the FX of Robot Jox (26 mins 35 secs)
A new appreciation of stop motion animator David Allen by those who knew him, featuring contributions from fellow visual effects artists Steve Burg, Yancy Calzeda, Paul Gentry, Kevin Kutchaver, Dennis Muren and John Vincent. They talk about how natural and hands-on David Allen was as an artist, and how he wanted his own firm. A younger generation Ray Harryhausen, if you will. His friends and fellow FX artists talk about he had a heart of gold, was thoughtful and deliberate in his work, with a passion to get the job done. They tell various stories about him, such as his involvement in the rodded pastry scene in Young Sherlock Holmes, and Pillsbury Doughboy. The featurette also contains behind the scenes footage and stills of Allen at work. A lovely piece that makes you appreciate his contribution to stop-motion animation.
Looking Back with Paul Koslo (10 mins 24 secs)
In this archival interview with actor Paul Koslo, who played Confederate robot jock, Alexander, the star talks about the desert fight scenes, and working with Gary Graham and Anne-Marie Johnson (who he praises). As he discusses about his experience on the film, it’s clear to see he had a great time working on it and states that it was a fun project to do.
Salvaged From The Wreckage (8 mins 19 secs)
Behind the scenes photo reel of models and artwork sketches, courtesy of associate effects director Paul Gentry.
Original sales sheet
Two-page original sales sheet for Robot Jox to flick through with your remote
Original production notes
Eleven pages of production notes for Robot Jox to cycle through with your remote.
Theatrical trailer for Robot Jox (1 min 25 secs)
Two images galleries for the film. Behind The Scenes (9 mins 14 secs) is a video of stills of behind the scenes pics, including the stop-motion models. The other is a click through Posters & Stills gallery containing 114 pictures.