I finally saw Interstellar last night, with my girlfriend. I’d been meaning to see it since JC Wright gave it a big thumbs up on his blog. It seemed to me pretty typical Nolan (non-Batman) fare – entertaining and well put together, but also a bit long and requiring of mental energy to watch.
This surprised me, and it was kind of a minor element of the movie as a whole, but I really enjoyed the robots. That got me thinking about other fictional robots I’ve been partial to, and I decided to share with you, dear readers, the ones that most quickly came to mind. These are laid out in no particular order. Be warned that there are a number of spoilers, so if you’re concerned about that, feel free to skip past a section, or skip this list entirely!
1. TARS (Interstellar)
We may as well start with the inspiration for this post – TARS, from Interstellar. I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of this guy when he was first introduced. Actually, I wasn’t even sure what I was seeing! The beginning of the movie (pre-NASA) seemed to lay out a future Earth quite technologically similar to our own. Then all of a sudden this guy popped out of the woodwork – a rectangular rubik-looking metal thing with the voice and inflection of a normal dudebro. As the movie progressed, I was a little suspicious of him and his ilk at times – were they perhaps given some special instructions by Brand that would cause them to step in and mess with Cooper? Their loyalty and charm eventually won me over, however. TARS possessed a dry sense of humor and was a pretty “cool” and capable machine. Adjustable “humor” and “honesty” settings are big pluses.
At the end of the movie, when he was “sitting” on the porch, shooting the shit with Coop, I reflected that I would enjoy hanging out with TARS.
2. Bishop (Aliens)
Before getting started on this list, I did a few “best robots from scifi” searches. Somewhat surprisingly, my #4 pick was the only one I saw repeated quite frequently. I saw a lot of cutesy robots, like WALL-E, and badass destructors like Gort and the Terminator. Those types can be pretty cool, but I think I have a thing for loyalty and altruism in a robot. Bishop is another example of a “good” robot who proves himself over the course of the movie Aliens. At first Ripley didn’t trust him at all, thanks to her experience with the “bad” synthetic, Ash, in the first film of the series. That Ash was indeed a d-bag. Bishop, however, professed that he was bound by the first law of robotics and could do no harm to humans (through action or inaction). Not only did he display a sense of humor and an apparent desire to be accepted by his human companions, but he made good on his earlier claim when he assisted Ripley in saving Newt from the Queen Bitch alien. He even directly saved Newt again from being blown out of the airlock, despite himself having been ripped in half.
3. R. Daneel Olivaw (Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series)
Daneel is one of the works of Isaac Asimov, arguably one of scifi’s greatest writers and the father of the three laws of robotics (four, if you count the zeroth law). I haven’t gotten to all of the works Daneel has appeared in, but I read the Robot novels, minus Robots and Empire – the initial stories concerning Daneel. Like #1 and #2 of my list, there are points in the books where Daneel’s intentions are unclear, and I was not always sure he was one of the good guys. There’s something truly off-putting about a powerful character whose motivations and mind (positronic or organic) are shrouded in mystery. He always turned out to have his partner Elijah Baley’s and humanity’s best interests at “heart,” though. Watching Daneel evolve in Baley’s mind as another of those damned robots to a dear friend was a great arc throughout the stories, and it appears that Daneel went on to live for thousands of years and influence the development of the Empire and the Foundation, all for the ultimate good of humanity.
4. Data (Star Trek TNG)
Along with Warf, Data was always one of my favorite TNG characters. A futuristic Pinocchio of sorts, one of Data’s desires throughout the show was to achieve a higher degree of humanity. Separating him from the wooden boy, however, was Data’s kind and unselfish nature. Some of the best moments of character development on the show were his, in my opinion. Watching him attempt to master humor, learn about intimate relationships, father a child, and develop and maintain friendships and familial bonds were among the highlights of his part in TNG. And of course it was always fun to see him kick some bad guy’s ass with his robot super strength.