Set six thousand years in the future, Robbie tells the story of a benevolent robot developed by NASA, who scans his memory banks for a glimpse into his remarkable life. Assembled entirely from NASA footage, Robbie not only tells a compelling and unique story, but is also a testament to the fact that with a little resourcefulness, a filmmaker can create a truly stunning film without a huge budget. Ready to be creeped out? Good:
Fans of sci-fi will of course find parallels to other great works of its genre that cast a light on robotic characters. The two that will immediately spring to mind are probably Wall-E and Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. The former is undoubtedly the major influence here, as the character of Robbie echoes HAL-9000, the congenial, chess-playing robot that manages the activities of the spacecraft Discovery One. Truth be told, the character of HAL-9000 is so indelible that it's virtually impossible to create a story of a self-aware robot without allusions to HAL, and yet both the story and character of Robbie have plenty of unique traits that distinguish it from 2001 and similar works.
Part of the fascination of this short comes in trying to put your finger on just where the line is drawn between Robbie's perceptions of himself as a robot vs. his perception as an individual. As he recounts his story, character traits emerge that suggest he believes there's more to him than just intricately assembled hunks of metal and micro-chips. Is this behavior innate, or was he programmed this way? These questions inevitably lead to the viewer reflecting on the nature of life itself, and just what it is that makes it extraordinary, an astonishing feat, considering the short's brief time span.
According to the filmmaker, Neil Harvey, Robbie was assembled from over ten hours of footage downloaded from the NASA Archives. We're not sure if there is some digital manipulation going on here, but if there is, it's minimal. Amongst the most amazing of the images on hand are the glimpses we get to see of life inside the shuttle. For many of us, when we think of documentary footage of this sort, grainy footage from the nineteen-sixties comes to mind, which, in spite of its beauty, is crude by today's standards. Most of the footage for Robbie, though, is pristine, shot with modern cameras, and gives us in crisp detail every little nuance of the ship.
Clocking in at just eight minutes and forty five seconds, it's doubtful that you'll find many shorts that pack this much punch inside such a short time frame.
What did you think of Robbie?