Opening Statement

A police officer tries to stop a mad inventor from turning ordinary household robots into deadly killing machines.

 

Review

 

Runaway is a film written and directed by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain). Starring Tom Selleck, Gene Simmons (yes the bassist of KISS), Kirstie Alley and Cynthia Rhodes.

 

Set in an unspecified near future where robots have taken over a variety of mundane jobs. Everything from construction, to farming, to domestic work is all performed by a variety of machines. Due to the number of robots out there, it’s inevitable that some will malfunction and threaten humans. Just like modern police departments have SWAT, property crimes and drug task forces, this future department has one that deals with out of control robots.

 

Officer Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck) is an officer in the runaway division. What starts as an ordinary assignment involving a runaway agricultural robot takes a sinister turn when a report comes through about a barricaded household robot that has inexplicably killed it’s owners and is holding a baby hostage with a firearm.

 

runaway laser 2 Robert Odierna

runaway laserRobert Odierna

Stalking a killer robot. One of the more suspenseful scenes in the film.

After subduing the thing in a suspense filled stalk through the house. Ramsay’s forensic team finds out that there was a non-standard computer chip installed on the machine. That chip contained custom instructions that could turn almost any ordinary robot into a deadly killer. The runaway team soon encounters the deadly super-genius Luther (Gene Simmons) who has a variety of deadly toys from spider bots to a gun that fires heat seeking bullets.

 

Runaway is an interesting case. Made during an early ’80s mania for all things robotic, it was panned at the time for its robots not looking proper (i.e. not like Robbie the robot or the androids of Blade Runner). Today we live in a world where vacuum robots, EOD devices, drones and autonomous cars are current news. It’s fascinating to look back at how well the film predicted some aspects of today’s robotics. The machines portrayed in this movie are functional looking.

 

Often real devices built from electronics catalogs and animatronics gear. This functional, industrial appearance makes them very similar to today’s devices and a far cry from what people at the time thought robots should look like. The only other robot movie of the era I can remember that had a similar attention to detail is the equally underrated Short Circuit. These are obviously practical effects and act the part better than CG or a guy in a suit could. The assassin bugs are especially menacing (acid spitting, metal spiders for the win).

Buck Rogers Twiki Robert Odierna

Sorry Twiki, you are not a realistic robot.

Robbie the robot Robert Odierna

You too, Robby

runaway spiders Robert Odierna

runaway the spider Robert Odierna

Luther’s assassin spiders, very nasty.

runaway guided bullets Robert Odierna

runaway guided bullets2 Robert Odierna

Guided bullets. Google XM-29 OCSW or Raytheon Pike for similar weapons today.

runaway Drone Robert Odierna

Drone about to drop a teargas grenade. Quadcopter, meet your daddy.

runaway construction Robert Odierna

Construction robots, these actually exist now.

 

The film does a good job of showing a plausible future with a few missteps, godawful ’80s computer graphics on monitors and personal laser weapons notwithstanding. Michael Crichton does a solid job directing and writing this one and show his flair for predicting the future. Tom Selleck does his usual high quality work as the hero, but Gene Simmons manages to steal most of the scenes as the menacing mad engineer, Luther. The robots are a treat to watch and the suspense builds nicely as the battle between Ramsay and Luther escalates into a deadly finale in an uncompleted skyscraper.

runaway Luther Robert Odierna

I didn’t know Gene Simmons could act before this movie. He’s actually quite good.

 

Verdict: 3.5 Gavels out of 5

Interesting sci-fi crime story that manages to get more things right than most do. Decent suspense and a strong villain make this a good one for sci-fi fans as well as fans of crime fiction.

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