Posts Tagged ‘robots’

A 16th century mechanical monk:


From the description at Retronaut, where you can see more pictures:

An automaton of a monk, 15 inches in height. Driven by a key-wound spring, the monk walks in a square, striking his chest with his right arm, raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes, and mouthing silent obsequies. From time to time, he brings the cross to his lips and kisses it. After over 400 years, he remains in good working order. Tradition attributes his manufacture to the mechanician to Emperor Charles V. The story is told that the emperor’s son King Philip II, praying at the bedside of a dying son of his own, promised a miracle for a miracle, if his child be spared. And when the child did indeed recover, Philip kept his bargain by having hismechanician construct a miniature penitent homunculus.”

I can imagine so many freakish, frightening, nigh blasphemous scenarios and stories involving “Brother Tock.” Make him life-size and he’s the hideous “secret priest” in the haunted cathedral. Or he’s still miniature, a powerful counselor behind the throne, literally at the monarch’s ear — advising him of who knows what? Is he a machine come to life, the product of Da Vinci-ian weird science? Possessed by a demon? Or is he a holy relic, powered by a bit of the heart of a saint and guarding against some unspeakable evil?

Even if so, he creeps me out. And I love it.

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Come on, don’t act surprised. Of course someone like me, who grew up loving old science-fiction movies and Japanese anime, would feel his heart go pitter-pat at the thought of US war robots that feed on the dead:

A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.

Robotic Technology Inc.’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that’s right, “EATR” — “can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable,” reads the company’s Web site.

Now, if only they were giant war-robots….

(hat tip: Allahpundit)

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I’m a life-long fan of Fifties science-fiction films, so I was surprised when Netflix suggested Target Earth: I had never seen or even heard of it. So, I put it in my queue, didn’t really expect much, and found myself very pleasantly surprised.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way, first: the alien robot is laughable, the situation stretches credulity to the breaking point, some of the dialog is right out of a 50s Civil Defense film, and the short length of the movie creates a few forced coincidences.

Granted all that, this is a very good movie. The set-up recalls some of the best Twilight Zones in its eeriness: a few people wake up to discover they’re the only ones left in a city that’s been evacuated overnight in the wake of an alien invasion. They find themselves trapped between an American Army growing desperate enough to use atomic weapons, alien hunter-killer robots — and a murderer on the lam! In the empty concrete jungle (downtown Los Angeles), the question they face is not only one of escape, but even of survival.

This movie works because it focuses much more on the dilemma of average people caught in a terrible situation than on the science-fictional aspects. The characters could have straight from any film noir of the period: the “regular Joe” from out of town who becomes a hero; the good-hearted heroine who needs rescue; the boozy blonde and her likeable lunk of a boyfriend; the desperate gangster; and even the little weasel “who gets it.” The acting is much better than what one would expect from a low-budget alien invasion flick, but the cast was composed of many fine studio contract players from that time, notably Richard Denning and Virginia Grey.

The only real problems I have are the cutaways to the military sequences and the showing of the killer robot. The first detracts from the isolation of the characters in the abandoned city, for we know help is on the way. We see the military trying to find a way to defeat the enemy, and we just know the scientists (lead by the great Whit Bissell) will find a way to defeat the aliens before we have to break out the a-bombs. It detracts from the horror inherent in the helplessness of the main characters. It would have been better to keep the military as distant figures from the main characters’ point of view and leave them (and the audience) to wonder if they’ll be killed in a crossfire, or if the military can even stop the invaders at all.

As for the robot itself, while it’s fun to see in a campy sort of way, it would have been better if it had only been shown via its shadow and in half-glimpses, never a full shot. The audience’s imagination can conjure monsters far more horrifying; again, the robot rather detracts from what could have been a five-star science-fiction/suspense/noir film. In both cases, however, these scenes are what movie-going fans of the time and genre would have expected.

In the end, however, I highly recommend Target Earth to all fans of science fiction’s first cinematic “golden age,” and to anyone interested in good low-budget film-making in general.

(Netflix allows only 300 words in a review, so I thought I’d post full-length original here. What is a blog but a vanity press, after all?)

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