Short Circuit

Short Circuit (1986)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Ally Sheedy, Fisher Stevens
Extras: Commentary Track, Isolated Music and Effects Track, Featurette, Still Galleries, Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files

When recent films such as "The Matrix" deal with technology, we’re typically talking about special effects wizardry that’s going on behind the scenes. The result is astounding movie magic that usually serves no purpose in everyday life. However, in the not too distant past, when technology appeared on-screen, it wasn’t CGI effects, but real-life hardware. A good example of this occurs in the film "Short Circuit". The film is filled with robots and computers that, while extremely dated today, were on the cutting edge of technology for the time. The film, which is coming to DVD from Image Entertainment, manages to mix state-of-the art machinery with a fun and exciting story.

"Short Circuit" opens with Nova Robotics unveiling it’s latest product, the SAINT (Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport) robot. This robot was designed as the ultimate weapon, as it can withstand harsh conditions and is armed with a laser and a nuclear device. Following the successful demonstration to the military, there is an electrical storm and lighting strikes a generator. Robot Number Five (they are all designated by number) is given a surge of electricity and is "brought to life". This nullifies Number Five’s original programming and gives it a thirst for "input". As a result, Number Five leaves the Nova compound.

Upon learning that Number Five has escaped, Nova president Howard Marner (Austin Pendleton) orders SAINT creator Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) and his assistant Ben (Fisher Stevens) to find and retrieve Number Five. Meanwhile, Nova security cheif Skroeder (G.W. Bailey, of the "Police Academy" films) is intent on finding Number Five and destroying, as he sees the robot as a threat. (After all, it is armed.) While the Nova personnel are scrambling to find Number Five, it has ended up with Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy), a loving young caterer who takes in any stray animal. She assumes that Number Five is an alien and assists him in his thirst for "input." Once Stephanie learns the true nature of Number Five and that he may be destroyed, she vows to protect him. She then meets Newton and they decide to work together to save Number Five, while a romance between the couple begins to brew.

Let’s face it, when you’re watching a movie that’s proud of the fact that it features the very first Macintosh, you know that it’s outdated. But, "Short Circuit" still manages to be a wonderfully charming film that is both exciting and funny. This can be credited to many factors. For one thing, Number Five is very charming and is fascinating to watch. From the second that he mimics a butterfly’s wings with his eyebrows, he has us. And once we realize that we care for this machine, we don’t want to see it destroyed. Also, the character of Ben, the Indian who murders the English language, is hilarious. He probably doesn’t come across as very PC today, but you can’t help but laugh at his dialogue. Combine this with the confident direction of John Badham (who’d just come off of "Wargames"), and you’ve got a film that still holds up today.

With "Short Circuit", Image Entertainment brings us a special edition DVD that is jam-packed with goodies, as well as a good transfer. The film comes in a 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> presentation, but sadly the transfer on the DVD is not <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets, which could have even further improved the quality of this DVD. The letterbox framing on the transfer has been handled well, and there is no noticeable deficit of information at the top or bottom of the screen. This is a beautiful transfer, as the picture is very clear and the images are very crisp and sharp, although it lacks some definition here and there as a result of the non-<$16x9,anamorphic> presentation. As much of the film takes place in broad daylight, it is easy to spot the quality of this transfer, considering that there is only subtle grain present during these scenes. There are some minor defects in the presentation that are noticeable on the source print, but fortunately these are negligible for the most part. The color balancing has been handled rather well, with the cold metal look of Number Five standing out from the green and lush backgrounds of the Pacific Northwest. The image shows no signs of compression artifacts, carefully maintaining all the image detail.

The audio on the "Short Circuit" DVD is also impressive. The soundtrack has been re-mixed into a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> format that creates an elaborate soundfield. My only complaint with it has to be that too much emphasis has been put on the surround channels. The surround sound mix on the DVD is by no means subtle, with musical cues, sound effects, or dialogue constantly streaming from the rear speakers. While I’m a huge fan of surround audio, too much of it creates an "artificial" and less natural atmosphere. There is also a defect in the audio tracks, which seems to stem from the source print, as it appears on both the 5.1 track and the alternate Dolby 2-channel Surround track. At the 0:06:51 mark, when Howard Marner says, "Why don’t we move our little presentation back into the lab?" there is an audible dropout in the word "back". As an additional bonus, you can also find another audio track on the disc, which features only sound effects and David Shire’s original score for the film.

The first of the many special features on the "Short Circuit" DVD is an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring director John Badham and screenwriters S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. This is an excellent commentary, blending a laid-back approach with a genuine affection for the film. Wilson and Maddock were quite involved with the production of the film, so along with Badham, they are able to relate many anecdotes concerning the making of "Short Circuit", as well as giving us insight into how they developed the script. All three speakers have excellent memories and are able to give the listener many behind-the-scenes details about the movie. The commentary remains scene specific for the most part, except in some instances, when a story lasts longer than the accompanying scene, and the trio easily manages to fill the entire duration of the film. The best story deals with the origin of the Ben character.

There is a roughly 12 minute long segment, that is labeled as a "Behind-the-scenes Featurette" and that’s exactly what it is. Unfortunately, it is made up of a series of video segments shot on the set, which aren’t accompanied by any sort of narration, commentary or explanation. But, I must say that it was entertaining to see John Badham dancing with Ally Sheedy, among other moments. Another featurette entitled "The Creation of Number Five" features interviews with Badham and robot-creator Eric Allard, and gives the viewer insight into how Number Five was actually conceived and built by taking us into Allard’s workshop.

Also on the disc, you can find a selection of interviews with Sheedy, Guttenberg, and Badham, taken in 1986, lasting from two to four minutes. Each offers a brief overview of the individual’s career and then has sound bites from the set of "Short Circuit." There are also in-depth interviews with Allard and futurist/concept artist Syd Mead, who worked on "Alien" and "Blade Runner," that run 35 minutes and 17 minutes respectively and give us a great deal of insight into the lives of these men and their work on the film. The Allard interview is especially fascinating, as he goes into great detail about all of the work which was involved in creating Number Five, and how present technology had to be pushed to the limit.

The DVD offers us the original theatrical trailer for the film as well as three separate still galleries. The first is made up of 51 behind the scenes photos, most of which are of Number Five. Then there are 8 pictures of the original artwork that was used in designing Number Five. And finally there are 22 pictures of the cast and crew, which were culled from the original press kit. Speaking of which, the original production notes from that same press kit are also included on the disc. We are also treated to biographies from this 1986 press kit for the principal cast and crew, but thankfully, their filmographies have been updated.

Image Entertainment has obviously pulled out all the stops and scoured the vaults for this special edition DVD of "Short Circuit". It’s apparent that a great deal of care and work went into this DVD and that shows a great deal of respect for the film. "Short Circuit" may appear dated in the technology department, but the story still works and the movie is full of laughs and excitement. However, after watching the film again, I think I now know why my mother unplugs everything during an electrical storm. You don’t want the toaster coming to life.