Isaac Asimov’s Robots (1988) — A VCR board game review

“Oh yes! One of your earth idioms!”

Justin’s rating: The sixteenth law of robotics: If OCP loads you up with full ammo, you’ve got the greenlight to fire it into a corporate lackey during a security demonstration

Justin’s review: Fans of classic scifi are well acquainted with the name Isaac Asimov and his stories that revolved around the Three Laws of Robotics. One of these tales, a 1954 novel called The Caves of Steel, ended up getting turned into a film, sort of, as part of a 1988 VCR board game.

That’s right: We’re going to visit another one of these strange and gimmicky board game movies! If you’re unfamiliar, these were hybrid games that utilized the then-popular VCR to share instructions and add to a sense of immersion. They left behind a legacy of these weird sort-of-movies that are missing their physical game half.

At the start of Robots, players are told that a mystery is about to happen and they have to help solve it. At the start of the film, a group of Spacers — decadent people spoiled by their robotic servants — have returned to earth to create a base in New Jersey (!) for nefarious reasons. As tensions escalate, riots break out over lost jobs to the ‘bots and NYPD detective Elijah Bailey is asked to partner up with a robot on the force.

I don’t know what kind of budget they had for this, but it was probably the same amount that Grown Ups 2 spent on its craft services tables. The models are laughably crude (like, MST3K level), the women sport the largest shoulderpads that the ’80s will allow, and the robots — the big selling point of this whole thing, it’s right on the cover — look like someone’s mom was notified the night before a science fair that she had to create a few costumes or her kid would fail.

That’s the unforgivable part here. I’ll put up with a lot from a scifi movie if the tech looks cool. Here the robots are the laziest creations imaginable.

Bailey’s new partner is a new type of robot that can pass as a person, a fact that pleases the robotphobe Bailey not one bit. At the same time, he’s tasked with uncovering an attempt on the life of spacer Dr. Fastolfe, the local roboticist. He’s got 24 hours “or else!” to investigate all of the suspects, tease out clues, and come up with an accusation.

This isn’t much of a good movie — my attention started wandering midway through and didn’t fully return — but at least it is a story with a beginning, middle, and (thankfully) end. Some of the sets are neat, and the overblown acting and extremely low-budget special effects are targets for mockery, if that’s your jam. But I can’t imagine someone wanting to play this game and subject themselves to this movie more than one.

Didja notice?

  • Drop shadows on text are cool!
  • Eye holograms
  • That one robot looks like C3P0 — almost suspiciously so

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