MOVIE REVIEW: “Robotech: The Movie” (1986)

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“Robotech” is a 1985 American series that is composed of three separate, unrelated early-eighties Japanese series. These were re-dubbed and slightly re-written to tie their narratives together into one epic multigenerational tale. It gets wildly derided by snotty fans of Anime, and deservedly so since it is, at root, a mutilation of original art, and kind of stupid as well. And of course the people doing the deriding are snotty condescending turds, so of course they *would* seize on any kind of artistic justification for slamming something they’d decided to hate before they even saw it, right? That’s what snots do.

And also - being superior little snots - they’d manage to utterly miss the fact that the mutilation and repurposing of art had produced something pretty cool and unique, you know? Yes, the original vision was sacrificed, yes, the integrity is lacking, yes it’s kind of dumb, they’re right about that, but at the same time they deliberately ignore that the *new* vision is grander than the old one, that there’s a new kind of integrity to replace the discarded one, and that the story is a smart new kind of dumb that, while having many failures and annoyances, was interesting. And not really as dumb it’s made out to be, either.

It’s up in the air as to whether or not Robotech ended up being more than the sum of its parts - I go back and forth on that one myself - but it is at the very least *as good as* its parts, which is no mean feat. The experiment *should* have failed, it *should* have been a non-starter, but it wasn’t. Sometimes you halfass things, and you get lucky.

And sometimes you don’t. This is one of those times.

I was a college freshman in the mid-eighties, with an unhealthy and more-than-passingly-sad obsession with Robotech. One weekday, between 4:30 and 5:00, while watching the endlessly-repeated show, I happened to see this commercial:

I was intrigued, I was excited, I wasn’t entirely sure I hadn’t hallucinated it, since I never saw the commercial again, and all talk of a film evaporated almost instantly. Turns out the film had been released in Texas, had screened very badly, and never went into a larger release. It - and plans for an ongoing Robotech movie franchise - were scuttled, and most people forgot it had ever existed. Even the official Robotech website and timeline make no mention of the film. Spooky OCD that I am, it took a quarter century before I was able to see it.

Was it worth the wait?

Hell no!

PLAY BY PLAY

It’s the year 2027, according to the best info I can figure, about five years after the Robotech Expeditionary Force left earth, about two years before the Robotech Masters attacked earth.

The Robotech Masters attack earth. Presumably this is an advanced guard or something. In any event, they claim their mission is twofold: 1) To retrieve “The Mother Computer;” and 2) To destroy all life on earth as revenge for our defeat of the Zentradi. This “Mother Computer” evidently has all kind of otherwise-lost information, though we’re never told what it is.

During the battle - which consists entirely of re-dubbed footage from the Southern Cross episodes of the series - we see an officer named “Todd” and a colonel named “Andrews” fighting Bioroids. “Andrews” is captured, taken up to the Master’s ship, cloned, and killed. The clone is sent back down to earth where he denies an alien attack ever happened on TV. Since Todd was in this nonexistent battle, he knows something is up, and contacts his friend “Mark.”

They meet up in a parking garage, where goons kill Todd, but not before he tells his friend that he needs to contact someone named “Eve.” Mark steals Todd’s super-high-tech motorcycle - called a “Modat” - and escapes. The goons attempt to track him to recover the bike. Mark picks up his girlfriend and takes her to a movie audition, and gets a small part in the film himself. One of his girlfriend’s roommates shoots a whole lot of footage of the Modat transforming back and forth from Cycle to Mighty-Fighty Robot mode.

Meanwhile, Robotech scientists have been researching the “Mother Computer” for years, and have a huge complex (Which rather incongruously looks like an underground city of ruins) where they house the thing and do all its work. Andrews manipulates his way into control of this operation, then fires all the staff and places his own people in charge. These begin transmission of the full memory of said computer to the Masters. Once the file is 100% complete, the genocide begins.

After several more chase scenes and a rather pointless battle between Rolf Emerson’s forces and the Robotech Masters, and some brooding over his girlfriend’s career, Mark realizes that “Eve” is probably a rock star who just happens to be the winner of the Terry Nunn soundalike national championship:

She even kinda’ dresses like her.
Also rather incongruously Eve hosts a TV call-in talk show. Mark tries to call her, but the goons intercept the call and he’s lured in to the studio after hours to talk to Eve in person.

He discovers, to his shock, that Eve isn’t a real person at all, but actually a CGI-simulation programmed by the network/record company. There never was a real Eve, she’s basically SimOne. Mark leaves, but is contacted by an inexplicably-yet-strategically naked Eve (Again, you can’t see anything) on the Modak’s tv screen. She info-dumps a ton of information on the audience about how she’s the program in the Mother Computer, how the Robotech Masters are downloading her, blah blah blah. She’s operating on her own initiative, and working against her superiors to warn Mark of this.

Meanwhile, Andrew’s goons have begun targeting Mark’s friends - pretty much limited to his girlfriend’s roommates - and kills one of them. The government isn’t really thrilled with Andrews - not because of this, mind you: Killing people as part of a cover up is A-Ok in their book - but for other reasons, and they attempt to wrest control of the Eve computer from him. He leads a coup, and becomes prime minister, then goes back to the lab.

Mark infiltrates the massive underground Eve complex, where he gets in a fight with Andrews, and loses. Meanwhile, Mark’s girlfriend’s surviving roommate and her daddy are fleeing the country to get away from Prime Minister Andrews. Andrews decides to kill them both at the airport. Eve warns Mark of this, so he steals a fighter, and he and Andrews tussle. Mark wins this one. Meanwhile, out of nowhere, Eve turns out to have gained a degree of control over the Robotech Master’s ship, and feeds information to Rolf Emerson’s attacking forces. This allows them to disable the ship, which then crashes somewhere in North America.

The world is saved, and everyone lives happily ever after excepting for Todd, Mark’s Girlfriend’s rommate, Andrews, and the tens of thousands of people who died. And maybe Eve, since we never see or hear about her again.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

Mark has a cheesecake poster of a naked woman on his wall. You can’t really see anything, though. There’s also a tiny bit of profanity in the movie, presumably to pump it up to a PG rating.

This movie makes it very clear that Suzuki, BMW, and David Bowie all survived the Zentradi apocalypse, which doesn’t really make much sense given that 87% of the earth was wiped out instantly, and the world was devastated. Well, ok, it *does* make sense that Bowie would survive, he’s just that way, you know?

Speaking of devastation, the “Far East” area where most of the movie takes place looks perfectly ok. There’s no sign of the blighted post-Zentradi landscape, no bleak sky. They wear different uniforms. In fact, it looks pretty much like the 20th century. What are we to make of this?

Well, here’s the story *behind* the story:

In keeping with Robotech’s tradition of horking existing shows, re-dubbing them, and shoehorning ‘em into their increasingly Byzantine story, they grabbed a film called “Megazone 23” about which I know nothing, and which obviously takes place in a more-or-less contemporary world. The idea was that (When Robotechified) this movie would take place during the year or so that the SDF-1 was making its way back from Pluto. “Mark” was to have been a relative of Rick Hunter, who got embroiled in the UN’s efforts to cover up the destruction of Macross island, which they attributed to terrorists and not an alien attack. Colonel Andrews was to be an younger version of Colonel Edwards, a major antagonist in the stillborn Robotech II: The Sentinels.

For whatever reason, this didn’t work out, and so they made a decision to bump the story forward twenty years and set it in the “Southern Cross” era, and hastily re-wrote it.

This frankly makes little-to-no sense. There’s a lot of continuity problems that result, not to mention the lingering question of why anyone should give a crap anyway. “Southern Cross” was pretty uncompelling from the getgo, frequently hard to follow, and this just adds to that.

Conversely, a story set on earth during the first part of the Macross saga is, frankly, a pretty good idea. So good, in fact, that I’m tempted to get a copy of Megazone 23 and re-dub/re-edit the darn thing myself.

There’s no getting around it: this film looks like crap. The sections with Mark look ok, though they’re clearly not intended as theatrical quality animation, but the Southern Cross stuff looks terrible, and the transitions between them are jarring. The Southern Cross film stock was 16mm while the Megazone stuff was on 35mm, so there’s a massive, massive, massive difference in picture quality. It’s like cutting back and forth between Battlestar Galactica and a flip book cartoon. Terrible.

The music is pretty good, though. There’s not a ton of new stuff, but what there is for the most part is nice. Since all Robotech must revolve around a singer to a greater or lesser extent, there are also four new songs: “The Future is Now,” and “Saved by Science” and “Underground“ (all by Joann Harris), “Call on me” by someone called “Gigi” and “In my Heart” by Three Dog Night. No, really! It’s all very mid-80s, very New Wave, which is, of course, a good thing. The songs turn up on Harmony Gold’s 20th Anniversary Soundtrack album for Robotech, the additional instrumental stuff does not.

This film was written by Ardwight Chamberlain, who played “Kosh” on Babylon 5, and was married to Pat Tallman for a while. The odd and unsung Robotech/Babylon 5 connections continue…

So when Andrews leads a coup, does that mean he’s taken over the entire earth government, or just one state therein? If the latter, I can’t imagine the UN would hesitate to bust a cap in his ass.

There’s a guy named “Spike Niblick” in the closing credits, which is one of the better fake names I’ve seen used to get around union rules.

Obvious questions: If a Robotech Masters ship crashed on earth two years before the main invasion, why was everyone caught so utterly flatfooted by it? Since the SDF-3 went off to *meet* the Robotech Masters like six years before, why was everyone so surprised by *anything* connected to the masters? They must have had pretty good intel, since the Zentradi were working for ‘em in the first place, and there were millions of Zentradi turncoats.

Furthermore, what became of Eve? If a powerful AI existed before the war, and had the complete backstory of the Robotech universe stored within it, and if said AI was chatty and friendly and didn’t appear at all opposed to sharing, then why didn’t anyone know anything about Protoculture when the Masters arrived en mass? And why isn’t Eve around in subsequent Robotech stories?

So finally, a quarter century after it started, my Robotech journey is at a close. There is nothing more to see, and it’s pretty unlikely that there will ever be anything more *to* see. It’s odd. On the one hand, I have this strong sense of completion, a gratitude that I can close that chapter of my life and move on. On the other hand, I’m vaguely annoyed that this last, hardest-to-find bit was so crappy. I would have preferred a better sendoff.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS MOVE?

There’s really nothing in here to like or dislike from a political or moral point of view.

The entire movie is online, and you can watch it here

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