Robot Wars DVD Review
Directed by Albert Band
Charles Band (idea) and Jackson Barr
1993, Region 2 (PAL), 67 minutes, Rated PG (UK)
DVD released on 17th February 2013
Don Michael Paul as Drake
Barbara Crampton as Leda
James Staley as Stumpy
Lisa Rinna as Annie
Danny Kamekona as Wa-Lee
Yuji Okumoto as Chou-Sing
No Craig Charles here, nor anything to do with the popular British television series of the same name. If Pacific Rim had been made in the nineties by Charles Band and his cronies at 88 Films (or Full Moon, as you may have once known them), it would probably resemble Robot Wars. Following the 30-year war known as the War of the Hemispheres, the world is at peace. This is all thanks to the MRAS-2, a series of enormous, indestructible robots designed to turn the tide of any battle. With war a thing of the past, the last MRAS-2 is more of a tourist attraction than anything else, spending the last of its days shuttling sightseers around post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Re-Animator and From Beyond star Barbara Crampton is the strongest reason to see this best forgotten sci-fi relic from the nineties. If you’ve only seen her before in Stuart Gordon’s seminal Lovecraft adaptations, you may be somewhat taken aback by the bright pink trousers and crash helmet Robot Wars has her clad in, but she’s as enjoyable a presence here as ever (don’t go expecting any boobies though - the PG rating negates the usual nudity you get from the actress). Better Crampton than Don Michael Paul’s annoying pilot Drake, who makes for a rather aggravating lead, managing to be both wooden and smug at the same time. The robots have more charisma, and they’re barely even in it.
Which is a shame, because there are some great stop-motion sequences at play, resembling a cross between Red Dwarf (hello again, Craig Charles) and a Warhammer 40,000 game. The rest of the action is all a bit sixties Star Trek (in a bad way); dodgy laser gun battles and cheap sets. While the script raises an ironic smile, it’s negated by the slow plotting, dull action and uninteresting story. Don’t let the title or DVD artwork fool you – there’s no robot war. The closest it comes to that is the final action sequence, in which two giant robots grapple ineffectually on the desert floor, like bickering siblings or contestants on Craig Charles’s Robot Wars. Any real entertainment comes either from Barbara Crampton or the film’s slightly rubbish villain, Wall-E. Okay, it’s spelled Wa-Lee, but you try remembering that during the action sequences, when the heroes are all looking scared and shouting “Wall-E!” over and over again. Sometimes you have to take amusement wherever you can.
Aficionados of cheesy cult sci-fi will no doubt have a blast with Robot Wars, but everyone else will find themselves bored and perplexed - a bit like anyone reading this review who doesn’t know who Craig Charles is. Shame on you.
Video and Audio:
Robot Wars was created in the early nineties, and it looks and sounds like it throughout. Like the stop-motion animation and presence of Barbara Crampton, that’s oddly charming.
A behind the scenes featurette tries desperately to make Robot Wars sound bigger and better than it is (“they walk the Earth with thundering steps”) but they’re fooling no-one. “It’s a bang-bang movie,” the filmmakers shrug. “I directed it because my son never showed up,” Albert Band admits. It’s an interesting little documentary, depicting the intricacies of stop-motion animation, and the difficulties the crew faced filming in the desert. It makes for recommended viewing, even if the film itself really isn’t.