With the Robots exhibition at Titanic Belfast in full swing we enlisted the help of bearded sci-fi nerd Mark Rowney to run down the greatest robots of all time.
Here’s what he had to say…
Ever since technological advances became mechanised, robots and machines have played a huge part in people’s imaginations. Sometimes these have been dreams of a brighter, utopian future, and sometimes quite the opposite; the dystopian worlds created in science fiction have played with the idea of robots and androids subverting or taking over humanity. Yet in either scenario, robots have played a key role in the fantastical imaginations and worlds created in novels, films and television over the years. Inspired by the Robots exhibition currently taking place at the Titanic Buildings, here is a list of my top six favourite robots.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
A modern day Pinocchio, Data longed to be human and to feel human emotions. At times child-like and unsure of himself, a being with vastly superior intellect and strength, he was still a ‘child’ forever seeking to understand the world around him. His character was perhaps used to allegorical extremes in the at times ‘preachy’ means Rodenberry’s Star Trek plots employed, but still he grew as a character throughout the many series of the television show. In essence he showed us we could all be more than the sum of our parts, and there aren’t many robots who taught us much of anything really.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Marvin, a highly intelligent robot, is actually perhaps too intelligent, and succumbs to depression and paranoia in one of the most loved science fiction tales of all time. A severly depresssed robot doesn’t sound funny, but it’s his dry observations and matter-of-fact way of looking at a fantastical world that works, all thanks to Douglas Adams’ genius as a comic writer. There have been many interpretations of Marvin over the years, but in the 2005 film adaptation he is perfectly voiced by Alan Rickman, helping bring a science fiction legend to a whole new generation of fans.
4. Optimus Prime
From the 80s cartoon to the more recent big screen adaptations, the Transformers have remained popular on both the small and big screens for 30 years. Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, an alien species of robots with the ability to transform to protect their identities, has brought at least two generations of young children to tears – spoiler alert, he ‘dies’ in the 1984 animated movie and in Michael Bay’s more recent CGI laden extravaganza. They’ve come a long way from a cartoon that was solely meant as an advert for Hasbro’s toys.
3. The Cylons
The 70s and 80s hit sci-fi show, still remembered fondly, took a much darker turn in the mid to late noughties in a reimagination that is recognised as one the best science fiction shows of all time. With the Cylons no longer clunky metal humanods with that sweeping red eye, we had “skin jobs” – Cylons in human form. This new take on the theme led to infiltration, paranoia and plot twists. The trials and tribulations of ‘Number Six’, possibly the sexiest robot of all time, led to existential crises, ensuring that Battlestar Galactica became much more than just another robots versus humans story.
2. C-3PO and R2D2
The Star Wars franchise
It’s fair to say you can’t really have one without the other – two icons that span the generations, C-3PO and R2D2 offer light relief in an at times dark universe. In many ways a comedy double act, R2 plays the straight man to 3PO’s almost slapstick presence and offbeat one-liners. It has been argued that without these two droids the original trilogy would never have happened, Luke would never have met Ben Kenobi or walked the path that led to his battles with Darth Vader. Inadvertant heroes, part of their longstanding appeal is the fact that even without the Force or powerful weapons, it’s possible for even the humblest of characters to make a difference in a galaxy far, far away.
1. Cyberdine Systems Model 101 Series 800
James Cameron created a science fiction classic in his film about a cyborg assassin sent back through time to terminate Sarah Connor, mother of the yet unborn saviour of mankind. Schwarzenegger’s iconic role was key to the films success – he’s cold, mechanical, and frightening. The Terminator is a single minded and seemingly unstoppable foe, all the more fearsome once the cyborg skeleton reveals itself. The Terminator plays on our fears of something that looks human but isn’t, fears of machines taking over – a fear taken so seriously that even Stephen Hawking has spoken out about the threat to humanity from emerging technologies and artificial intelligence.