Last Saturday, I spent a couple hours celebrating a milestone birthday with one of Augusta’s best-known and most-beloved artists – Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman. You may have seen his robot paintings hanging in local galleries or his mechanical-man tubing on the Augusta Water Works wall on Wrightsboro Road.
He uses his robots as a sort of visual shorthand, communicating messages of joy and pathos, celebration and profound grief. And though propriety dictates I keep Zimmerman’s age a secret (rhymes with Shorty), I would like to offer, in honor of his big day, a few of my favorite robots.
These are not the mechanical movie heroes you might initially consider. There are no Terminators or Robocops, and neither C3PO nor R2-D2 made the list. Instead, I have opted for the underdogs, the oft-forgotten robots who, despite limited screen time or commercial underachievement, are among the finest film stars ever manufactured:
RAGS THE DOG – The talking robotic dog in Woody Allen’s science fiction parody Sleeper isn’t allowed much screen time. Instead, he serves as more of a visual gag. He is, however, the focus of one of this very fine film’s funnier lines – which relates to having to pick up batteries if Rags proves not to be housebroken.
21-B – Although relatively unheralded for his contributions, the Star Wars saga might have turned out much differently were it not for 21-B. The droid called on when the heroic Luke Skywalker irritates an ice monster or refuses to give his father a hand, 21-B is the mechanical medicine man that ensured Skywalker was always mended in time to fight another day.
JINX – There’s nothing like a bumbling robot to get even the most improbable plots moving. Taking wish fulfillment as prime directive, Jinx allowed the filmmakers responsible for Space Camp the freedom to launch untrained teenagers into space. Surprisingly this makes him the hero, rather than the villain, of the piece. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
KILLBOTS – Slasher films require a terrifying killer that cannot be killed. You would think those movie moguls interested in showing audiences a bloody good time would resort to robots more often. My favorite machine-as-killer kitsch is Chopping Mall. The story finds a group of teenage victims fighting to survive a trio of robotic mall security guards gone bad after a lightning strike. So bad it’s good.
MECHAGODZILLA – The only thing better than a robot on a rampage is a giant robot on a rampage. Built by aliens, this robotic Godzilla doppelganger started laying waste to Tokyo, under the auspices of being the real Godzilla, in the 1974 film Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Needless to say, the real Godzilla didn’t take too kindly to an outsourced monster taking over his stomping grounds. Chaos ensues.