Every Friday we present a new film as part of the Sci-Fi Squad Movie Club (like a book club for movie geeks), asking some questions of our own while we watch the film, with the ultimate goal of starting a discussion about science-fiction and some of the movies we love. This was my first week to host, and I trotted out an old favorite from when I was a kid, Michael Crichton's Runaway (you can read Friday's post here).

The movie can be streamed through Netflix, so don't feel like you had to catch it over the weekend to join in on the fun. It's a 1984 techno-thriller about a beat cop (Tom Selleck) who handles robotic mishaps in the near-future, and uncovers a plot involving microchips that cause robots to go berserk (as well as powering experimental heat-guided bullets).

Let's get into some of the questions posed in Friday's post...

Does the mundane "everyday-living" approach to the robots help or hinder the film?

One of the things I like the most about Runaway is also something that I think hurts it in the end. The robots are treated as part of day-to-day life, which helps you buy into this world where everyone has a robot in their own home, but, in removing the "specialness" of a world filled with robots, Crichton ends up with a movie that ultimately feels like a plain old cop thriller.

There's no tongue-in-cheek presentation ala Robocop, it's just a straight-up police story that happens to have robots in it. For the first hour or so, that approach makes Runaway feel really unique. Only when Ramsey starts pursuing Dr. Luther, do things begin to feel more rote.

Is Crichton's vision of the future obsolete or is this still a plausible direction for robotics?

In 1984, it may have seemed like household robots were only a decade away, but as it turns out, we're just fine without them. Instead, we made the things we already owned smarter -- phones, cars, refrigerators, televisions, etc. We're getting the convenience we were dreaming of without using robot workers.

I think we'll continue to see science move forward with developments in artificial intelligence and automation, but I don't think this vision of a future filled with robots holds true anymore. Maybe someday that dream make a comeback, but for now it seems like a quaint picture of a future that didn't exactly pan out.

Cornfields and vertigo - Are these intentional nods to Hitchcock?

I don't think the nods were intentional, just coincidental. I have no idea if Crichton was a Hitchcock fan, and Runaway certainly isn't in the vein of the type of thrillers Hitchcock was making.

What's your take on the acting style of Gene Simmons?

Gene Simmons is, frankly, awful. Dr. Luther is the single weakest link in Crichton's screenplay -- an underwritten villain role with no interesting characterization and a mundane motivation (money). By casting rocker Simmons, Crichton makes Luther even more plain and cartoony. Simmons has exactly one facial expression which he wears for pretty much the entire running time of the film. It's a harsh contrast against Selleck's realistic performance.

The KISS frontman should keep on rock and rolling all night and partying every day. It'll keep him from acting.

Is the scene with the psychic necessary to the film?

In one scene from the film, G.W. Bailey, playing the Chief of Police, urges Ramsey to seek guidance from the police department's resident psychic. I'm guessing the point of the scene is to show that in the future, the job of a psychic has become an invaluable position in the police department.

It's a cute notion, but the scene doesn't convey any new information at all and only serves to slow the film down.

What elements make the film Michael Crichton-esque?

Well, there's the whole technology thing, first of all.

I'm sure if you're familiar with the writer at all, you know that Crichton's work stems from real world ideas that spin into more fantastic tales. In 1984, strides in robotics painted a picture of a fully-automated future, and Crichton's idea that police would someday be needed to handle robotic problems is a unique one. It's indicative of how Crichton takes an idea from the headlines, then asks questions about where that technology might take us in a decade or so. It's the type of thinking that earmarks his works like Jurassic Park, Prey, and The Terminal Man.

What did you think of Runaway? Did you think of any other points of interest while watching the film?
categories Features, Sci-Fi