Originally released in 1986, Short Circuit is one of those feel-good, family-oriented adventures that filmmakers in the 80s seemed to excel at making, and one that filmmakers today could do with taking a leaf from. It’s a good job, then, that Second Sight have seen fit to release this 80s sci-fi comedy on Blu-ray for the first time, giving it a new lease of life for a new audience.
Nova Laboratories have developed a range of laser-wielding robots for use by the military. The robot’s creator Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) and his assistant Ben (Fisher Stevens) aren’t exactly excited by the thought of their creations being used for aggressive purposes and would be happier if the robots were being used for more peaceful means. During a presentation to show off what the robots can do, a storm breaks out and robot Number 5 gets fried by a lightning strike and goes AWOL, prompting Nova boss Howard Marner (Austin Pendleton) to call in head of security Skroeder (G.W. Bailey) to send out a team to find it. Skroeder, however, has a keen dislike of the robots and sets out looking to destroy it.
Meanwhile, Number 5 has started to develop something of a human personality and is out and about in Oregon looking for “input” and trying to educate itself. After being chased by Skroeder’s team Number 5 ends up back at the house of Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy), who tries to feed its craving for input but inadvertently causes Number 5 to react to being “disassembled” after accidentally squashing a grasshopper and realising it can’t be put back together. Figuring out that Nova wants to disassemble him Number 5 and Stephanie turn to Crosby and Ben to try and help stop Skroeder from destroying the sensitive robot.
If you break the film down into its separate elements it shouldn’t really work, especially when viewed a quarter of a century after it first came out. Despite their likeable screen personalities, Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy’s performances aren’t actually that good, with Guttenberg riding on the wave of his Police Academy fame but not giving (or being allowed to give) enough of that wise-guy personality and remaining fairly bland. Sheedy is a little more animated with her performance but is ultimately still very annoying.
Not annoying, though, is Fisher Stevens as Ben, whose comedic delivery of his one-liners is still hilarious and is surely the inspiration for Apu in The Simpsons. G.W. Bailey is also as entertaining here as he is as Lieutenant Harris in Police Academy, although a bit more of his antagonistic on-screen relationship with Guttenberg from that film would maybe have added a little more punch to the script.
But those gripes aside, Short Circuit does work surprisingly well all these years later. Despite Fisher Stevens getting most of the good lines, Austin Pendleton’s performance of Nova director Howard Marner is also amusing and adds a little physical comedy to proceedings. Naturally the technology seems clunky and primitive-looking nowadays but this isn’t supposed to be Terminator-style technology on display, and the underlying Cold War messages that were a staple of most 80s US military-based movies is there if you want it but won’t mean much to younger audiences now.
The picture quality isn’t the greatest you’ve ever seen but it is crisp and colourful enough to give the film a more up-to-date feel, and for the purists it still has plenty of grain – possibly a little too much during certain indoor scenes – and isn’t a totally sterile remastering job. Audio-wise it does its job well enough, with the synthesised soundtrack music sounding very good and the film making good use of surround sound throughout, especially during scenes that involve explosions. As far as special features go there are some cast interviews, on-set featurettes, trailer and The Creation of Number 5 featurette that goes through the robotics used in the film.
So overall, this release of Short Circuit is a fun nostalgia trip for those of us who remember it the first time round, only with a cleaner picture and a better understanding of the jokes. If you’ve never seen it before it might not have the same effect but nevertheless it is still an enjoyable comedy and worthy of your time. It falls slightly short of era-defining in the same same way as Back to the Future or The Goonies but coming from a time when Steven Spielberg ruled the roost with these types of films it more than holds its own, and as the press release says, it’s a ‘perfect gift for kids of all ages this Christmas’.