Blinky

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A stylish and satisfying science-fiction short written and directed by Ruari Robinson, Blinky is set in a future world where owning your own robot helper is an affordable reality. Its protagonist is a lonely boy called Alex whose parents are always fighting out of earshot. Incidentally, Alex is played by Max Records, so this marks his second role as a kid with a troubled home life after Where the Wild Things Are.

One day, Alex sees a television advert for Blinky, a consumer robot that is part-housekeeper, part-companion, and he asks his parents to get him one for Christmas. What kind of robot is Blinky? While he has something of the childlike playfulness of Wall-E, the appearance of R2D2, and the function of the robot butler in Bicentennial Man, his glowing red eyes should put you in mind of an altogether more sinister machine imbued with artificial intelligence: the malfunctioning HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At first Blinky is the perfect friend to Alex; the joyous faux-8mm, home-movie-style sequence where they play together is quite lovely. But soon Alex grows bored with Blinky and starts treating him badly. Alex lashes out at Blinky, standing in place of his parents as the one thing in his life he can control, and when he makes conflicting demands of Blinky, he causes him to malfunction. Central to the film and its conception of Blinky are the famous Laws of Robotics devised by science-fiction author Isaac Asimov. The First Law is that a robot may not injure a human. The Second Law is that a robot must obey the orders given to it by humans, except where such orders conflict with the First Law. When the malfunctioning Blinky is restarted, the Second Law (obey orders) now overrides the First (do no harm to humans), with grisly and darkly funny consequences.

The script borrows freely, perhaps too freely, from Asimov and the corpus of robotic literature and film. Robinson tries to refresh the material, by grounding the familiar robot tropes (the robot as domestic helper, the malfunctioning robot) in a raw and realistic family situation, but unfortunately this intriguing emotional strand, the child caught in the crossfire of warring parents, is simply abandoned in the rush toward the film’s shocking conclusion.

Robinson’s direction is fluent and assured, yet arguably his most striking talent is for visual effects, which would be impressive on any budget, much less a visual effects budget reportedly of ‘zero’. Robinson designed Blinky, modelled him in 3D, and played both his voice and body in motion-capture performance; his Blinky is a memorable creation, brilliantly and seamlessly integrated into the live action. With his DIY approach to visual effects, Robinson reminds me of writer-director Gareth Edwards, who did all the visual effects for his sci-fi thriller Monsters using off-the-shelf software. And like Edwards, Robinson seems destined for big screen success; he’s currently in post-production on a sci-fi feature Last Days of Mars starring Liev Schreiber, to be released sometime next year.

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