SHORT CIRCUIT [1986/2014] [Blu-ray + DVD] [US Import] Number Five Is Alive! Not Since R2-D2 Has A Mechanical Matinee Idol Been So Positively Huggable!
Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy co-star in this high-tech comedy adventure about Number Five, a robot who escapes into the real world after he short-circuits in an electrical storm and decides that he is human. Because he is carrying destructive weapons, the Defence Department and his designer Newton Crosby [Steve Guttenberg] are desperate to find him. But Number Five is being protected by a young woman Stephanie Speck [Ally Sheedy], who is teaching him a gentler way of life.
Cast: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, G.W. Bailey, Tim Blaney (Number 5 voice), Brian McNamara, Marvin J. McIntyre, John Garberm, Penny Santon, Vernon Weddle, Barbara Tarbuck and John Badham (cameraman uncredited)
Director: John Badham
Producers: Dana Satler Hankins, David Foster, Dennis E. Jones, Gary Foster and Gregg Champion
Screenplay: Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson
Composer: David Shire
Cinematography: Nick McLean
Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 [Panavision]
Audio: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English: 5.1 Dolby Digital and Music Track only: 2.0 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Running Time: 99 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 2
Studio: IMAGE Entertainment
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: `Short Circuit' was a modest hit upon its release in the summer of 1986. The picture grossed around $40 million in the U.S. and Canada alone on a budget of probably around one-quarter that amount. It spawned a much less, but enjoyable successful sequel and, rather surprisingly, is considered big enough commodities today that the remake rights were snapped up by Dimension Films and with this 2014 remastered Blu-ray upgrade, giving it a new lease of life for a whole new audience.
Though director John Badham's earlier film was `WarGames' , which now looks so out of date and embarrassing, which also featured actress Ally Sheedy, and watching this upgraded 2014 Blu-ray release of `Short Circuit' via the IMAGE Entertainment studio was an eye opening experience and a vast improvement over the original Blu-ray disc release. Watching it was a real 1980s flashback and viewers of my generation will thrill to see it all over again and is an enjoyable romp.
The film opens with the demonstration of five seemingly unstoppable prototype robots intended for battlefield use (though more of an arms race deterrent against the Soviet Union), on the grounds of Nova Laboratories in Washington State. A bolt of lightning results in a massive power surge in robot Number 5; it begins behaving eccentrically and inadvertently it's taken outside the laboratory grounds and unwittingly abandoned several miles away.
Now inexplicably sentient, "Number Five is Alive" (so it proclaims later on) and the cute, curious robot begins exploring the countryside, eventually making its way to the Astoria, Oregon, home of Stephanie Speck [Ally Sheedy], a single woman who drives a lunch wagon (not an ice cream van, as others have suggested) and has a soft spot for stray animals. At first she thinks Number Five (voiced by Tim Blaney, one of its puppeteers) is an extra-terrestrial, and then is disappointed to find that it's merely a product of the military, then is taken with it again because of its childlike insatiable thirst for knowledge. ("Need input! Need input!" it cries.) Stephanie Speck obliges it with volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which in an amusing scene it uploads in a matter of minutes.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, frantic director Howard Marner [Austin Pendleton] dispatches programmer Newton Crosby [Steve Guttenberg] and an outrageous and not very 2014 pc typical Asian Indian stereotype Ben Jabituya [Fisher Stevens] to retrieve Number Five before it kills somebody with its deadly laser arsenal. At the same time, trigger-happy head of security Skroeder [G.W. Bailey] is chomping at the bit to blow Number Five to smithereens.
Though its cute anthropomorphic robot is obviously an homage to E.T. `Short Circuit' most closely resembles earlier live action Disney comedies of the late-1950s and early '60s, pictures like `The Absent-Minded Professor,' `Moon Pilot' and `Son of Flubber.' Those films dealt with science-fictional concepts, often gently satirised the military and other institutions, featured nebbish scientists and leading ladies whose romantic rivals were brutish buffoons, offered cute animals in supporting parts, and so on. All of these elements come into play here and there's even a three-legged mutt named Beasley and like the Disney sci-fi / fantasy comedies this is rife with imaginative and comical special effects. But it's also a high concept 1980s comedy so there's endless product placement, hilariously gratuitous mild swearing to ensure a PG rating, myriad pop culture reference, a very 1980s theme song ("Who's Johnny," performed by El DeBarge), a Brat Pack star, and that icon of mindless 1980s comedies, the inimitable Steve Guttenberg.
Number Five, largely the creation of Syd Mead and Eric Allard, seems patterned after the less anthropomorphic robots from ‘Gog’ , a forgotten 1950s sci-fi film with a vaguely similar story. The character is almost lovable in its early scenes; its unfettered joy of discovery is infectious, and for a bunch of nuts and bolts, it's surprisingly expressive. Later though, after Number Five has consumed hours and hours of pop culture watching TV, he gradually becomes annoying instead of endearing, something like a geek at a sci-fi convention who incessantly quotes reams of dialogue from TV commercials, old George Raft films, and the Three Stooges shorts.
One aspect of the film that didn't seem to bother contemporary reviewers with its release in 1986 is the difficult to 2014 today's image today is Fisher Stevens' malapropism-prone ("With excitement like this who needs enemas?") Indian stereotype, the kind of thickly-accented sidekick role Pedro Gonzalez Gonzales used to excel at. At least Gonzalez Gonzales was really Mexican; I thought such virtual blackface performances went out with the 20th Century.
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 are so so, with Steve 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. Ally Sheedy is a little more animated with her performance.
Blu-ray Video Quality – `Short Circuit' was filmed in Panavision and processed by Technicolor, with theatrical prints by Metrocolor. The 1080p encoded image, plus the 2.40:1 video aspect is a pleasant outstanding image with this 2014 Blu-ray upgrade. It's a good presentation and the visual aspect of the film was quite impressive and helped by Pacific Northwest locations where the filmmakers obviously had to contend with frequently overcast skies and lots of rain. But the image is sharp and detailed; on Blu-ray it's easy the marionette-style wires that occasionally manipulate some of the robots' movements, and there's an audacious traveling matte shot easily spotted freeze-frame near the beginning trying to darken some background skies.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The audio, originally standard Dolby Stereo, is typical of its period: comparatively weak centred dialogue with stronger music and effects tracks. For this 2014 Blu-ray release it has been remixed to a stunning 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The end results are still pretty comparable to what the presentation would've have been like in a good Dolby film cinema circa 1986 release. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary by Director John Badham and Writers S.S. Wilson and Brant Maddock: This commentary track has director John Badham and writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. An enjoyable listen but an ultimately standard commentary track, this trio provides some interesting insights into the making of the movie, from filming the opening credits scene to fake flowers used in lieu of real ones, to the reasoning behind making the Ally Sheedy character an animal lover, and to filming in northern Oregon. This track flows effortlessly and I'm sure fans of this film will be delighted to spend over 99 minutes with these participants.
Isolated Music and Effects Track: Allows the viewer to watch the entire movie with only these two components intact. I'm never sure if anyone actually uses features like this one, but its presence must please someone out there?
Special Feature: The Creation of Number 5  [480i] [4:3] [6:46] Is a retro feature with interviews with John Badham and some members of the effects crew. There is a look at the advanced robotics seen in the film and the arduous process of making the robots looks just as the director wanted.
Special Feature: Cast and Crew Video Interviews  [480i] [4:3] [59:00] A series of interviews with Ally Sheedy [480p] [2:18], Steve Guttenberg [480p] [2:24] , John Badham [480p] [2:06], Syd Mead [480p] [17:36], and Eric Allard [480p] [35:02]. The most significant chunk of material included on this release comes in the form of five interviews with actors Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg, director John Badham, robotics designer Syd Mead, and special effects supervisor Eric Allard. It gets a bit repetitive since 80% of the time is devoted to the practical creation of Number-5, but it's a lengthy supplement that covers a lot of ground.
Special Feature: Behind-the-Scene Footage  [480i] [4:3] [3:00] This brief glimpse behind-the-scenes, looks into a handful of scenes, explores the film's on-set atmosphere, and shows the chemistry between the cast members.
Promotional Photo Gallery [480i] [4:3] Here we get lots of a still image of the robots and behind the scene gallery. The photos are interesting, but perversely reduced in size to about one-sixth the size of your TV screen.
Biographies [480i] [4:3] Here we have text-based biographies of Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, John Badham, S.S. Wilson, Bent Maddock, Syd Mead and Eric Allard.
Robot and Promotional Design Still Gallery [480i] [4:3] Text-based production notes derived from the original 1986 press kit.
Original Theatre Trailer  [480i] [4:3] [1:50] The tatty looking trailer must've been taken from an old composite tape source and is a candidate for the worst-looking trailer on Blu-ray so far: it's full frame and looks flat-out awful.
Finally, 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 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 all ages." When I saw this film original release in 1986, I fell in love with it and with this 2014 re-release, it brings back the magic on why I loved this film and despite its 80's style of presentation, I personally feel it holds up well and loved all of it 99 minutes and the extras were quite informative, but sadly some of the features were very lacking in sparkling image, in fact I feel they were very lazy in not upgrading the images of the special features and the biggest gripe is the bog standard film trailer is the worst I have ever seen and should of not been included, as it was a total embarrassment. But despite the last comment, I am really pleased to add this to my Blu-ray Collection and cannot wait to get the follow up `Short Circuit 2' Blu-ray disc, despite a lot of negative reviews I have read. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom