Viking Night: Robot Overlords

By Bruce Hall

March 28, 2017

Is he sleeping? Because I think that's where he's a Viking.

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In trying to decide what to tackle this week, I was faced with a painful dilemma.

Last week, I was your guide through the magical world of Charles Bronson. And in May, I have a very special treat for all of you, indeed. But what of today? What should I write about today? A Sergio Leone Western? A ‘70s horror flick? A cocaine and testosterone fueled actioner from the 1980s? Or, perhaps we set the WABAC machine to the Eisenhower years, and immerse ourselves with a heaping helping of Cold War alien invasion paranoia?

All fine ideas, but I just wasn’t sure how to choose. My day job has gotten more demanding lately, which usually means I end up crossing everything longer than 90 minutes off the list. Don’t worry, someday you will see, in this space, a review of The Great Escape, or Magnolia, or some other transatlantic flight-length masterpiece. But for now, that’s a no-go (at least...until May). But at the exact moment that last paragraph finished winding through my head, I landed on something.

Something...big. Something called: Robot Overlords.


Just look at that title. How many times have I expressed my love for films whose entire pitch can be summed up in the title? That is an automatic one-point-five stars with me. But Robot Overlords isn’t just ANY self-descriptively titled, apparent Transformers knockoff. It is, in fact, one that stars Oscar winning actor Ben Kingsley, and walking nerdgasm/beloved former star of the X-Files, Gillian Anderson.

That’s a little like cranking out a thinly veiled, awesomely titled, low budget copy of Star Wars, somehow starring Anthony Hopkins and Summer Glau. It doesn’t make a lot of sense on paper, but it’s hard not to like the two leads on an individual basis, and I can usually tolerate a blatant lack of originality - if it’s well executed. And you never know - sometimes what at first appears to be a cynical cash grab turns out to have a little something exciting to bring to the table.

So, let’s talk about Robot Overlords. The setup is that - wait for it - Robots invade the earth and enslave humanity, hence becoming our Overlords. Opening title cards inform us that the battle lasted about 11 days. And the background audio indeed establishes that the most exciting part of the story would seem to have happened off screen - before the movie you’re about to see. Savvy readers may recognize this as reminiscent of the opening to (the also gloriously titled) Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000.

A cheap narrative trick like this would normally irritate me. But remember - this is a movie called Robot Overlords. And while such overblown, McCarthy-era B-movie titles are indeed magnificent, they also imply an inherent need to temper your expectations. So, I tempered mine to approximately zero (Twilight fans, you know what I’m talking about), and unscrewed my brain in the way you do a lightbulb that you wish to temporarily disable, but not remove. Good. Brain off. Check.

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