Jan 17, 2014

[Movies] Batteries Not Included (1987)

In trying to figure out what movie I wanted to review today, I ended up digging through my childhood to see what would come up. Friday reviews are always meant for older movies and for this one to come up was certainly an interesting bit of mental randomness.

I used to have a copy of Batteries Not Included on VHS - and this wasn't even an official copy but merely a version that we had recorded from a rental tape. When you're a kid with limited rights to use the VHS player, movies like this become part of the "safe" titles that you're allowed to watch over and over again - and I did just that.

I think the core reason why I liked the movie so much is tied to my love of robots (read: my life-long obsession with the Transformers). And while these the little stop-motion UFO characters weren't officially robots, they certainly seemed like constructs that demonstrated some form of an artificial intelligence indeed. Then again, the logic of a family of sentient flying saucer creatures may seem ridiculous as a whole, but then again we're pretty much ready to embrace almost any truths as kids. That's precisely the magic of a kid's imagination.

Synopsis: Batteries Not Included is a 1987 science fiction movie written and directed by Matthew Robbins. The screenplay was written together with Brad Bird, Bren Maddock, and S.S. Wilson.

In a run-down part of the East Village, we meet Frank and Faye Riley (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy). They run an apartment building and the attached cafe for a living, but naturally their part of town is now threatened by real estate developers who want to change the area entirely. The developer has sent Carlos () and his goons to either bribe the residents to leave or scare them out entirely. Things look rather bleak for the predominantly elderly residents of the apartment building until a surprise event comes along.

One night, a pair of extraterrestrial flying machines arrive and start repairing various items around the building. In time the residents begin to notice the little changes here and there and the eventually discover their benefactors and call them the Fix-Its. They even manage to scare off Carlos for a while when he comes around again to coerce the residents to move out. But there's one more twists - the "female" alien is pregnant and is due to deliver her offspring very soon.

The movie as a whole has a rather slow and relaxed pace for the most part - something that you'd not quite expect from a movie more towards children, in a way. But I've always felt that it sort of reflected the state of affairs for the Rileys given their age and the age of the apartment building as a whole. The pacing may turn off some viewers, especially given modern movie sensibilities, but I think it helps to take a step back and just enjoy the story as it unfolds - something that this movie sort of rewards.

That said, I'll be the first to concede that this is not exactly the most brilliant story as a whole. The apartment building just has so many different character stories that it wants to pursue and so we get a little of everything but not a significant amount of everything, if you get my drift. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on which back stories you like and how much you feel for the former boxer Harry Knoble (Frank McRae).

The flying saucers themselves are a brilliant example of classic 1980's family movies. The quality of the involved stop-animation is just amazing and I suppose par for the course for the likes of Industrial Light & Magic. They're not just nice to look at, but I have to admit that they do manage to convey a good amount of emotion and are some of the more powerful characters in this movie - and they have no dialogue whatsoever!

We'll probably never understand why a bunch of alien cybernetic flying saucers would have an instinctive urge to fix anything that they counter to be broken, but that's movie plotting for you. Suspend disbelief for 107 minutes, enjoy the sparkly glowing aliens and smile at the poignant stories of the residents.

Batteries Not Included will feel a tad dated for some, but the core story is enough to get you to crack a smile. Movies like this are a lot rarer these days for some reason or another but that's life. The movie gets 4 cute little flying baby saucers out of a possible 5.

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