Robots in love…how adorable?
SYNOPSIS: Val and Aqua are two service droids that have been placed in storage following various accidents. As they start to converse with each other, they decide they wish to know more about the outside world, and escape the factory to explore the surrounding woodland, and are accompanied by another comedy robot, who constantly tells bad jokes and one-liners. As they travel, they create a smaller “child” robot, and Val and Aqua develop feelings for each other as they try to teach their “child” about the world and continuously evade the long arm of the Crimemaster Deluxe robot, who is pursuing them under the impression that they are wanted criminals…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Heartbeeps is a 1981 sci-fi romantic comedy film all about robots who fall in love and try to deal with very human relationship troubles. The film establishes from the very start that robots or “service droids” are commonplace in people’s homes and lives, but it seems to be set in the “present” of 1981 (though not much is really seen of the state of society), and as such we are faced with the world we live in with something that clearly doesn’t belong. No real explanation is given to why this is, but the film does a lot of this as we shall see. The film starts by introducing the two main robots: Val and Aqua. The first thing you may notice is Val’s voice is perhaps the most annoying voice that could have been possibly contrived, and it stays painful and uncomfortable all the way through. Along with a stand-up comic robot, the two decide to go outside the factory where they are being stored to go and “gather data” on some trees and such…this is, in fact, the entirety of the story: The two robots go outside to look at trees, and a whole bunch of unfunny scenes happen along the way. Even worse, the film eventually winds up with the robots actually trying to go back to the factory at the end, and so the whole film comes full circle without actually accomplishing anything. The plot gives no payoff or reward, and the characters do not seem enriched by their journey, making the whole film seem really pointless. a big part of the story centres around the fact that Val and Aqua have a child (by building it, obviously), and try to teach it about the world, which is even more ridiculous when the parents are trying to do the exact same thing, and everybody in the film just seems completely lost and there is no direction to anything that happens.
This film portrays itself as a romantic comedy, but unfortunately, the film seems to only have a single joke: Robots trying to do human relationships. Every interaction between the characters offers the same outcome of robots trying to be human, and the supposedly humourous results that follow. Unfortunately there is nothing funny about what any of this, and the dialogue ends up being slow, painful and boring so any joke that is attempted just gets lost after the uneventful and tedious character interactions. Another source of comedy is how the “parents” try to raise their “child” and their disagreements on what is best for it, obviously mirroring how human parents argue over what is best for their children; again, this isn’t really funny or clever either, and if the film was trying to make a point about how robots are not that different to humans, then it is obviously going to fail on that level too because robots do not act like the ones in this film, nor will they ever. The only comedic elements which are actually funny come from Catskill, the stand-up comedian robot, whose one-liners are so intentionally bad and cheesy they offer some much needed relief from the rest of the film. It is explained that the reason he tells such bad jokes is that his “joke quality” setting is set to low…which ironically, is really not funny. The Crimemaster Deluxe, the crime-busting robot hot on the heels of the protagonists also provides some cheesy dialogue about “dealing justice” which breaks up the monotony of the one recycled joke, but even this robot sometimes just seems a bit too wordy, and goes over-the-top when it really needs to say a one-liner or two to fill a scene. Fortunately, it does also like to blow things up, so at least something happens in this film every once in a while. You may think that the humans in the film deliver a contrasting emotional performance, but the acting from them is perhaps even worse than the robots (the robots have an excuse for not being engaging characters), the actors just do not seem invested or interested in what they are saying, and as such, the viewer probably won’t be either.
I suppose if there are any positives to take from this film they are on two fronts: One is the makeup on the robots, which is quite detailed and thorough, even if they sometimes they look a bit too human. The stand-up robot has a fun design with the shifting eyebrows that matches its function as a joke-telling machine. It’s a shame the Crimemaster Deluxe did not have the same amount of effort put into it, as it resembles the offspring of a Dalek and a police car; its ridiculous appearance does add to its humour though I suppose. The big surprise of this film is perhaps that the musical score was done by none other than John Williams, the legendary composer behind Star Wars, Superman and others. This score is the only thing which comes close to generating any emotion from this film, and it is strangely moving, even overriding the rubbish that you see and getting the viewer to focus almost entirely on the sound.
Perhaps the world was not ready in 1981 for a robot love-story like Heartbeeps, but that does not excuse the fact that this is an utterly terrible film: There is no story worth mentioning, the characters are completely irrelevant and do not learn anything or develop in any way through the course of the film. Alongside that, the attempt at comedy is dreadful, as it seems that no one could think of any real jokes or interesting situations to fit the premise, and the film just tries to pad itself out with the same joke over and over again. The fact that this film only runs 77 minutes long proves the point that the film said all it needed to say (which was not a lot) very quickly, and spends a lot of time padding itself out with boring and unnecessary dialogue. Not surprisingly, this film was a box-office bomb, and the lead actor personally apologised for the movie, so you can really get an impression of just what a universal failure this whole idea was. This film is not worth yours or anyone’s time.