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Study Up: Brief History of Robots in Film

nufonia must fallPhoto: Nufonia Must Fall, on stage. By Jorn Mulder.

DJ Kid Koala’s graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall is about a headphones-sporting robot on the verge of obsolescence who falls in love with a lonely office girl. On March 11-12, 2016, the live adaptation of this novel comes to Power Center. The show will feature real-time filming of more than a dozen miniature stages and a cast of puppets, while Kid Koala and the Cecilia Quartet provide original live scoring on piano, strings, and turntables.

This won’t be the first time a robot appears on the film screen. We present to you, a brief history of robots in film.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) introduced the Tin Man, one of film’s most recognizable robots. While the Tin Man is lovable and human-like, the 30’s and 40’s still frequently included narratives of mad scientists and uncontrollable killer robots.

Film robots of the 1950’s reflected fear of the new forms of violence made possible by technology during the Cold War. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) depicts Gort, an enormous, metal, alien robot who delivers an anti-nuclear message to Earth. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) features HAL, one of film’s most recognizable robots. HAL is a computer, not a traditional corporeal robot, and the film predicts robots with advanced speech comprehension and processing abilities.

Star Wars set the standard for robots on film in the 1970’s and 80’s. C-3PO and R2-D2, two of the series’ most lovable and iconic characters, are motivated by human emotions and experiences. But the period also produced many evil robots, notably the Terminator franchise, which portrays wars between humans and robots.

1990-2000 and beyond
Robots in the movies at the turn of the 21st century affirm the increasing affection for technology of the time. WALL-E (2004) reverses the trope of robot domination when a pair of robots saves the earth for humanity.

For additional information about the history of robots in cinema visit this website.

Excerpted from UMS Learning Guide about Nufonia Must Fall.

Nufonia Must Fall is at Power Center in Ann Arbor March 11-12, 2016.