*batteries not included (1987) – Matthew Robbins


The Sci-Fi Chronicles book brings me to the next stop on my continued exploration of the genre, and this time around I’m checking in with Steven Spielberg. I’ve covered some of his other films prior to this, and it also gives a few he served as executive producer on, including this film from ’87 that has a screenplay partly penned by Brad Bird.

The tenants of an apartment building scheduled for demolition find help from the mist unexpected of places, outer space, when a couple of mechanical alien life forms arrive on Earth.

Screen legends Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy help to bring the story to life as Frank and Faye Riley, an elderly couple, who are trying to hold onto their home, their diner, and forget the secret of the past that has grown between them for decades. All while dealing with Faye’s dementia, which Tandy brings poignantly to life.

But before I go any further, I want to be the first one to say this and put it out in the world, and it’s a surprise to me that it hasn’t been done yet, considering the fantastic score by James Horner… this film is prime for a stage musical. The robots could be brought to life by drones, puppets and models, and even as I watched it I could tell where all the musical numbers would go… Hey, I’m just saying.

Joining Cronyn and Tandy are Frank McRae as the building super, and former boxer, Harry, Elizabeth Pena as the pregnant Marisa, Dennis Boutsikaris as painter, and Kenny Loggins look-a-like Mason, and then Michael Carmine as the thug, Carlos, who is trying to get everyone out of the building, by cash or violence, for his boss, Mr. Lacey (Michael Greene).


The story is of gentle heart, and while some of the model and special effects work isn’t the best, even for the time, it’s a pleasant enough story, with added depth because of the Riley’s story, which anchors it in real human emotions.

But, I dare you to watch it now after having read my comments above, and not imagine it as a musical, and it would totally work!

Story-wise there’s not a lot new to the film, just familiar themes of family and home, and standing up for yourselves in the face of adversity, and just because it’s new and shiny, it doesn’t mean it’s always better.

Course, with the film’s pacing, and manner of storytelling, I’m not sure, as a movie, that it would captivate viewers as it should. But I truly enjoyed watching this one again. I don’t think I’d seen it since I watched it on VHS all those years ago, and of course, I had the novelization.

That was my thing when I was a kid, if there was a movie coming out that I wanted to see, chances are I also had the book… and the soundtrack, whenever possible.

A cute little film.



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