Cyborgs, androids, maschinenmensch – call them what you like – despite being born from the loftiest human ambition they often end up tainted by base human instinct. Whether their purpose is purely functionary, or to destroy through seduction, sexualised robots have been something of a staple in science fiction literature and film for over 100 years.
Fantastic new Antonio Banderas starrer Automata keeps this tradition alive exploring our increasingly confused relationship with artificial life through Cleo (voiced by Melanie Griffith), a complex female character who transcends the constraints of her basic programming to achieve something greater.
To celebrate the release of the new film – and one of its key themes – we take a look back at some of our favourite female robots.
‘Maria’ Metropolis (1927)
The original and the ultimate celluloid female robot has to be Maria, the maschinenmensch (human machine) from Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis. In an attempt to resurrect the woman he fell in love with, mad scientist and inventor Rotwang creates the robot Maria in her image – epitomising the elegance of 1920’s styling. In a classic Frankenstein-esque turn of events, Maria in her humanoid form leads the workers of the underground in what ultimately turns out to be an act of self-destructive rebellion- destroying the heart of the city and causing a flood. Her end is classically tragic, just like her beginning. All big screen Automata started here.
‘Pris’ Blade Runner (1982)
Created on Valentine’s Day (go figure), Priscilla ‘Pris’ Stratton (played by Daryl Hannah) was intended for use as a basic pleasure replicant, with her primary function being male ‘entertainment’. However limited her supposed functions, she displays more than just base sexuality in befriending JF Sebastian before she is finally retired by Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. Statuesque, beautiful and somewhat maniacal, Pris lingers in the movie-goers memory.
‘Cherry 2000’ Cherry 2000 (1987)
Automata wasn’t Melanie Griffith’s first outing working with androids, as this often-forgotten 1987 sci-fi action romp will attest. In the not-too-distant future (2017 to be precise), human sexual contact is increasingly rare and all encounters require a legal contact before going ahead. The alternative is Cherry 2000, a pleasure robot who will never walk out, but might just break down. Cherry 2000 is something of a curio.
‘MotokoKusanagi’ Ghost In The Shell (1995)
Now it’s time for a quick outing to the world of Japanese anime in one of the undisputed favourites of the genre, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost In The Shell. Major Motoko Kusanagi is an augmented-cybernetic human, her body was chosen so as not to draw attention to her being a top secret design under the surface. Strong willed, beautiful and physically powerful she is perhaps the most empowered lady on our list. And a key part of this true classic of the form.
‘Fembots’ Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997)
Camp, ridiculous and very provocative – the Fembots from Austin Powers owe more to Barbarella than Philip K Dick. Working on the basic premise that secret agent Powers is helpless to resist the charms of silver boots and bikinis and blonde bouffants, these rather shallow robots rely on their aptitude for seduction and weaponised breasts to inflict damage. They finally fall prey to Austin Powers’ own sexy moves as he short-circuits them with his merkin and union-flag undies. It’s all good fun but it’s hardly Fritz Lang.
Lionsgate UK Release AUTOMATA On Demand 27th April & Blu-ray and DVD 4th May, 2015.