Get excited Singularitarians, a new robot movie’s coming out. But don’t expect them to transform into gigantic battle bots and destroy whole city blocks, and don’t expect them to turn on their human keepers and take over the world. Don’t even expect them to do instantaneous mind-numbing calculations so that starship captains can know how much power is left in the warp core. The robots in this movie are mostly found absorbed in pedestrian acts such as preparing lunch, doing the dishes, or gardening. A break from typical robot movies to say the least, Frank and Robot takes a serious guess at what the first robots will be like when they begin crossing the thresholds of our homes. The movie was showcased at the latest Sundance Festival. Entertainment Weekly was there and did a writeup about the movie.
The main character, Frank (played by Frost/Nixon’s Frank Lagella), is developing dementia in his later years. When his son arrives Frank thinks he’s going to put him in a retirement home. Instead the son pulls a robot out of his trunk.
Thus begins the relationship between Frank and his robot which, by the way, bears a striking resemblance to Asimo. He resists at first – “I’m talking to an appliance” – but later on the old man begins warming up to his robot helper. From just looking at the four clips on Entertainment Weekly, it seems the producers wanted to realistically portray what our experience might actually be like when robots fulfill their promise of becoming personal caretakers, particularly for the elderly. No doubt it will take some getting used to. The following clip is a very believable portrayal of breakfast with a grouchy old man and his robot.
But then Frank gets used to it. And not just the character but the actor Frank as well. Entertainment Weekly described part of a Q&A session that followed a screening. Someone asked Langella what it was like to act alongside a faceless robot. He jokingly held the microphone out to the robot next to him that wasn’t there. “You want to answer that?” he said. “That’s what it’s like. You just go into a place in your imagination. There were different voices [reading the robot lines] at different times. There were different people inside. Sometimes there wasn’t anybody, but that didn’t matter to me because I kept thinking he was there all the time.”
To augment this thoughtful vision of the future the movie incorporates a real world change being prodded by today’s technologies. Frank’s friend, played by Susan Sarandon, is a librarian who is struggling to keep up with the times as her library’s paper books are being replaced with digital files. She, of course, has her own robot assistant. In one of the clips you get to see what happens when two robots are encouraged to make small talk.
The movie is director Jake Schreier’s first full-length film. Along with Langella and Sarandon, he’s backed by big name talents such as Liv Tyler and X-Men’s James Marsden. The movie kind of sounds to me like a group of Singularity Hub posts acted out on the big screen. So it’s a good thing there’s star appeal, otherwise I think a lot of people might think it’s a boring robot movie. You know, those things that people at MIT dabble in but are more science fiction than science? If done right, Frank and Robot could do a lot to get non-Singularity Hub readers (yes, they do exist) to actually believe that robots just might be commonplace in the households of the not-too-distant future.
Check out the clips here.