If you saw Prometheus this weekend, you were probably struck by Michael Fassbender's performance as the unnervingly polite android David. His performance was just stiff and mannered enough to make him feel as "other" as the extraterrestrial Engineers the Prometheus crew were seeking.
Fassbender's performance made me ponder where he fits in the pantheon of Hollywood's most famous androids. Big- and small-screen humanoid robots come in many forms. They're usually men, they're often preternaturally calm, and they're all strong enough to rip your head right off your neck. In general, however, they land on a continuum that stretches from waxy and unnatural to almost entirely realistic.* Read on to see where David falls on the android scale.
Waxy and ...
... fully functional, "Good God, no" edition: Data (Brent Spiner), Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I have never — never — quite recovered from Data assuring Tasha Yar that he was designed to be "fully functional." Data's your guy for unemotional responses to crisis situations and philosophical explorations into the nature of humanity. But I just don't think this ivory-faced robot isn't quite the pleasure-bot the ladies of the future will flock to.
... fully functional, "Good God, yes" edition: Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), AI.
... completely lethal: T-800 (Arnold Schwarzennager), The Terminator.
The perfect balance of waxy and realistic ...
... and just a little bit creepy: David (Michael Fassbender), Prometheus.
OK, seriously, what is David's endgame? You'll be asking yourself that not too far into the film. He's polite and helpful, but there's an edge to it. And wow, it's never pleasant to ponder what an android with his own agenda might be up to. Check out the video below and see if Fassbender doesn't give you a slight case of the wigguns.
... murderously insane: SID 6.7 (Russell Crowe), Virtuosity.
SID = Sadistic, Intelligent, Dangerous. Composed of an amalgamation of 200 violent criminal personalities, SID 6.7 gets accidentally released into the world and does what he does best: murder. This android is not one of the calm, passionless types; Russell Crowe also murders the scenery. Cause of death: teeth marks.
... and a wee bit campy: The Gunslinger (Yul Brynner), Westworld.
OK, so he's an android in a futuristic amusement park where guests can immerse themselves in the past by bedding or killing robots. What can possibly go awry? I mean, those are clearly the eyes of an in-control, non-murderous android, amirite?
... overly cheerful: Deputy Andy (Kavan Smith), Eureka.
Deputy Andy is there for you whether your cat's stuck up a tree or you need help preventing the town of Eureka from exploding (which, oddly enough, seems to happen every week), and he's more than happy to do it. He's also more than happy to be a scary, omnipotent enforcer for his A.I. girlfriend S.A.R.A.H. when she takes over Global Dynamics. Sure, that was a computer simulation of events that could happen, but take an honest look at that painfully cheerful smile and tell me Deputy Andy hasn't already been programed for that eventuality.
Realistic and ...
... confused about his robot-hood: Markus Wright (Sam Worthington), Terminator: Salvation.
Look, I barely remember the movie, other than that it was a big disappointment (through no fault of cute little Anton Yelchin). Frankly, it's best to consider the trailer as its own self-contained short film and enjoy poor Sam Worthington's bafflement when his seemingly human body turns out to contain a metal surprise.
... obsessed with tough blondes: Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie), Battlestar Galactica.
Really, any of the Cylons could be included on this list, as they're all indistinguishable from their human counterparts. I like Leoben best because he had the good taste to be infatuated with Starbuck, my girl crush. Plus, he's got a nice, lived-in face: no waxy smoothness here!
... craggy: Bishop (Lance Henrikson), Aliens.
I'm not sure why you'd make your android look like 12 miles of rough road. Maybe to fit in better with a roughneck crew of Marines? Whatever. At least Bishop's good with a knife.
... and perhaps too good to be true: Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Blade Runner.
Is he or isn't he? Is he or isn't he?
*Please note: The preparation for this blog post led to a great deal of debate on my Facebook page and in my daily conversations as to what's an android, what's a robot, and what's a cyborg. The consensus seemed to be that in order to be an android, the machine needs a "brain" or a form of artificial intelligence that would allow it to move beyond the simple robotic task of following its programmed directives. A few of these entries may fall closer to robot than android, and for that I apologize. Please hit the comments if you'd like to continue the debate.