Bots High – Battle Robots! Awesome! – Day 10 FFF2011


These Women Know How To Destroy Your Robot

Number One Son here. You can’t really watch robot combat on TV anymore, but back when I was middle school I loved watching BattleBots. In fact I think robot combat is my all-time favorite sport. (Sometimes I will tell people my favorite sport is chess-boxing, but I’m being facetious. I’ve never even seen a match.) What happens in robot combat is: two smallish metal killer robots try to destroy each other in extremely delightful ways in the ring. The robots are remote controlled (autonomous killer robots would be terrifying), and sometimes they have circular saws, spears, or other weapons.

This documentary was the one film at the festival I absolutely had to see. It’s good! It follows three high school robotics teams, including an all-girls team and a group of underdogs whose robot tends to break down/burst into flames.

How awesome is it that some high schools have battle-robot teams? And how crazy is it – if you’ll allow me to go off on a tangent – that some fuddy-duddies object to this sort of thing? Wikipedia says some schools want to “…shy away from the violence of combat robots…” The violence of combat robots?! Robots do not have nervous systems! These robots don’t even have faces!

One day kids are going to be so over-protected that they are not allowed to watch their teachers erase the whiteboard, in case they are traumatized by seeing all the teacher’s carefully-crafted words and numbers violently obliterated.

I suppose some people might have safety concerns. At one point in the documentary the teacher tells everyone that they’re going to be testing the robot, and it’ll be rolling around the floor, and could everyone get their feet off the floor because the robot could break your ankles.  Even so, if you think combat robots are too dangerous for high school kids you are, if you don’t mind me saying, a terrible person.

Speaking of overprotectiveness! I am required to tell you that clicking on the above image will take you to a pretty R-rated comics site

Although, you know, I think the main reason you won’t be seeing a battle-robot program at your kid’s high school isn’t that people think robot fighting is too violent or dangerous – it’s that building robots is fricken’ expensive.

Anyway it was great seeing all the young kids in the audience. After the screening the director asked the kids how many wanted to build a battle-robot and a bunch of hands shot up. Also, I dunno if he’s going to post them, but LanceAround got some quotes for the blog from a young girl, who said she really liked the film, and talked about the (non-battle) robot she made for a school competition. It’s rad seeing kids – girls especially – get excited about sciencey and engingeeringy type of stuff.

[Editor’s Note: LanceAround here, sorry for the interruption of Number One Son’s creative and insightful review, but he is correct. Here are my notes from the interviews I did:

“I love the Florida Film Festival,” says Grace, who brought her 11 year old daughter, Mary. Mary thought the movie was, “cool. You could actually see your own creation destroy something else.” I tease Mary that another word for that is ‘morbid.’ Jeanette, who’s husband works with Grace’s husband, is quick to rush to Mary’s defense. “It’s not morbid,” she says emphatically, “it’s seeking power!” I jokingly ask Jeanette how long she’s been a feminist. Laughing, Grace jumps in and says she became a feminist when she became the mother of two boys!

Tim is a young student from Lake Highland Prep. He made it to the state finals last year in a different kind of robot competition. (The kind where, instead of destroying other robots, the robots attempt to complete specific tasks.) I asked how he did at states and he admits, a little dejectedly, that he didn’t do too well in the finals. But it was clear that he takes a lot of pride in his robot work. I offered him, and the rest of the incredible youngsters who came to see the film, some words of encouragement.

Now back to the infinitely more amusing review by Number One Son.]

If I have one complaint, it’s – well I wouldn’t go so far as to call the documentary confusing, but, like a lot of documentaries, it is sometimes a bit murky. You might find yourself thinking “wait, what is he doing on another team? Oh, does that team have two robots? Wait, who just won the championship again?” I wonder if documentaries might be improved if the filmmakers did something to test how well the audience is understanding everything. Like, have special test screenings where every so often the movie is paused and people have to take a quiz about what just happened. That way the filmmakers have a detailed account of what information people are retaining, and will be able to tweak the film accordingly. The best videogame makers do lots of play-testing, where they look at how well the player is able to handle the challenges and puzzles.

I guess part of the problem is that Bots High didn’t have a narrator, if I remember right. It’s a bit harder to achieve clarity without a narrator. Narrators aren’t in fashion because narrators are dry and boring most of the time. However, the thing is, it is possible for a narrator to be enthusiastic and/or awesome. Just look at Arrested Development. Or The Big Lebowski.

I’ve only found one other review for this movie online. I liked it so I’m going to link to it! He notes that a big part of the appeal is that it lets you see “teenagers be teenagers; nerdy boys a little too eager to rush to hug cute girls when the girls’ bot is bashed, girls batting their eyes and getting the boys to help with a quick fix a a failing power supply.”[sic]

I’m not sure I can agree with his anti-hugging sentiment however! Can you ever really be too eager to hug? Especially around robots, who need to learn about the importance of loving-kindness so they don’t rise up to kill us all.

P.S. Yes, I know remote-controlled robots are not technically robots.

P.P.S. Fun fact: Up until now, this was my first review that didn’t use the word “aww”

One Response to “Bots High – Battle Robots! Awesome! – Day 10 FFF2011”

  1. Maureen Carruthers Says:

    I’m really excited you got to see this movie–especially since I used to work with battling robots. In fact, Jedibfa made a much shorter documentary about one of our competitions in Dayton Ohio. Here’s the link:

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