Ah, diamonds. The worlds easiest, laziest MacGuffin. That’s send-off point for any script where originality has long since been removed, and there’s nowhere else to go for a narrative, see: Short Circuit 2.
It’s an easy criticism, most TV shows from the ’80s not bold enough to try the old, cheap diamond heist as a focal point, let alone most feature films. Not only that, Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy are gone from this sequel, Fisher Stevens the only returning character… except for Johnny Five (still voiced by Tim Blaney).
Ignoring the audacity of the cartoonish heist backdrop, Short Circuit 2 is actually sort of effective. Can anyone truly say they walk away from it without feeling something for a Hollywood movie prop as crooks smash it with a crowbar? That moment is milked for all it’s worth too, sparks shooting from his hide and his hand shaking in agony as it reaches for a fence post. Johnny Five is more than a prop, and the movie must be doing something right if it’s convincing and audience that he’s alive. He’s just a likeable goofball that happens to be inside a metal frame with tank treads.
Sure, he wants to kick your balls into outer space (!), is quite possibly the world’s greatest car stereo thief, and ransacks a bookstore worse than the planet’s greatest nerd seeking ultimate knowledge, but he’s cute. The animatronic prop is no less convincing here than it was in the original, even if the antics begin stretching the plausibility about a talking, loveable robot. Put him in the midst of an ’80s family, and you have the perfect sitcom formula (how did that never happen by the way?).
Short Circuit 2 is afforded a chipper score, a great location shoot (which is Toronto, but could be any Generic City, USA), and colorful character archetypes. It’s overlong, pushing the concept to its limits as Johnny Five wanders around the city introducing needless subplots for a few laughs. They never drag the film down into some inescapable abyss, the rebounds always timely as Ben tries to snag the girl of his dreams, Sandy (Cynthia Gibb), another one of those subplots that pushes the running time up.
The whole thing oozes charm though, and the technical feats remain impressive even by 2011 robotics standards. It’s a nicely dated time capsule of the ’80s, totally needless as a sequel, and impossibly stupid at times, but when entertainment value is what matters, Short Circuit 2 provides.
Image has acquired a number of Sony catalog titles for hi-def releases, Sony apparently thinking no one wants to see such classic films as Short Circuit 2 in HD. Shows what they know. Thankfully, if this one is any indicator, we’re slated for some nice catalog releases. The source material here is one step shy of pristine, the few specks and scratches on the print minimal and easy to pass over assuming you blink (and you do… unless you’re the title character).
Colors are pleasingly elevated without overdoing the saturation. Johnny Five dons a red hat after his adventures in the city, blazing on the screen. He’s also spray painted a barrage of ’80s, early ’90s fluorescent hues by a bunch of gang members, his style then given plenty of pop. Fine detail, while not overwhelming the frame, is produced upon numerous close-ups. City aerials are crisp, and buildings carry many defined features. Even the robot has a number of legible bumper stickers, painted details, and intricate circuits to gawk at.
There’s a gorgeous, natural grain structure at work, wholly preserved and resolved. The image wavers between a natural softness and sharpness, nothing changed or altered to artificially improve the appearance. Thanks, Image. The AVC encode completely carries the look of a middle-of-the-road film stock from the era, almost completely transparent to the film source itself.
Black levels carry one of the few inconsistencies, a nighttime chat between Ben and Five delivering tremendous depth and purity to the blackened night sky. On the other hand, the dim interior of the rundown factory that serves as a base for much of the film doesn’t carry the same level of dimensionality, slightly flat although not out of the realm of acceptability.
A general PCM stereo mix is all the film is afforded, and in all honesty, is all that it needs. The source material, like the video, is left untouched or unaltered. Nearly everything that can be said for the video presentation carries over here, including surprising, clean fidelity in terms of dialogue. While conversations carry a light hollowness, it sounds acceptable while remaining free of distortion or hissing.
The score, overloaded with saxophones and such, reaches countless peaks, never succumbing to any wavering or loss of detail. It’s quite natural. The stereo channels are not used often, more or less for subtle street level passings like cars. Five himself will take off from time to time, splitting the fronts with enough separation to be noted. Near the end, a helicopter is featured after a chase, panning back and forth, an effect that’s pretty hard to miss.
Image cares about the source feature itself alone apparently, as not a single extra makes its way onto the disc, not even a trailer.
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