Telotte examines how science-fiction films have presented various machines in human form, lumped together as “androids,” and concludes that they have been used to explore the technological future as well as the human condition. These machines developed from freaks of nature, as presented in the earliest films, to what might be perceived as the next step in human evolution. The changing depiction of such androids, shows the public’s changing attitudes toward science, technology, the body, gender roles, and human intelligence.
Androids offer unique possibilities in film presentation because they both resemble humans and are distinctly different. Filmmakers can use androids to highlight human characteristics and speculate on what would happen if these characteristics were different. As an advanced form of technology, androids can stand for all of technology as well as the challenges and opportunities technology offers. Telotte examines how the public’s view of technology has changed, from fear to fascination, and how film depictions of androids have reflected that changing perception.
The earliest science-fiction films tended toward horror and often involved remaking of the human body, as in the classic FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1933). Androids were notably absent from feature films of the 1930’s and 1940’s but did make their way into serials. Telotte speculates that this was because serials had known outcomes: The human heroes always prevailed, to come back the next week. Thus, frightening androids could be presented without posing a threat to the audience.
As technology advanced, film androids became more sophisticated, and the threat posed by them became not so much technology as the intelligence behind it. Telotte analyzes this trend, as well as the idea of using android technology for amusement, in the context of WESTWORLD (1973) and FUTUREWORLD (1976). Androids became even more sinister in films of the 1980’s such as BLADE RUNNER (1982), ROBOCOP (1987), and the Terminator films. They also became more human, presenting human emotion in conflict with technology.
The book includes a twelve-page filmography and a seven-page bibliography.