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Alpha-Bots Christmas Is Breathtaking!

Z-Bot

My wife and I just watched the most wonderfully awful Christmas film “for kids.” Alpha-Bots Christmas is a CGI film (with some live action) made by North of Philly Productions in 2004. It’s supposedly for children, but I don’t suspect they’ll like it much. I think it would bore them to death. The real audience for this thing is wise-asses like me and my wife, who will riff this turkey mercilessly.

Santa 01

That suit! That beard! Those glasses! That suit!

So, we begin with a news broadcast about some very special toys called Alpha-Bots that Santa is delivering this Christmas. There are only 26 of them, and only the very best children will get them (second prize is two of them.) During this bulletin we see what our Santa looks like, and it is breathtaking. It’s even more amazing when we get to see him in full. His beard is ridiculous. His suit doesn’t fit. His glasses are too big. And there’s no jolliness in his voice. If Hollywood wanted to create a Santa that perfectly communicated the ideas of cheap and cheesy, they could not top this. This is the definitive cheap Santa Claus.

So while delivering presents, Santa finds that the playful Z-Bot, who has an annoying voice, has gotten out of his box. Santa comments that next time he’ll ask the elves not to make the bots so playful. Wow, what a jerk. He tells Z-Bot that he must stay in his box until morning.

After Santa leaves, all the other Alpha-Bots, who also have annoying voices, come and try to get Z-Bot to be irresponsible and leave his box. And I admit, I do like how each bot has its own distinct design. But this is where I started to notice the very particular way the dialog is paced. An Alpha-Bot says something, we hold on him for two seconds, then another Alpha-Bot says basically the same thing, we hold on him for two seconds… we always wait a few seconds before the next character talks. I don’t know if the editor was just an idiot or if they thought children needed it stupid and slow like this. But I started counting seconds between lines after a while.

Flying: The Movie!

Z-Bot has decided to behave, so the other Alpha-Bots decide to go play without him. So they fly through the plastic CGI town. That’s all they do. They just fly in a straight line. And there’s way more flying than we need to tell the story, but they’re still flying, and it’s Flying: The Movie! Deep Hurting! And then they all take turns saying that this was fun and then pausing for two seconds. Apparently they’re easily amused.

Deep Hurting!

Then they decide to come back to Z-Bot’s house and play with him there. They identify themselves to him, one by one, slowly, as A-Bot, B-Bot, C-Bot, D-Bot, E-Bot, F-Bot, G-Bot, H-Bot, I-Bot (not made by Apple,) J-Bot, K-Bot, L-Bot, M-Bot, N-Bot, O-Bot (it’s “robot” minus one letter,) P-Bot, Q-Bot, R-Bot (who, missed opportunity, should have been a pirate,) S-Bot, T-Bot, U-Bot (me-bot?) V-Bot, W-Bot, X-Bot, and Y-Bot (dear god, why bot?) and then Z-Bot identifies himself. So bots A through Y prepare, and prepare, to play some kind of alphabet game with Z-Bot. Then they fly into the middle of the room and take the shape of an A. Z-Bot, staying in his box, identifies the shape as an A. Then they transition into the shape of a B. At this point, I realized to my horror that they were going to spell out and identify every single letter of the alphabet, one by one, in very slow succession. After a while, my wife and I started yelling out things at the screen. I: “…want to die!” N: “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” O: “Oh my god!!!” S: “Sesame Street never took this long to give children the alphabet!” U: “Gee, I wonder what letter’s gonna come next. Do you know? Oh, U.” Y: “WHYYYY!?!?!?!?” And it takes them over 5 minutes to get through the whole thing!

Then the robots fall out of the air. Z-Bot asks each bot what’s wrong, one by one, right down the alphabet. They say their batteries have drained. Z-Bot says the children will be so disappointed when their Alpha-Bots aren’t there in the morning (though I suspect this would be a blessing in disguise.) We learned in the news bulletin earlier that they charge in their boxes, so each bot takes a turn charging in Z-Bot’s box. Unfortunately, they don’t each say their names as they do this, and the editor employs crossfades to compress time a little bit, which makes the sequence less riffable. But then they thank Z-Bot, they all fly away, they’ve learned their lesson, and that’s it. The show’s over.

Did that little bit of story really require a full half-hour? No, but that’s why it’s such a blast. The ineptitude on display is amazing. The pacing is ludicrously slow, the bots keep saying the same things, it just goes on and on, there’s that Santa, and there’s so much to riff! If you’re a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and especially if you and your friends like to riff things together, you have to see this movie! It’s available to watch on Netflix Instant and Vimeo.

The Alpha-Bots Christmas from Rich Heierling on Vimeo.

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