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C.H.O.M.P.S.
(1979)

Director: Don Chaffey
Cast:
Wesley Eure, Valerie Bertinelli, Conrad Bain, Red Buttons


When you look in various aspects of modern day media, it becomes pretty obvious that mankind is presently at the peak of various kinds of achievements. In fact, it often sees that mankind could accomplish anything in just a short while if it had the mind to do so. But I know all too well that making new achievements is not a big leap all at once. Let me give you an example from a personal observation I have made. As I type this, there is construction going on in the lot of land that is next to the apartment building that I live in. The workers in that lot are constructing a high rise apartment building with commercial space at street level. Whenever I exit my apartment building, I always make sure to take a peek at the construction going on. What I see every time impresses me, from how the construction workers used explosives to blast the mass amount of rock that was dug up early in the construction to making concrete walls that won't break. Recently I was thinking about all these impressive constructing techniques that those workers were using, and it didn't take much thought to realize that all those impressive and complex techniques were not thought of overnight. For example, explosives of the kind the workers were using didn't start being made and used until the 19th century. And while the use of concrete by building constructors dates past thousands of years ago, it took a lot of time to perfect how best to use it as it is used today. As you can see, what we take for granted today took a really long time, a step by step process. It is also interesting to speculate what building construction might be like in the future - it may very well make what we consider "modern" way out of date, like how we may scoff at the primitive building construction techniques used far in the past.

I mentioned everything in that previous paragraph because I want to properly explain one of the biggest peeves I have when it comes to motion pictures. To be more specific, it concerns motion pictures that deal with the subject of robots. More often than not, when a motion picture that is set in the present day deals with robotics, whether it be a recent movie or a movie that was made several decades in the past, these movies depict the robot having much more advanced technology than what was possible at the time. Let me give you an example. In 1979, the Disney Company released the movie Unidentified Flying Oddball. I saw it as a kid in the theater, and even at my young age I thought it was a pretty stupid movie. My biggest peeve with the movie, however, was that the android that the NASA space agency had asked the Dennis Dugan character to build was obviously even to me far beyond the available technology at the time. It could not only walk around like a human, but it could also think and reason. I knew that was not only simply wrong, I also knew that if mankind were to build a robot that could think and move around like a human or animal, it would be way, way in the future - you couldn't just jump ahead immediately in technology and make one. And in the more than forty years that have passed since that movie was released, while scientists have made robots that walk around like human, it still seems like artificial intelligence is a long way off, so that even modern day movies that depict thinking robots in this day and age seem silly. It seems that Isaac Asimov was right about his prediction for robots. He predicted back in 1964 that fifty years from that date, while robots would exist, they not only wouldn't be commonplace, they wouldn't yet have artificial intelligence.

Yes, I hear from some of you readers that movies with robots tend to be geared to entertain an audience, and maybe I should just relax and just be entertained by these movies. I know very well the subject of suspending one's belief. But at the same time, there is still a part of me C.H.O.M.P.S.that is irked by a movie set in modern times that depicts a robot that has technology way beyond what is actually possible. Maybe it's because such movies seem to be insulting my intelligence. From that, it seems that maybe movies that depict advanced yet modern day robots should be reserved for children, who have not yet matured and can more readily accept fantastic ideas. Though I did mention that I thought as a child that aforementioned Disney movie was dumb, so I had to wonder that if I had seen the kiddie film C.H.O.M.P.S. as a child what I would have thought of it. I can't say for sure, but I can certainly comment on what I thought of it as an educated and mature adult. It all starts at a private security business called Norton Securities, headed by one Ralph Norton (Bain, Who Killed Mary What's 'er Name?), who has a daughter named Casey (Bertinelli, One Day At A Time). Casey has a fiance named Brian Foster (Eure, The Toolbox Murders), an inventor who works at Norton Securities. Norton Securities is on shaky financial ground, but Brian comes up with a new invention that just might save the company - a crime fighting robot dog. Known as C.H.O.M.P.S. (Canine HOMe Protection System), the robot dog has a number of abilities, from running at great speeds to super strength. But the Nortons and Foster do not know that a rival security firm gets wind of the new invention. The rival firm sends two of its goons, Brooks (Chuck McCann, The Rosebud Beach Hotel) and Bracken (Red Buttons, Who Killed Mary What's 'er Name?) to get their hands on the robot crime fighting dog.

C.H.O.M.P.S. was a co-production between exploitation movie studio American-International Pictures and the Hanna-Barbera studio, with Hanna-Barbera honcho Joseph Barbera not only acting as producer, but writing the movie's story and co-writing the finished script. However, Barbera's long-time business partner William Hanna passed on working on the movie with Barbera; apparently, he did not believe strongly that the movie would work. After watching the end results for myself, all I can say for that aforementioned decision is that I'm glad someone along the way recognized that the end results would be a turkey. First, let me start by going on about the key feature of the movie, the robot dog. I guess that the dog does have some amazing abilities, not just those two that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It not only has more than a passing resemblance to Benji, it can make sounds like police sirens and machine guns, it has x-ray vision, it knows how to turn on water sprinklers to deter a pursuing foe, and it can run through steel doors and cinder block walls. Curiously, it can't break through a dog catcher's net in one scene... but that's a mild problem compared to the real problem that I had with this dog. The problem I had was that since the dog was really a robot, I didn't care about it. As it was doing its thing, I always had the fact that the dog didn't have its own mind - or soul - so I simply could not warm up to it. It's possible to make a machine that has you caring one way or another - if the Terminator came to my home, yeah, I would feel something. But back to the movie being discussed here. Maybe had the dog been a kind of cyborg canine - with bionic parts, but all the same still having a real dog's brain - maybe I could have felt something for it. But as it is, it was impossible for me to care about something that was basically just a machine.

The dog itself could be considered a major - if not, fatal - blow to C.H.O.M.P.S., but trust me, there are a lot of other faults to be found in the end results. It's not just the robot dog that is unsatisfying, but also the human characters in the movie. For starters, many of the performances that the human cast of the movie give are unbelievably lazy and unoriginal. As the owner of the struggling security firm, actor Bain acts like a slightly more competent Tim Conway. As Bain's rival "Gibbs", Jim Backus (Billie) seems to be channelling Tom Bosley. And Gibbs' goons, played by McCann and Buttons, are content to act in a charmless third-rate impression of Laurel and Hardy, right down to the fatter McCann being the one who calls the shots and the thinner Buttons whimpering and crying. Although the other prominent members of the cast give more original performances, that doesn't mean that they are able to make their characters palatable. The character of Brian Foster, the creator of the robot dog, may be smart enough to have made his creation, but other times he acts incredibly dumb, like the scene where he first introduces his robot dog to his boss (he takes far too long to explain that this little dog is actually a high-tech machine.) The character of Casey, despite being Brian's fiancÚ, actually has no real bearing on the plot at all; she could have easily been written out without breaking a sweat. The character that actor Larry Bishop (Shanks) plays, one of the chief employees of the security firm, for a long time seems to have no purpose being there, so it is extremely easy to figure how that he's in cahoots with Gibbs, and plans to steal Brian's creation.

In fact, there is a lot more to the story of C.H.O.M.P.S. that is painfully predictable. With the fact that the character of Brian happens to own a real flesh and blood dog that looks exactly like his robot creation... oh, you guessed what eventually happens? I don't think I have to list any other examples of how this movie is so predictable, you will always be several steps ahead of what unfolds on the screen. The fact that there are no surprises to be found in the movie may not have been all that bad had the movie been given some life, such as energetic direction and some genuinely funny comic relief. But even in those two particular areas, C.H.O.M.P.S. falls flat on its face. The level of humor to be found in the movie is akin to the many bad live action Disney comedies of the same era, such as when the robot dog gets control of an automatic tennis ball launcher and aims it at the tiresome crook duo. Or that the movie resorts to music composer Hoyt Curtin giving the movie a strident "comic" musical score that sounds exactly like the music he scored for many Hanna-Barbera animated TV shows of the past. I don't know if that score was ordered by the movie's director, Don Chaffey (Charley-One-Eye), but Chaffey all the same definitely has to share a large amount of fault for the movie's failure. The entire enterprise has a unlavish and bland made for 1970s television feeling, the story moves at a very slow and unenergetic pace, and there are some glaring gaps in the story that suggest that important linking footage got cut out or was not filmed in the first place. In the end, the movie is an insult to family audiences in this day and age, though even when it was first released it showed a great deal of contempt to moviegoers. While the movie seems to have eventually made a profit, it doesn't seem to have been much of one, making me glad that most people smelled the air of doom around this project as much as William Hanna did.

(Posted June 13, 2022)

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Get into the complex minds of the movie's richly written characters by getting the tie-in novel! (Book)
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Check Amazon for Joseph Barbera's autobiography (Book)

See also: King Kung Fu, Sherlock: Undercover Dog, Star Kid

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