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I Read the Short Circuit Novel So You Don’t Have To (and here are the differences)

Did you know there was a novelization of Short Circuit? I didn’t. And if you’ve been paying any kind of attention to this blog, you’d know that Short Circuit is my favorite movie. Has been since I was a kid.

So when I found this on a used book site, I jumped at the shopping cart. Maybe I’d find some deleted scenes or altered information. Because novelizations are based on the shooting script, not the final product. For instance, the Independence Day novel includes more scenes of Randy Quaid and his family, enduring them to the audience. I’m sure these are deleted scenes on the DVD, but back in 1996, those didn’t exist yet. So I was hoping to find some answers, maybe some explanations, and changes along the way.

This book was only released in the U.K. (probably why I hadn’t found it until now) and was written by Colin Wedgelock. Based on evidence, I think that is a pseudonym for Christopher Priest, who authored the book that The Prestige is based on. Judging by this, you’d never know it. The writing style is basic, straightforward, easily understandable. The only thing I can’t get past is the use of single quotes for dialogue instead of the American double. And “tire” is spelled “tyre”.

CHARACTER CHANGES

Number 5

Number 5’s character design is half-different from the movie, though it doesn’t affect the plot much. In both, he has tank treads, but from there, he has a “stocky barrel” for a trunk and a telescopic neck (like E.T.?). But he’s still silver and made of something called duralumin?

He also has three arms. It isn’t described very well, but I got the impression that all three are distributed around his body evenly. Whereas in the movie, he has two humanoid manipulators at the shoulders and one near his hip that acts as a utility belt.

His tools include a periscope, an antenna (not a multi-frequency remote control, but actual insect-like antennae). Vision includes infra-red and UV. He has a maximum distance of 1,000 miles and can “ionize his body”, which is how he gets rid of the garbage on him after he vacates the truck (not a cute stray puppy).

Ben “Chigger” Thurley / Benjamin Jabituya

This might be the biggest change. Our favorite brownface minstrel played by Fisher Stevens is now called “Chigger”, a nickname that has no origin. Maybe it’s an attempt at something “hackery” or “nerdy” like Revenge of the Nerds. He’s still a middle-eastern stereotype, but in a different way.

The book describes him as looking Pakistani, but never confirms his ethnicity. He calls his superiors “sahib” and when they’re acting like idiots “bimbo” (which neutralizes his “bingo” joke in the control center). His speech isn’t accented or filled with broken English — he sounds like any American. Like in the movie, there’s a joke about where his ancestors come from, only now its “Philadelphia”.

E.G. Stonewall / Skroeder

The primary antagonist’s name is also changed. Though this prevents the “scrotum/Skroeder” jokes. He’s just as angry and paranoid, though. The book adds some background, that he was a former marine colonel (but never says how he got out of the military). His motivation is to prove a soldier can outsmart a robot, giving him a John Henry-esque drive. Also, the reason why security is so crappy at the base is because they had to hire a bunch of locals and temps to fill in spots for the demonstration.

Newton Crosby

He’s pretty much the same. The only real change is that they tell us where he lives — an apartment near a railroad station, though he could live better based on his salary. Another classic hacker stereotype. He’s also characterized as being very affectionate towards his robot. They also foreshadow his place in Montana a little better.

Stephanie Thurber / Stephanie Speck

The book describes her as a tall woman with striking black hair (funnily, it doesn’t give this description until near the end of the book). They also give her address when she calls Nova for them to pick up Number 5. In case you were wondering: 3101 Punta Gordo Ave., Masonville, Oregon. She also really loves her baseball bat. Throughout the story, she picks it up whenever she’s angry or frightened, like a security blanket.

STORY CHANGES

ACT I

The beginning immediately spoils that this is a demonstration, as there are people watching from a distance. The movie fakes you out that this is a real battle and tanks are cresting the hill heading towards bunkers. You think humans are dead until one corpse rolls over, only to be a mannequin. I guess that’s one of those things that translates better to film.

But only one robot does the fighting in this demo, and he’s not hunkered in a bunker. It’s described as a “streak of metal” zapping the tanks and APCs. Later, in addition to the gin and tonic, it assembles a model airplane in 2-3 seconds. This recurs throughout the novel–robots doing stuff in impossible amounts of time. Screenwriters don’t have to think about the clunkiness and timing of practical effects.

The waiter robots are actually S.A.I.N.T. prototypes.

When Number 5 becomes alive, the lightbulb that he flicks on and off actually breaks. Then he sticks his finger in it and gets a nasty jolt. His first words are “clink”, repeating the sound of the waiter robot he’s following.

The book says that he wants to get away from Nova, but never says why. In the movie, he’s just wandering because he’s confused and going where the wind takes him. The book gives him this motivation before he knows what Nova is going to do to him.

The joke where they think they found Number 5 and zoom in on a coffee machine is replaced by a fire hydrant. And the mistake is made by Stonewall, not Marner.

When Number 5 departs Nova Robotics, he tries to communicate with the garbage truck that he’s stowing away in. All he gets are sound effects. No, Number 5 cannot talk to machines.

He doesn’t chase a butterfly off the truck into a ditch. He very politely departs. Then he just sort of sits in nature for a while, being peaceful. A squirrel climbs on his head.

Instead of “Wouldn’t You Like to Be a Pepper Too?” (an ad slogan that had made its way out of the zeitgeist by the time this movie came out and thus, made no sense to me as a child), the billboard is for Coca Cola and reads “It’s the Real Thing”. This phrase recurs a few more times, in that Number 5 believes he’s also the “real thing”.

ACT IIA

Stephanie’s first scene is her helping a neighbor get their boat into the driveway. I don’t know why they felt they needed to give her a “save the cat” moment, when she’s later depicted as literally saving cats.

Instead of “Quinn’s Medical Research”, it’s “Ames Medical Research”. I don’t know why that change.

During Number 5’s jag through Stephanie’s home, Stephanie keeps a log of what he’s doing on a chalkboard. She writes things like “9:05 Alien learns English”.

There’s an alternate scene where Stephanie calls Marner once she figures out Number 5 is a robot, not an alien. Marner, strangely, talks like Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” and engages in a conversation where either he or Stephanie is autistic. For example, he asks “where are you located” and she says “my living room”.

In the fight at the wharf, where Number 5 squats in Stephanie’s food truck after almost driving it into the ocean, he uses his laser to melt the soldier’s rifles.

In the same scene, there’s a part not in the movie where Stephanie proves that Number 5 is thinking differently than other robots. You know where Crosby rolls out Number 1 and Stephanie comments that his little brother is hiding? There’s a purpose to that. Once Number 5 is detained, she asks Number 1 to describe the sky. It describes the components and chromatics of the sky, where, previously, Number 5 had described the shapes he saw in the clouds. Previously, Crosby had described Number 1 as the “least imaginative and most obedient” as if the robots all have different characteristics. Side note: the narrative mentions that one difference between Number 1 and Number 5 is that Number 1 has had its software continually upgraded and patched, whereas Number 5’s software is all freshly installed.

The narrative points out that Crosby is actually the one responsible for Number 5 recovering in the van. He “fake” turns him off. I don’t particularly like this because it takes away the mystery and wonder of Number 5’s “aliveness”.

Number 5 gets more extensive injuries in the fight at the wharf. In addition to his bum arm, he also loses an eye and has extensive damage around his chassis. All the repairs take fifteen seconds. In the movie, it’s like a five-minute sequence.

ACT IIB

There’s a brief inquest at Nova after Number 5 is captured. Stonewall is put in the hot seat, but he manipulates the “Nova council” into believing that Stephanie is a spy.

The blinking tracker is not on the truck, but somewhere on Number 5’s body. He doesn’t just toss it out, he launches it. And somehow it still lands in the old couple’s pick-up truck.

Number 5’s hijacked Nova van runs out of gas because he’s been driving in first gear the entire time. A big truck comes over to jeer and sees a robot in the driver’s seat. He blames robots for taking over their jobs and attacks him with a rock. Number 5 tears through the front of the van and escapes to the truck drivers’ bewilderment.

When Number 5 returns to Stephanie, there’s no little “making soup” scene, but there’s still the dancing to disco music. As an apology, he cleans her house in thirty seconds (I have a bad feeling these scenes of the robot moving fast would have been done by cheesy film speed-up). Also, when he sees Stephanie in the bath, he doesn’t mention her “nice software”. However, he thinks she’s drowning and tries to save her.

Frank (Stephanie’s ex-boyfriend) is a hell of a lot worse in the book. He’s overtly abusive and even tries to rape Stephanie at one point. He beats Number 5 with an exhaust pipe to no effect, but some other piece of car structure does the trick. Also he has a beard and mustache.

Oregon apparently has a desert? They flee here when they want to escape the surveillance and blockade Nova has around Masonville. Also, they steal gas from a pump — Number 5 uses some remote control previously unmentioned to stop the meter at $10. (I guess now he can talk to machines.)

The big fight with the other three robots (my favorite part of the movie) is a little different. It takes place in the desert instead of the forest and Number 5 is studying plants, not playing baseball. The choreography of the chase and battle is all changed up. Now, instead of one at a time, he fights all three at once. And also Number 4 is there. The outhouse maneuver still takes place (which disables one robot), but there’s no snare trap, no mud-slinging. There’s just a chase over steppes and mesas. Eventually, Number 5 throws three rocks so precisely he turns all of them off at once. (Why is that big red on/off button so exposed?)

The sequence where Number 5 busts through the bar and saves Stephanie is still there, though it’s a little less dramatic. Stonewall isn’t there but his cronies are. Instead of lasering a tree to block their path, he melts their tires into molten rubber.

ACT III

So we get to the final part where Number 5 kidnaps Newton Crosby and attempts to prove that he’s a conscious being. There are a few differences. Crosby tells him to write a novel and Number 5 starts reciting War and Peace.

The best part is the joke that they use is totally different. Which is great because I never got the joke they use, I still don’t get it, and I think it’s a little bit racist anti-semitic. The joke instead is (paraphrased) “A man walks into a bar. He asks the bartender ‘Hey, how big are penguins’. Bartender says ‘I don’t know, about two or three feet?’ The man slumps in his stool and says ‘are you sure? Because I think I just ran over a nun.” Not as funny, but funnier. And it really doesn’t matter what joke is used, as long as Number 5 laughs.

Most everything proceeds as in the movie. Number 5 jumps out of the van and leads the army away from Stephanie and Newton (or rather, his decoy does). Only this time he’s killed by a grenade launcher instead of a copter (or a “huey” as they’re calling them now).

Crosby convinces Dr. Marner that he was lying about Number 5 was alive. He also convinces him to build Number 6 and that he thinks he can rebuild Number 5 after spending all night analyzing his new programming.

There is no mention of him changing his name to Johnny 5, probably because its hard to translate a hip pop song into a novel.

Also, frustratingly enough, there’s no explanation for those scenes that play over the end credits. Why did they shoot scenes of him dancing with a toy robot and almost getting crushed in a scrapyard? What were those? Sequel bait? Deleted scenes? A demo reel? I’m going to my death bed never knowing what their purpose was.

CONCLUSION

I don’t know what or who made the changes from screenplay to final product, but god bless them. The novel is devoid of the movie’s charm and charisma. Maybe it’s in the timing, maybe it’s in the director, maybe in the special effects/puppetry, maybe producers. Maybe everything. That’s not a bang against the author, he did quite a good job translating the script to novelization and made it entertaining and readable. But the medium is always a fundamental part of the creative work.

Also, these are pretty fragile robots. They’re shaped to be great companions, but I don’t think they could make it through a battlefield. The idea is that they’re supposed to carry a nuclear weapon covertly into a city. First of all, you’re going to sacrifice your eleven million dollar delivery drone in the process? Second the film shows how vulnerable they are to lightning, bullets, rain, explosions, a crowbar, mud, snare traps, well-aimed rocks, and outhouses. No wonder the project was scrapped.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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