Saturday, April 01, 2006

Robot Dreams

The greatest concept cannot be truly be considered art until it is made flesh, and the number of unrealized ideas that seemed wonderful on paper far outdwarfs the number that ever made it for public consumption.

For instance, about three years ago I became obsessed with combat robots. They had their own television show on Comedy Central, "Battlebots," on which these machines tried to destroy each other in an enclosed ring. With names like Biohazard, Son of Kobyashi, and Disector, these little geek-love substitutes would flay and mangle steel as their engineer-minded creators controlled them from afar.

After watching "Battlebots," I realized that there could be no higher form of sports entertainment. The show was pure destruction — my inner 15-year-old said, This is the most totally awesome thing ever. Plus, "Battlebots" entailed a cold, heartless machine randomly tossing aside a work that took hundreds of hours to create. I could relate.

Thus inspired, I came up with my own idea for a combat robot. The one to rule them all.

My idea for a battlebot was so simple and elegant — but deadly — that it amazed me that it had not been done before. The robot would be shaped like a volcano, with angled ramps on each side; the ramps led to a giant chasm in which two giant spiked gears rotated at 10,000 rpm. The idea was to get the opponent to slide up the ramp and fall into the volcano, or the pit, where the giant gears would annihilate it.

But that wasn't the best part. Listen to this. Just listen.

If the robot had a pit, and the idea of the robot was to cause as much harm as possible, it would be a pit of harm, or:


Get it? it's a "pit of harm." Harmpit. Not an armpit, but a Harmpit. Get it? Is that the coolest thing you've ever heard or what?

Without any notions of basic engineering or mechanics, I quickly sketched out Harmpit on paper — as well a plan for taking over the combat robot world. I wrote an introduction for the ring announcer to boom through the stadium before my robot went to battle: "He'll kick your ass -- no shit! It's Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarmpit!"

Fig. 1. Harmpit

Once Harmpit conquered the "Battlebots" Heavyweight Championship, the rest would fall into place. Harmpit action figures. A Saturday-morning cartoon. Harmpit-authored books. Oprah and Larry King.

And of course, the ultimate achievement: a movie deal.

My pitch to producers would be as brilliant as it is straightforward:

Harmpit, a funny-looking, outcast combat robot, grows up to become the world champion while saving the planet from Destructo, his childhood nemesis robot who is bent on world domination.

I see Tobey Maguire starring as Harmpit, James Franco as Destructo, and Kirsten Dunst as the woman torn between them. OK, maybe they're tied up for "Spider-Man 3." How about Mike Meyers as Harmpit, Bill Murray as Destructo, and Julia Roberts as the woman torn between them? Spielberg has to direct. In a pinch, Steven Soderbergh will do.

A friend who makes a living in the realm of physics (he was the co-genius behind the truly most world-altering philosophy ever) was taken with the idea of Harmpit, sending me a book called "Create Your Own Combat Robot." But before I could turn my living room into a workshop, in which Wife could serve me divorce papers, "Battlebots" was canceled.

Fig. 2. Harmpit Vs. Godzilla

Even if I had been able to engage my friend's interest enough beyond the purchase of a book, I really don't savor the possibilities in building a power transmission, determining motor constants, and contemplating equations such as Cpeak=logΣφ(πrdx/θe). My real interest in Harmpit is all about the details: the name, the slogan, the movie, the action figures. Unlike certain ideas for fiction that unfortunately were put to paper, Harmpit never had much of a chance to come to life.

I often wonder if other writers come up with similar schemes. Harmpit was clearly a case of a thought gone sideways; with my knowledge of engineering, I might as well have been trying to write Chinese opera insterad, with which I at least have a passing familiarity, thanks to my favorite movie star.

There are playwrights who pen short stories, and poets who write fiction. Novelists dream of selling a screenplay; screenwriters dream of selling a novel. At least those folk are experimenting with their forms. Sometimes I feel like these occasional harebrained schemes of mine are not as much inspired rather than elaborate forms of procrastination.

Then again, I could totally envision "Harmpit: The Movie" at a theater near you. The movie would make millions. It would set me up for life. I could write fiction to my heart's content, and not worry about spending all my spare money on the lottery any more.

Perhaps if I got Naomi Campbell to play the Evil Robot, I could sell the movie to producers, without a doubt. She certainly knows how to attack.