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Sentiment Mixes with Science Fiction in 'Real Steel'

  • Alan Silverman

Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo star as a father and son who reconnect with the help of a prize-fighting robot in "Real Steel."

Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo star as a father and son who reconnect with the help of a prize-fighting robot in "Real Steel."

Prize-fighting robot helps reconnect father and son in redemption tale

Battling robots in the boxing ring help a wayward father reconnect with his young son in the new sci-fi action film "Real Steel," starring Hugh Jackman.

In the not too distant future, prizefighters no longer face off in the arena. Instead, they operate the controls of boxing robots or 'bots.' Charlie Kenton is an ex-fighter whose bots keep getting pummeled in the ring. His luck changes when Max, the son he abandoned as a baby 10 years earlier, comes back into his life.

Scavenging for parts in the junkyard, Max discovers a rusty old robot which he cleans up and then convinces his dad to give it a chance.

There's an old show business warning, usually attributed to the comic actor W.C. Fields, about never working with small children because they are natural scene-stealers. That's certainly the case with young Dakota Goyo, who plays Max. But Jackman, who plays Charlie, says he gladly let the 10 year old take the spotlight because he did it so well.

"Without that boy being that good we really don't have a movie," Jackman says. "The movie exists on the strength of that relationship and the relationship with that discarded robot. It's the redemption tale of these three and this kid is phenomenal. He is funny, he's full of life. He's a brilliant actor and the nicest kid imaginable. I have no doubt he's going to become a huge star and I'll be in the old person's home saying 'You know, I was in his first movie' and they'll be saying 'Shut up, Jackman.'"

Many big Hollywood movies with robots as central characters rely on big, loud action scenes. "Real Steel" has some of that, but director Shawn Levy pairs the action with the emotional father-son story.

"The self-given mandate of "Real Steel" was to do science fiction with sentiment, to do as much heart as action," Levy says. "My feeling is that was the chance that "Real Steel" had of being unique because robot action sequences in 2011 do not bring an inherent newness and I thought that to pretend they do would be delusional, silly and short-sighted."

Guided by producer Steven Spielberg, Levy used full-sized real robots instead of computer-generated images whenever possible.

"There is no comparison in what you get from your actors. If you're asking them to fake it, that's tough. But if you're asking an actor to play a scene with a real two-meter tall robot, you get something different altogether," Levy says. "My co-star is 10 years old; the reason those scenes have magic to them and the reason it looks like that boy loves that robot is because that actor loved that robot."

The robot boxing looks authentic thanks to the special ring advisor on the movie, former welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard.

"I tried to make sure that it stayed close to boxing," Leonard says, "but they are robots and they can do some things that normal boxers can not or are not allowed to do."

Leonard also worked with Hugh Jackman on the moves, attitude and bearing of a boxing champ, help to give 'Real Steel" a realistic edge along with its emotional heart.