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*batteries not included

original movie poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by Matthew Robbins
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy
Frank Marshall
Steven Spielberg
Written by Mick Garris (story)
Brad Bird (screenplay)
Matthew Robbins (screenplay)
Brent Maddock (screenplay)
S.S. Wilson (screenplay)
Starring Hume Cronyn
Jessica Tandy
Frank McRae
Elizabeth Peña
Michael Carmine
Dennis Boutsikaris
Music by James Horner
Studio Amblin Entertainment
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) December 18, 1987
Running time 106 minutes
Country United States
Language English

*batteries not included is a 1987 family-science fiction film directed by Matthew Robbins about small extraterrestrial living machines that save an apartment block under threat from property development.

The story was originally intended to be featured in the TV series Amazing Stories, but Steven Spielberg liked the idea so much that he decided to make it a theatrical release.

Many of the film's foreign releases (including at least French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Latin American Spanish) used the title Miracle on 8th Street.

Contents

Plot

The film is set in contemporary New York City. Frank and Faye Riley, an elderly couple who run an apartment building and restaurant in the run-down East Village neighborhood, come under threat by a nearby property development. The development manager, Mr. Lacey, sends a hoodlum named Carlos and his gang to bribe the couple and their tenants to move out. When the Rileys refuse to move, Carlos vandalizes the cafe.

Things look bleak until the appearance of a pair of living machines (later titled "The Fix-Its" by Faye) descend into the apartment of the Rileys one evening, restoring the cafe. The two extraterrestrial "Fix-Its" then take up residence in the apartment building and give birth to three baby "Fix-Its". Later, the mechanical family recruit countless other "Fix-Its" for repairs after the apartment building is scarred by arson.

The machines sometimes appear to display emotional reactions. Though their origins remain a mystery, they share some features of von Neumann probes; they are apparently independent of external control, and they have the ability to assimilate scrap metal from various sources to replicate and repair themselves. Early in the movie, Frank insists they are spaceships "from a very small planet...very small." However, in one scene, where Mason examines a "Fix-It" with a magnifying glass, he sees what appear to be micromachines flying through or scuttling across it, implying that there are living beings inside it.

Cast

*batteries not included is a notably character-driven movie. The science-fiction plotline, though coherent, is mainly used as a backdrop for the development of its main characters.

Hume Cronyn plays Frank Riley the owner of Riley's Cafe, as well as the apparent landlord of the attached apartment building. In contrast with his wife, he is a down-to-earth man who seems to be crumbling under the pressure of upholding both his businesses and the delusions of his wife when the story opens. It appears he did not have as strong a relationship with his deceased son Bobby as did his wife. As the story progresses, he becomes increasingly optimistic, and is the first to call the arrival of the fix-its a miracle.

Jessica Tandy plays Frank's wife, Faye Riley, who appears to be somewhat senile and living in her own world, in which the car accident that killed her beloved son Bobby never occurred (even going so far as to mistake Carlos for Bobby). However, she lets on in several places that she is not as helpless as her loved ones would believe, as she is the first one to realize the unique ability of the fix-its and demonstrating for everyone (by breaking her husband's pocket watch, which is immediately repaired by the fix-its) and seems to serve as a matchmaker for Mason and Marisa.

Frank McRae plays a handyman, Harry Noble, one of the boarders in Riley's apartment. Formerly known as The Human Locomotive, Harry was once a professional boxer with a wonderful right hook. When the story opens, he is retired and appears to have suffered brain damage. The few lines of dialogue he speaks in the movie are jingles from various commercials (because of which, he is notable for phrasing the title of the movie; 'batteries not included'). He appears to have a love of machinery, which comes in handy late in the film as he uses his talent for tinkering to bring a stillborn fix-it back to life. Another example of Harry's quips comes when the fix-its briefly depart the tenement to explore the city, but Harry manages to summon their return with a whistle, which he comments "don't leave home without it".

Elizabeth Peña is Marisa Esteval, a pregnant woman who patiently waits for the return of her boyfriend Hector, the father of the child. As the story progresses, she falls in love with artist and fellow boarder Mason (eventually choosing him over the negligent Hector), and appears to identify with both Faye and the female fix-it on a mother-to-mother basis.

Dennis Boutsikaris takes the part of Mason Baylor, a model of the starving artist. Mason at the beginning of the film is left by his girlfriend, who has grown tired of his obsession with the decaying apartment. As the story progresses, he falls in love with Marisa, who appreciates his art, and he eventually gets the building noticed by a restoration society at the end of the film after a previous attempt failed (ironically, after the entire tenement had burned to the ground and was rebuilt by the fix-its, who briefly return to their homeworld and recruit a multitude of fix-its to return to NYC to help). Mason appears to be a problem drinker, and is prone to mood swings.

Michael Carmine plays Carlos, the leader of Lacey's thugs. Carlos is an ambitious young man who believes he will move on to bigger and better things if he succeeds in getting Riley and his boarders to move out. When he attempts to attack the fix-its, he gets shown they have a self-defense system by using his aluminum bat as a conductor, resulting in him retreating from the tenement with a electrically shocked hairdo. Though a thug, Carlos has serious compunctions against arson and murder, and shows his nobler side by rescuing Faye as the apartment building burns near the end of the movie. Ironically, Carlos' attempt to get Faye out of the burning building by feeding into Faye's delusions that he is her son and wants to take her and "good old Dad" to dinner, snaps Faye out of her delusion and she realizes he is not Bobby. He is no longer working for Lacey by the end of the film, and makes an effort to send a bouquet of flowers to Faye.

Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, who play Mr. and Mrs. Frank Riley, were in fact married in real life and also starred together in Cocoon (1985), among other films.

The baby robots are called Wheems, Jetsam and Flotsam. They were created by ILM.

Production

Principal photography started in New York in August 1986, but location scouting began almost a year before. "Since the story called for a solitary building amidst rubble," explained producer Ronald Schwary, "we had to find a vacant lot with burned-out buildings all around it. We finally settled on an actual building on 5th Street between Avenues B and C on New York's Lower East Side. Production designer Ted Haworth designed a three-sided, four-story tenement facade and oversaw its construction on a location that covered most of a city block. In the name of authenticity, he brought 50 to 60 truckloads of rubble to cover the one vacant lot. It was so remarkably realistic that the Sanitation Department came by and took away prop garbage one morning, potential customers stopped by to eat in the diner, and the business agent for the Plumber's Local of New York visited, demanding to know why there wasn't a permit down at City Hall for the construction." [info from DVD Production Notes]

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