Richard Matheson: More than just ‘Real Steel’

The Hugh Jackman-starring robot boxing movie “Real Steel” is at the top of the box-office charts this weekend, just where it deserves to be. The movie features the “X-Men” star as a washed-up boxer who takes custody not only of his 11-year-old son but also a sparring partner robot literally pulled out of a junkyard.

In this future U.S., humans don’t box anymore but robots do. Their fight-to-the-death bouts are the logical extension, in some ways, of the current bloodsports enjoyed by many fans. The dad and son’s faith in each other and their  battlin’ robot pays off, of course.

The most enjoyable element of all this, to me, is that the movie is based on “Steel,” a short story from 1956 written by Richard Matheson. The story was previously adapted — with a lot less high-tech wizardry — on the classic TV series “The Twilight Zone.”

Matheson, born in 1926, is enjoying some renewed interest as a result of the movie. There’s this good interview at aintitcool and just the mention of the octogenarian writer’s body of work is enough to send geeks tripping through decades of favorite movies and TV shows.

Putting aside that Matheson wrote some wonderfully creepy short stories, like “Born of Man and Woman,” and terrific novels, like “I Am Legend,” if you just consider the number of good movies that had been made from his stories — “Omega Man” and “I Am Legend,” “Stir of Echoes” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man” to name a few — you’ve got a source of big-screen inspiration that might be second only to Philip K. Dick (“Bladerunner”).

But the TV shows and TV movies Matheson wrote. Oh my.

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” for “The Twilight Zone.” “Trilogy of Terror,” famous for its segment about a tribal doll come to murderous life. And “The Night Stalker,” one of the greatest combination horror movies/cop dramas/newspaper movies ever.

Yeah. Oh my.

I enjoyed “Real Steel” today, but I’ve been thankful for Richard Matheson’s talents since I was a kid.

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