When something is marketed so heavily as a feel-good family movie that looks suspiciously like a children’s game of the 1980s and not a dark, dystopic science fiction story from the 1950s, it’s easy to write it off. But what are the darker themes of the original 1956 story, which was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction? We can refer to one Mr. Rod Serling for that. This was the opening narration for the episode:
Battling Maxo is a robot, or, to be exact, an android, definition: ‘an automaton resembling a human being.’ Only these automatons have been permitted in the ring since prizefighting was legally abolished in 1968. This is the story of that scheduled six-round bout, more specifically the story of two men shortly to face that remorseless truth: that no law can be passed which will abolish cruelty or desperate need – nor, for that matter, blind animal courage.
It’s the future — which, back then, was 1974 — and former boxer Steel Kelly is the man who takes the broken-down Battling Maxo’s place in the ring, trying to pass himself off as the robot, only to lose without ever making a dent on his opponent, a more powerful B7 robot. When he’s down for the count, he has to stay there, lest he expose himself as a human and lose any money he might make after the promoter promises half the prize money. So, what’s the moral of the story?
Portrait of a losing side, proof positive that you can’t outpunch machinery. Proof also of something else: that no matter what the future brings, man’s capacity to rise to the occasion will remain unaltered. His potential for tenacity and optimism continues, as always, to outfight, outpoint and outlive any and all changes made by his society…