More Than Robots is very true to its title for showcasing how there’s more to this competition than mere sport.
Published on March 25, 2022
Rating 3.5 /5
There’s little doubt that the future is going to require much technical knowledge. It goes far beyond just learning to type up in Excel as an accountant or learning to navigate your way through a WordPress CMS for white-collar jobs. Industries continue to make improvements to our overall lives beyond just making everything digital. It’s why the rising talents of teenagers within More Than Robots is a hopeful reminder that the next generation is going to be one bound for innovations we can’t possibly fathom.
On the surface, this documentary may appear like a sports picture for its competitive nature. After all, the FIRST Robotics Competition they compete in for 2020 is posed as such. You have teams trying to build the best robot for the most capabilities. You have teams choosing such victors to compete in bigger arenas. You have parents who get way into the game by cheering on their kids as loud and excited as any mom would be at their kids’ basketball match.
We even get some interviews very much akin to the legacy of Olympic documentaries, where we learn about a handful of players and their struggles to program the best robots they can. In case it needs to be stated, the competition for these robots goes beyond just killing each other. Battlebots had that market covered and this is a battle for technological improvement rather than entertainment. The robots being developed here are for actions that seem simple but still require ample programming. This includes everything from grabbing onto and hanging suspended from a pole and firing balls out of a cannon into a very specific target.
It’s a lot of fun to hear from these kids that come from so many different backgrounds. One teenage girl works with a Japanese team who finds themselves under much pressure when they demonstrate their robot for some sponsors and find they still have a lot of work to do. A teenage boy who finds himself struggling to understand pop culture and social interactions finds that getting involved with a robotics team is his perfect way to open up, considering not many of his teammates are as adept at coding as he is. We even get to see some scrappy teams that operate with little and manage to pull off some astounding mechanical creations.
The most important part of this documentary is what happens when the Coronavirus hits. The competitions are halted as everybody goes into quarantine. However, this does not mean that their robotic innovations stop. In fact, they only increase when they realize their skills are needed during these difficult times. Some of the competing teams use this time to aid in the safety of others by developing 3D prints of protective face shields for front-line medical staff. Others take this time to better hone their skills, teaching other essential aspects of coding that can improve their development of robots.
Eventually, the competition is back on and the teams return with a strengthened desire to improve and innovate. By this point in the film, it’s hard not to feel something for every team involved. Even if they lose, they’ve still pursued something that will greatly benefit their future and possibly affect multiple industries. The post-game interviews with one of the losers make this point pretty clear and there’s a certain sense of pride that comes with this competition. Losing just means there’s more to improve, explore, and perfect, a constant battle in the age of robotics.
More Than Robots is very true to its title for showcasing how there’s more to this competition than mere sport. While the documentary could feature more a narrating figure to better explain what these robots could be used for in the real world, it does so more by example than explanation. For the most part, however, the FIRST competition is kept in perspective as being something fun and fascinating to pursue. These teenagers are certainly bound for a bright future and it’s exciting to watch them design, build, and code their ways to the top.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.