A group of tenants in an apartment block are being forced to move out so that it can be demolished. The tenants are reluctant to move, so the developers hire a local gang to 'persuade' them to leave. Fortunately, visiting alien mechanical life-forms come to town. When they befriend the tenants, the aliens use their extraterrestrial abilities to defeat the developers.
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
. Starring: Hume Cronyn
, Jessica Tandy
, Frank McRae
, Elizabeth Peña
, Michael Carmine
, Dennis Boutsikaris
, Tom Aldredge
, Jane Hoffman
, John DiSanti
, John Pankow
, MacIntyre Dixon
, Michael Greene
, Doris Belack
. Music by: James Horner
I remember this film from the '80s and recently bought it on DVD, and it is still an original and fresh idea and a very sweet story. The main characters are an elderly couple Frank and Faye. Faye is unfortunately suffering the early effects of dementia and her husband Frank is her carer. These two characters are very sympathetically written and acted and have a believable backstory -- they have lived all their married life in the ageing city building they are in the story, where they run a café, but now developers want them out so they can demolish the building. The other characters are less developed and not so interesting, a retired boxer, a painter, and a pregnant woman who has a long-distance relationship with the father of her foetus, so the focus is really on the elderly couple. It is refreshing to see a film about this kind of relationship, rather than yet another soggy romance or a generic story about kids as a character backdrop to this kind of fantasy story.
The other characters in the story are a pair, and later a family, of benevolent biomechanical creatures who construct a nest out of junk on the roof and start repairing broken items about the place and eating others. Some people in other reviews have identified these creatures as 'aliens' or 'spaceships'. While it is speculated initially by the other characters that the creatures may be spaceships for 'tiny aliens' or come from other worlds, when one of them is studied under a magnifying glass by a character, he sees lots of little circuits, and not 'tiny aliens' and since the creatures mate and give birth to offspring this would suggest they are living organisms in their own right. There is also not really anything to support the idea of them being of extraterrestrial origin, and it's probably more likely they are something that came about as part experiment, part natural evolution on Earth, although the question of where they come from is never addressed.
A few people have also claimed this film rips off ET and a film called Cocoon. 'ET' is a story about a boy finding an alien creature. I have not seen 'Cocoon' so I read a synopsis of it, and it is a story about elderly people finding a fountain of eternal youth created by aliens. 'Batteries Not Included' to me is nothing like either of these. It is an urban fantasy version of the 'pixies down the garden' trope with an '80s twist on the pixies. And I enjoyed it when I first saw it, and I enjoyed it again more recently. It's a sweet, quirky story and a clever idea.
It's a shame it isn't a better-known film, but I suspect there are reasons for that, and there are some problems with it as a film meant to appeal to family audiences. Firstly, the story about Faye's Alzheimer's, even though it is a refreshing change, is by its nature grim. Although the story ends happily, I am left with the expectation that Faye's condition will inevitably deteriorate soon to the point that Frank can no longer care for her and they can't continue to live together in the home they have spent their life in. A similarly grim theme is that when the biomechanical mother gives birth to her 'chicks' one of them is stillborn, although it is later revived by one of the human characters, which is sweet, but young children may get upset or not understand the birth scene.
The second problem is the main antagonist, a thug hired by the developer to evict the residents of the property, in that he is extremely violent, breaking into the property wielding axes and cudgels and threatening the residents and smashing up their property. Halfway through the film he unprovokedly attacks, and apparently kills, the father of the little biomechanical family (although he is later repaired by his mate) in a scene that would likely be deeply upsetting for young children, and towards the end he violently assaults a man and sets fire to the building, before somewhat redeeming himself by rescuing Faye from the burning ruins.
In summary, this is a delightful film, but may be unsuitable for young or sensitive children due to the violence in what would otherwise be quite a gentle story, and some darker themes.
Review by zyrcona from the Internet Movie Database.