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13 April 2018

Would you watch a show about a diesel-powered, crime fighting, robot dinosaur truck?

By Matthew PritchardMatthew Pritchard
You've seen it eat cars, now get ready to see it act. (image: Wiki Commons)

Ever heard of Robosaurus?

It's the giant robot dinosaur that shows up at monster truck shows and demolition derbies, breathes fire and eats cars.

If you've never heard of it, picture this: a semi-trailer that transforms into a 12-metre (40-foot) tall, 31-tonne, robot T-Rex powered by a 372kW Cummins diesel engine, with claws capable of exerting 24,000 pounds of force onto unsuspecting prey. The aforementioned fire breathing comes courtesy of two 75-litre (20-gallon) propane tanks that would make Hank Hill shed tears of joy.

It also features air cannons that, according to Wikipedia (I know, I know, but their review process is pretty solid you guys), can be used to fire confetti (neat!), fireworks (possibly a little dangerous, but still neat!) and missiles (kinda terrifying, but also... well, no, mostly terrifying).

And it always kinda looks like it's screaming. (image: Wiki commons) And it always kinda looks like it's screaming. (image: Wiki commons)

It was created by Doug Malewicki in 1989, it took two years and US$2.2 million to build. Keep in mind that this is '80s dollars. US '80s dollars! The era where every detective in the country could afford a Ferrari! Or so TV has led me to understand.

You might also know Robosaurus as 'Truck-o-saurus', after it was parodied in the classic 'Simpsons' episode 'Bart the Daredevil'.

It showed up in a later episode in a quick gag ad for 'Truckosaurus: the movie'

While that might seem like a weird, one-off gag about Hollywood's proclivity to turn just about anything into a movie, it's a bit more... well... realistic than you might think.

Because while you might have known about the fire breathing and car eating, what you might NOT know about Robosaurus, is that it had a starring role in what is possibly the most bonkers TV pilot of all time.

So get ready for justice. 'Steel Justice'.

What the hell is 'Steel Justice'?

There's a lot to explain, but here's the 60-second version:

Yep. Wild stuff, right?

If you want more detail: in a dystopic future, detective David Nash's son Davey dies when a gang does a drive by rocket-launchering on his car.

Nash has been in the throes of a deep depression, and near the anniversary of his son's death he starts to have dreams. Dreams about a mysterious figure who is actually an immortal, roaming the Earth to serve as a guide to those with the ability to 'transform' objects.

Meanwhile, an arms dealer called 'the Colonel' (no, really) is preparing to sell a shipment of rocket launchers. He orders his main rivals to be killed, with one of the rocket launchers. In the ensuing investigation, Nash realises this is the same weapon that killed his boy, so with a renewed enthusiasm he's on the case, tracking down the arms dealer and the people responsible for killing his son.

His son who, by the way, has had his soul attach to his Robosaurus toy, bringing it to life. No, really.

You laugh now, but play 'Father and Son' over this and you'll be in tears. You laugh now, but play 'Father and Son' over this and you'll be in tears.

For the most part, the toy just hangs around at home, breaks through doors and chews up other toys. It's clearly alive, but it doesn't really do much. Until the climax, that is.

During a final shootout with the bad guys, Nash awakens his transformation ability and the toy transforms into the full size Robosaurus to wreak havoc. It's what you’d expect if Michael Bay had  directed 'My Mother the Car'.

There's so much to unpack here, so I'm going to go through a few of the key points that have really stuck in my brain since I found out about it and watched it.

Oh yeah, you can watch it - somehow, some wildcard has uploaded the entire pilot onto YouTube in nine separate instalments. How they managed to do this? I have no idea.

Either someone had taped it back in '92 and has just been sitting on it for years, or a disgruntled NBC employee got into the archives and chose to leak it instead of the script for that forbidden 'Seinfeld' episode where Elaine gets a gun. We'll probably never know.

Anyway, if you feel like watching it you can find part one here. The whole thing takes a little over an hour.

So, why is 'Steel Justice' such a weirdly fascinating piece of television? Well, a couple of reasons:

The fact that this got made is incredible

As I mentioned before, TV pilots will get dropped for plenty of reasons. Maybe the show doesn't test well, it just didn't find an audience, maybe it was torn to shreds on social media. Hell, sometimes shows get bought, go into production and get canned before the pilot even gets made.

But really stop and think about that for a second. There are three camera sitcoms that were dropped quicker than this, and they're presumably a lot cheaper to make because they don't feature giant, fire breathing, dino-truck-bots.

This show would have gone through so many checks and balances, had teams of people looking over it, and not only on the creative side, there would have been money people there to make sure it was financially viable for the company.

"Oh, hey, I'm just trying to find craft services?" (Image: Wiki Commons) "Oh, hey, I'm just trying to find craft services?" (Image: Wiki Commons)

Plus, a show like this doesn't just appear out of nowhere, there are months of pre-production, production AND post-production, and STILL it got made.

But, okay, TV snobbery aside, maybe there was a key audience for this that was being targeted. I mean this thing stars Robosaurus! It's a wild, high concept idea, that's surely going to attract some people, right? Even if it is just people who like monster truck rallies.

Yeah... About that...

This thing looks like it was buried before it even aired

If we learned anything from movies like 'The Room', 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' and 'Air Bud: Golden Receiver', it's that pop-culture oddities, especially bad ones, can be a lot of fun.

Maybe we like to get drunk and watch when we're home alone, or name-drop them as fun party facts (my fave is 'Cartoon All Stars to the Rescue', which I've mentioned before and will never stop mentioning because it's the single best/worst half-hour of television you'll ever watch).

You'd think that 'Steel Justice' would go on to be one of those things, right?

Nope. Even its IMDb page is pretty sparse.

So? There's not a lot of information out there on shows that never made it past the pilot stage - what's the big deal?

To answer that, take a look at this promo for 'Steel Justice' and see if you can spot anything off about it:

Not a single mention of Robosaurus. NBC aired a promo for what we can only assume was a very expensive show featuring absolutely no mention of the very expensive thing that was the catalyst for said show.

The ad makes it look like a regular crime procedural, which, if you're a fan of and wanted to check out, chances are you'd feel a bit gypped finding out what the show ACTUALLY was.

It'd be like tuning into 'CSI Miami' and finding out thirty minutes in that the killer was a werewolf, and the rest of the episode was Horatio Caine leading the CSI team on a 'Van Helsing'-style monster hunt and oh my good god, I want to watch that.

Fan fiction aside, my point is that 'Steel Justice' doesn't seem to have been given a chance to succeed, despite being completely made. So what happened? Well, the answer to that is a little unsatisfying.

We don't actually know anything substantial about the production

See above about the project being buried.

Whatever happened over the course of production on 'Steel Justice' has essentially been lost to time.

But that's not such a bad thing - half the fun of stuff like this is cooking up wild, half-baked fan theories. Maybe it was all a scheme to intentionally make a failure, like in 'The Producers'.

Maybe there was an executive at NBC that really wanted a Robosaurus show to please their kid? Maybe it was just a stupid idea from the get-go that fell victim to groupthink and/or sycophants afraid for the future of their jobs? Who knows.

But we do know one thing, and that one thing is more upsetting than all of this put together.

ROBOSAURUS IS ONLY IN IT FOR LIKE... 10 MINUTES!

This is undoubtedly the biggest crime committed by 'Steel Justice'. You made a show starring Robosaurus and then only put it in it for the final moments?

I mean, from a practicality standpoint, I get it. Keep in mind that when they made this they used the REAL Robosaurus, of which there is only one, meaning that there aren't any stunt doubles or chances to fail.

Most TV shows or movies with vehicular mayhem will have a few stunt vehicles, because when you're filming action scenes, to put it in professional industry speak: "shit's gonna get wrecked". This is partly what makes Steven Spielberg's 'Duel' so impressive, there was no stunt vehicle for the evil truck that was basically one of the main characters, so they had to be meticulous about their shooting schedule. Same rules apply here.

So, the multi-million-dollar-dinosaur-without-a-stunt-double needs to be taken care of, and not put through too much - that's absolutely fair.

But also -

COME ON, this whole damn show seems like it was a flimsy pretence to watch Robosaurus eat some cars on TV, so let's go nuts here! Have Robosaurus eat some cars! Shoot some missiles and/or fireworks.

Honestly, this should have been the whole 90 minutes. (Image: Wiki Commons) Honestly, this should have been the whole 90 minutes. (Image: Wiki Commons)

Hell, I'd settle for watching Robosaurus take out The Colonel by pummelling him with a well-placed shot from a t-shirt cannon. Why make a show starring Robosaurus if you're not going to let Robosaurus do what Robosaurus does best?

My guess is that it was primarily a budget issue, but then that begs the question, if you knew that going in, then why make the show in the first place?

But then that question applies to most of 'Steel Justice'

So... should I watch it?

If you're a fan of weird TV, then yes. Absolutely. Otherwise? Maybe?

My recommendation would be to find a 'Steel Justice' drinking game, then you and some friends should get together and play it. Safely and responsibly of course. DO NOT drink and drive. That goes for both regular vehicles and diesel-powered truck dinosaurs.

What would you do with a robot dinosaur truck? Let us know in the comments below.