In 1984 a child-like robot with a gold sheen and a knack for getting limbs chopped off front-flipped into the hearts of Canadians.
Its name was Astar, it was from the Planet Danger, and it was awesome.
Shot with practical effects made possible by weird camera angles and starring a completely committed actor in the suit, this robot became a sort of PSA icon during the golden-age of Canadian PSAs. Yes, the golden age is a thing, you ask any Canadian of a certain age about it and they'll tell you that in the late 80s and early-to-mid 90s, Canada's PSA game was tight as hell. Who could forget such classics as "Don't You Put It In Your Mouth," the House Hippo, the one with the rats almost getting killed by stealing cheese, and, everyone's fam, Bert and Gert.
Now, while these were all amazing, none—NOT A ONE—could touch Astar in sheer being hardcore-as-fuck.
The video features Astar, our gold-tinged hero, as it pulls off some sick acrobatics in an industrial wasteland. The robot throws itself though a couple gears gnashing away and some whirling sawblades before leaping through a hole and clinging desperately to a well placed pipe. From this point Astar flips off the pipe, stands upside down on the roof and is surrounded by more blades. Our agile friend dodges them valiantly but eventually succumbs and has an arm shredded off in a mess of sparks. The PSA ends with our friend popping that arm back on and looking at the camera.
"I am Astar, a robot," says our hero. " I can put my arm back on, but you can't. So play safe."
Astar came from the mind of Hugh "Cliff" Chadderton, the longtime CEO of the War Amps—a NGO that was started in 1918 to help amputees returning from the First World War. Chadderton helmed the NGO from 1965 to 2009 before his death in 2013. After taking control of the War Amps, Chadderton had the NGO turn its focus to helping children, starting the Play Safe program in 1978. The program takes a kids-to-kids approach in teaching children about amputation.
Rob Larman, the current director of the Play Safe program and longtime friend of Chadderton, was there at the conception of Astar. Larman told VICE that the point of Astar was to connect with preschool-aged kids.
"The vision that Cliff had, is he wanted something that appeals to children. Star Wars and what have you was prevalent and he got that idea," said Larman. "A child-like robot from outer-space—from Planet Danger."
The PSA was a smashing success and was burned into the memory of a large portion of Canadians—one person who works in the Canadian prosthetic limb industry told VICE that when he was an intern, doctors used to ask about the "amputee robot" and the question would be met by a chorus of Astar quotes by "everyone within earshot." However, with the light comes the dark and Larman added that there was a little bit of a negative effect —Astar was just a little too hardcore for some kids.
"We got some feedback from the public that said 'well, the PSA kinda scared my child,'" said Larman. "Well, OK, if it scared your child we're sorry, that's not what we're doing but we want to make people aware that these accidents are happened all the time.
"Maybe we're scaring them straight? Maybe we're scaring them to the point where they're going to look at a dangerous situation and think twice about it."s
Sixteen years after the initial video came Astar version 2.0—the version I was initially familiar with and one that my editor strongly insists is not as good as the original—which came out in 2000 and was fully CGI (think Reboot-era graphics.) This Astar was incorporated into a safety film called Spot the Danger in 2000. In the 25-minute video, which primarily features children telling their stories, Astar narrates and comes to Earth to help people spot the dangers. A portion of the video was used on community stations as a PSA.
This PSA follows a similar story arch—the biggest change would be an extra long intro. There are a few stylistic differences too, like Astar dodges a massive… uh, smasher and a saw blade tears through a wall trying to delimb the robot. The video ends much like the first, with Astar just being overwhelmed by saw blades coming at it from every which way.
We get a little more information into Astar's backstory with this version. The biggest revelation being that it hailed from "Planet Danger," which is very hardcore. If you name your planet "Planet Danger," well, your planet is probably very dangerous. There is still much we don't know about our hero and their world however—like is Astar is a simple name or an acronym, where is Planet Danger located, what is Astar's mission, and is there a Planet Safety?
Sadly, the 2000 version wasn't as well received as the first one and it may be the last time we see Astar, but the legacy of the gold-tinged child-like robot remains—there was even a Canadian hardcore band named "I Can Put My Arm Back On You Can't" in honour of Astar's catchphrase. As Larman puts it "it's been over 33 years old and people are still intrigued by it."
"It was something before it's time."
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