Come Think of It: RoboCop (1987)

Johnny Novgorod

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[Img_Inline width="300" height="370" Caption="" align="right"]http://politicalfilm.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/poster_robocop.jpg[/Img_Inline]

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
I grew up watching RoboCop 2 play on TV over and over, but I never did watch the first movie. Some may consider it a loss. I consider it lucky I get to review the movie free of that dubious pair of nostalgia goggles, moreso because I liked it a lot. Then again I grew up watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day over and over on VHS before I watched the first movie, and thought it subpar by its sequel's standards. Maybe there's something to that.

The movie is set in near-future Detroit (not that you would know that unless you read it elsewhere: movie doesn't tell). There's this evil corporation, Omni Consumer Products, which is honing in on a military contract. Dick Jones (Ronny Cox, playing the role of the mirthless, amoral exec he would later carry over to Total Recall) puts together a demonstration for a high-end enforcement droid, a kind of miniature AT-ST. He singles out some guy, gives him a gun and activates the droid, which orders the armed man to drop it. Drop he does, but the droid keeps counting back and mercilessly guns down the poor bastard in a spectacular squib fest.

I watched the scene in complete disbelief.

It's funny on a number of levels - funny because of the sudden ramp of excess in the face of trivia, funny because machines should be logical, funny because of the rich moral dissonance that inhabits the one room. Some people cringe in terror, others facepalm in irritation. The movie's tone is set and you probably didn't even see it coming. Anyway, a hotshot exec (Miguel Ferrer) takes advantage of the fiasco and ushers in his own project: to cybernetically alter human beings into robo(tic) cops and enjoy the best of two worlds.

[Img_Inline width="350" height="180" Caption="" align="left"]http://i62.tinypic.com/hsvp79.jpg[/Img_Inline]

This is where rookie cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) steps in. He's on his first day of duty in Detroit and him and his partner Anne (Nancy Allen) are chasing after a raucous gang of '80s creeps helmed by one Clarence Boddiker (Kurtwood Smith in a surprisingly vicious, vulgar role). They separate and Murphy is brutally dismembered limb by limb with shotgun blasts before Boddiker blows his brains out. He doesn't quite flatline, if you'll believe that, is resurrected by OCP as RoboCop and promptly sets off to patrol the streets 24/7.

As RoboCop, Murphy speaks with a metallic monotone, his every move is underlined by whirrs, his mouth becomes a rictus that only reacts to pain or confusion. No doubt they cast Weller for his slender figure, pouty lips and Batman chin, but credit to the man for his portrayal of RoboCop. It's the C-3PO school of good all over: you don't stop to think about the dude inside the costume. Weller's body language never betrays the character. Think about how easy it would have been to fluke the concept, how silly it could have looked. And RoboCop does look silly from time to time, but that's always within the context of a silly world, with silly businessmen and silly commercials. Think of that beginning scene and how perfectly it sets the tone for this movie as a parody.

[Img_Inline width="350" height="180" Caption="" align="right"]http://i60.tinypic.com/256tr88.jpg[/Img_Inline]

The other half of the credit would have to go to make up artist Rob Bottin, the wizard of latex prosthesis. Bottin began his work a long, long time ago in a set far, far away on Star Wars and from there went on to concoct the amorphous, pulsating titular nightmare from The Thing, later had fun with masks in Total Recall and Mission Impossible and has more recently worked on grittier pulp like Se7en and Fight Club. The list goes on. The RoboCop suit comes with iconic gadgets like the built-in holster inside Murphy's thigh, a retractible fist-spike he uses for hacking (and otherwise) and your typical '80s electric grid-based scanner for eyes. It actually still looks pretty good, largely because Verhoeven doesn't show off. It's used to channel Murphy's transformation and existence as a machine, not as an FX selling point.

Then there's a very good scene where Murphy takes his visor off and we see him in all his (in)humanity. There's a great scene earlier on where he tracks his previous home which once housed his wife and child. It's now abandoned, but RoboCop reconstructs his past life through visual flashbacks spawned from the emotional cues that lie scattered around. The movie doesn't delve a whole lot on how human or inhuman Murphy now is - in fact, if the cyborg is even Murphy at all - but it does slow down for a couple of poignant moments of melancholia. They don't develop into much of anything, at least not until the second movie, but hey, they work.

You have to treasure movies like this. You treasure the handmade craft and the political irreverence and the daredevil skips in tone. Weller's good as the pained, confused creature - for all intents and purposes a newborn - and the bad guys have jolly fun chewing up the scenery. The movie doesn't tone down the violence and doesn't shy around the satire. It never compromises.

Here's to a good remake, please.
 

Barbas

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Oct 28, 2013
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Your first image appears to be broken. The second was well-chosen.

This film really has held up well for the reasons you stated - the care used with the effects, as well as recollection scenes like seeing his old home and hearing the line "...I know you..." at the gas station. It's bloody, but appropriately so for the city it is set in. It never seems to get too silly, either. It's a joy to watch again just to hear the old classic lines.
 

Nimcha

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Nice review, I've recently watched this and came to pretty much the same conclusions.

I already know the remake is gonna be a mess though, just by looking at the new roles created.
 

Alcamonic

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Robocop remake? You mean this? http://vimeo.com/86014703

I remember watching it as a kid and thought it was really good. My nostalgia googles probably shine, but this review made me want to rewatch it.
 

Nazulu

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Jun 5, 2008
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Great in-depth review. It is a special film. All of it is well executed. There is no scene that bothers me at all, and it feels so... human. I can't say that about many other films, and that is why I can't stand the idea of these modern day remakes. Always changing them into something else, and usually poorly made overall.
 

Augustine

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Jun 21, 2012
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Speaking on the topic of compromises. I have to point out that the 2014 remake is a PG-13 dish.

While not immediately damning in itself, to my mind, it indicates that the remake will likely be a forgettable CGI actionflick. Unfortunately.
 

Archemetis

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Augustine said:
Speaking on the topic of compromises. I have to point out that the 2014 remake is a PG-13 dish.

While not immediately damning in itself, to my mind, it indicates that the remake will likely be a forgettable CGI actionflick. Unfortunately.
Personally I don't find the PG-13 rating to be an indication of (poor) quality. Growing up I was, like the OP, hooked on Terminator, RoboCop, Total Recall and Jurassic Park, Majority of those being gory movies. Nowadays however I've developed into a squeamish person who is repulsed by the sight of blood, I haven't got a clue how it happened either.

It affects what I can go see in a cinema since there was a long stretch of "It's either terrible romantic comedies, paranormal thrillers or gore porn". So to hear that a remake of a film I'd had lots of fun with in my youth is back and at an age rating that I can find even slightly comfortable to watch is a blessing.

I'm not saying it won't be garbage, but I'm reserving judgement until I've seen more than a couple trailers and an age-rating.

Beyond that though, RoboCop was part of that era where "Aimed at Adult" movies tended to come with childrens toy lines.
I know I owned my fair share of RoboCop and Terminator action figures.

The PG-13 rating is likely a way to mimic that without immediately alienating the child audience or baiting angry parents with a toy line based on adult themes.
 

Augustine

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Archemetis said:
Augustine said:
Speaking on the topic of compromises. I have to point out that the 2014 remake is a PG-13 dish.

While not immediately damning in itself, to my mind, it indicates that the remake will likely be a forgettable CGI actionflick. Unfortunately.
Personally I don't find the PG-13 rating to be an indication of (poor) quality. Growing up I was, like the OP, hooked on Terminator, RoboCop, Total Recall and Jurassic Park, Majority of those being gory movies. Nowadays however I've developed into a squeamish person who is repulsed by the sight of blood, I haven't got a clue how it happened either.

It affects what I can go see in a cinema since there was a long stretch of "It's either terrible romantic comedies, paranormal thrillers or gore porn". So to hear that a remake of a film I'd had lots of fun with in my youth is back and at an age rating that I can find even slightly comfortable to watch is a blessing.

I'm not saying it won't be garbage, but I'm reserving judgement until I've seen more than a couple trailers and an age-rating.

Beyond that though, RoboCop was part of that era where "Aimed at Adult" movies tended to come with childrens toy lines.
I know I owned my fair share of RoboCop and Terminator action figures.

The PG-13 rating is likely a way to mimic that without immediately alienating the child audience or baiting angry parents with a toy line based on adult themes.
That's fair.

It seems to me, however, that violence was part of unique Verhoeven's take on the future. Something characteristic to the universe of Robocop (some of the commericals in the movie hammer the point very clearly).
Decision to take that element of the movie out reeks of blandness that is all too characteristic of the modern remakes. I think the perfect example here is the "Total Recall" - new Robocop is following its formula by the numbers. Fear of breaching any ground, which leads to a faceless product, forgotten as soon as one leaves the theater.

I would also want to point out that I would not call myself Robocop purist, and I am not particularly vested in the franchise's fate. It is part of my childhood, but an utterly negligible part.
 

Storm Dragon

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Johnny Novgorod said:
...a demonstration for a high-end enforcement droid, a kind of miniature AT-ST. He singles out some guy, gives him a gun and activates the droid, which orders the armed man to drop it. Drop he does, but the droid keeps counting back and mercilessly guns down the poor bastard in a spectacular squib fest.

I watched the scene in complete disbelief.

It's funny on a number of levels - funny because of the sudden ramp of excess in the face of trivia, funny because machines should be logical, funny because of the rich moral dissonance that inhabits the one room. Some people cringe in terror, others facepalm in irritation.
My reaction to that scene was: "Why the hell is the prototype killbot that is here only for a demonstration loaded with live ammo?" Seriously, there is no realistic reason why that should have happened. They weren't expecting it to be in an actual combat situation or any other scenario where it would have to shoot something for real, so loading its weapon would have been a pointless waste of effort even in a best-case scenario.

Capcha: "I want control" How did you know I was listening to Satsuki Kiryuin's leitmotif, Capcha?
 

Archemetis

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Aug 13, 2008
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Augustine said:
Archemetis said:
Augustine said:
Speaking on the topic of compromises. I have to point out that the 2014 remake is a PG-13 dish.

While not immediately damning in itself, to my mind, it indicates that the remake will likely be a forgettable CGI actionflick. Unfortunately.
Personally I don't find the PG-13 rating to be an indication of (poor) quality. Growing up I was, like the OP, hooked on Terminator, RoboCop, Total Recall and Jurassic Park, Majority of those being gory movies. Nowadays however I've developed into a squeamish person who is repulsed by the sight of blood, I haven't got a clue how it happened either.

It affects what I can go see in a cinema since there was a long stretch of "It's either terrible romantic comedies, paranormal thrillers or gore porn". So to hear that a remake of a film I'd had lots of fun with in my youth is back and at an age rating that I can find even slightly comfortable to watch is a blessing.

I'm not saying it won't be garbage, but I'm reserving judgement until I've seen more than a couple trailers and an age-rating.

Beyond that though, RoboCop was part of that era where "Aimed at Adult" movies tended to come with childrens toy lines.
I know I owned my fair share of RoboCop and Terminator action figures.

The PG-13 rating is likely a way to mimic that without immediately alienating the child audience or baiting angry parents with a toy line based on adult themes.
That's fair.

It seems to me, however, that violence was part of unique Verhoeven's take on the future. Something characteristic to the universe of Robocop (some of the commericals in the movie hammer the point very clearly).
Decision to take that element of the movie out reeks of blandness that is all too characteristic of the modern remakes. I think the perfect example here is the "Total Recall" - new Robocop is following its formula by the numbers. Fear of breaching any ground, which leads to a faceless product, forgotten as soon as one leaves the theater.

I would also want to point out that I would not call myself Robocop purist, and I am not particularly vested in the franchise's fate. It is part of my childhood, but an utterly negligible part.
Yeah, that seems like a reasonable criticism. :)
 

Bbleds

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Yeah I think what made the fact movie is actually an action comedy a surprise for me was only knowing of Robocop as a pop culture icon as a kid. Growing up in the late 80's and early 90's I was one who couldn't watch R rated movies, and knew the character through toys, videogames, comics, etc, and my lucky friends who saw it of course always talked about how cool he was. So yeah, quite the pleasant shock when I rented the movie in my highschool years to find an "ironic" 80's action film way ahead of its' time.
 

stroopwafel

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Cool review. As a kid Robocop was one of those movies I watched on VHS when my parents were asleep. :p It was a period of some vintage movies like this, the Terminator, the original Hellraiser etc. The socio-political references obviously went completely over my head when I first watched Robocop but watching it at a later age I realized the satire on corporate greed and consumer culture was not only hilarious but also quite clever. It was almost in a similair vein as Dawn of the Dead, albeit in an entirely different fashion.

I love those subtle(or not so subtle) socio-political references as it gives these movies an extra layer of thematic depth, something that is unfortunately rarely seen nowadays. The story itself(although in retrospect it has an admittedly high camp factor) is also quite cool, moving at a steady pace with some exciting scenes.

The sequel lost most of the satire but I really enjoyed it for what it was. I think that is mostly thanks to the truly awesome script Frank Miller wrote for Robocop 2. I found it incredibly entertaining. After that it all went downhill though. I have little hope for the reboot but I hope I'm wrong. Can't get any worse than Robocop 3. :p
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Sgt. Sykes said:
Now, Starship troopers, that's some over the top crazyness. I always find it very funny when people talk how much is Robocop full of satire and such while they take troopers seriously.
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