Sunday, May 24, 2015

RoboCop Watch: RoboCop

Sometimes between viewings of RoboCop (1987) I think to myself, "Self, maybe you talk too much about RoboCop.  Maybe you should stop pestering people with RoboCop and maybe take a step back and realize that maybe all RoboCop really is is a mid-80's studio sci-fi action flick that may be pretty good, but it's not really as good as you tend to think."

And then I watch RoboCop again, and I say to myself, "Self, that was stupid and you should stop questioning RoboCop.  That movie is the absolute best."

Also, it completely and totally accurately predicted the future.  So if you ever need to know what I think the world looks like through my beady little eyes...  RoboCop.

Cleverly disguised as a mid-budget 1980's sci-fi actioner, RoboCop was a movie that was going to sell a lot of tickets when it came out in 1987.  It didn't star Arnie or Stallone, but it wasn't one of those movies.  It didn't just tell the story of a cop who gets resurrected as a cybernetic vengeance machine, which is maybe how it got filtered back then, it was always satire.  It went in for a hyperbolic view on the absurdities of our relationship with media, of the low-caliber delivery of media, the nature of corporate thinking, our relationship with our infrastructure and civil service.  All of which was trending in 1987 and which is more or less S.O.P. in 2015.

Our news has become infotainment and content free, with smiling anchors glancing off important news and mixing it with celebrity fluff.  The military industrial complex has made it's way into local police departments, and prisons are corporate run (part of the description of what OCP does for a living).  And it's not too hard to imagine the corporate take-over of local law enforcement with the proper incentives to elected officials.  Detroit is more or less the hellhole Old Detroit of the movie.

And, really, is network TV any better these days than Bixby Snyder shouting "I'd buy that for a dollar!" on It's Not My Problem!?

This was the pinnacle of someone's career

Here in 2015, we've actually surpassed many of the technologies of the movie from facial recognition to database management (I noticed they saved characters in the police records by shortening the names for crimes.).  At one point villain Dick Jones produces a tracker for RoboCop that looks shockingly like early-days Apple portable product.

Director Paul Verhoeven doesn't tend to shy away from violence (or sex, but this movie is pretty devoid of any romantic scenes between RoboCop and any takers).  And I think he does an interesting job on juxtaposing the choreographed, insincere and dumbed down world of the media against the reality of what's happening in Old Detroit, including Murphy's murder.  And when things go wrong in the ED-209 demo (this is why I never live demo, people.  Always fake it for an audience.), it's shocking, yes...  but it's kind of shocking when someone gets riddled with automatic weapons fire.  And the chaos that the shooting causes (and the immediate exploitation of that shooting) have their place in reality.

Still, it is a movie about a guy who has been purchased in death and his body used as scraps for building something that's a monstrosity in many, many ways.  Memory is scrubbed, along with free will, and a code of conduct is digitally put in place.  He's now unkillable, but he's also no longer alive.  Until, of course, he begins to get some of those old memories back and seeks to understand what he was and what he is.

The story has heart, too.  In no small part because of Nancy Allen as Officer Anne Lewis.  Look, I don't entirely know why I latched on to Nancy Allen in this movie even back in 1987, but I love that character.  She just sort of dives right in next to RoboCop, but with some low-bid body armor and a pack of chewing gum to protect her.  And, she's the first to recognize Murphy as well as see him as a fellow officer.

The movie is full of great talent in addition to Nancy Allen.  Of course Peter Weller, but a pre Twin Peaks Ray Wise.  Ronny Cox.  Dan O'Herlihy.  Kurtwood Smith is freaking fantastic.  And, one of my favorites, Miguel Ferrer in a signature role as the hyper-ambitious corporate ladder-climber, Bob Morton.

Verhoeven knows his way around an action sequence, and RoboCop definitely delivered for the folks who came looking for car chases, gun battles, robot fights and whatnot.  No complaints there.  But it does also feature 2 completely separate and mirroring scenes of first Murphy and the RoboMurphy weaponless and hopelessly outnumbered as he's gunned down by first criminals and then his fellow officers.  The violence doesn't just drive the story, it's contextual.

Nearly three decades after its release, there are folks who I think appreciate Verhoeven's movie for what it tried to do - to be bigger than a straightforward actioner, to create a world that's a comment on our own.  I've not seen the 2014 remake, but it seemed to have dropped not just much of the satire, but the story of recovering humanity in the wake of total loss.  Just seeing he kept the hand in the new movie told me "eh, it really doesn't seem like they watched that original all that closely...".

So, here's to RoboCop.  Accept no substitutes.


horus said...

yes. best movie ever. all hail robocop

Matt A. said...

I remember going to see RoboCop in the theater when it first came out in Austin. There was only one theater willing to show it because it had so much bad press about the level of violence in it. I'm surprised that it's remembered for making money. Did it end up doing well at the box office?

The League said...

According to Box Office Mojo, it did quite well.

$53 million on a $13 million budget.

I saw it in Ishpeming, Michigan during a two week family vacation to see the grandparents. Jason and I were some of the only people in the theater. I knew it was Rated-R, but didn't think much of it until, well, the horrible, horrible violence unspooled and then I was glad my mom had just dumped us off and gone to run errands.