A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 388 – Robocop

Robocop – March 23rd, 2011

Over the course of this project so far I’ve had a chance to really think about the movies I’ve seen and how I think about them and remember them. Some of our movies are old favorites I know I’ll always love. Some are things I’ve only seen once or twice. Some are things I’ve actively avoided for one reason or another. And some are things that have simply slipped past me. This is one of the latter. I know. I am ashamed. But the thing is, up until we make our list and I went through it and noted what I’d seen and what I hadn’t, I sort of assumed I had seen this movie. I’ve seen so many movies, after all. And it’s Robocop! It’s iconic! How could I not have seen it?

And yet. When I considered it, I realized that I had never sat down and watched this movie all the way through from start to finish. Oh, I’d seen clips. I’d seen bits and pieces from various points. I knew the major players and the plot and a bunch of lines. But it was all from flipping channels or it being on in the background while I was doing something else. Someone was watching it when I was in the room and I absorbed some of it by osmosis without actually paying attention to it, I suppose. I feel like having missed actually watching this earlier takes away from my geek cred a bit. But then, on the other hand, I’m doing this whole movie watching thing. That should redeem quite a bit, I think.

It should also redeem me a bit to have now seen it all the way through. And yes, there was a fair bit that I already knew and had seen. But there was also quite a lot that I hadn’t. For instance, while the plot with Murphy being shot up in the line of duty and then rebuilt into Robocop was one I knew, I’d managed to entirely miss the satiric quality to much of the movie. The plot as it stands isn’t so much satirical as flat out action, but there are some clever nods in the details. Every time the news broadcast was shown, along with commercials for things like a board game called Nukem? I felt like I was watching Kentucky Fried Movie. And then it would go back to the plot with the cybernetic cop and the corrupt weapons tech corporation and the only way those two can merge together well is if they’re both poking at things a bit.

I really like the quietly satirical action sci-fi thing this movie has going on. I knew I liked the concept of a bad-ass cybernetic cop taking on the scum of Detroit, but the little touches of humor just make it better. And even better still, it doesn’t mishandle the more serious aspects. I mean, it doesn’t look like it’s going to have anything serious about it. It looks like it’s going to be action and explosions and a robotic cop. But there’s some stuff going on in the script with Murphy realizing he’s lost the memories of his life before he became Robocop and I credit Peter Weller for a good performance there. It’s not inconsistent with the character he’s played thus far and it doesn’t bog the movie down. It just gives it a little more emotional heft.

But really, strip away the satire and the emotion and you’ve got a revenge movie. After all, the movie focuses on Murphy/Robocop taking out the gang who originally killed him. And he starts out by just doing the job he was programmed to do: Stopping crimes. The revenge bit builds up nicely, with Robocop becoming less the machine he’s been made into and more a melding of the machine and what he’s retained from Murphy. And as he changes his need to get the guys who killed him grows. And still, while there is a theme of revenge, it’s also clearly an imperative for him to get these guys because they’re criminals and because he’s a cop and that’s what he does. It’s all just so nicely balanced.

This movie surprised me in a couple of places. I expected things like ED 209 and the staircase, and I knew I’d like Murphy’s partner, Lewis, but be left wanting to see more of her. Things like the satire and Robocop calling a rape crisis center for an assault victim? Not so much. And all in one movie. It’s a little bare in the area of character development for everyone but Murphy himself, but it’s about Murphy’s journey from cop to Robocop, so that’s not a problem for me. It does manage to set the tone, explain the setting and give a well written plot in and amongst the action scenes, and that on its own is impressive. I’m certainly glad for the excuse to actually sit down and watch it instead of just hearing it behind me. It’s worth paying attention to for the details as well as for Robocop himself.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Robocop

March 23, 2011

Robocop

I can’t believe what a joy it is to be watching this movie again. I have a long history with this movie and I may have watched it more than any other movie we own. I was fifteen years old when this came out and it was only the third R-rated movie I saw in the theater, and the first one rated R for violence. (The first two had been Airplane II: The Sequel and DC Cab – starring Mr. T!) When I first saw it I was horrified by the excessive gore. I was a fairly sensitive fifteen-year-old and seeing Buckaroo Banzai’s hand and arm blown off in vivid detail was difficult for me. The next year, though, we got a VHS copy of Robocop in the AV at my high school. It was one of a few non-educational movies that somehow made it into the AV stacks and my friends and I watched the HELL out of this movie. Over and over and over again. It was almost always on in the background while there was anybody in the AV. (This or Clockwork Orange or Amadeus.) We watched it backwards and forwards. Using the high end editing decks in the AV we stepped through the movie frame by frame. I know every shot, every line, every moment of this movie.

The astonishing thing is that the movie is good enough to withstand that kind of scrutiny. I mean, it’s a Paul Verhoven cheesefest about a cyborg police officer in the not too distance future. It’s full of gratuitous violence, silly spoof ads, drug use and profanity. In spite of all that (and perhaps to some degree because of it) this movie oozes pure cool.

The plot is surprisingly nuanced. Sure there’s the main stupid action movie about a dedicated police officer killed in the line of duty and brought back as a cyborg crime fighting machine, but there’s so much more. There’s cut throat office politics between rival officers in OCP, the corporation that has privatized the Detroit police force and is trying to commercialize on the business of law enforcement. There’s commentary on the business of crime, with none too subtle implications that the chief villain, Dick Jones, sees no difference between criminal enterprises and the world of business. (It’s an eighties thing I think.) There’s also a sort of tragic and haunted feel to Robocop himself as he begins to become aware that he used to have a human life which is lost to him now. All of this is artfully put together in a wonderful script that it both playful and insightful.

Edward Neumeier carefully lays out all the various plot elements in advance so that all the exposition and foreshadowing in the first third of the movie is actually entertaining and all the plot threads fit together very organically. I’d say that it is a perfect example of movie storytelling where every line and action plays a part in setting the stage for future developments. Right from the beginning we know there’s going to be a police strike because we hear the officers talking about it. We’re given several iconic habits that officer Murphy has that will be part of Robocop as well. It’s not a movie that relies on tricks or surprises but rather one that builds steadily towards an inevitable conclusion.

Peter Weller’s performance is one of the highlights. Confined to a restrictive, hot, bulky and heavy suit he is by turns the ultimate badass, a haunted shell of a man, and a vengeful force of nature. That he was able to convey so much with just his mouth showing for most of the movie is a marvelous acting accomplishment.

Indeed everything about Robocop himself is cool. I’d say he’s as awesome today as he was twenty five years ago. The great sound design works with Peter’s determined robotic movements to give him a sense of unstoppable weight. The POV camera they use for him with his DOS based HUD was retro even in 1987. He’s the ultimate super hero, really, pitted against corruption and impossible odds. What’s not to like about that?

Then there’s Verhoven’s direction. It’s his usual mix of oddball satirical humor over the top gore (or over the top nudity in the case of Showgirls) and obscenity, but in this case it clicks. He does a wonderful job of teasing and slowly revealing Robocop. We see him out of the corner of our eye in a television monitor or through warped glass or from behind before the final reveal. The anticipation of discovering what Murphy has become is wonderful, and the montage of crime fighting as he goes about his duty is great fun.

The special effects deserve special note as well. Particularly the integration of the stop-motion ED-209 with the live action. For a stop motion model ED-209 is wonderfully menacing, and surprisingly funny. You have to love the work of Phil Tippett.

God. What a completely fantastic film. And what an iconic one. Look in IMDB at all the pop culture references to this film. It is something that resonated with my entire generation and is firmly entrenched in the public consciousness. I’ve seen this movie so many times that I feel it’s almost a part of the very process of my growing up, it’s a part of my life in a way. I find it gratifying that so many other people have these same associations and this same appreciation for a stand-out and fantastic super hero. Witness the recent efforts to commission a statue in Robocop’s honor to inspire the flagging morale of the city of Detroit. Detroit needs Robocop indeed.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments