A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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March 23, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Red Forman is EVIL, man.

    Comment by Josh | March 24, 2011 | Reply

  2. Geez, I’d forgotten Kurtwood Smith was in this…and to think he was once President of the Federation too…

    Great review — but how can any review of the movie not include kudos to the filmmakers for that dramatic presentation of the dangers of being doused with toxic waste and then hit by a car? I’ll tell you, I stayed away from toxic waste after seeing this movie, boy howdy…

    Comment by Jeff | March 24, 2011 | Reply


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