“I’ll buy THAT for a dollar!”
One of the coolest films to come out of the 1980s was Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic RoboCop. How could you not love the concept of a cyborg cop taking down criminals in old Detroit? Especially with over-the-top violence and satirical humor? This was Verhoeven’s first entirely Hollywood film; he had previously made films in the Netherlands for over a decade before making his English language debut with the mostly Hollywood-funded 1985 film Flesh and Blood (a film that delivers the goods promised in its title). It’s hard to believe that Verhoeven nearly passed up the chance to make RoboCop; his wife was the one who convinced him that there was more to the plot than he initially thought. I first saw RoboCop on the big screen two years ago at a midnight showing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in an old 35mm film print. I was lucky enough to see it again on the big screen (on my birthday this past May), this time at a mid night showing at the IFC Center in a brand new DCP restoration. I enjoyed it very much both times (possibly even more the second time).
RoboCop follows Detroit police officer Alex Murphy in the near future as he is brutally killed by a gang of criminals led by known cop-killer Clarence Boddicker and later revived as a cyborg by the corporation OCP to become the ultimate law enforcer known as RoboCop. I liked the design of the RoboCop costume. Rob Bottin did an excellent job with the design as well as making it movable (well, as movable as possible; I’m aware of how constricting and hot it was on the inside of the costume). I’m also fascinated by the concept of a RoboCop. RoboCop is like a reversal of sorts of the Terminator; the Terminator is flesh on the outside and machine on the inside while RoboCop is a machine on the outside and flesh (to an extent) on the inside. Whereas the Terminator was a villain, RoboCop would be a hero. The Terminator represents (and is also from) an apocalyptic, bleak future, whereas RoboCop is meant to represent the future of law enforcement in the very near future. It’s interesting to note that RoboCop came along three years after the release of James Cameron’s The Terminator, and that the first trailer released for RoboCop actually featured music from The Terminator (Orion Pictures produced both films).
The performances from the cast are just top-notch. Peter Weller plays it straight as the heroic Alex Murphy/Robocop, Nancy Allen is terrific as Murphy’s partner Anne Lewis, Kurtwood Smith is slimy as Clarence Boddicker, and Ronny Cox is over-the-top corporate evil as Dick Jones. There’s also Miguel Ferrer as Bob Morton, Dan O’Herlihy as “the Old Man” (the head of OCP), Robert DoQui as Sergeant Warren Reed, and the members of Boddicker’s gang (including Ray Wise as Leon and Paul McCrane as Emil). The special effects work, led by veteran Phil Tippett, is still impressive even today (particularly those seamless matte paintings and the ED-209). The film rightfully earned an Oscar nod for its sound mixing and was even awarded a Special Achievement Oscar for its sound editing. Rob Bottin’s makeup designs were impressive (one in particular was disgustingly fun). Frank J. Urioste’s Oscar-nominated film editing keeps the film moving at a great pace, and Jost Vacano’s cinematography is first-rate.
The violence is wonderfully over-the-top, as is the dark humor and the Jesus references. Murphy goes through two death-and-resurrection phases in the film and at one point even walks on water (in a giant, shallow puddle, but it’s still effective when seen on screen). The screenplay by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner takes aim at such topics as gentrification (OCP plans to turn old Detroit into Delta City, displacing poorer citizens with wealthier ones), corporate greed and corruption (Dick Jones does whatever it takes to accomplish his goals, including hiring Boddicker and his gang to commit murder), privatization (OCP owning the police department), and identity (Murphy re-discovering the man he was while coming to terms with the man he’s become). Basil Poledouris wrote a classic score, mixed with orchestra and synthesizer work. RoboCop himself gets a heroic, brass-heavy theme (and at times, the hammering of anvil can be heard in the theme). Overall, RoboCop is one of the best films of the 1980s and is one of Paul Verhoeven’s finest directorial efforts. Do not pass up the chance to see this film (especially on the big screen), and skip the remake.