The future of law enforcement had a name and that name was RoboCop, a franchise that exploded from a successful sleeper hit but never achieved the glory its producers sought. It’s not hard to imagine that 30 years later it can still bring a smile to any person’s face. Whether it’s the quotable lines, the over-the-top violence, or badass screen takedowns, RoboCop is easy to remember. Then came the sequels, the cartoons inexplicably Rated G from an R-Rated film, toys, and eventually a painful live action series. RoboCop has lived many lives, and not all of them are watchable.
On Second Thought
Paul Verhoeven took one look at the script and felt disgusted, and that right there perfectly sums up why RoboCop is excellent. The violence, the goofiness of the character’s name, and the preposterous nature of robots in the Police seems like just the recipe for a junk script. Verhoeven’s wife convinced him to read it again. The script was by Edward Neumeier (who also wrote Starship Troopers with Verhoeven) and Michal Miner. Neumeier came up with the idea after seeing a poster for Blade Runner. Neumeier and Miner met each other later and combined script ideas to create RoboCop and dump the original title – Supercop.
The film drew inspiration from 2000AD and Judge Dredd (The original RoboCop costume design was a near mimic). Ironically, while the movie skewers right-wing ideas of privatisation, some see the story as fascist. Later Verhoeven and Neumeier would be violent and deliberately fascist with Starship Troopers, a classic that only happened thanks to RoboCop.
Blood And Steel
Peter Weller and the suit from hell could be its own article. Weller was not the first choice for the role of Alex Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rutger Hauer had been favoured originally. Weller had an ability to be cold and monotone, and yet his face was expressive enough to convey emotions for the lower half of RoboCop’s face. Weller was in agony when he first put the suit on, it was too heavy and he could barely move. The director tried to hide the hip swivel of the costume. Catching a set of keys thrown in a scene required over 60 takes thanks to the gloves. An air conditioner had to be installed inside as Weller would bake inside, leading him to lose significant weight. Yet the costume is iconic, a credit to designer Rob Bottin. Weller learned from a mime how to move his head like a hummingbird, and he remains the best Robocop in the franchise.
Weller was not the only shining light of RoboCop; Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox, and Miguel Ferrer are all paramount to the quality of the film. Allen was picked by Verhoeven after another actress dropped out, and the director worked with Allen to desexualise her role. Her Anne Lewis would join a pantheon of strong women in sci-fi films who were not a love interest and the equal of their onscreen counterpart. Ferrer played the Robocop conceptualist and yuppie Bob Morton, and his part was actually expanded due to his charisma. Smith was cast as the villain as he usually played intellectual characters, as Clarence Boddicker he was a thug. Cox who usually played ‘nice guys’ was the perfect alpha male business leader. It was a cast that simply electrified. Add in the great soundtrack from Basil Poledouris and you get the perfect behind the scenes team…sort of.
On a $13 million budget, RoboCop encountered budget problems and painful fights behind the scenes. Verhoeven drove the crew insane by own his admission with a Stanley Kubrick level of evil; one time forcing the special effects team to explode a wall repeatedly to get the perfect shoot-out scene. The Fire Department was called in by accident, and the production almost fined for a petrol station explosion that almost got out of hand. Even post production had its issues, Neumier ran into trouble with the law after leaving hand grenade props in a house while moving, the new family that moved in had the fright of their life. Yet when the movie finally screened it was both a box office and critical success.
The lunacy of the violence, the bleak and satirical comedy, and the brilliant reflection of the future from the paradigm of 80’s America makes RoboCop a classic. The violence of the film led to an XXX rating, some last minute cuts toned it down to an R-Rating. Decades later it would be uncensored which you can witness in this link. Be warned: it will shock you, and yet it is hilarious! That is the genius of the film, it has a sense of humour about itself. One-liners that are so quotable: “I’d buy that for a dollar”, ‘Come quietly or there will be…trouble’, and of course, ‘Bitches leave!’. It became a favourite of Police in America leading to special screenings. According to Verhoeven, some audiences screamed the final line in-sync with RoboCop at the end of the movie. It won an Oscar for sound editing, with a further two other nominations.
Despite being an R-Rated movie, the merchandise was marketed to children. There was even an 80’s cartoon produced based on the film and a Marvel comics series. This targeting of children led to RoboCop 2 being toned down in terms of violence, and the eventual catastrophe of RoboCop 3 which would jettison the maturity entirely to fully target families. The sequels were progressively worse, amazingly written by Frank Miller of Sin City, Wolverine, Daredevil and Batman comics fame. Miller would score a great hit with Robocop vs The Terminator, only as a comic but perfect for fanboys. For the fan base, the franchising of Robocop represented a fundamental misinterpretation of the character, and by the time the live action family friendly Robocop TV series came to air the franchise had lost its edge completely. The picture below perfectly summarizes the fan base’s feelings about what happened to their favourite franchise…
Three decades later, RoboCop represents the pinnacle of R-rated sci-fi/action films. Deadpool has been held up as the example to prove the viability of the market, but RoboCop did it first in 1987. Verhoeven is still making films, Neumeier is still a writer, and Weller has become a director and Academic. Yes, you read that correctly. All of the living cast and crew reflect fondly on their experience and on the impact of the film. The attempted remake missed the brilliance of the original as well as the violence, but at the very least they tried to go deeper into Alex Murphy’s humanity. RoboCop, the 1987 edition, is a must have…as long as you’re old enough to handle it. The film is the apex of a style of film-making only the 80’s could give us.
I’d buy that for a dollar.