Robocop (1987) dir. Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Miguel Ferrer, Kurtwood Smith, Ronnie Cox
By Alan Bacchus
I grew up watching Robocop, a lot. I mean A LOT. To the point of being able to quote the entire movie. Rewatching it again, I still knew all the lines, but is it really that quotable, or memorable if I wasn't an impressionable 12 year old? How does it stand up to adult eyes? Surprisingly well.
As it did back then, the mixture of childish and silly comic book sensabilities with wholly disturbing graphic violence feels like an irrresponsible problem child let loose to run amuck. In this case the child was Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch filmmaker who had made a name for himself in Europe with a number of salacious and trashy films about sex and violence.
In his first American film, Verhoeven brought a cold and dirty working class aesthetic to go along with his flare with the camera. He and DOP Jost Vacano’s visual pallette is almost exclusively greys and blues, with little or no colour at all in the frames. Verhoeven use of steadycam is effective, a constantly moving camera which is more rough and shakey than the traditional smooth and elegant feeling of the device.
The peformances are as gritty and truly delicious, especially the baddies. Ronnie Cox’s dispicable Omni Consumer Products VP, Richard (Dick) Jones is awesome, but bested by Kurtwood Smith’s terrifying yet charasmatic performance as the drug boss Clarence Boddicker. Who can forget when he playfully blows Murphy’s hand-off with a shotgun, singing, 'na-na-na-na-na'. Boddicker’s cronies which includes Twin Peaks alum Ray Wise and ER alum Paul Crane are just as dispicable and nasty. But it’s Miguel Ferrer’s performance as the egomaniacal creator of Robocop, Bob Morton, the epitome of white collar revulsion aggression which is the most memorable.
Although it’s not indicated on the packaging of the new Fox/MGM Blu-Ray edition, which contains all three Robocop films, the first film is indeed the director’s cu, which Robocop fans know is the ONLY version of the film they would be satisfied with. For those who haven't memorized the film, there’s only a handful of frames added to the original, but enough violence and bloodshed to send the film way over the top – the most graphic addition shows the head of the Rob Bottin-created Peter Weller mock-up exploding from Clarence Boddicker’s fatal gunshot. Ouch.
I don’t know how much of the violence was in the script, but writers Michael Miner and Ed Neumeier certainly take an accurate pulse of the 1980’s corporate malfeasance, as well as say, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street did that same year, but with a more cookey and deranged comic book sensability. Whether its the privatization of the police, which has not yet happened, but a semi-privatization of the military/security in Iraq is not that far off base, the cutthroat corporate battle between the white collar assholes, Dick Jones and Bob Morton, or even good ol’ coke snorting off hooker's tits – it’s 80’s excess to the max, thank God for that.
I can’t imagine any filmmaker today getting away with shocking level of violence and depravity from a tentpole film such as this. In today's climate Robocop would have been turned into a lunchbox friendly kids flick. But the Black Swan's Darren Aronofsky is currently tapped as the new helmer of the reboot, so the future looks bright for the franchise. Whether it actually comes to fruition is questionable.
Look out for more Robocop coverage in the next couple of weeks.
The Robocop Trilogy is available on Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.