Robocop (1987) is widely considered one of the best films of that year by far, however who knows if the contemporary remake can stand up to this significant piece of 80’s culture. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven originally wanted nothing to do with Robocop as he discarded the script, calling it shallow and hollow as a premise. However, persuaded otherwise by his wife he began to realize Robocop actually has some interesting depictions and ideals within it. Why I mention that it because at an audience level Robocop could be seen as a fairly generic text, when it could be argued it has quite a lot to say about society, law, and the film culture of the 80’s.
Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is a cop, transferred to a rough district in Detroit as he begins to patrol with partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). On their first patrol they encounter a bunch of wanted criminals but have no back-up. These streets are owned by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). They trap the pair of police officers in an abandoned warehouse as they brutally slaughter Alex Murphy. The blood, and the sheer amount of violence was definitely quite unprecedented. Throughout there is frequent blood and gore throughout Robocop, because it characterizes the world they exist in as one that can only be tamed by excessive violence. It’s quite a powerful statement. In the end, is there really that much difference between Robocop and ED-209? They’re both machines just programmed to kill. Although while violent, I guess in the end the ideology is liberal in his reduction of this powerful corporate figure, and the ends do justify the means.
Robocop’s story feels quite unique at its crux. I think it can be dissected down to a few basic elements. 1) The Revenge film. A protagonist is beaten almost to death, as the story builds up to him delivering justice, or alternatively his family has been killed and he tries to avenge them. Robocop has elements of this cliche’d story in a fairly mild three act structure along with elements of metamorphosis. That basic premise of when a character changes for the worst and is afraid to face his friends an family as a result ala The Fly (1958) for example. What’s particularly odd is that we never see Robocop’s son or wife as a viewer I expected that to be an integral part of his revenge, realizing that he can never function as part of his family ever again.
Critically, when watching Robocop it can be said that the whole ‘robo’ part of it as actually highly irrelevant. It’s cool in some ways but ultimately it’s the story, the harsh gripping-plot, and truly detestable characters that drive Robocop forward. Robocop’s three laws can be seen as a basic reconfiguration of science fiction mastermind Isaac Azimov’s three laws of robotics.
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
The idea of the three laws is a basic concept that robots would have a clear set of guidelines in order to prevent human casualty or endangerment. However, we must ponder how Robocop actually has the free will to actively decide to alter his logic systems in the first place? Are we just to assume it’s a hideous design fault by those trusty folks at OCP? Last thing I’d like to talk about is evil corporations. It’s a cliche scattered all over commercial cinema, but one that only really became popular to use in the last three decades or so. I find it bizarre how in western films consumerism is often the villain, yet it’s something we live by so actively in day to day life. In Robocop, the head of OCP, Richard Jones is technically more a villain than Boddicker, because he actually funds their whole operation while keeping them immune from any consequences. I’d assume it’s a part of 70’s revisionist culture alongside Watergate and Vietnam, in which society lost trust in basically anyone with any kind of executive power. That’s why Robocop is so interesting, strong liberalism themes in a police drama, corrupt consumerism and crime stopped by presumably millions of dollars of state of the art technology? Very oxymoronic.
Summary: Robocop is an important piece of culture, a venture between science fiction and the cop drama, showing that generic hybridity can enhance a film, not just weaken it. It has strong themes of ideology, but not in basic form, it’s very thought provoking and open to interpretation. It’s action sequences are unique, and the snappy one-liners are quite amusing. I don’t feel the sequel is a good idea, and i’m not entirely sure how the concept can be built upon as it was highly successful in the first place. Also I don’t really think the mix of brutality, and odd and strange ideas will work outside the context of the very transitional 80’s. We’ll have to wait until 2014 for that I suppose. Thanks for tuning in, and please Like/Comment/Follow, and Follow me on twitter @Sams_Reel_Views. Cheers.