Saturday, March 29, 2014

Robocop (1987)

Part man.  Part machine.  All cop.  The future of law enforcement.

The words above were the tag line for this film from 1987 and it rang so true when I’d watched this movie.  It’s a film that still amazes me to this day, with the sci-fi aspect, the practical effects, the gory violence, and the performances, making this a very memorable movie from the year that I had turned 19.

Growing up during the 80s, the best thing I remember about it were the fantastic movies that were released in theaters.  The second two films from the Star Wars trilogy stand out in the early part of the decade, so did E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, parts one through eight of the Friday the 13th franchise, about four sequels of the Halloween series of films, the Back to the Future trilogy, and so many others.

Yes, the 80s were big for horror and sci-fi—all original and nary a remake to be seen (The Thing is the only one I can think of).  But as the 80s were coming to an end, the movies seemed to be coming out more and more, with a lot sci-fi and horror that featured big improvements in special effects.  One of those films was 1987’s Robocop.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, a virtual unknown in Hollywood (at the time), he only directed a handful of films—mostly Dutch films—before being hired to take on this task of making this film.  What he gave us, however, was a classic.  And what a way to jump start his career in American film!  He continued with quite a few hits afterwards, with Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers.  But it’s Robocop that I identify with him the most.

The film begins in a near-futuristic, yet dystopian, Detroit, where crime is skyrocketing and law enforcement is corporately owned by a powerful conglomerate, Omni Consumer Products (OCP), causing the cops of the city to be inimical in their jobs as cops.  Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) transfers to the city’s precinct, partnered with Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), and takes to the streets right away.  Meanwhile, Senior President and second-in-command of OCP, Dick Jones (Ronnie Cox), tries to introduce a new weapon for OCP to sell to the military, an enforcement droid, dubbed ED-209, but it malfunctions, killing a junior exec during a presentation.  Seeing his chance, another junior executive, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), explains to the OCP Chairman (Dan O’Herlihy) how he has a “Robocop” program that he can have ready to go within 90 days once he gets a candidate from the police department.  The chairman agrees to see it and Jones is not happy about being outdone.  Back to Murphy and Lewis going after a getaway from a bank heist, they’re on the trail of Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang of thugs.  They follow them to their hideout in some abandoned industrial factory and, without any backup available, decide to go in to find them.  Splitting up, Murphy finds some of the gang, but is quickly outnumbered and disarmed.  Boddicker shows up, taunts Murphy before shooting his hand off, and soon, the rest of the gang unload their guns on him as well, leaving him for dead.  Murphy is then brought to the hospital and declared dead, but before long, through Murphy’s point-of-view, we see that he’s the candidate for Bob Morton’s “Robocop” program.  Soon, we see that Murphy has been made into a cyborg, half man-half machine, memory wiped and programmed with prime directives: 1. Serve the public trust, 2. Protect the innocent, and 3. Uphold the law.  A fourth, classified directive is programmed as well that comes into play later in the film.  Murphy, as the cyborg police officer, is then dispatched with his own car to carry out his directives, soon catching up with the men who had shot and left him for dead, as he starts to remember, little by little.

Wow, Verhoeven definitely made a name for himself when he directed Robocop, and it’s a wonder he was able to get this movie passed with just an R-rating.  With all the people getting viscerally shot, as blood is being splattered everywhere, it’s amazing.  Especially the scene where Murphy is being mocked by Boddicker as he shoots his hand off, and the joking and laughing as the rest of his hoods are shooting him, I’m surprised the MPAA let this film be released as just an ‘R’ movie.  But that’s what makes this film so special, making the audience get behind Murphy when he goes after each member of Boddicker’s gang, carrying the motivation of what they did to him.  I still get so angry as a certain scene plays out, where after Murphy gets his hand blown off, one of the characters asks, in a mocking voice, “Does it hurt?” as he smiles and laughs afterwards.

What’s great is that Robocop features more than one baddie in it, but it doesn’t get confusing because it’s left black-and-white that Murphy is the protagonist and Boddicker, Jones, and anyone associated with them are the antagonists.  Even as the scene plays out where the police are called in to take out Murphy after he confronts Jones, we know that they’re just following orders straight from Jones, no matter how bogus they feel it is.  Overall, we get a heroic story, complete with a superhero that has a need for vengeance.  For me, any movie that has that formula will score every time.

So many memorable scenes and lines are in this film.  The voice of Peter Weller, himself, is so unforgettable, I can’t see (or hear) anyone else in the roll.  “Your move, creep” is one of the memorable lines in this film, “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me” is another, and as cheesy as they sound, it fits this movie perfectly.

The design of the armor is spectacular and certainly gives the character a tank feel to him, especially with the sound effects accompanying every footstep and movement he makes.  Although, as an adult, I can see that it’s just a bulky suit, probably made of plastic, it’s so streamlined and metallic-looking, it’s still believable that I’m watching a real cybernetic organism walking around and catching bad guys.  Rob Bottin, who had a hand in designing it, should’ve gotten an Oscar for it…I mean, look at the cult status this movie has and how that suit is so recognizable!  We really need to applaud him, if anybody, for the look of this well-known character.

Sometimes, when watching these films from the 80s, especially these fantastical sci-fi flicks where grown men are wearing robot suits and actors all around have to perform their parts seriously around them, it amazes me that these actors take the parts and go with it.  I’ve got to give it to them for putting on such a great act for the audience’s benefit of entertainment.  When you get to the second sequel, it almost seems like a comedy and that’s usually what I expect out of a movie with such a far-out premise.  But Robocop embraces it, as well as the lead actors in this one, and all together we get a great 80s sci-fi flick.

One thing that dates this movie—and I hate to sound nitpicky—is some of the scenes that feature stop motion special effects.  Phil Tippett is famous for his stop-motion effects in the Star Wars films and it’s as real as it’s going to get in this one, but with CGI being as well-known as it is today, and everyone expecting to see it used in scenes with giant robots, watching the stop-motion used when ED-209 is moving around definitely makes this movie seem very old.  But it’s forgivable and easy to get past it, so the movie can still be enjoyed as it was over 25 years ago.

It’s funny…this is the second Paul Verhoeven movie that’s on the remake block, right after the Total Recall debacle that was unceremoniously released last year and forgotten soon after it hit theaters.  I feel that the remake of Robocop, due out in February of 2014 may fall right behind it, but the trailer I’ve seen does look pretty interesting.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

So…my final “bit” on Robocop?

Who is he?  What is he?  Where does he come from?  He’s Alex Murphy.  He’s a cyborg police officer.  He comes from the great minds of Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, writers of this film.  Robocop is no doubt the epic staple of sci-fi cinema from the 1980s.  It doesn’t hold back, didn’t give a shit what its film rating was going to be, it took an outlandish story and made it into
the kickass movie that we know today.  It has heart and soul, great characters you love and some you hate, the chemistry is there within the cast, and above all else, it’s a great time.  If you haven’t watched it, you need to.  And if you tell me that you love it, all I can say in return is…I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR!  You thought I wouldn’t mention that, huh?

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

No comments: