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.

The Monolith Monsters

A while back, I wrote a little retrospective on a director, Jack Arnold, who had directed quite a few B-movies for Universal Studios that I love watching every so often.  Most of them were part of a DVD collection that I own called “The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection.”

As I’ve mentioned many times, I enjoy going to the Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood, mostly for the back lot tour that highlights a lot of old sets and stages.  From the Psycho house and motel set to Wysteria Lane (formerly the street that included the “Leave it to Beaver” house), the tour brings back memories of my childhood as I watched a lot of television and movies that used those sets.

I’ve also declared in the past that my favorite film franchise is the Back to the Future trilogy which was filmed mostly in the Universal Studios back lot, especially Courthouse Square--that’s where the scenes of Doc and Marty are trying to get the time machine back to 1985, while Doc is hanging off the clock tower on top of the courthouse.  Many famous films and television shows have used that area for certain scenes and whenever I pass that area in the tram tour, I become transfixed.
One cool movie from the 1950s which uses that set almost entirely throughout the film is The Monolith Monsters.  I’d mentioned that I had written a retrospective of Jack Arnold and, although he didn’t direct this one, he had a hand in writing it.

The film takes place in, and near, the small desert (fictional) town of San Angelo.  A meteor comes down and explodes in the nearby desert.  A local geologist drives through the next morning and sees some of the unusual pieces of rock that came from the downed meteor and takes a sample back to his office in town.  The next day when the lead geologist, Dave Miller, comes back from a business trip, he finds his colleague hardened into rock, dead.  Miller also finds the sample of rock that had
grown and destroyed the office.  As a little local girl is found under the rubble of a house destroyed by the same type of rock—which has multiplied infinitely—and has been stricken with whatever killed Miller’s colleague, Miller finds out that the rock matter when in contact with water, multiplies the rocks and causes anyone in contact with them to suffer the same fate as his colleague and the girl.  Miller also comes to find out that the meteor rock in the desert hills are multiplying, growing into giants pillars with the rainfall, and are on a collision course with the small town as they keep growing and falling over, coming closer and closer.  He then has to race against time to figure out how to save the girl and to stop the giant rocks from crushing the town.

Directed by John Sherwood, who’d only directed three features in his career, the film is well done and takes the B-movie subject matter by injecting a serious tone into it.  You may recognize the lead in the film, Grant Williams, as the star of The Incredible Shrinking Man, but he was definitely a genuine leading man back then before his life was cut short at the age of 53.  He had quite a presence and probably made this film more serious and interesting than if someone else had played this character.

Now, I was a little fooled when I first saw the title as the second feature on The Incredible Shrinking Man disc, because I thought it was going to be your typical monster movie with giant creatures coming to eat people or something of that caliber.  Instead, the growing rocks in the film are the monsters, they resemble monoliths.  So when put together, you get the name of the film.
Overall, there’s really nothing special about this film except for the nostalgia of these atomic age films that we’ve seen so many times, but it’s quite an original story and that’s what makes it interesting.  Much like Tarantula or Them!, the film is about a threat that needs to be killed or thwarted, so this film doesn’t disappoint in that aspect.  For me, seeing the Courthouse Square predominantly throughout this flick warms my heart, looking amazing as it hasn’t changed a bit in 50 years or so.  To me, it’s just like watching a home movie.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’ve invested so much time on the tram ride that drives through the back lot of Universal Studios, but it’s just a special place in my heart.

To people who do not like watching black & white movies—and I’ve met quite a few people who just absolutely refuse to watch one—you should skip it.  But for those of you with an open mind and who like to watch these oldies, especially from the 50s, this is a great watch.  I really can’t understand why people would refuse to watch a black & white movie.  I’d had a conversationPsycho.  After I told him it was a black & white movie from 1960, he said he probably wouldn’t watch it, even after I gave him my DVD copy when I bought the Blu-Ray.  I guess it’s just beyond me.
with a coworker one time regarding the film,

My final “bit” on The Monolith Monsters?

A black & white movie from the 1950s is my cup of tea, but it may not be everybody’s.  I guess it’s probably the nostalgia of growing up in the 1970s and watching these types of movies on Saturday afternoons on our black & white TV set, which is probably why I don’t mind watching these types of movies—back then, everything was in black & white.  If you can still find it, I highly recommend purchasing “The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection.”

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

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