Tuesday, June 19, 2007

ROBOCOP (1987) Movie Review

ROBOCOP (1987)

It is the late nineties in Detroit. Crime has reached an all-time high. The police, try as they might, are powerless to put a dent in the downward spiral of the city. OCP, a corporate conglomerate, who has recently taken charge over local law enforcement, takes the next step in an attempt to reclaim the city and puts into operation RoboCop, an experimental officer that uses the mind of recently killed officer Murphy and puts it into a hulking robotic body. RoboCop is sent out into the streets to clean it up, but when he comes face-to-face with the psychopathic criminals who executed him, it begins to fire up memories of his past. From RoboCop's data crunching CPU comes the faces and dreams of Murphy, which were thought to be erased. As the rest of the police force goes on strike, RoboCop sets out on a one man war to put an end to the corruption that plagues Detroit.

Audiences were lured in to the theatres with the tag line "part man, part machine, all cop" and the expectation of highly-stylized violence. What they got was a cynical look, gingerly sprinkled with dark humor, at the future of America - a future littered with big business, unstoppable crime, complete corruption of the system, and shallow consumers eager to eat up whatever they were told to buy. Most successfully made movies will hint at what it will be about within the first five minutes of the movie. Director Paul Verhoeven, working from a script and story by first time writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, chooses to spend his first five minutes watching television and in the boardroom of OCP.

Verhoeven, using a plot not unlike FRANKENSTEIN as a creation struggles to find independence and free thought for the backdrop, completely skewers the media here, as violence is sensationalized by an almost inhuman and completely unsympathetic broadcasters, and spoonfed in easy to digest sound and video bites. The plot is also moved along via interspersed news broadcasts of RoboCop's exploits. And what news broadcast would be complete without commercials? Verhoeven takes time to look at products of the future, which includes an American car that proudly gets 8.2 MPG ("big is back!") and the Battleship-esque game Nukem ("get them before they get you!"). What is truly frightening about this look into the future is that present-day television has far surpassed Verhoeven's jaded take on it.

However, ROBOCOP does offer its viewers the base violence and gore that viewers eagerly expected from the hedonistic and blood-drenched action pictures of the 80's. It is ironic that while the film condemns those attracted to violence it also serves up some of the most graphically grotesque effects to come out of the era. These were so graphic that ROBOCOP was threatened with an X unless it was trimmed. These now legendary shots, which include Murphy's decimating murder by multiple shotguns wounds and a chillingly real bullet to the head, and the extended slaughter of a boardroom executive by the hulking robot ED-209, were almost completely erased during the film's theatrical run. Whispers of these rumored full scenes floated through had to wait to be seen until home release on laserdisc and later on DVD courtesy of Criterion and currently MGM. And even after twenty years, these have hardly aged, thanks to the superior efforts of film's special effects team.

It is this crew that also brings the heroic RoboCop to the screen, and what a fantastic job they do. In an age where a Commodore Amiga was used for digital effects, in-camera practical effects were what was needed to bring science-fiction to life. Created by wizard Rob Bottin, who previously worked on THE THING and would later go on to TOTAL RECALL and FIGHT CLUB among others, the RoboCop suit is a marvel to look at, and has a real-world functionality to it that does not seem that far-fetched. The results of his hard labor would land him several award nominations, and a win for special effects from the Academy Of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film.

But without the physical acting and presence of star Peter Weller, it is just a costume. Weller, who only spends about ten minutes of the film as a human, ties the entire world the film takes place in together. If he is not believable, everything else falls apart. Fortunately, Weller pulls off an amazing performance, evoking emotion, expression and thought process through gestures and facial expressions. When his face, which is cover for most of the film, is finally revealed, Weller turns his eyes into heartbreaking wells of sadness. He has been forced into this role, and must come to terms with what he has become.

The blending of science-fiction, graphic violence and social commentary would become a trademark of the Netherlands imported director, who was previously known only for his erotic outings in the 70's, if he was known at all. The director even turned down this movie at first, only later reconsidering at the behest of his wife. It is strange to think where, if at all, the ROBOCOP phenomenon and even Verhoeven's career would be had he not listened to her. Thankfully, the final outcome has left the world a thoroughly entertaining slice of cinema that is as relevant today in the middle of a media-obsessed culture with corporate-government hybrid running things as it was when first released in the midst of Reagan's years. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Anonymous said...

I loved this movie when i was a kid, so i saw it last week and my opinion about the movie changed of course...but still a great movie.

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