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Year of release
1987

Directed by
Paul Verhoeven

Written by
Edward Neumeier
Michael Miner

Starring
Peter Weller
Ronny Cox
Kurtwood Smith
Nancy Allen
Miguel Ferrer


RoboCop



Plot – In a crime-ridden and dystopian future, the city of Detroit is run by a large corporation by the name of OCP (Omni Consumer Products). When they buy over the Detroit police department, they make it their goal to introduce a robotic solution to the crime spree problem that is plaguing “Old Detroit”. Veteran cop Alex Murphy (Weller) is transferred to the department and partnered with Anne Lewis (Allen). While on the track of a vicious gang led by Clarence Boddicker (Smith), Murphy is cornered and brutally killed, becoming the prime candidate for OCP's robotic solution; a fusing of a human body and a steel shell to create Robocop. This new crime-fighting cyborg is initially a huge success, but before long Murphy's memories being to seep through and he becomes intent on revenge against the gang that killed him. They aren't the only ones responsible however; in league with them is OCP president Dick Jones (Ronny Cox).

There are two ways to watch and enjoy this classic slice of sci-fi from Paul Verhoeven. If you're just looking for some mindless action film with stuff blowing up this will do the job; just switch off your brain, sit back and enjoy. However if you wish, the film can also serve as a highly entertaining, and very smart satire. The majority of this satire is achieved through the commercials and news reports which just randomly interrupt the film. And even though this film is now over a quarter of a century old it's all still pretty relevant. The newscasts talk of a society in chaos, and the ads highlight amongst other things society's attitude towards violence and it's use in popular culture, particularly when it's aimed at kids (gotta love the board game Nuke Em!). It's a film that presents spectacular violence, while also satirizing it. There is also an ad satirizing the apparently common need for Americans to drive big gas-guzzlers, with the 6000 SUX (not SUV but SUX, I'm guessing done quite deliberately) the big new car in town.

Alongside the ads there is also the general satire of big corporations, the people they employ and their effect on society. The employees at OCP think nothing of killing each other off to advance their careers, while the corporations as a whole are taking over the whole world. Everything is being privatised with profit the only consideration. The police department should be a noble entity but under OCP it is purely seen as a business and a money-making venture. And the executives at these big companies work side by side with the lowest criminals on the street, for this film there is no difference between them.

Film trivia – Unsurprisingly much of the production's focal point was placed upon the realisation of the Robocop suit. Indeed so important to the film was the suit that it actually influenced the casting. Arnold Schwarzenegger was briefly considered for the role of RoboCop, but those involved with the film were concerned he would be too bulky in the suit and end up resembling the Michelin Man. Michael Ironside was likewise considered for the role, but the idea was abandoned when it was realised they would need an actor with a much smaller frame to fit the suit. And perhaps losing out on the role wouldn't have been that bad for Peter Weller. The suit was so hot and heavy that Weller was losing 3 lbs a day from water loss. Eventually, an air conditioner was installed in the suit for his comfort.
The action is fantastic, delightfully overblown and gratuitous stuff. Though initially it comes as a bit of a shock until you get into the swing of things. The first really significant moment of violence is a truly brutal one. It sees Murphy at the mercy of Boddicker's gang who begin to systematically dismantle him with gun shots to various parts of his body. It's really quite harrowing stuff. I am never bothered by violence or gore on screen, and rarely have I ever been; it's something I'm completely desensitised to. This scene however left an indelible mark on my mind when I stumbled across it on TV as a kid. The moment his hand gets blown off was seared into my memory.

The film also features one of my favourite ever big screen deaths. It's a film that features quite a few memorable and brutal deaths, such as the moment where the ED-209 malfunctions or Murphy's vicious slaying which I already mentioned. However, above anything else is the death of one of Boddiccker's cronies, Emil. Hunting down RoboCop at an abandoned steel mill, Emil is driving a truck and attempts to run down Robo when he crashes into a large vat of toxic waste. Just when we think that might be the end for him he emerges from the back of the van looking like some mutant from a 50s B-movie with his skin dripping off. And then as if he wasn't already having a bad enough day, a car comes along and crashes into him, turning him into an exploding ball of goop which showers the car. Awesome!!!

Film trivia – Turns out Robocop actually did help fight crime, though not in a manner than anyone could have envisaged. In Sacramento, California a robbery suspect fleeing police attempted to hide in a dark movie theatre. Things went wrong for him however when he became so engrossed in the movie on screen, Robocop, that he failed to notice that police had evacuated all of the other patrons from the theatre. They then flipped on the lights, stunning the man who was then taken into custody.
For a film of this nature, almost as important as a strong hero to root for (if not equally so) is a villain or group of villains that we can rejoice in seeing defeated. And this film has some crackers; a gang of tremendously detestable villains that we just delight in seeing killed off. Leading the way is Red Foreman (well technically it's Kurtwood Smith, but he will always be the grumpy dad from That 70s Show to me) as the truly despicable Clarence Boddicker. There are very few villains creepier, sleazier or more repugnant than this piece of trash. And he's probably the charmer of the group! Alongside him are a series of unseemly but colourful characters such as the unfortunate Emil whose demise I already discussed. Almost as loathsome as Boddicker is Ronny Cox's OCP executive, Dick Jones. He may wear a suit and look classier than the street criminals he associates with but this smarmy b**tard is just as contemptuous a creature as they are.

The design for Robocop himself is just perfect. From the mind of visual effects and make-up artist Rob Bottint, it's actually quite a simple design, but so evocative and iconic. The suit is a great piece of technology that is both very intimidating and even scary for the criminals, but it retains just enough of Murphy's humanity to ensure it stays sympathetic and oddly loveable. No matter the creators original intentions at no point do we feel it is merely a heartless machine doling out justice. There's still a human heart in there somewhere. And in congruence with the suit itself in creating this human element is Peter Weller's performance. Initially coming across as a cocky smart-ass when he's Alex Murphy, when he dons the Robocop armour a much more sympathetic character emerges. It's a tragic, haunted man who is deeply damaged. Murphy may have difficult to really care for, but Robocop is someone we can get behind and support. Oh and Bottin's make-up job on Weller when the visor/helmet element of the suit is removed is an astonishing accomplishment.

Conclusion – One of the best films of the 80s which thrills with its action, and delights with its satirical edge. It really is such a smart film, so much more so than you would ever believe from a film with a name like Robocop. I said it's one of the best of the 80s, I also think it's perhaps one of the most under-rated, some people perhaps only remembering it for its violence than its intelligence.