“You’re going to be a bad mothercrusher.”
“Once I even called him…airhead.”
“I’m sick of this…baloney.”
“Fwhy me, fwhy me, fwhy me, fwhy me.”
The first time I watched Robocop, phrases like this and more awaited me. It was a Saturday night, the movie was premiering on British television, via the ITV network, and they had decided to purchase the American television version. I was nine or ten years old. At the time the cuts didn’t bother me, I simply wanted to watch Robocop.
Robocop, released in 1987, is NOT a children’s movie, something I learned to my disappointment when my mum and dad point-blank refused to let me rent it on video.
How could this movie not be for me? The VHS cover, which consisted of an image of the coolest looking robot standing next to a police car, looked like the best movie ever and it was such a disappointment that I could never put my eyes on it. There was an animated series that I watched and I had toys associated with the franchise. How could I not watch it? Of course Robocop, like Aliens and Terminator 2, was an R-rated movie that ended up having some of its marketing pitched at a young audience who were legally not allowed to watch it in certain territories. In the UK you had to be 18 and that was so unfair.
The television version, which marked my first viewing of the movie, basically made the film almost family friendly and featured re-dubbed swear words that have to be seen to be believed, whilst the notorious levels of violence are pretty much non-existent.
Upon watching the uncut version in my teen years, I was SHOCKED. The film was incredibly bloody, darkly adult, and featured limbs being blown off, a character snorting cocaine of a woman’s breasts and most surreal of all, Rocket Romano from ER being covered in acid, starting to melt and then being hit by a car and exploding all over it. The scene was practically deleted from the television version. McCrane goes into the acid, but you never see him come out and he’s never seen in the television version again.
Teetering on the brink of exploitation cinema (a man is murdered, comes back to life, and through the course of the movie gets revenge on those who killed him), Robocop transcends its potential for being simply a B-Movie (something many of those behind the scenes were worried about, especially in regards to its title) and turns into something approaching a work of art. Without a doubt one of the best film’s of the 1980’s, Robocop is thrilling, dark, hilarious and yet, amazingly, deeply, deeply moving.
It manages to combine vicious levels of violence, with deeper themes, great action and wonderful blasts of satiric humour with great aplomb. The script from Michael Miner and Edward Neumeier takes something that could be more simple and straight forward, or simply front loaded with action, and layers it in a beautifully deeper way. Verhoeven’s direction is slick, stylish, and yet doesn’t forget about the other layers to the movie.
Essentially an “outsider”, Verhoeven manages to really go for the more satiric aspects of the movie, especially through the use of television news and fake commercials dotted throughout the movie, which feel more and more potent and borderline real nearly thirty years after its release, not to mention the film’s setting of Detroit and its financial problems in the movie actually predicting events that are happening now.
Verhoeven had a very successful career in his native Holland before landing in Hollywood, having directed controversial work such as The Fourth Man and Turkish Delight, and would go on to bring his somewhat extreme tonal style of filmmaking to an eclectic body of work in Hollywood through genre movies such as Total Recall and Starship Troopers, as well as controversial works such Basic Instinct and the infamous Showgirls.
Whilst Robocop could be categorised as an “extreme” film as the violence is graphically bloody, the film manages to never be off-putting or disgusting, although it’s possibly not for everybody. The film went through the MPAA eleven times, each time slapped with an “X” rating, before being given a more commercial R-rating, although the full uncut version is now the one readily available on DVD and Blu Ray, with one potent moment featuring cult favourite ED-209 now bordering on the extreme of dark comedy.
With a powerful central performance from Peter Weller, as well as sterling support from Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox and Paul McCrane, not to mention one of the greatest music scores ever from Basil Poledouris, the film is still every bit as brilliant in this day and age, despite Hollywood attempting a reboot in the shape of 2014’s movie, which, although nowhere near as bad as it could have been, still felt like a somewhat diluted, PG-13 take on the original, even if it did have good performances from Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton.
The truth is nothing could top the original Robocop, not even its own sequels. Robocop 2 is decent, although nowehere near as good either, but Robocop 3 and the one season-television series from 1994 take this dark potent mix of ultra violence, satirical humour and philosophical notions of whether or not the machine can have a soul, and turned the franchise into a charmless, family friendly series that was never intended for that audience in the first place.
This is a dark, funny, but above all else, adult piece of work. The action is great, the special effects, some of which is composed of stop motion from the great Phil Tippett, are amazing and still hold up, but it’s the story telling, the humour and the themes that really help knock this one of the park. You will remember the shoot out in the cocaine factory, you will love it when our hero manages to find a way to take out ED-209 on the stairs, feel anguished when the SWAT team turn on him in the parking lot shoot out, but cheer at the film’s final scene when the word “Murphy” is uttered, and none of that would matter if it weren’t for the script or Weller’s performance.
This isn’t just a movie about robots, action and limbs flying all over the place, this is as much a film that is full of soul and questions on humanity. Weller’s performance is amazing throughout, his vocal performance and handling of the suit are amazing, on what were very difficult circumstances, but it touches the heart in the third act that almost seems unthinkable during the incredibly bloody execution scene. Poledouris’ music comes in perfectly, like a lullaby, as we see the face under the helmet, the words and sadness hanging in the air carry home that this film has a soul that the sequels and reboot lack.
The film is damn well perfect and with its thirtieth anniversary coming up shows itself to be not only as brilliant as it was back when it was first released, but truly prescient and relevant. It never needed sequels, the film ends perfectly with a final scene that is punch the air brilliant, and whilst everything else, the sequels and the reboot, have been forgotten about, the original still burns brightly, and is still, rightfully, regarded as a classic today, one that you’ll happily buy for more than a dollar.
COMING SOON: “You hear that Mr Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.“