RoboCop

RoboCop. Orion Pictures Corporation 1987.

Before watching the movie:

Robocop probably isn’t in the Canon, but it’s big enough that it at least gets a “How Did You Miss It?”

What I understand of this film before seeing it is that there’s a policeman who gets the nightmare version of the Lee Majors/Inspector Gadget treatment. From what I understand, when he gets blown up and put back together with bionics, he’s more machine than human, and dishes out harsh justice unstoppably. Also the future looks like 1982.

From what I can tell, the appeal is violence and explosions, which aren’t my thing. Then again, I probably don’t have that great a grasp on the story, so we’ll see.

During/after the movie:

In the painfully near future, crime is at a major high and the world has been taken over by private corporations. One company, OCP, has privatized the Michigan police force and is working on replacing human officers with machines. Unfortunately, computers have a tendency to glitch very messily, and the plan B is cyborg policemen. Their prototype, a recently killed cop, is programmed to remember nothing of his old life. Then he does anyway, and sets out on a mission of revenge and self-rediscovery.

Of course, the entire plot is commentary on privatization. When private companies take over public services,  the public service no longer serves the public. Secondary to that, however, is the satire on consumer culture that pops up occasionally in the commercials that the periodic newscasts throw to. There’s no comic relief quite like a family playing the Nuclear Armageddon version of Battleship.

I have to say that I’m actually kind of impressed with the writers’ idea of the future. Their “the same but more” feel permeates the whole thing fluidly. The biggest miscalculations come down to aesthetics. Too much gunmetal gray, CRT monitors, wireframe style computer graphics. Nothing the designers can’t be forgiven for.

My only complaint is the animation of the Enforcement Droid, which is at an embarrassingly low framerate, but does have an appropriate feel of weight. The Terminator skeleton had both problems. Was stop-motion really so expensive in the 80s that they couldn’t afford 24-frame movement?

I feel obligated to discuss Peter Weller’s performance as Murphy/RoboCop. It’s really hard to mess up being a robot, and he mostly doesn’t disappoint. Usually, his stiff movement looks like servos firing, but sometimes he looks more like he’s just really uncoordinated. Before his death, he’s a very honest, sympathetic guy. As his humanity resurfaces, it does so pretty smoothly.

The violence is rather tame by today’s standards. The movie acts as if it has to live up to its R rating by throwing every classification at you. Characters curse a blue streak, the violence is nothing but blood and a lot of it, there’s an absolutely gratuitous nipple flash, and there’s only one explosion that I’m sure was done to death in the trailers. I’m told R-rated movies from the late 70s through the 80s often acted like they had to fill out a checklist.

This movie was at the same time more and less than I expected. There’s more story than I thought there would be and less than I wanted. There’s more commentary than I was lead to believe, but it isn’t really all that bold in its assertions. Altogether, I guess it’s exactly what it should be.

See this movie: because Directive Four compels you.

Don’t see this movie: because it’s a cop killer.

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