For me, RoboCop is the quintessential violent action movie from the 1980s . Sure, there are plenty of others and I love Die Hard and The Terminator and many more but this is one of the first I saw and it has stuck in my mind. Maybe it’s because the action is a mix of slightly childish comic book violence and realism. It is cheesy and stupid and has some pretty ropey effects in places but it is a fun ride with a serious message if you’re into that kind of thing. Bits of it scared the hell out of me when I was a kid but now they just tend to make me smile.
I’m going to assume that most people who are interested in this have seen RoboCop already so there will be spoilers.
Detroit – The Future: Omni Consumer Products (OCP) have taken the step up from supplying military hardware to the army and the police to running the whole police force of the city of Detroit. They have grander plans too with a real estate deal in the works to level Detroit and build the supposedly utopian “Delta City” which of course OCP will own and run. In order to realise this dream they need everyone to move out of old Detroit so they can level the city and start again.
OCP also have 2 contracts to supply two different crime fighting robots to the police department of Detroit. ED209 is a terrifying war robot with multiple cannons and rocket launchers and a demeanour completely unsuited for police work. ED is partly remote controlled but has been given just enough artificial intelligence to make him a menace to anyone within range of its fearsome weaponry. The RoboCop project on the other hand uses a human as the basis for an enhanced cyborg police officer. OCP hopes that by replacing the police force with robots which it ultimately controls, it can carry on committing the crimes it wants to commit while silencing anyone who opposes their plans.
It is interesting that of the two competing police “robots” only one is strictly a robot and the one that isn’t strictly a robot but a cyborg is the one that is called RoboCop. The D in ED209 stands for Droid which, I always thought and as seems to be backed up by brief Googling, is a shortening of android which is defined (again via Google) as “A robot designed with human appearance and/or behaviour” which definitely does not describe ED209. So it would seem that among its many other imperfections, OCP has named its products the wrong way round! [It is much harder to search for “droid” or “android” since Google started calling their operating system “Android” and the Americans started calling phones that run Android “Droid phones”.]
Of course as is the case in many a morality tale, the evil OCP corporation didn’t reckon with the strength of the human spirit and soon find that RoboCop, far from aiding them in their attempts to take over the city, begins to oppose his makers and the violent gang to whom they sub-contract the dirty work of driving out citizens and silencing critics.
RoboCop, like Starship Troopers 10 years later, is a mixture of over the top gratuitous violence and morality play. The good (ordinary people) vs evil (big corporations) plot is over laboured and simplistic at times but is mostly well done and gives the movie something to lift it above a simple violent action movie.
The actors playing the good guys don’t get much to play with. Peter Weller is a straight out of the mould good cop as Murphy at the start of the film and doesn’t get much time to play that character before he becomes RoboCop. Then he only gets to add walking and talking like a slightly rubbish 80s robot to his character portrayal. In fact I think Peter does slightly too good a job hamming up the mechanical robot movements and speech and often makes it hard to believe that you are watching a state of the art crime fighting machine rather than something cobbled together out of bits found in Maplin.
Nancy Allen is great as Murphy/Robo’s partner Anne Lewis and she is a strong supporting female character who kicks ass, only occasionally falling into the role of damsel and never actually getting rescued by Robo as far as I can remember. She’s got some good lines and gets to kick ass a lot of the time although the film is guilty of making her into a dumb blonde every now and then when it suits the plot.
However, it is the evil characters that steal every single scene they are in. Clarence Boddicker played by Kurtwood Smith is outrageously over the top in almost everything he does. He is supposed to be the head of a massive organised crime outfit in Detroit but spends the whole film running around, shooting people with shotguns, blowing stuff up for the hell of it and snapping off one liners while throwing injured colleagues at the police out of moving vehicles.
Dick Jones, the vice president of OCP, is a masterpiece of sinister control as he pulls the strings behind the scenes. In contrast to Clarence Dick is calm and composed and exudes menace without ever actually doing anything menacing, of course he has Clarence to do his menacing for him! Watching Dick Jones lose his composure at the very end when he realises that his plans have failed is quite dramatic.
Effects are a bit of a mixed bag. There are loads of really effective physical effects with explosions and models fitting seamlessly into the live action. The RoboCop suit is mostly good but occasional shots reveal some flaws. As an adult watching it it becomes pretty obvious that the suit wouldn’t fit in the police cars and there is some obvious framing and re-used camera angles that make it look like Robo is getting in and out of the cars when actually he couldn’t.
Where the effects really doesn’t stand up to the test of time though is the ED209. While ED was a physical model animated by the crew, the resulting footage had to be added in to the scenes in post-production. The result is that most scenes with ED209 in them have an obvious boundary between the space where the robot is and the rest of the frame. Often the movements of the ED209 robot seem too fast or otherwise out of place in the scene. I don’t remember it being this obvious when I was younger but then I was watching on VHS on a small CRT screen. Perhaps the transfer to Blu Ray on a HD TV doesn’t do these scenes any favours.
This is the movie that means that it is considered completely acceptable for my friends and I to occasionally look at each other and say “Bitches leave!”. And everybody would know exactly what I was talking about. And for that reason alone I will always have a soft spot for it.