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Entry updated 10 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1987). Orion. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Written by Michael Miner, Edward Neumeier. Cast includes Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Robert DoQui, Miguel Ferrer, Daniel O'Herlihy, Kurtwood Smith and Peter Weller. 102 minutes. (Director's cut 103 minutes.) Colour.

In a Near Future Dystopian Detroit – almost as though RoboCop's makers were aware of the calamities which would bankrupt the city in the early twenty-first century – police officer Alex Murphy (Weller) joins Metro West Precinct in crime-ridden poverty-stricken "Old Detroit", quickly bonding with his partner Anne Lewis (Allen). As we learn through a Satirically egregious television news report, crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Smith) has just killed his latest cop, justly angering the squad. But Sergeant Warren Reed (DoQui) warns them about going on strike against their new owner, Omni Consumer Products (OCP), which now runs Detroit's police on a privatized basis. After a chase scene, Murphy is tortured to death by Boddicker, but his still-warm body is "rescued", to be used in his development of a law-enforcement Cyborg, by OCP research Scientist Bob Morton (Ferrer), a Young Turk trying to topple Dick Jones (Cox) from his position as heir apparent to the Old Man (O'Herlihy). Jones's team's rival Invention, a grotesque glitch-prone Mecha, immediately kills an executive, angering the Old Man, who is eager to effectuate his plans to transform Old Detroit into a Keep for the wealthy to be called Delta City. To do so he needs to clear the area of its underclass, by any means necessary. Morton gets the go-ahead to build his rabble-proof enforcer. We see through the dead Murphy's eyes some horrendous details of the surgical excruciations inflicted upon the remains of his corpse in order to turn him into RoboCop, a powerful metal body that encloses what is left of him; in the end, he resembles the armoured lawman Judge Dredd.

Lewis soon recognizes her former partner under his armoured mask, but Murphy – who has been Memory Edited in order to increase his efficiency – cannot penetrate his Amnesia, though he does suffer flashes of his former married life. (Thinking of herself as widowed, his wife has gone elsewhere; and does not return: Murphy's deep estrangement from his human past is never genuinely alleviated.) As RoboCop, he operates in terms of Four Laws (see Laws of Robotics); the first three control his behaviour as enforcer, while the fourth prohibits him from attacking a superior, which blocks him from attacking his OCP owners when he discovers that Jones has been employing the notorious Boddicker in his successful campaign to discredit and murder young Morton. After much action, some of it conveyed through local newscasts, Murphy/Robocop finally eliminates Boddicker, and confronts Jones in the OCP boardroom. Exposed as an embarrassment to the firm, Jones holds a gun to the Old Man's head, and lays down conditions for his escape; RoboCop is helpless to stop him because of the fourth law. The Old Man then says to Jones, "You're fired", and the freed RoboCop shoots him dead. The Old Man remains in control of OCP; of the privatized police force, whose main job it will be to clean up Old Detroit to make room for Delta City; and of Murphy, whom he still owns.

With RoboCop Dutch director Paul Verhoeven unusually made a successful transition from foreign art films – the violent medieval epic Flesh + Blood (1985) and the perverse thriller The Fourth Man (1983) – to American blockbuster; his Satirical take on modern privatized America was noted at the time, but after several decades its prescient savagery seems even more clearly to shape the film. (The Director's Cut adds flashes of violence but does not intensify the message.) The brutal extermination of low-grade criminals, followed by the bravura elimination of Boddicker and his gang (who have been given advanced Weapons to combat RoboCop), are filmed as competently as required. Visuals are sometimes as oneirically clotted as those that mark Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985). Some sequences, using hand-held cameras, make the cartoon extremities of the Old Detroit scene seem almost real. Given its surface pleasures, the film can easily be viewed without a thought about its underlying indictment, or without noting that the Old Man – Dan O'Herlihy superb as an ultimately venomous father figure and owner – does not in fact deserve to win. But it is clear that RoboCop is best understand in terms of its climax, with the Old Man triumphant, and the amnesiac Murphy tugging at his forelock, awaiting orders. Verhoeven went on to direct Total Recall. The sequel, not directed by Verhoeven, was RoboCop 2. [JC]

2. Film (2014) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures, Strike Entertainment. Directed by José Padiha. Written by Joshua Zetumer, Michael Minder, Edward Neumeier. Cast includes Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman and Michael K Williams. 117 minutes. Colour.

There is no reason to dispute the universal critical consensus that this remake of the first RoboCop (see above) traduced Paul Verhoeven's Satirical intent, and made near nonsense of the original story. Verhoeven's estranged deadpan assault on a corrupt corporate society is here castrated into a tale involving – after some second-unit action-choked trivial pursuit – RoboCop Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) in a quest for revenge, a quest directed not at the system but at one corrupt CEO, Raymond Sellars (Keaton). Gary Oldman, playing the hapless Scientist whose job is to make RoboCop less and less plausible, overacts grotesquely, but cannot dodge the fact he took the role. [JC]

see also: Cinema.


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