RoboCop 2014

RoboCop Poster - P 2013The new “RoboCop” does not suck. And while I find the film’s color scheme of blue and black to leave much to be desired, it is not bad visually–that is if we are prepared to accept that this Detroit will be a CGI Detroit. But the computer images carry weight here, and at times can be very convincing. When Mr. Cop That’s Not All Human hops on the back of that Sentinel robot deal, he clings on like there is 300 pounds of metal sliding around–like he’s actually there, not some Gumby Blade created in a gravity-free computer lab. This alone is a breath of fresh air.
Which is not to say that the film resonates in the same way as Verhoeven’s 1987 original, or even has the same level of gravity. 87’s “RoboCop” was a dirt and grime film of disappointment and carnage. An orgy of ultraviolence, it beat the humanity out of, and back into, Peter Weller’s Alex Murphy. Visceral and leveled (and in a pre-CGI film-world), that RoboCop seemed real: his plight sank deep in our guts. We felt it. Each hunk of gore, each piece of flesh removed or stretched out and melded with metal was a carefully rendered work of physical makeup. It was there. The actors could touch it. This is something rarely mentioned in discussion of cinema technology: texture. You don’t have to be a SFX connoisseur—your brain receives these items differently and compensates as such (one of the reasons many films riddled with CGI violence and death get the lovely PG-13 stamp now-and-days: it doesn’t affect us).
But it wasn’t just the violence. This was a film sick with and of society. Where a cultural icon could be a sleazy pervert who would “buy that for a dollar.” Where a police department could be sold as a product. Where death could be expensed.
But 2014’s “RoboCop” doesn’t exist in that world…partly because: now we do. The original, conceived during the Cold War, was bitter—as we were—and it meant to be. It had to be. Think of a movie about a robot cop named RoboCop coming out, wearing its heart on its sleeve, being Rated R—and working!
The new “RoboCop” exists in a world that knows drone strikes, WMDs, and world terrorism as daily event. And it is aware of this, but other than supplant some robot cops in the Middle East, it sort of leaves well enough alone with the world the 2014 audience is still trying to understand and co-exist in.
Which brings me to the first question on most people’s minds when a remake of “RoboCop” is mentioned: “Why?”
Indeed: why?
Obviously there is the cynical economic reason that the “Robocop” story and mythology already exist, as does the cultish following that would (albeit largely begrudgingly) see the remake. Add to this the lightning in a bottle quality (it garnered a huge swath of fans then; perhaps the same thing will work for generating new fans who came into being when Robocop was already, well, old.
But surely, nobody thought back in 1987 that “RoboCop” was a NEW idea (the character, not the story). This is not far Post-“Terminator”, and as the game-makers noticed as they did about the Aliens and Predators: they are very similar in concept. More likely than not, the moneybags behind the original blockbuster trusted a young Austrian with this property because he figured the youth went wild over one robot flick, why not another? Such trusting times back then! This allowed Verhoeven and screenwriters to unleash a cadre of satire and bloodshed.
That cop fit its time.
In fact, it fit it so well, that as mentioned above—we now sorta, maybe, kinda live in something like it. And, unfortunately, the new RoboCop fits that time as well. This isn’t science fiction: this is hyperbolic news.
All of this really only proves irksome for one reason. When I first heard news of a new “Robocop,” I tossed the film off as the cry of impoverished studios screaming “What would you do if your son was at home, crying out his lungs ‘cause he’s hungry! And the only thing to do is to make another ‘RoboCop’ for a little bit of money.” But if you recall how I began all this: the new “RoboCop” does not suck. In fact, it is kind of clever in parts. And while it doesn’t really mine societal issues, it does offer insight into humanity, culpability; free will. Who is free? What is sentient? And who has the right to call wrong on us citizens?
While nobody is around this time to “buy that for a dollar,” Samuel L. Jackson plays Novak, a television host and pseudo-narrator who takes the viewer along through the film. When we meet him, he is clearly in favor of machine policing. Through scenes of ever-heightening zaniness, Novak goes from being slightly one-sided, to all Fox news on our asses. “Is the Senate Pro Crime?” he asks at one point. This bit of fun undercuts the serious scarcely prescient implications of police machinery that was less in our everyday lives in 1987.
The writers (including two from the original, I believe) are working with outdated technology. Which is why they should have been allowed to create their own robot: one for the times. One for now. Hell, if the original had never been made until today, it would be called “Terminator Cop,” for fear of originality (which of course equals financial failure). Couldn’t the execs trust that we love our robots? Even “Real Steel” was a moderate success. With the cast and talent on this film, it could have been a new franchise. An ACTUAL new one.
Instead, the writers cannot entirely write themselves out of 1987 logic, and inevitably their script is doomed to blockbuster irrelevance. Which is a shame. Because there was a lot there. And there is a lot different in Detroit today. And in the world as a whole. They should have been allowed to mine the world’s issues and fears and modern day policies.
Instead, they were allowed to turn a grey suit black.

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