This week’s Monday Pick is the 1987 Sci-fi action film Robocop, directed by master filmmaker Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Starship Troopers, Flesh & Blood, Soldier of Orange, The Black Book). Peter Weller stars as slain police officer Alex Murphy who is brought back to life by corporate scientists to become the ultimate law enforcement weapon in the crime-ridden Detroit of the near future.
Robocop is not only a well made solid blend of sci-fi and action, Verhoeven and writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner splendidly poke fun at many institutions in American culture like the media, corporate greed, privatization, capitalism, and even masculinity.
OCP (Omni Consumer Products) is a vast corporation that specializes in space exploration, civilian and Military technology, and government intervention. OCP enters into an agreement to run and finance the Detroit police force in order to serve its needs, one being that OCP plans to turn Detroit into the city of tomorrow known as Delta City due to rampant crime and that the city is on the verge of financial collapse.
OCP launches a program in which a new breed of law enforcement is required to help end the crime that has turned Detroit into a violent and decaying city. One such program is the ED-209 enforcement droid that has the full support of Senior VP Dick Jones (Ronny Cox). During a board meeting where the new police droid is unveiled to the head of the company (Dan O’Herlihy), a demonstration goes horribly wrong where a junior executive is gunned down by ED-209 in one of the most violent scenes ever caught on film (I highly recommend the Criterion version DVD where it is several seconds long and very brutal).
Due to the defective nature of the ED-209 prototype, young idealistic executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) goes over Jones’s head and proposes the Robocop plan where he informs the head of OCP that they only require a candidate from the police force who is killed in the line of duty. The President is pleased and gives Morton and his staff carte blanche to proceed with a working prototype within 90 days.
Officer Alex Murphy (Weller) is assigned to the Metro West precinct due to OCP’s reorganization of the police force in order to find a candidate. This is one of the toughest areas of the city where cops are known to have a short life span. Displeased with the current state of the city and the mistreatment they feel from OCP, a large portion of the police force feels they should strike.
The precinct watch commander Sgt. Warren Reed (Robert D’oQui) tells the officers that they aren’t plumbers, they’re cops and cops don’t strike. Murphy is assigned with his new partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) who goes out on patrol and intercepts a call involving a ruthless gang of criminals headed by the maniacal Clearance Boddicker played by Kurtwood Smith of That 70’s Show fame. Because of that show, I always see him and think of Clarence Boddicker no matter what and always laugh.
Murphy and Lewis track the gang to an old steel mill that is the base of their criminal activities. Murphy and Lewis separate and Murphy is taken captive by members of the gang who torture and in another brutal scene, gun Murphy down in cold blood. The un-edited version is one of the most violent and disturbing scenes in which Murphy’s arm is blasted off by the hail of shotgun rounds fired at him.
Boddicker shoots Murphy in the head after Murphy is still alive after the numerous gunshots he’s received. Lewis who was hidden and witnessed the horrible event has Murphy airlifted to a hospital where after several minutes is pronounced dead. Once pronounced dead, OCP and Bob Morton’s team use the remains of Murphy to create Robocop.
Robocop has always been a film synonymous with violence and that it underwent several edits in order to have it changed from an X rating to R, but it is also wickedly funny, and a film so indicative of the big business 1980s. Paul Verhoeven left his native country of the Netherlands in order to strike it big in Hollywood. After ten years of film making in Holland with such great films as Soldier of Orange, Verhoeven tackled his cross over into English speaking cinema with the medieval sword epic Flesh & Blood (1985) which starred his longtime leading actor Rutger Hauer.
It’s difficult to try and pinpoint my absolute favorite scene in the film, because the whole film is an absolute classic. Verhoeven’s direction and his ability to command great acting from the cast is unmatched in my opinion. I would have to say one of my favorite scenes is when Robocop is first aware of what has happen to him after Murphy’s death.
A fish eye lens depicts the world surrounding Murphy as he is being transformed from a man into a cyborg. One scientist shows Morton the robotic arm that is being attached to Robocop’s shoulder and that it’s strength is equal to over four hundred-foot pounds. Morton shakes hands with the prototype and it almost breaks every bone in his hand. Morton gets up close to Robocop and chuckles saying “you’re gonna be a bad motherfucker.”
The end sequence where Murphy/Robocop aware of his former identity, partners with Lewis and the two exterminate the gang of thugs who killed Murphy. One such thug is disposed of by driving his truck into a vat of toxic waste. A truly gruesome demise and great make up effects.
The concept of the Robocop suit was brought to life by veteran make up FX guru Rob Bottin (The Howling, The Thing, Mission Impossible I). Weller was quoted in an interview that he was losing up to three pounds a day while in the suit. Temperatures would exceed one hundred degrees. Weller had to be kept cool with fans, and ventilation slits on the costume. An air conditioning unit was later built into several of the suits used in the film to show a pristine and battle torn Robocop.
Verhoeven was dead set on using Weller after watching his screen test and that his body type was perfect for the suits Bottin had created with his one million dollar FX budget. Long time collaborator Rutger Hauer and future Verhoeven star Arnold Schwarzenegger were also considered for the part, but the part went to Weller. Verhoeven said that due to the mask and only being able to see the lower half of the actor’s face, Weller could offer pathos and make the character believable.
Robocop went on to be an instant classic with American audiences in the summer of 1987. Verhoeven didn’t even want to direct the film initially. He apparently threw the script in the garbage but his wife fetched it out and asked him to keep reading. Verhoeven agreed and the film proved to be a smash hit and solidified him with American audiences for the next thirty years. Famed English director Alex Cox who directed the cult sensation Repo Man (1984) was also considered for directing if Verhoeven turned it down.
Robocop is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through MGM/UA Home Video and can be viewed through Netflix, Amazon on Demand, Vudu and other streaming sites.