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Corporate-Government Partnership: RoboCop (1988)

Jul 8, 2005 (Updated Jul 9, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
  • Special Effects:

Pros:Ensemble cast, Story, Direction, Message, Effects

Cons:RoboCop is among the best science fiction movies - none to speak of.

The Bottom Line: RoboCop is an exceptionally entertaining, thought provoking science fiction movie. Must see!

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

”Good business is where you find it.” Dick Jones

RoboCop (1988)

With all the hubbub about the latest "Star Wars" episode, "Lord of the Rings," and "Harry Potter" movies, I decided to revisit a piece of science fiction by a director I think does as good a job as any and better than most in the genre.

Dutch Director Paul Verhoeven made his science fiction (and American film) debut with RoboCop, a film that has been disparaged as "cartoonish" and "ultraviolent" by some, but that I believe to have a much richer pedigree as well as a more relevant message underlying these surface features.

A born satirist, Verhoeven manages to be thrilling and funny at once and to slip a lot of his own tongue-in-cheek (and often deadly accurate) observations on American culture into his science fiction movies. Growing up under the Nazi and later American occupation of Europe, Verhoeven developed some definite ideas on government and he uses his films, RoboCop, Starship Troopers, and Total Recall to expound on government gone out of control all the while wrapping his tirade in endlessly entertaining action punctuated with wry observations, often characterized as commercials or news reports within the film itself.

In RoboCop, Verhoeven points out the dangers, in fact rants, about the partnership of big business and government, something he was well aware happened in both Italy and Germany in the last century. “Omni Consumer Products” (OCP) is a company that plans to buy the City of Detroit (my birthplace and home through my 20s), demolish it, and build "Delta City," a forest of glass skyscrapers in its place. To effect their plan, they work with drug pushers to start an epidemic of violence, then present the solution of RoboCop - a cyborg (cybernetic organism), part man and part machine, reminiscent of The Terminator to restore order as Herr Goebbels might have put it. Oh yes, and the Detroit Police Department has been contracted out to OCP…

Like a Heinlein robot, RoboCop has a simple list of directives: Serve the Public Trust; Uphold the Law; Protect the Innocent – and one more hidden directive: Take no action against an employee of OCP. :o

The film is fast paced and well edited in those pre-Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) days. Everything to do with the robots had to be filmed in stop motion a la Ray Harryhausen’s acclaimed work by Special Effects wizard Phil Tippett, who also directed the excellent Starship Troopers 2. There are shootouts aplenty, with unblinking violence, true – Verhoeven believes violence (and sex) is part of society and should be out in the open. So he mentions on his commentary and in the documentary thoughtfully included by MGM. So don’t bring the kiddies unless you are prepared to see them watch mayhem as it is seldom depicted. The death of Alex Murphy is particularly graphic and gets reprised several times as RoboCop (Peter Weller) reflects on his origins. What is most surprising is how Verhoeven can shock us and immediately defuse it with a comic moment only to provide another shock, defusion, etc. without creating an uneven pace. RoboCop is as seamlessly fluid as any movie I can think of.

Verhoeven swaddled his cops in Kevlar and all of them look like they are on the SWAT team, a grim harbinger of what we may have to look forward to post 9/11 and Patriot Act. The fact that a private company employs the cops gives a bit of pause as we ponder their role as an adjunct to government; are they loyal to the city or to the company? Lots of these little ideas may get missed by the casual viewer, but the more sophisticated viewer will find much food for thought in and among the violence and comic relief.

Verhoeven chose an ensemble to populate his movie, with Peter Weller doing a superb job as the cyborg RoboCop. As a sidekick for RoboCop we have a fine performance by Nancy Allen (Dressed to Kill) as one of the Kevlar clad cops, and the one that brings out the human side of the cyborg. The villains are also particularly fine, with Ronny Cox (Deliverance, Total Recall), Kurtwood Smith (A Time to Kill), and one mean-as-hell robot called ED-209. The rest of the cast is equally good, with Miguel Ferrer (Mel’s son) providing a couple of memorable moments.

The DVD is from MGM and is part of the RoboCop Trilogy series. The DVD is in color, presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 format, and clocks in at a terse 103 minutes - a length I much prefer from the bloated 2-hour-plus movies we seem to be saddled with more often than not these days.

This version of RoboCop (from the Trilogy set) is chock full of extras, including a full length commentary by the (insane) Paul Verhoeven, and a few other crewmembers; four deleted scenes; 3 ~ 20 - minute documentaries, entitled, “making of” shooting of” and “Flesh and Steel.” These extras expand the viewer’s understanding and show many of the challenges the filmmakers faced in the pre-CGI days and blistering Texas heat. Exteriors like some establishing shots were shot in Detroit while principal photography took place in Dallas and Pittsburgh.

There is also a plain Jane version of the DVD from MGM with the usual MGM “no-extras.”

RoboCop will appeal to both action lovers and thinkers. I think that covers about everybody.

I also enjoyed the following science fiction movies that predict a bleak future:

Soylent Green

Starship Troopers

Total Recall

Blade Runner

Thanks for reading!

Recommend this product? Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening

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