Bad Mothercrusher: Thoughts on RoboCop (1987)

I’ve seen RoboCop six or so times in my life, but many years have passed since my last watch. Now that the remake is out (and garnering unimpressive reviews) I thought it was time to look back at the original.

RoboCop’s law-enforcement procedures leave something to be desired. Take the “Fuck me” robbery scene*. Robo bends the dude’s gun, clotheslines him into a freezer, and…leaves. A few stitches, a crowbar to fix his gun and that guy could be out robbing good folks again within days. Dammit, RoboCop.

*That scene is more memorable because of the awful dubbed version

I’m all for the inclusion of something in a film that does nothing other than look cool. But what was the purpose of Emil being covered in toxic waste? Is this the film commenting on pollution, or just an odd, grizzly way to die? There must have been some reason that he didn’t just blow up or be gunned down like most henchman. If it is a comment on pollution, it’s not a good one. That waste tank was in what was seemingly a safe place. No chance of a leak there, unless you run into the tank in a speeding vehicle.

I was wary that the film’s effects wouldn’t hold up well, 1987 sci-fi seeming likely to show it’s age in 2014. But RoboCop is visually impressive. Robo himself still looks well-designed, the OCP building is impressive. When its the only thing in shot at least, even ED-209 looks fine. In a shot with a human, however, that’s when 209 looks ropey, but even its movement looks better than I expected.

The most impressive effect was when Robo removes his helmet to reveal the human-machine head underneath. It’s hard not to think that such an effect nowadays would require an ass-ton of CGI and still not look this convincing. Attempting the effect of making a character look removed from, not added to, has often proved problematic in film. Make-up effects gentleman Rob Bottin deserves respect for how Murphy looks in that scene.

Who’s fucking idea was it to have stairs defeat ED-209? Much like Daleks, if anyone was threatened by the robot, they could just head up to the first floor and hope there wasn’t a lift. And, as if 209 stumbling downstairs like a lummox wasn’t bad enough, it then cries and flails like a baby. Having the robot make obvious animal noises during the “Five seconds to comply” scene was odd, but I was amazed that they chose to have this deadly enemy have a wee cry after banging its bum. And RoboCop waits half a flight down the stairs to watch 209’s tentative attempts at chasing him, instead of just running away when 209 stopped. Worst scene in the film.

RoboCop gets bonus points for having Murphy’s memories play out in first-person.

Cox, the squealing black guy from Team Boddicker, got on my nerves right quick. I was glad he died (not soon enough in my opinion). He wasn’t the smartest either, assuming Lewis was dead after punching her off a walkway. I don’t think Boddicker would trust this guy. I wish he’d been in his SUX 6000 when Clarence blew it up.

Bob Morton’s use of Murphy could be seen as the right thing to do, a necessary evil in cleaning up Detroit (if you’re a Republican). What I didn’t remember until this rewatch was that Morton was putting Robo-prospects into harm’s way, hoping they’d be killed. What a shit, he was as evil as Dick Jones.

The final battle at the steel mill feels rushed. I watched the Director’s Cut, but I can’t imagine that scene playing out differently in the theatrical version. It all passes so quickly–Emil’s toxic transformation seems to last as long as the Boddicker shootout does.

These killers pay no attention to their rear. Murph has the chance to gun down all of them. Instead he throws some glass to attract their attention and show he’s a badass. I would have taken the easy-out and shoot them all in the back.

Bullets can’t penetrate Robo’s armour but a steel spike can? I can accept that.

I like the last scene of the film:

“What’s your name?”.
End credits.

No messing around, no cyborg equivalent of a post-battle smoke and decompress. I love me some efficiency.

Often in films its the last day on the job that gets a policemen into trouble. Poor Murphy, it’s his first day, possibly his first call, that gets him shot to bits.

Murphy is bad-ass. He takes 17,769 bullets, loses a hand, then an arm, then takes a final shot to the dome, and still doesn’t die until he gets the hospital.

Maybe Detroit police have some good armour. Lewis gets shot by Boddicker a good few times and is still in sufficient condition to fire one of those enormous rifle/grenade launcher/whatever those weapons are.

When I was around 10 or 11 years-old I went to an after-school club. A few kids there were younger than me. Those who ran the club thought it was a good idea to keep us entertained by showing us a pirated version of RoboCop. I still remember being mocked for grabbing my hand when Murphy’s was shot off. I wasn’t cinematically soft or naive–I’d seen my share of violent films by this point, but that scene was brutal, this poor guy being shot again and again. Now we live in a world where political correctness has gone mad, and such clubs probably don’t show 9 and 10 year-old’s 18-rated films where policemen get body parts shot off.

A year or so later, I got a loan of RoboCop on video. I was so excited about watching it that I woke the next morning at 6am without an alarm . I couldn’t wait to relive the brutality of that scene in my own living room.

All those bullets and not one hit RoboCop’s exposed, wide jaw.

There are some solid quotables in RoboCop. “I’d buy that for a dollar” (which is also heard as “I’ll buy that for a dollar”) and “Can you fly, Bobby?”. Maybe it’s the young actor’s delivery, but “Pakistan is threatening my border” has stuck with me too (from the ad for a game called Nukem).

Not a flaw as such, but when and how did Jones sneak Directive 4 into RoboCop’s programming?

So the Old Man* saying Jones is fired was enough to allow RoboCop to kill him? There’s no paperwork needed to make Jones’ firing official? Do workers have no rights in a dystopian future?

*Looking up the film, I discovered that character doesn’t have a name, and is actually credited as “The Old Man”. Weird.

I found touching the moments where Murphy’s memories come back. The life that was taken from him, his wife and son, the horror of being gunned down, I didn’t care about that particularly in previous viewing, but with age comes, well, softness.


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