Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Can you fly, Bobby?
Robocop - 1987
It's the film my Blog's name comes from, so it seems like just as good a place to start as any. (Although, that line was also used in the endlessly entertaining arcade/console video game “Smash T.V.”)
To fully understand my appreciation of this film, we should go back to the first time I saw it. When I was about eight years old, I was already deeply in love with Science Fiction. Anything that had anything to do with space, aliens, robots, or the future, I was deeply in love with, and made curious by. Therefore, when I saw an ad on TV for that night's prime time movie, and it had a police officer walking around in a fucking robot body, the concept was so incredible to me, I could barely stand it. I asked my Mom to record it for me (it was airing on a school night, past my bed time) so I could watch it the next day. When my parents saw the kind of shit that happens in Robocop (and keep in mind, this was an already edited for TV version of the ultra violent film), they decided there was no way my eight year old ass was going to see this movie. They didn't want to disappoint me either, so they came up with a novel idea. They edited down an already edited for TV version of a rated R movie so that I could see it without all that adult content. There was a problem, they weren't too great at manually controlling the record feature of the VCR. What I was left with, was literally an approximately 25 minute, poorly edited version of Robocop. It made almost no sense as virtually every major plot point in that movie is riddled with violence and was therefore cut out. The narrative was all cut up and crazy and Robocop only ever fired his gun at a lifeless practice target, a huge bi-pedal robot, and baby food bottles, never people. It would jump around and show people a little bloodied up, but it wouldn't show HOW they got bloodied up. It was just confusing.... and one of the greatest things I had ever seen. Who cares if it didn't make sense!? It was a huge badass robot walking around and saying cool shit. Luckily, I managed to get the kid-friendly movie adaption comic book of the film and that helped me understand some of the key plot points that my movie version skipped over for twenty whole fucking minutes at a time.
It's remained one of my all time favorite movies since then, and it's evolved into something completely different than an awesome, super violent movie where a robot shoots people (I eventually saw the full version). The older I got, the more it stuck with me. There's something very human about that movie. The cyberpunk style extreme violence is the “Hollywood” aspect of that movie, but there are points that movie makes that have stuck with me since I was a kid. For example, consumerism and advertising will one day numb us and seem even more important and exciting then the actual world news. Also, corporations do not care about people, only what they can do make their business more financially successful. They are soulless, just as soulless as OCP's ED-209, terminating humanity without a concern. Poverty and crime rise in the streets as the rich get richer and a find a way to profit of the misery of the down-trodden.
What gets me about this movie, is that the main drive of it doesn't make it an action movie at all, which it constantly gets billed as. Robocop really is postmodern science-fiction at it's finest. Robocop's real struggle in this movie, is the retention of his “soul” and personality in a body that has transformed into a company's technological concept of the future. He is man literally fighting his own machine. There's something overwhelmingly human about it. Don't get me wrong, it works fine as an awesome, entertaining, violent Hollywood extravaganza with plenty of excitement and quotable lines out the ass (the overwhelmingly, and at times sickeningly, villainous Clarence Boddicker provides 80% of these, the Benny Hill inspired television personality Bixby Snyder provides the rest: “I'd buy that for a dollar!”), but Robocop packs a little more punch than that. A little substance to go with the style. I've always appreciated that, especially as it introduced tones to me as a kid that later made Philip K. Dick interesting to me, as well as stories like the Dick inspired “Blade Runner” or “Ghost in the Shell”. The futuristic, deeply philosophical (and admittedly leftist) writing of Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner and the awe-inspiring, stylized directing of Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall? Seen that shit? Just awesome. Yet another of my favorite 80's movies. Also based of a Philip K. Dick short story) provide a level to this movie that I think is often missed by a sizable portion of those who see it. It has remained one of my favorite movies since I was eight, and remains so as I get older due to it's philosophical take on the modern Sci-Fi story.
The sad part is, the point was lost even further when Robocop eventually became
something the movie strongly detested: a brand name. A product. A manufactured advertisement to sell goods to children, especially when that awful TV show re-imagining directed at kids came out where it totally missed the point and put Robocop in a show that felt like “NYPD Blue” meets “Alien Nation” meets Saturday morning cartoon. He fought ridiculous Batman Villain-esque oddities like “Boppo the Clown” and “Pudface”. Ugh. It was gross. Those toys were WAAAY badass when I was a kid though, holy shit. That much is undeniable. I had most of the figures and Robocop's sweet OCP cop car. Had Robocop comics coming out of my ass too. It was was awesome, even though looking back now, I feel abused and misguided given the original film's weight-y subtext. I guess everything becomes a product eventually...
1. Robocop 2 is actually not as bad as you remember it being. Based off a script written by the used-to-be-talented comic book writer Frank Miller (before All-Star Batman fell out of his ass and he decided that publishing it was a good idea), the movie keeps the focus on the Detroit down-trodden, by getting them all addicted to a cheap, highly addictive drug called Nuke. It might not pack the same philosophical or emotional punch that the first one does (although scenes where Robo comes in contact with his former family are pretty heavy), but it's still a good sci-fi action flick with clever jabs at the media, corporation again, and a potential future culture. Frank Miller plays a bit role as a drug chemist, and later penned what was his original version of the Robocop 2 script for a totally bitchin' comic book series published by Avatar Press. Miller was always upset with the treatment of his script as it was cut down and re-edited, and he gave himself his own chance to present the story as he intended. If you get a chance, check it out. It's collected in a nice, convenient trade paperback form.
2. Robocop 3 is actually worse than you remember it being.
3. I met fucking Robocop. No lie. When Robocop 2 was coming out, the Blockbuster Video store near where I lived on Long Island cross promoted. They had a guy in a fully functional, 100% accurate, awe-inspiring Robocop suit. I was like, 9 or 10 years old and I got to meet fucking Robocop. I got to go up to him and shake his hand and no shit, he said “Stay out of trouble” to me. It was awesome. I totally have the pictures to prove it. If you're ever over my house, just ask and you'll see.