RoboCop (1987)

RoboCop was written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, inspired by a poster for the Blade Runner. Neumeier asked a friend what the film was about and was told, “It’s about a cop hunting robots.”

Neumeier was stranded at an airport with a high-ranking film exec and was able to sell him on the project, which took half a decade or more to reach the screen. The first draft, in 1981, was about a robot cop who slowly became human. That script got rejected.

In 1984, Neumeier and Miner met. Miner had been working on a script that he called SuperCop, about a police officer who has been seriously injured and becomes a donor for an experiment to create a cybernetic police officer.

Paul Verhoeven had already made his first American movie, Flesh & Blood, in 1985. The first time he read the script, he threw it away. His wife saved it from the garbage and told him it could be so much more. Other directors who showed interest included Repo Man director Alex Cox and Kenneth Johnson, creator of the television series V.

The character of RoboCop itself was inspired by — let’s try and not say directly lifted from —  British comic book hero Judge Dredd, as well as the Japanese series Space Sheriff Gavan and the Marvel Comics toy-based superhero Rom the Spaceknight, whose comic shows up throughout the film.

UPDATE: Shout out to Ed Piskor, who reminded me just how much this movie is influenced by Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!

Honestly, this film is a great mix of individuals who all needed to come together to create something that could only exist by the combination of their strengths. In anyone else’s hands other than Verhoeven, it could have been just an action film. With any other actor other than Peter Weller playing the lead, it wouldn’t have the drama that it evokes. With any other artists than Rob Bottin, The Chiodo Brothers, Craig Hayes and Phil Tippett, the look of the film would be basic.

Its a perfect action movie, though one that’s also an indictment on fascism and the growing disparity between the rich and the lower castes in the United States. In fact, much like Starship Troopers, it’s satire is often lost on some audiences, who believe that it has to be absolutely serious.

RoboCop was rated X eleven different times. That’s how brutal the original versions were. Keep that in mind — the movie remains one of the most anarchic of 1987 and hell, I couldn’t see half this stuff being shown in a movie in 2020.

Detroit is worse in the future than it was in the past, if that’s possible. The cops want to strike. Omni Consumer Products (OCP) runs Detroit’s police department in exchange for letting the company rebuild run-down sections of the city into a high-end utopia. Now, they want to replace flesh and blood cops with robotic peace operatives, like ED-209, which ends up killing nearly everyone in the board room in his initial test.

That’s when the RoboCop plan comes in. It’s going to take a real cop’s brain and put it in a near-indestructible body to protect the city. That cop ends up being Alex Murphy (Weller), who gets killed on pretty much his first few days on the job by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang, leaving his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) alone again.

Soon, Murphy’s brains have been retrofitted into a sleek mechanical shell ready to dispense justice by any means necessary, including shooting muggers right in the meat. Before long, he’s recovered his humanity and realizes that OCP, the company that saved him, may have more in common with the criminals that he busts than the public he’s programmed to protect.

It’s a pretty basic tale, enlivened by the way and style in which it is told. Plus, you get some great actors — beyond Weller, Allen and Smith, who are all at the top of their game here. There’s Dan O’Herlihy as the OCP chairman known as only “The Old Man;” Miguel Ferrer as Bob Morton, the exec who gets RoboCop funded before Boddicker offs him during a coke binge (perhaps the most quoted scene in the film); and a gang of baddies that include Ray Wise (Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks), Paul McCrane (Guard Trout from The Shawshank Redemption) and Jesse Goins (Up the Creek). And wow, as always, Ronny Cox plays the best of bad guys, here as OCP exec Dick Jones.

Perhaps the best parts of this movie are the video screens and fake commercials that break it all up. Leeza Gibbons and Mario Machado appear as anchorpeople who take us through the news of the day, allowing for fast exposition and recaps. This technique feels right out of Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. Plus, the “I’d but that for a dollar” guy is perfect.

In 2013, Neumeier reflected on the fact that his script was quite prophetic, saying “We are now living in the world that I was proposing in RoboCop…how big corporations will take care of us and…how they won’t.”

For what it’s worth, Verhoeven and Bottin fought throughout the production over harsh light revealing too much of the makeup on screen. Once Verhoeven won the argument, the two didn’t speak until the premiere, where they were so impressed by how the film turned out that they forgave one another. Despite vowing to never again work with the director, Bottin worked on the very next film Verhoeven made, Total Recall.

My favorite story about the film is that when he was in full costume, Weller would remain in character between takes, only responding to Verhoeven’s instructions when properly addressed as “Robo.” Verhoeven never took this seriously and refused to do so after just a few weeks. That’s second only to the fact that the producers paid President Richard Nixon $25,000 to promote the VHS release of RoboCop.

We should never forget that RoboCop once saved Sting from the Four Horsemen at WCW Capital Combat.

Arrow Video’s new release of RoboCop is packed with so many features. There’s the Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut of the film on two 1080p blu ray discs, complete with archive commentary by director Paul Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier (originally recorded for the Theatrical Cut and re-edited in 2014 for the Director’s Cut). Plus, you get two new commentary tracks, one by film historian Paul M. Sammon and the other by fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart and Eastwood Allen.

Like all Arrow releases, this set is packed with documentaries, like The Future of Law Enforcement: Creating RoboCop, a newly filmed interview with co-writer Michael Miner and RoboTalk, a newly filmed conversation between co-writer Ed Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke (writer of Elle) and Nick McCarthy (director of Orion Pictures’ The Prodigy), as well as interviews with Nancy Allen, casting director Julie Selzer and second unit director Mark Goldblatt.

Plus, there’s also a tribute to composer Basil Poledouris featuring film music experts Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, Daniel Schweiger and Robert Townson, a tour of Julien Dumont’s collection of original props and memorabilia, three archive features from the 2007 release and a 2012 Q&A with the cast and crew.

Plus there’s even more — four deleted scenes, trailers, TV spots, Director’s Cut production footage and raw dailies, and even an Easter Egg! And wait — there’s more! There’s also an edited-for-television version of the film, featuring alternate dubs, takes and edits of several scenes, a compilation of these alternate scenes and a split-screen comparison of the Theatrical and Director’s Cuts. Whew!

You can get the limited edition blu ray and steelbook of this movie from Arrow Video.

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