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Robocop Retrospective

Law enforcement doesn’t get much more retro than Robocop and in 1987 it became a global box office hit spawning various sequels, a live action television series, and a children’s cartoon show. It was an inventive science fiction action film with human emotion and ultra violence controversially passed off as satire.

Initially receiving an R rating, the film was reluctantly cut by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven qualifying for a less impartial M rating. It became so unexpectedly popular when unleashed on the then thriving home video market, two versions were released – M and a Director’s Cut R. One guess as to which one became the hottest VHS rental in video shops across the world.

Set in the near future of a decayed ‘Old Detroit’, Officer Alex Murphy is an honest cop and family man gunned down point blank at the hands of ruthless criminals then resurrected by scientists into a half man half machine crime fighting cyborg. Authorised to use physical force, the fight was not only against drug dealing vagrants, but shady money hungry corporate types. Peter Weller and Nancy Allen led the cast of B-movie stars as Weller often acting shakespearean with his square jaw and monotone voice conversing one liners to intended victims. Comical advertisements were randomly inserted during the film reinforcing its unpredictable approach.

The inevitable sequel Robocop 2 (1990) was uncut upon release and remained rated R, an excuse for unnecessary violent carnage. I was unimpressed at the time and thought even less when recently revisiting it. Directed by Irvin Kershner who was years earlier handpicked by George Lucas to helm one of the greatest sequels of all time, The Empire Strikes Back, this should have been a better movie. Robocop 2 repeats the formula with little of the comical spark or intelligent action.

By the time of Robocop 3 (1993), the studio behind the franchise, Orion Pictures were crumbling financially with the movie an equal mess. Weller was replaced by Robert Burke, a decent actor of independent film, while Nancy Allen only said yes to an appearance if she was killed off. With yet another director, Fred Dekker a horror B-movie maestro with a gaggle of writers (cobbled together during a Hollywood writers strike) Part 3 was a failed attempt to turn the Robocop PG kid-friendly with dismal results and convoluted plotlines. Robocop also obtained the ability to fly, enough said.

The concept continued with an unlikely Saturday morning cartoon, now a cult oddity, each episode conveying an educational message for children. A prime time television series took different angles lasting a single season, followed a decade later, Robocop; Prime Directives was a direct to video film trilogy.

Now in 2014, a sleek new Robocop hits the cinema screens for a critical new generation more accustomed to state-of-the-art first person game warfare than stop motion special effects. Time will tell if the ‘reimaging’, as the producers like to call it, appeals to an audience where blockbusters roll off the production line onto congested cinema screens every other week. February is generally a month when studios dump questionable movies upon unsuspecting filmgoers. It is worth noting that Sony decided to share their reimaging eight days before American audiences.

Set in 2028, a modernised agile Robocop still has that human emotional element with social situations but just as committed to instantly preventing crime. This time it is bad cop – Robocop. An inspired casting choice of little known actor Joel Kinnaman gives a freshness while a new streamlined look and coloured suit gives Robocop an edge. Shaky camera sequences don’t show initiative during certain action sequences but other moments are subversive and exciting. Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson raise the acting bar while Australian Abbie Cornish, a Hunter Region local is impressive in a larger role as Murphy’s anguished wife. Fast cars, motorcycles and high calibre weaponry are all on hand to satisfy genre fans. ‘Your move creep’.

Shane A. Bassett 

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