Weekend Retrospective - State of the Art Bang-Bang


ROBOCOP (1987)

"Thank you for your co-operation. Good-night."


For a while this has been one of my personal all time favourites, as well as one of the best science fiction movies and satires of 80s American greed culture - this is a film that has it all. Biggest squibs, biggest guns. Best mens room scene. It's got blend of grim, nasty violence, a real bleak and cynical outlook ... but at the same time manages to be really good fun. Excess is used in the portrayal of excess. When director Paul Verhoeven landed in the USA this was the vision of America he saw from his television set; a mad world where real life tragedy on the news was broken up with upbeat commercials. The story goes that this culture shock inspired what he did with what is easily his greatest movie.



Of course in a movie about this subject, it's fitting that the characters are all over emphasized comic book cut outs. Somehow these over the top elements come together in forming a story that works perfectly. This is particularly true the bad guys who are a selection of obnoxious sadist and yuppy scumbags; they're kind I love to hate - a gallery of grotesque yet magnetic portraits. The big reason is that the script allows them to get in so much great dialogue throughout the run time. In fact most of film is like that - punchy lines and soundbites that are unforgettable. I am a big fan of many science fiction stories, and though this is the top of the list it's my most quotable movie alongside Aliens and Predator. They may form some kind of holy trinity of electric dialogue and silly one liners, a staple of film in this era. But of course this has better robots.


When breaking down why all this works, it's noticeable that it's got a lot of other things that appeal to me beyond the characters and what they get to say. Where else can I find such a mix of sci-fi subtext, stop motion and cyborgs? It's fun for the whole family (get them before they get you). Of course this could all be throwaway robot movie material without the heart of the story also having some real substance. I'd even say the best scenes are the quiet ones where the titular cyborg tries to remember his lost family in what was once their home - there's barely any script at all, just the haunting melody of the soundtrack's less pronounced themes. I have to bring up the soundtrack, and Basil Poledouris' score is pretty fantastic. It manages to move effortlessly between the emotive atmosphere to that roaring theme tune during the action.

This is hardly a recommendation for all viewers and the film goes from nasty deaths, to humour to effective drama - sometimes within moments of one another (just look at the ED209 staircase scene). But that's why I like it so much. It also stands as a example of why modern effects are so useless in a lot of new action pictures; besides the robotics feeling solid and believable, things like the blood and pyrotechnics are all so visceral which is never done today. It's sad that the sequels are are horrible for the most part, but I guess that's the inevitable result of continuing this story which ends with humanity being achieved: they had to go and act like a bunch of dumb automatons just to sate their desire for more box office. I guess the message was too subtle for some people.

I have to go, somewhere there is a crime happening