My very first article on this website was entitled ‘My Problem With Remakes’ in which I stipulated that a remake of a classic film with absolutely nothing wrong with it was just unnecessary and a way for a studio to make money without coming up with any new and innovative ideas. Well long story short, that’s what they did with Robocop.
Robocop (1987) is one of my favourite films of the 80’s. If you can get past the ridiculous title, you’ll find a much deeper story about revenge and ultimately, redemption.
Everyone who clicked on this link will know the story but lets have a brief recap.
The story is about Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), a police officer who is killed by a group of baddies headed by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). In a revolutionary new program by Bob Morton who works for OCP (Omni- Consumer Products), Alex’s body is transformed into a new crime fighting machine, Robocop. He is part man, part machine with his body composed mostly of titanium but has an organic digestive system, parts of Alex’s brain and his face. As Robocop hits the streets to deal with crime, he starts having flashbacks of his murder and his family. Robocop becomes obsessed with taken down the baddies and serving his own justice.
Released in 1987, this film was post ‘Terminator’ which had already dealt with the whole ‘robot sci-fi’ thing but Robocop set it’s own identity much the Terminator did.
The story alone sets itself apart from most action films in that it has a genuinly sympathetic protagonist that the audience can cling onto. With Alex Murphy being transformed into a robot that is purely designed to fight crime, Robocop ends up having more humanity than most of the other characters. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong because it’s written into his programming with the so called ‘Prime Directives’ being his moral code. When Murphy gets a hold Boddicker by the throat, he looks like he is all set to kill him but is reminded of the fact that he is a cop and he ends up bringing him in alive. As the film progresses, it focuses more and more on Murphy’s humanity as he tries to remember specific moments from his past. The first incling that Robocop isn’t just ‘Robocop’ is a moment in the shooting range when Robocop is demonstrating his abilities in combat. After his exceptional performance, Robocop spins his huge gun before slipping into his holster that is embedded in his robo-leg which is what Murphy was inspired to do by a show that his son likes. At one point after Robocop asks about Murphy’s family, he says ‘I can feel them, but I can’t remember them.’ At the end, he no longer identifies as
Robocop, but as ‘Murphy’.
The original Robocop is very smart in that it manages to be timely and timeless at the same time. The film itself, although set in futuristic Detroit, is very indicitive of the 1980’s. It posed numerous political themes and events that were happening around that time, the most prominent being news stories about nuclear weapons and a bizarre family board game called Nuke’em. Yet, anyone can still watch the film today and still enjoy it as a really good film.
In terms of the casting for Robocop, the film makers needed a bloody good actor that was also small and sleek enough to fit inside the suit that they were going to build. Enter, Peter Weller. Due to a film he made called ‘Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension’, he was cast as Alex Murphy not just because of his superior skills as an actor but also his physical capabilities. He practised hard to get the movements down but his motion was very limited inside the suit. After a weekend of practice, he got it down and the proof is on the screen. As for the suit, it took him roughly 10-11 hours to get the whole thing on. 3 hours to get into the under-suit and then another 7-8 hours for the team to put all the other bits on. Filmed in the dead of summer, Weller lost a lot of weight in water alone, so much so
that dehydration became a serious worry. I always say that you can gauge a movie by the effort put in by the cast and crew and in this case, it was all worth it. With a budget of $13 Million, Robocop (1987) made $53.4 Million.
The remake of Robocop had been in development for most of the 2000’s but in 2014, the film finally made it’s debut with Joel Kinnaman in the title role and several high profile supporting actors such as Samuel L Jackson as a late night talk show host, Pat Novak; Michael Keaton as Raymond Sellars, the CEO of Omnicorp, Gary Oldman as Dr Dennett Norton and Michael K Williams as Jack Lewis.
So, how is this film different from the original? It’s different in all the wrong ways. For example, giving the family more screen time in the remake was a huge mistake. In the original, the family were only seen in flashbacks. Only being seen through Murphy’s eyes made the audience sympathise with him because they hadn’t seen the family for themselves and had made their own opinion therefore Murphy’s actions made
his character more multi-dimensional. Putting the family in front of the audience makes them more 2-D and ultimately uninteresting. When Murphy is wounded, his wife must sign away his body so he can be made into Robocop which makes it a deeper moral issue in that when he becomes Robocop, she thinks it’s OK to stop him mid-justice and whine about their kid for 5 minutes. In the original, it is stated that Murphy signed a document that gave OCP the right to do whatever they wanted with his body so it was his choice, a plot point that was nicely filled in so the story could carry on.
The way in which Murphy is considered for the program is also problematic. The original became infamous for Murphy’s death scene when he is blown apart by Boddicker’s gang. It starts with Boddicker blowing off Murphy’s hand and then continues with a barrage of gunfire all over his body and finally, when there is virtually nothing left, there is one final bullet to the head. The scene itself was horrifying, excruiating but above all, prolonged. That was the key in making the audience truly abhore the actions of these men who take such delight in maiming another human being and rejoice when they get what they
deserve. In the remake, Alex is blown up in a car bomb that was placed by a crime boss who didn’t like Murphy snooping around. As a result of the car bomb, Alex is burned over most of his body and has to have his left arm and left leg amputated. In a remarkably revealing scene, Alex gets to see what is left, nothing more than a set of lungs, his right hand, his face and parts of his brain. At this point, the suit is basically acting as a life-support machine. Plot-hole! How come Alex is burned over most of his body but his face hasn’t got a scratch? Also, why did it cross no one’s mind to make the suit so it could withstand the impact of 50 calibre weapons when vital organs are underneath?
Being a next gen remake, there definitely has been a graphical upgrade, mostly to the new suit. It is more flexible, allowing for faster movement and the ability to do stunts which is a positive for a robotic law enforcement officer. Also ED-209’s get an upgrade from the stop-motion monsters of the original.
There are a few positives. The film seems to have carried on the tradition of taking influence from the current themes of the time. Samuel L Jackson plays a snarky late night TV show host that is all in favour of a robotic police force. I can only guess that his character is influenced by the Bill O’Reillys and Sean Hannitys of late night television. Also Joel Kinnaman definitely shows that he has mastered the movement inside the suit, keeping very robot-like which is good.
However, these positive points are overshadowed but the overgrown, gaping monstrosity that is the plot which is so overly complicated and treading dangerous ground when it’s dealing with sci-fi. There are so many elements ranging from Murphy’s wife being guilt tripped into signing a contract that will make her husband a cyborg and a corrupt CEO who was a machine with a conscience so he can get a bill signed and then takes away the emotions when they start to become a problem which defies the whole point and there is a doctor who gives amputee patients robotic limbs but won’t make weapons but does it anyway because of some reason or another, then there is this whole conspiracy where the crime boss who planted the bomb was actually working for the head of the police department and AH! It hurts my brain to think about all this and wonders why it is all there. The simpler the story is, the more room there is for the characters to grow. With this amount of plot, there’s no wonder it took 3 go’s to understand what the fuck was going and if I should’ve cared.
In summary, my feeling towards the remake is perfectly summed up by the new suit. They’ve taken all the colour away and put some flashing lights on it. To be honest, the analogies don’t get better that that.