So after I published my previous writing about the subject of the most awesome film that has ever been made (and likely will be made, at least during my lifetime), I began to think to myself. I have really not begun to describe why it is so incredibly, utterly, mind-blowingly awesome, at least not on a level that fans can appreciate.
You see, there are four kinds of people in this world as far as I am concerned. Those who have not seen the real RoboCop. Those who have seen the real RoboCop, but do not get how transcendantlyflabbergastinglyexplosivelyorgasmicallyawesome it really is. Those who have seen the real RoboCop, and do get transcendantlyflabbergastinglyexplosivelyorgasmicallyawesome it really is. And those who grok RoboCop.
Probably the biggest awesomeness that I failed to mention in my previous writing about RoboCop is the Mediabreak. Mediabreak is a segment in the film during which reporters Casey Wong (Mario Machado) and Jesse Perkins (Leeza Gibbons) give news reports that clue us in not only on semi-important events to the plot (who OCP is, who Clarence Boddicker is, that the police are on the verge of strike action, and so forth), but also things that are meant to clue us in on the fact that even though the time period is indeterminate, it is phrased as a future. The “top” story in the first Mediabreak, however, shows a minor fumble in this respect. It does, however, recover nicely. The first story concerns itself with the threat of nuclear eruption in Pretoria, South Africa, when the white minority government unveils a neutron bomb and affirms that they will use it if all other defenses fail.
I will not go into how different South Africa in 1986 and 1987 was to the South Africa that today helps white supremacist idiots think they have a credible leg to stand on. That is a matter for another writing, and it is one I am only very vaguely informed about at this stage. But suffice to say for the time being that there are a lot of people in South Africa, and not all of them white, who wish that they could have the Apartheid regime back, such is the mess that South Africa has descended into.
A Mediabreak also clues us in on public response to the emergence of RoboCop (Peter Weller) after his intervention in the hostage crisis. The Mediabreak at this point is partly a puff piece, but it also shows children at a primary school meeting with the robot. As an interviewer asks RoboCop if he has any advice for the children watching at home, he simply turns to the camera and says “stay out of trouble”. More Mediabreaks follow, but for the time being, let us just say that with today’s channels like Faux News, their slogan “you give us three minutes, and we’ll give you the world” seems very prescient.
Another hilarious use of the media in RoboCop is inserts of a comedy show revolving around a character called Bixby Snyder (S.D. Nemeth). Bixby’s show, which was intended by the filmmakers to be titled It’s Not My Problem, seems to revolve around the Bixby character interacting with at least a couple of women who appear to be… professionals, we will just say. As the womens’ characters are called into question during these segments in a joking form, Bixby frequently uses the punchline “I’d buy that for a dollar”. This six-word quote has since been used so many times in so many places that people often fail to remember it is a quote from a variety-like segment in the greatest film the industry has yet produced.
One of my favourite moments, musically speaking, in the film, comes during RoboCop’s campaign of tracking down Murphy’s killers and asking them where he can find Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). RoboCop’s arrest of Leon is the stuff classic post-“golden era” police story films are made of. RoboCop simply walks through mobs of dancing punks, some of whom are dressed in a frightening manner even by the standards of the mid-1990s. And upon coming face to face with Leon Nash (Ray Wise), he simply asks where Clarence is. Leon’s first response is to draw a pistol, which RoboCop casually knocks away like so much foam, apparently not minding that it lands in the hand of another dancer who simply dances about with it, seemingly not noticing what they have just got hold of. So, chuckling, with his hands in the air, Leon launches a heroic effort at a kick, aimed squarely at RoboCop’s groin. Most male police officers… hell, most police officers, period, would make an effort to intercept a strike like this, but not RoboCop. The kick lands square in his groin with a hollow bonging sound much like a gong, and Leon screams. Clearly, whatever RoboCop’s body is made from (the outer plates are described as titanium laminated with kevlar), it is hard enough to withstand kickinthenuts. So, after several flash-frames showing laughing dancers (including an energetic Paul Verhoeven trying to stir the extras into action), RoboCop simply tells Leon “let’s talk” before dragging him by his hair out of the discotheque.
Also worth noting is the music that accompanies this song. The band Ministry was not nearly as well-known in 1987 as would be the case in the mid-1990s, but they would still occasionally indulge in side-projects. P.T.P. was one such side-project, and P.T.P.‘s best-known song, Show Me Your Spine, appears in the above-described scene. I cannot really comment on the quality of Show Me Your Spine, except to say it merges rather well, surprisingly so, with the score music by Basil Poledouris. And that whilst I enjoy a great deal both of the versions I have heard of Ministry‘s song Stigmata, they do not meet the criteria I have of a band I would go out of my way to listen to (Poledouris‘ scores for any film, on the other hand…).
Basil Poledouris, or Basilis Konstantine Poledouris as he was called at birth, was a composer with a number of well-known scores. Prior to being contacted and asked if he would like to work with Paul Verhoeven on Flesh + Blood, Poledouris‘ best-known scores were for The Blue Lagoon and the real Conan The Barbarian. Every individual who likes to think they know something about making music for films likes to nominate one or two composers that they consider to be better than all others. Often, these preferences happen to coincide with the speaker’s favourite films. Basil Poledouris has worked on numerous films that I cannot stand. Films like Iron Eagle, Cherry 2000, or On Deadly Ground take shittiness to a new level. But after Basil died of cancer in 2006, he no doubt looked Odin straight in the face and said “I composed the score for RoboCop… what have you done with your life?”.
Basil and Bobbie Poledouris had two daughters, Zoë and Alexis. Zoë, the elder of the two, has been a film composer and occasional actress for the best part of the last thirty years. The counter-melody on French horn for The Orgy, a cue from the real Conan The Barbarian, is her work. For her effort, Zoë received co-writing credit, thus making her amongst the youngest members of BMI at the time. Zoë does not contribute in any way to the music on RoboCop (that anyone has been made aware of), but given that she was all of thirteen or fourteen years old when RoboCop was in production or being released, that is pretty understandable. (For those who are interested, Zoë is the blonde vocalist you see in one shot of the 1997 film based upon StarShip Troopers that Virginia Heinlein basically turned her nose up at. Not that I blame her.)
One of my favourite moments from RoboCop is an advertisement from a Mediabreak. In the midst of a Mediabreak, they cut to a commercial in which a family around a table exchange words that are… puzzling, to say the least. Things about crossing one’s line of death, not dismantling MX stockpiles, and no more military aid. Then someone pushes a button on a more sophisticated game board, a mushroom cloud erupts to the sound of a crude siren and explosion effect, and there are contented cheers from the participants on one side. This, friends and neighbours, is Nukem, another quality home game from Butler Brothers.
One of the people who is still in my Fudgebook friends list, and has the distinction of being the one person native to the state called Queensland that I would be aggrieved to see harm come to, was born about four years after the initial release of RoboCop. I doubt I will ever be able to make her grok the sheer insanity of the late 1980s that inspired such jokes as the Nukem board game (people actually wanted there to be one in 1987). Just as far more poorly touched upon in films like Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, the world was gripped in a paranoia that the United States Of America and the Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик (aka Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics) were going to engage in a war of nuclear arms that would engulf the world and render it uninhabitable. This fear had been a constant element of the media throughout the 1980s, ramping up to an absurd level after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Now, observant readers might have noticed that I have filed both this and the previous post about RoboCop under the category of Autistic Identity. The reason why is pretty simple. Although there are films that unintentionally portray the autistic, and thus do so better than certain Jim Crow deliberate attempts ever will, better than RoboCop, they can be counted on one hand.
A key element in this is the Prime Directives that govern RoboCop’s behaviour. In the more immediate and far less shitty (this is not saying a lot) sequel, much is made of how simple and open to interpretation RoboCop’s Prime Directives are. In RoboCop 2‘s inability to pick a theme or focus and go with it, they divert to one subplot about how the normie psychologist decides to give RoboCop a whole new set of directives, the result of which is a polite, near sycophantic RoboCop who reads Miranda rights to a corpse and tries to deliver a lecture beginning with “you might think you are having fun” or the like to a baseball team of children that are robbing an electronics store.
You see, RoboCop as written by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, and directed by Paul Verhoeven, is like an autistic adult that grew up in the 1980s. If it feels happy, sad, miserable, angry, or whatever, it will tell you, and often in no uncertain terms. The second sequel that Orion Pictures released shortly around or before going bankrupt was an attempt to make it a goo-goo-gaa-gaa Play School act aimed at “children” (whose, I would like to know, as our planet could do without all of that kind). Hence, I generally refer to it in derisively-enunciated phrasing as RoboCop In Name Only. The first sequel, RoboCop 2, awkwardly lurches between a bad attempt to imitate the original, and that infantalisation. So it should come as no surprise that fans of the real RoboCop are very wary to say the least of the announced “reboot” of RoboCop. If anyone from Sony and MGM can hear me, there is one thing you do not, not ever, not in a month of Sundays, do with a classic like RoboCop unless you are scared of its message: “reboot” it. Instead, take a look at what Disney did with TRON: Legacy. Build something that not only acknowledges that awesomeness of the original, but incorporates the intervening twenty-plus years as a plot element. Acknowledge that the social conditions on which RoboCop is based have gotten worse, not better, and give us the sequel that those of us who lived through them deserve.
Also fondly remembered by me is the arcade videogame that was released in 1988. The videogame was more or less identically themed to the film. One assumed the role of RoboCop. One walked from left to right (or in later levels, in a myriad of directions), punched or shot a seemingly endless parade of criminals and enemies from OCP. Whilst the videogame obviously only bore the lightest resemblance in plot terms, the one thing it did end up cloning from the film it was based on was the fact that it stood high above the rest of the pack. I will not say that the RoboCop videogame is the greatest videogame ever made, but with its focus on enjoyment delivered by means of killing every thing that appears on the screen, it is on the short list of candidates.
Much like the Alien and Predator of their respective franchises, RoboCop has also been adapted into a comic book. Marvel, Dark Horse, Avatar Press, and soon Dynamite Entertainment, all have RoboCop comic book adaptations to their credit. There is even a RoboCop Versus The Terminator comic book, in which RoboCop discovers that the technology within much of his body is a precursor to Skynet and responds in the kind of manner one would expect of RoboCop.
When one is a ten year old boy (or girl), considerations like plausability do not usually factor into enjoyment that much. Sure, people like to believe a bit in what they are being told, but a ten year old will generally find it easier to believe in what they are being shown than is the case with a thirty year old. Or even an eighteen year old for that matter. As has been covered at length in the audio commentary, there is a certain trick to suspending audiences’ disbelief. It depends on the approach one wants to take. In a film like Star Wars and its myriad of episodes, for example, the filmmakers just throw the audience into the story’s universe and say “here it is, take it or leave it”. In Star Wars, they succeeded with this because they gave certain elements of the film, especially the aesthetics, a grounding. Although the universe in the film was thoroughly unreal, the actions of the individuals and the tools they used throughout the story were very believable. The success of Star Wars spawned many attempts at imitation, one of the better-known of which was Battle Beyond The Stars. Battle Beyond The Stars is regarded mainly as B-grade trash today largely because very little of that grounding in reality is visible. The film just pulls out one element after another without properly selling it to the audience.
RoboCop takes an entirely opposite approach to those two films (or group of films). Namely, it has but a small number of fantastic elements with unreality to them. Specifically, the idea that a corporation could gain control of a city’s police force, RoboCop himself, and the ED-209 unit. Everything else is so real that it frightens a lot of people (especially censors and “everything must be made for babies” idiots). Even the depictions of violence, as one would expect of a man who was only just about to start primary school when the Americans began fighting the Germans using his homeland as an arena, are very real. During shooting of the scene in which ED-209 is introduced, Verhoeven was adamant that there were not enough squibs, or there was not enough fake blood, around the body of Kinney (Kevin Page). His crew could not believe what they were hearing, when he was calling out “more blood” and so on, but one statement tipped writer Ed Neumeier off to the benefits of hiring a European. Verhoeven went to great pains to assure the crew that when a .50 calibre automatic weapon hits a Human being that many times from that distance, even the amount of blood that was visible in the director’s cut of the film is a lot less than would be visible (I have nowhere near the experience of seeing this kind of devastation that I can imagine Paul has, and I can tell you that the body would not even much more than a smear of mush, leave alone whole, in such circumstances).
Also worth talking about here is the performance of one of RoboCop‘s lesser-praised heroes. When we are first introduced to Robert Morton, he is followed by two lackeys, or underlings in his department. Kinney is the first of the two, and I can sum up his character by telling you that during one attempt to interject during discussion of “mess[ing] with Jones”, Morton simply turns around and asks him “Who asked you, twerp?”. The other member of Morton’s group is simply known as Johnson (Felton Perry). Johnson does not have a whole lot to say. He is a bit akin to Adrian Edmonson‘s performance in Bottom. Whereas Morton seems to hop around and yap like he is going to eat the furniture, Johnson speaks very calmly and shares some observations that intelligent members of the audience might have already picked up. “Better watch your back, Bob,” Johnson says to his nominal boss. “Jones is gonna come looking for ya.” “Oh, fukk Jones,” Morton excitedly replies. “He fumbled the ball and I was there to pick it up.” So Johnson comes back with the response that rings in the storyteller’s mind right up until a midpoint scene.
“Too bad about Kinney, huh?”
Around the time that RoboCop starts to round up Clarence’s merry band of killers, Morton is having a small party at his house with two women (“a couple of models” he euphimises in an earlier scene) and a quantity of cocaine that the Charlie Sheen of 1987 would regard as a light snack. As Morton is snorting cocaine off the cleavage of one of his “models”, the doorbell is heard. Verhoeven states in the audio commentary that the music cue for the doorbell is from a classical piece that is meant to signify death coming to your door for a visit, and was deliberately chosen to let the viewer know something was up. So when Morton answers the door and is immediately pushed back in by a gun-wielding Clarence… well, as the latter simply, and loudly says “bitches leave”, the women do exactly as ordered. Who can blame them?
Now, when Clarence shoots Morton repeatedly in the legs and puts a disc into one of the video players that are in the house (apparently the house they rented to do this scene in was owned by an even bigger home video nut than I am, if such a thing is humanly possible), we are surprised to be greeted with Dick Jones’ visage. Jones makes a big speech, Clarence pulls the pin on a grenade and leaves it just where Morton cannot properly reach it, and then he leaves. The scene ends with the house exploding and a quick cut to the cocaine factory sequence I have gone into great detail about before.
The other hero of RoboCop I did not get around to singing the praises of in the previous post is the precinct’s staff sergeant, one Warren Reed (Robert DoQui). Reed’s role in the story is fairly minimal, only being around for little pushes of the plot in this or that direction. But the most memorable scene with him in it is also one of the most memorable in the film, period. After a POV shot in which RoboCop is unveiled to the OCP staff and walked through that location, we see Reed at a desk in the central room of the precinct, with a drunk annoying him. The drunk tells him, loudly and somewhat confusedly, that “I am” what he calls a repeat offender. “I repeat, I will offend again,” he continues. “I get my orders from a higher source”. “Shut up, asshole,” Reed responds, “just shut up”. As the people from OCP enter the room, we seriously hear the drunk ask him if his mother knows he speaks like this. Well, duh! His mother (assuming she still lives), would know what his job is about, and probably think that if that response is the worst the drunk gets out of him, lucky drunk.
When Morton and his team are bringing RoboCop into the precinct, along with a lot of equipment, Reed tries to ask what this is all about. Morton tries to brush him off with it being about official OCP business so please, get lost. Reed’s response is that this is bullshit, and he takes his orders from cops, but he does not quite finish the latter part. As he is about to say “cops”, we hear a thud. And another. And more, in a steady, rhythmic fashion that is so close to the introductory drum pattern of Black Sabbath‘s Iron Man that it is hard to dismiss as coincidence.
(Oh yeah, the above image of Robert DoQui is not from the real RoboCop. Sadly, finding an image of Robert from the real RoboCop is like finding a good moment in anything that Hollywood has tried to palm off as RoboCop in order to keep people away from the real thing. But it is as close to how Robert appears in the real RoboCop as the images I could find, so I am going to have to stick with it.)
Ed Neumeier, as I said in my previous writing, describes Paul Verhoeven as a visceralist. But I think that if the screenplay is exactly as was filmed in the panel van chase sequence, then Neumeier himself is a realist. During this chase, several of the shots that Murphy fires from the two pistols he is using (more or less a full decade before anyone in the English-speaking world even knew who John Woo was) hit one of the gang in a leg. This gang member, Bobby (Freddie Hice), it is established earlier in the scene, is ridiculously incompetent. The first thing shouted loudly by Clarence in this scene, other than repeated hisses of “shit”, is “you burned the fukking money!”. Whilst he is angrily pointing out that it is as good as marked, that is when Emil alerts the group to the presence of the police car behind them.
Fuel constraints notwithstanding, the Ford Taurus being driven by Lewis could keep chasing the silver panel van all day, so with Bobby lying on the ground groaning “shit, Clarence, my leg”, Clarence orders his followers to pick Bobby up. They do so, and Clarence asks him in a manner that I am not even going to try to replicate here if he can fly. As the police car brakes again and moves to the rear of the van, the gang proceeds to throw Bobby out of the van, right into the police car’s windshield. Our next shot, to the tune of an excited-sounding refrain from Basil Poledouris‘ score, is the gang laughing like children who have accidentally inhaled Charlie Sheen‘s stash.
In fact, stoners seem to pop up with some frequency in RoboCop. Apart from the fact that Morton is quite clearly a user, and Clarence’s gang appear to be using a little too much of their own product, I would like you to meet the best portrayal of a stoner in the history of eternity. Look again at the image above the last paragraph. This lucky winner is none other than Keva Rosenberg, an unemployed person from an unspecified district of Detroit. Keva’s main function is to appear in a Mediabreak and remind us that it is a “free society”, except there is nothing free, there are just no garantees. It is the law of the jungle, you are on your own. Intersperse this with a lot of woooooah-ho-ho-hos and the like, and you get an idea of Keva’s contribution to the film. What you might not know is that Keva is portrayed by none other than Alex Van Halen, the drummer from Van Halen. This is about as close to awesomeness as anything associated with or part of Van Halen is ever going to get. A ten-second (if that) cameo in RoboCop. I hope he (and they) enjoyed it.
Anyone else who has seen both RoboCop and The Simpsons, fess up. When you watch Otto (Harry Shearer), or Keva, does one not make you think of the other? I know I find that quite a lot. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that when Otto was being developed as a character, Keva was an inspirational element, let us just say.
The hour grows late, but I wish to talk a bit about the gun that RoboCop uses. Although it has been modified somewhat extensively in the cosmetic sense (mainly, lengthening the barrel), RoboCop’s gun is a Beretta 93R, a gun that can be set to fire one shot at a time, in three-round bursts, or in full automatic. Given that the Beretta 93R’s magazine holds fifteen nine-millimetre rounds, I expect that in full automatic mode, the gun would empty itself in about 1.00001 seconds, if that. Of course, RoboCop is only showing reloading his weapon once (in the prelude to the climactic gun battle with Clarence’s gang). The same make and model of firearm, the Beretta 93R, was also used as the basis for the pistols used by the Clerics in Equilibrium. The cosmetic modifications are different (the Clerics have normal-sized hands, so the gun is not extended in order to look pathetically small in theirs, among other differences), but the manner of operation and the gun itself is more or less exactly the same.
The data spike, as I call it, was also a real joy for the people working on the film. Special effects techniques were (almost) entirely practical in 1987 when you were working with a budget of around fifteen million US dollars. So whenever you see RoboCop extend his hand, flip his fingers back, and extend a spike in order to interface with a computer or kill people with, well it is like this. Someone was on the set, crouched or positioned out of frame, holding a model of the RoboCop suit arm in just the right position to trick the viewer’s eye into thinking RoboCop was merely holding up his arm in that position. I am not sure of the exact mechanism, but knowing what I do know about practical special effects, I am pretty sure that same person pulled something inside the arm to make the hand flip back and the spike extend. A canny viewer will notice how in shots when this spike is made visible, one never sees RoboCop’s elbow, or indeed much of anything other than his shoulders, face, and hand. And you know what? For how crude, un-CGI, and low-tech this approach to the whole trick is, it works. It works wonderfully. So well, in fact, that it enhances the single most important and awesome death scene in the entire film. Which, given that every death in the film is awesome to some extent or another (even the ones that last mere seconds), is saying something. (Remember boys and girls, in film, what you accomplish is always far more important than how you accomplish it. Unless your business is entirely in those making-of documentaries, anyway.)
So why, I imagine you are asking at this point, have I expended all of these words about how brilliant RoboCop is? Again, consider why I have marked this and the previous post about the film with the category of Autistic Identity. The entire film, people are telling RoboCop or people who interact with him closely that he does not have a name (aka he is not a person), that he is [a] product (aka he is a machine, he is ours to do with as we please). When he tells the old man at the end of the film that his name is Murphy, that is the ultimate triumph of the film. That RoboCop knows he is a real person, that he is somebody with a name, with control over his own senses and life, and that he is there to bring justice for both himself and the people he represents.
Do I recommend RoboCop to all and sundry? Come on, you know the answer to that already. Would I recommend showing it to a child who is only about ten years old? Well, no. I probably would back right away from that one unless it was my child. And even then, it is a judgement call. A child who is so sick, or was so sick mere weeks ago, that he is (or was) less afraid of dying than not dying is a special case. But even then, I would say it was more blind booby prize luck than just planning or setup that I happened to get to see the film when I did. I even eagerly await the day when the powers that be get around to releasing a good Blu-ray Disc of it (the one that is available now is basically a first-generation effort, and leaves much to be desired). If nothing else, it can give an unwary child between ages nine and fifteen a very harsh and immersive lesson in the fact that the violence they are often shown in merry-go-round fashion in other entertainments, the “cowboys and Indians” type crap, does in fact have repercussions. And by repercussions, I do not mean solely the kind where people slap you on the wrist or throw you in prison. Paul Verhoeven is clearly haunted to a great degree, even as a seventy-four year old man, by the violence he could not help seeing when he was but a few years old. There is a lesson in that for everybody.
But the final verdict, from my point of view, is that RoboCop is like Black Sabbath, or doom metal in general. It is more relevant today than it was when it was first brought to the public. And speaking as a man who is still haunted by the deliberate isolation and touchy-feely type of abuse that he experienced during multiple stages of his childhood, that is a sad, sad thing. A better world means these things become less relevant.
I am Dean McIntosh, and it was my pleasure to bring you the second part of this extremely verbose, lengthy, extensive load of barf about the greatest film I could expect to see if I live to be 10,000 years old.