Last week, the long-awaited trailer for the Robocop reboot was released, and we can say for certain that the production value has clearly been elevated. That’s good, but the tone seems awfully serious, which maybe isn’t so good. Call me optimistic, but I’m still holding out hope that at least one of the bad guys gets his skin melted off in an unfortunate collision with a tank of toxic waste, just like in the original. If not, this new newer, sleeker version with be a big disappointment – Gary Oldman or no Gary Oldman.
If you haven’t seen the 1987 original, you really only have one of three excuses: you weren’t yet born, you were too young, or you were too high minded. Regardless… shame on you. Released the same year that gave us The Simpsons, Zac Efron, and Prozac, Robocop was directed by Paul Verhoeven, the same cinematic genius who brought us Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Showgirls. But before he made any of those, he struck the perfect balance between camp and violence with a dystopian vision of law enforcement in the not-too-distant future. Or, that’s how 12-year-old me remembers it.
Unlike Iron Man, Robocop wasn’t a celebration of technology – it was a pushback against it.
Robocop takes place in an 80s version of Detroit that’s a crumbling shell of it’s former self, where government services have been outsourced to corporations. Far fetched, right? Omni Consumer Products, which goes by the cuddly acronym OCP, has taken over the Detroit police department and it aims to replace regular officers with the ED-209, which looks like an ATST from Star Wars and for some reason roars like a lion. When the ED-209 malfunctions and pumps an unassuming OCP executive full of a few hundred live rounds during a presentation (someone call IT!!!), the company scraps the big giant robots idea and moves forward with the somehow less ambitious cyborg Robocop program instead. I don’t get it either; just go with it!
Shortly thereafter, our hero, Detective Murphy, dies in the line of duty and his remains are used to create the first part-human, part-machine, and all-badass that begins to clean up the city. What? It could totally happen! I won’t spoil it for you, but needless to say things for Detective Murphy go south pretty quickly and the seemingly well-intentioned multinational corporation winds up not being what it appeared. Shocking, I know.
These days, Hollywood and men with circuitry are totally BFFs, but back in 1987, Robocop was pretty unique – and not just because the hero needed an oil change or because the film’s mix of comedy and graphic violence was the mother load for pre-pubescent boys. I mentioned that a guy’s skin melts off after he crashes into a tank of toxic waste, right? ‘Cause when I first saw that, it messed. Me. Up.
Unlike Iron Man, Robocop wasn’t a celebration of technology – it was a pushback against it, a suggestion that maybe we’d gone a little too far in our embrace of automated everything, including intelligence. I should probably mention that just the year before it’s release, this happened.
It will be interesting to see if the new Robocop reflects that same fear, because it certainly seems like we’ve moved beyond it. These days, we’re perfectly happy letting robots clean our homes and kill our enemies, and entertain our dogs. Tech is woven into the fabric of every facet of our world, and despite the warnings, the machines haven’t come for us. The worst you can say about them is that they’ve given us bad directions. In the 80s version of Jobs, Steve Jobs would have been a Lex Luthor-like criminal hell-bent on world domination. These days, Steve Jobs is a celebrated misanthrope played by the most adorable sit-com star since Small Wonder.
The new Robocop might feature a better cast, a tighter script, and cooler special effects, but I’m pretty confident that it won’t be able to capture the creeping anxiety we once felt about technology’s inexorable march toward ubiquity. If there was ever a Cold War between man and machine, the machines have won. And that’s totally fine, because we’re all ok with it, right? Right?
(Images and video © Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc. All rights reserved.)