Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) and RoboCop/Murphy (Peter Weller)
I watched RoboCop for the first time in several years last night. I was actually somewhat apprehensive about revisiting this movie as I had recently caught up with Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi follow-up Total Recall (a viewing inspired by this image), which I found to be a big, dumb action movie but with some intelligent twists.
Now, I own the Criterion laserdisc of RoboCop but never bought it on DVD because I preferred the X-rated cut of the film, which for years was exclusive to the Criterion releases of the film and a box set that would have saddled me with the two sequels, which I don't like at all. An opportunity to watch the film on Blu-ray recently presented itself, and Raz and I decided we'd give it a whirl.
It's not so much that the film holds up — which, for the most part, it does — it's that it was so remarkably prescient. The movie may have been darkly satirical in 1987, but so many aspects of it, from the depiction of the corporate juggernaut Omni Consumer Products' control over the lives of everyday citizens to the "Media Break" segments which are almost indistinguishable from Fox News, ring so true in this day and age that they were as disturbing as they were funny.
There are some very 80s aspects of the film; the server room RoboCop enters to access the police database looks antiquated, there is enough cocaine use in this movie to give Robert Downey Jr. a heart attack, Phil Tippett's go motion effects* for the ED-209 are somewhat rickety in this day and age, RoboCop's internal displays are in DOS, the television images and graphics are very dated. What should be clear from this list, however, is that these are extremely minor concerns, more than made up for by the drama and humor of the film as a whole.
The additional moments of violence in the cut that the M.P.A.A. had originally rated X do, indeed, intensify the effect of the film. There are two major additions. The first is a gruesome extension of the early scene with Mr. Kinny which is so violent and over-the-top that it can't be taken seriously, and thus is actually less disturbing than the less graphic edit seen in the R rated theatrical version.
On the other hand, Murphy's death runs almost a full minute longer in Verhoeven's cut, a sadistic scene that brutalizes the audience almost as much as it does the character, which not only intensifies one's hatred of Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his unruly gang, but also ensures the viewer's sympathies for Murphy's plight. The harsh depiction of his dismemberment and the coldness with which Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) treats Murphy's remains only intensifies Frankensteinian nature of the transformation. In fact, the dream sequence, the scene in which RoboCop walks through Murphy's old home and the moment in which Lewis assists his targeting by aiming at jars of baby food (an evocative illustration of how certain areas of life are now denied him) are all that much more emotionally gripping because of the trauma he experienced.
The picture on the Blu-ray disc accurately depicted the gritty imagery; it may not always be pleasant, but this is what RoboCop was supposed to look like. The DTS-MA lossless track presents the audio in the best possible way, but it is a simple mix that doesn't have much power. This is pretty par for the course for this soundtrack, which, despite being one of the first movies to be issued in Spectral Recording Dolby Stereo, never was terribly spectacular. The only exception was the original Orion home video laserdisc which pumped up the bass response.
Basil Poledouris' music is very similar to another, much less successful science-fiction movie he scored the same year, Cherry 2000. Both feature propulsive brass themes and a plethora of electronics. I personally find Cherry 2000 to be the stronger of the two, but I found while watching the film this time around that the RoboCop score was engaging me more than it had in the past. There is a remastered edition that I've been toying with the idea of getting.
* Go motion is a process similar to stop motion, but when each frame is exposed, the aperture of the camera is kept open long enough for the model to be moved somewhat, which causes a small blurring effect, making the movement of the model look slightly more naturalistic when played back at 24 frames per second.
I like New York in June, how about you? I like a Gershwin tune, how about you? I love a fireside when a storm is due. I like potato chips, moonlight and motor trips, how about you? I'm mad about good books, can't get my fill, and Franklin Roos'velt's looks give me a thrill. Holding hands at the movie show, when all the lights are low may not be new, but I like it, how about you? - Ralph Freed/Burton Lane
Yes, I know that it isn't June anymore, but it was the last time I was at this job site.
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