Saturday, December 22, 2012

80s Month Week 3: RoboCop

For the third week of our December tour of the 80s, lets check in with the most chrome-tastic 80s gentleman of all time: RoboCop!

One of the few pleasant things about getting older is finding that some entertainment grows up with you. Re-watching a film that you haven’t seen since childhood and discovering layers of sub-text and irony that were invisible to you as a child is a wonderfully happy surprise.  That’s my experience with many of the films of the 80s, but especially today’s entry, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 action/satire Robocop.

My eight year old self understood RoboCop to be a film about a cop who became a Robocop and shot a bunch of bad guys before having a sweet robo-fight with a giant scary robot in the end.  That’s essentially correct, but RoboCop is also a dark comedy about the corporatization of America as well as a sly satire on movie violence itself.

Robocop is set in a near future Detroit that is collapsing under the weight of economic depression and skyrocketing crime. In desperation the government has turned over control of the city’s police department to giant evil corporation Omni Consumer Products. The crime problem is so bad, and OCP has mismanaged the police department to the point that the police officers are contemplating a strike. Desperate to do something to take a bite out of crime without dealing with pesky police officers, OCP rushes a bunch of crazy robots into production, like ED 209 here:

That scene shows off a lot of what is great about RoboCop- note the total disregard for human life by the corporate types, the over the top violence of the executive getting shot up, and the extreme dark humor of the whole scene. The older that I get the funnier this movie gets, which probably reveals me for the horrible person I am.

After the failure of the first robot, a villainous OCP executive hatches a plan to build the perfect police-bot by taking the brain of recently murdered Officer Murphy (Peter Weller of Buckaroo Bonzai fame) and putting it in a badass robot body. Murphy is the perfect cop at first, but eventually he begins to remember his past and goes on a quest to regain his identity and take vengeance on his murderers.

All of that serious business (IDENTITY! VENGEANCE!) is undercut throughout the film with a consistent dark comic tone, letting us know that nothing is supposed to be taken too seriously. This is especially apparent in the frequent looks we get at TV shows and commercials in this society. Verhoeven would use this trick of giving us information about what makes a world tick through a look at its news and entertainment ten years later in Starship Troopers (a film that shares a lot of action/comedy DNA with RoboCop)

I don’t even remember those TV sequences from when I was a kid, much less any of the other dark comic subtext this movie has. It’s pretty much the gift that keeps on giving. So if you have a kid who is about ten years old (and you are horribly irresponsible I guess) make sure to sit them down in front of RoboCop. They’ll thank you in fifteen years or so.

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