Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, A Retrospective

Peter Weller in the title role

By Mark Hodge (doddleNEWS)

The release of Jose Padilha’s RoboCop remake has prompted a renewed appreciation for Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original.

Thankfully, Padilha has in no way tried to replicate the style of the first film. Of course, in 21st century mainstream cinema, it would be impossible to make that particular film, or any Verhoeven film for that matter.

But why is the original considered a classic?

Well, if there is one movie which defines the 1980s – the violence, the sex, the politics – it is RoboCop (1987).

But this isn’t just an ultra violent action movie with a guy in a cool robot suit. The central character is essentially a machine with a soul. Someone who has ostensibly been given his life back but has been rendered subservient to the corrupt organisation which resurrected him.

Set in a dystopian crime ridden Detroit, the film satirises Reagan’s America, the era of big business and cocaine – where Western civilization’s moral compass took an extended vacation.

Did you know most of these guys ended up on 24 with Jack Bauer?

The police department is privately owned, run by yuppie bad guys who are self serving and ruthless. Verhoeven took everything in the script, which was written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, and amplified it. As a result, the villains are the most despicable human beings imaginable (Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker and his gang ooze villainy) and the violence is as graphic as any mainstream film before it.

In fact, RoboCop (1987) is arguably the most violent Hollywood movie ever made.

But it’s not just the clever satire or the over-the-top gore which sets this movie apart. Verhoeven managed to make a science fiction classic – in the era of Spielberg, Zemeckis and Cameron – with only a $13 million budget to play with.

Director Paul Verhoeven with ED-209

Paul Verhoeven’s hiring was fortuitous, simply because every American director turned the movie down. In fact, the Dutchman himself was also put off by the rather silly sounding title, only to be persuaded by his wife, who had read the script and found the overall concept interesting.

The filmmaker recruited some of the industry’s best creatives, including Rob Bottin (John Carpenter’s The Thing) who designed the fantastic RoboCop suit. The imagination involved in the engineering and design of the suit – which meant hanging the shiny fiberglass exoskeleton over a flexible undersuit – combined with Peter Weller’s fantastic performance, is a further example of how CGI has ultimately been a reductive influence within mainstream cinema.

Also, Basil Poledouris’s grand Wagner-esque score is brilliant and is reminiscent of John Williams’ music from blockbuster franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Special Makeup FX maestro Rob Bottin and RoboCop

The film grossed over $50 million at the box-office and was widely praised by critics for its clever satire and sleek design.

Unfortunately, the two sequels which followed – directed by Irwin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) and Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad), respectively – did not live up to the original. This was an era when sequels got worse and worse as the film series dragged on.

RoboCop 2 (1990) in particular is a nasty, morally corrupt film, which aims to replicate the violence of Verhoeven’s film but is completely devoid of any message behind it.

As for Verhoeven, the Dutch director’s next two movies, Total Recall (1990) and Basic Instinct (1993), were hugely successful, grossing over $260 million and $350 million respectively.

Director Verhoeven with Weller as RoboCop

However, the filmmaker’s time in Hollywood was short lived, when the era of sex and violence in mainstream cinema moved on, Verhoeven did not. Indeed, if RoboCop defines the 80s, then Showgirls (1995) probably best defines Paul Verhoeven.

Jose Padilha’s RoboCop (2014), starring Joel Kinnaman in the titular role, is in theatres now.

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Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.

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