“They can put a man inside a machine. Should they?”
– Gary Oldman
Brazilian director JosÃƒÂ© Padilha gives us his very different take on the character from Paul Verhoeven’s classic 1987 sci-fi actioner starring Peter Weller.
Several distinct elements defined the original RoboCop as a Verhoeven film: Murphy as a Christ figure, a slew of memorable one-liners, a dystopian future envisioned as outrageous parodies of the excesses of the 1980’s, and that colorful world contrasted against the bitterly cold portrayals of the characters and their relationships in it. Padilha seems to be keenly aware that a simple remake, grafting Verhoeven’s trademark style onto modern CGI infrastructure, would have been a critical and likely commercial failure. We’ve seen all that before. So, where Verhoeven’s cyborg was nearly devoid of memories, and quickly marches forward to clean up the city, Padilha focuses heavily on the mind of the man, and a contemplation on the effect technological advancements are having on us, as this science fiction of the 80’s is quickly becoming the reality of today.
The film signals early on that this man versus machine conflict will feature heavily throughout the story. Dr. Dennett Norton, played by Gary Oldman, works with amputees, fitting them with cybernetic limbs, and helping them learn to use them. One patient is having trouble using his new ‘hands.’ They work, but psychologically, he can’t accept them. With Dr. Norton’s calm encouragement, the patient picks up a guitar and eventually beings to play. After a few moments, the patient starts to cry, and the hands malfunction. Dr. Norton explains that emotions interfere with control of cybernetic limbs. “I need emotion to play,” the patient tells him. Naturally, when Alex Murphy finds most of his body has been replaced, the shock will incapacitate him.
Woah, two different hands! Symbolism!!!
This conflict spills over into relationships as well. Verhoeven’s RoboCop was nearly devoid of memory, with the faintest of flashbacks hinting at the inextinguishable soul held within. This allowed RoboCop to quickly set to his task of dispatching bad guys, and left audiences full on action and catch-phrases, but emotionally empty without any resolution between RoboCop and his family.Padilha’s cyborg is overwhelmed by memories, and crushed at the effect this new situation will have on his former life. Murphy’s anxiety overwhelms him as he prepares for his first video chat home to his wife (Abbie Cornish as ‘Clara’), since his accident. He zooms the webcam in to just his head, then closer on just his face, then a bit closer – just to be sure. He can’t bear the thought she might see what’s been done to him. It isn’t until about halfway through the film that these issues are resolved enough for him to even leave the lab. It may be a simple decision to deviate, or it may be our modern reality, where stay-at-home dad’s, maternity leave, and being ‘real’ are more normative than they were in the 80’s, but however deliberate, Padilha’s Robocop is a much more emotionally centered film.
“If You Prick Me, Do I Not… Leak?”
The emotional dilemmas, personal and corporate agendas, and criminal enterprises all compete and demand Robocop’s attention, and it’s all very chaotic until Murphy can find focus and take action. In this movie, the family issue must be resolved first.
“Who is this ‘Rosie’ I hear you’ve been spending a lot of time with?”
Once Murphy finds his footing there, the action can finally commence.
Nobody likes Robocop. Except OmniCorp. Sort of. They would rather go with robots, which are more efficient. But legal impediments mean he stands to earn them over $600 billion a year, or something. But will the public accept him? Padhila replaces the camp and parody of Verhoeven with the 24 hour, one-sided spin-cycle news that’s entirely real today. Robot police are used in Tehran, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak, a deliciously accurate Bill O’Reilly impersonation, would have you believe Iranians love it. Padilha has no use for subtlety when comparing life for a Tehran family and their son, Navid, to Detroit life and Murphy’s son, David. While he might be simply avoiding the Verhoeven style, it seems more likely Padilha is bluntly lensing our world as it is right now (Our Detroit really has declared bankruptcy, a pipe-dream from the original film). But with police corruption, and drugs on the street, and Murphy’s own attempted assassination, it’s all he can do to just solve some crimes in Detroit City.
Still, RoboCop finds his mojo, and begins the process of capturing bad guys, swaying public opinion, and solving his own murder. The threads of the original story, though buried deep under a different director’s vision, are still there. RoboCop still saves the day.
The actors and crew from RoboCop discuss the making of the film, in this, one of many RoboCop featurettes Sony has released:
While it’s difficult to decipher some of Padilha’s motives, the results seem clear. “Dead or Alive…,” “Thank you for your cooperation,” “I’d buy that for a dollar” “You have 2 seconds to decide,” – those catchphrases are here, but repurposed in entirely different ways. It reminds you where the story comes from – like a Michael Jackson song reworked by a country singer – but with a whole new feel. While Verhoeven posited the comedic dysfunction of technology run amok, Padilha asks tough questions on what effect today’s near-science will have in our perfect families and conflict riddled world. And while Verhoeven doesn’t trust autonomous machines, and only by imbuing them with the human soul can they function correctly, in Padilha’s vision, the machines are perfect, even too perfect, and by overly ambitious integration, we corrupt them – or ourselves. Whatever Padilha’s true intention, ultimately, it’s the human spirit – and not a technicality – that triumphs over evil in this film.
For lots of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and clips from the film, click the ‘continue reading’ link (if necessary), and the videos will appear below:
There are more interviews and premiere footage over on the youtube page. (Click the Youtube icon in any video).
RoboCop is copyright 2014 MGM/Columbia Pictures