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Robocop: A Look Back at the Original Science-Fiction Classic

In futuristic Detroit, slimy executives at the largest and most corrupt company, Omni Consumer Products, battle over which crime-fighting program will quell the streets. Will the victor be a completely automated army of deadly metal tank-like soldiers or the new Robocop program that makes use of cyborg technology? When recently transferred police officer Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller), intent on being a role model for his kid and cleaning up the crime-ridden streets, wanders into the clutches of Detroit’s most infamous cop killer, Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, later immortalized in his comedy role on “That ‘70s Show”), he is tortured, riddled with bullets, and left for dead.

After being designated deceased at the hospital, Murphy’s body is signed over to the Robocop program, making him the first candidate for cyborg transformation. Stripped of his identity and encoded with prime directives, the new half-man, half-machine, all-cop monstrosity begins to disrupt the flow of criminal activities in the city, equipped with expert aim, impenetrable armor, and unwavering dedication. But as memories and dreams begin to surge up in Murphy’s presumed lifeless brain, the robotic policeman begins an unauthorized search and destroy mission to reap vengeance on those who took away the normal life he once cherished.

On the outside, “Robocop” may blazon a family friendly notion. In actuality, it is anything but a congenial adventure for youngsters, as it employs pervasive violence and strong adult themes. Rarely are audiences treated to a project of such maturity, with layered messages of the perversion of information absorption and the hierarchical abolishment of free will – especially when it stars a man in a metal suit. Originally rated X by the MPAA, “Robocop” makes use of brutality to a dizzying degree. The graphic and barbarous depictions of gunplay and shotgun sedition create a perfect contrast for anyone under the impression that the plot resembles something from colorful comic book origins. Its excesses serve to amplify the mockery of media influences and the public’s visual consumption of literal and figurative grotesqueries.

Like a cybernetic Frankenstein, Robocop is the product of greed and power manufactured with the intent to do good. But like all mad scientist inventions that defy the confines of their purpose, Robocop is doomed to fail because an integral part of him is still human. And with that thread of humanity, he grasps at his feeble remembrances and tattered psyche to disobey his prime directive of upholding the law. Vengeance is not easily forgotten. As the cyborg digs deeper into the inner workings of OCP, he discovers devastating truths and must be sought out for termination – the asset becomes detrimental to the corporation when untempered thought conquers restrictive programming. The slave becomes the master.

Somewhere in the middle of the film, “Robocop” forgets it’s supposed to be a mindless action movie and integrates absorbingly emotional substance, primarily through Murphy’s fleeting memories of his past life and the escalating intensity of vindication. This is supplemented by overly bloody body horror (sharply contrasting flesh with steel), meekness versus aggression, cutthroat business ethics, anarchic and excessively cruel behavior met with cathartic retaliation fantasy, insincere outlooks on mortality, analyzations of corporate villainy, and the power of revenge as a form of justice. Moving deep beyond its shiny metal exterior, “Robocop” is also fueled by excellent performances from Weller and Smith, who respectively ignite compassion and hatred with the gratifyingly clear division between good and evil.

From the start, director Paul Verhoeven uses inspired editing techniques to splice news reports and commercials into the narrative as if the viewer were switching between stations or witnessing live television coverage. He also gives thought to Robocop’s initial appearance, with a leading shot of stiff marching behind distorting glass windows. Toward the conclusion, he’s unmasked like Darth Vader. During these visual sequences the plot slowly reveals the cyborg’s remaining humanity, satirically commenting on justice, entertainment, the rehabilitation of victims, and varying elements of fear (some from corporate hotshots, others from sadistic murderers). Like Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, he also unleashes witty catchphrases.

The result is unexpectedly appealing. “Robocop” pulses with an invigorating soundtrack by Basil Poledouris, grandiose heroism, stabs at the media and entertainment industry, and a penetrating story of sacrifice and revenge. Making use of still phenomenal miniatures and stop-motion animation, as well as plenty of explosions, stunts, and annihilative carnage, it’s one of the most important and revolutionary science-fiction films of the ‘80s.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)