The exact year is unknown, but we do know it’s the future of a dilapidated Detroit, a city in financial ruin. Fortunately the slums have a protector and champion in RoboCop, a cyborg, half-man, half-machine by the very definition. He patrols the urban landscape with three prime directives encoded into his system: 1. Serve the public trust 2. Protect the innocent and 3.Uphold the law.
In reality, the year was 1987 when director Paul Verhoven released the classic action/sci-fi film, however 2014 looks to give the public a double dose with a same titled remake. But, when a film is as timeless as RoboCop, how necessary is it to craft a remake? I find RoboCop to be a relevant film even by today’s standards. Sure the effects are not up to par with the flashy CGI graphics of today, but the story certainly was.
RoboCop is more than a basic action film; much like the law enforcing cyborg himself, the movie still has a brain at its center. The 80’s film is the spiritual child of three other science fiction works. The novel “The Marching Morons” from which it derives its infamous line “I’d buy that for a dollar,” pokes fun at a ridiculous future where everything is commercialized. RoboCop’s writer Edward Neumeier wanted to take another sci-fi 80’s film, Blade Runner, and subvert it. Blade Runner was a film about a cop who chased down human-like robots. Neumeier wanted his film to be about a robotic cop who chased down humans. RoboCop’s third influence which inspired the director Verhoven, was the British comic book icon Judge Dredd, a masked officer in the future who patrols the violent territory known as Mega City with an iron fist.
Judge Dredd itself was made into a movie starring Sylvester Stallone in 1995 and got a reboot in 2012 staring the master of science fiction himself, Karl Urban (who also plays Bones in the new Star Trek movies). Unlike the superfluous RoboCop remake, I found the creation of the new Dredd film to be ever so necessary. The difference? The original movie was lousy, and poorly represented its source material. What do you expect when you cast Rob Schneider as the comic relief sidekick?
A brief example is the fact that in the comics we never see Judge Dredd’s face as he almost always has his trademark helmet on. Urban, being a good sport complied with this, the 95’ version however…yeah—they had tough luck getting a Stallone sized ego to not show his face on film. Also the 2012 Dredd features actress Olivia Thirlby as Dredd’s sidekick, Judge Anderson—who is decidedly not Rob Schneider. Her character is the rare female in action films who goes the whole movie without having to be rescued. Dredd was incredibly refreshing in many regards—so I’m not completely against remakes in some cases.
In RoboCop we see a bankrupt Detroit that now relies on the privatization of…everything. The police department has been bought out by Omni Consumer Products (a technology corporation) thus birthing their creation, RoboCop, a cyborg made from the corpse of Officer Alex Murphy who died on duty. The clever satire in the film mocks corporate capitalism, and the negative effects of over-privatization. The message feels so relevant today with private prisons like the CCA and private military organizations like Black Water in operation. OCP essentially wants to steam roll Detroit and build on top of it a new affluent land called “Delta City.” The plan makes zero sense; where will all the impoverished people live? The OCP of course isn’t about making the world a better place, it’s about making the world a more profitable one. Also worth noting—27 years after the creation of RoboCop, Detroit did indeed declare bankruptcy.
When Peter Weller, the original RoboCop himself, was approached by Entertainment News the reporter asked him how he felt about the idea of remakes in regards to old films—particularly RoboCop. His response, “Sinful. There should be a list of 25 movies you never touch.” Weller went on to describe the deeper elements and how the movie was ahead of its time, “It’s anthropological; you can watch it in a hundred years and you can hearken back to say, ‘What was the political-socio-economic dynamic? What was the idea of commercialism? What was the beginnings of the age of information, ripping off identity? What was the story of identity theft?’”
Personally, I think the 2014 RoboCop is destined to the same fate as another Verhoven film that received an unnecessary remake, the 2012 version of Total Recall. It’ll be prettier on the surface, and yet will lack a soul. It’ll hope to gain success off of its title alone, and will be neutered to a PG-13 rating to get more butts in the theater seats (the original RoboCop was so graphic it had to fight to avoid an NC-17 rating). As Wellers said in his Entertainment Tonight interview to those who are working on the new RoboCop film, “Sorry guys, wish you well, hard movie to beat.”