The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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--Matt

Monday, May 17, 2010

RoboCop (1987)

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We've hit a major milestone here at the Direct to Video Connoisseur. This is our 500th post. That's right, just over three years ago I started a blog so I could share my love of movies, in particular Direct to Video movies, with like and notso-like minded individuals, and now here I am, after various starts and stops, from almost no one reading it to a little more than no one reading it, posting four times a week, and meeting and conversing with people from all over the world. To celebrate this milestone, I wanted to review one of my all time favorites. I also wanted to review something that all of you would like as well. Something that encapsulates what the DTVC is about. Sure, I love Casablanca or Citizen Kane, but how appropriate would those be? That's when it hit me, one of the greatest action, sci-fi, comedy, and existentialist films of all time, RoboCop. What movie fits what we do better than the Paul Verhoeven classic? It's perfect.

RoboCop takes place in Detroit in the near future. Crime is at an all time high, and the corporate world thinks it has the solution, as proposed by one Miguel Ferrer. They just need an unfortunate volunteer, and that comes when Officer Murphy, played by Peter Weller, is brutally murdered by a vicious gang of thugs, led by the dad from That 70's Show. Ferrer's scientists turn him into an indestructible crime fighting robot, and send him out onto the streets to much success. But there are some that aren't happy about this. Ferrer's superior is unhappy that RoboCop has upstaged his invention, ED-209, and he sends the dad from That 70's Show to kill him. RoboCop also remembers from his former life that the dad from That 70's Show killed his former self, and he goes after him, which leads him to Ferrer's boss. Will he be able to stop both, or will they shut him off before he gets his chance?

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Where to start. I guess I'll start with why I like it so much, and move from there. I was 9 when I saw it on HBO at a friend's house a year after it came out. It was a frightening, yet extremely awesome movie. The way Murphy is killed was just so extreme, and the violence everywhere else was just so hardcore, that it really freaked me out. What I didn't realize was I was watching an edited version so the film could avoid an X rating. Still, the action was great, and RoboCop was such a cool hero in a very comic book like way. But RoboCop was a movie I would come back to frequently, and as I matured I saw the humor in it, saw the social commentary, and understood how great Ferrer and Weller's performances were. Then I saw the un-cut version and it all made sense. Cutting the over-the-top violence made it too realistic, which wasn't what RoboCop was going for. This needed to be ridiculous throughout, in everything from the dialog to the violence. Editing out the gore actually makes it scarier.

Of course when I say ridiculous I mean in a satirical sense. This wasn't mocking violence in society, it was mocking society for being violent, yet abhorring and blaming violence in films. It was mocking a society where so much money is made on violence, where violence is so ingrained in our culture, yet we blame movies and other media when society becomes violent as a result. Think of Ronny Cox's character confronting Miguel Ferrer in the bathroom, telling him how RoboCop kept him from selling his ED-209 units to the military. Remember what he says? "Who cares if it worked or not?", meaning the government will pay anything for new military equipment, and probably won't ever use it. It's more than just the Military Industrial Complex, though. The news reports killings (especially at that time and for a few years after) all the time, perpetuating a culture of fear and violence. And look at all those Second Amendment honks and Tea Baggers rocking guns in anti-Obama rallies. What RoboCop was trying to do was show the Beast what it looked like in the mirror, and for that the MPAA freaked out.

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For the first time, in watching the film again for this review, I turned on the audio commentary track. Also I should mention that I have the out of print Criterion Collection version. I don't know if some of the newer versions are better, but they could be worth checking out. Anyway, the commentary was from Verhoeven, co-writer Edward Neumeier, executive producer Jon Davison, and RobocCop expert Paul M. Sammon. It's really cool and provides much more insight into why things were a certain way. Verhoeven, for instance, describes what it was like growing up in Nazi occupied Den Haag, between the Allied bombings and German soldiers killing locals. He said that violence influenced a lot of what he did later in life, espcially in this film. Then Neumeier described how he wanted a lot of US in Vietnam in the film, which was why ED-209 (named after him) looked like a gun boat, and why the doctor bringing ED-209 in was named McNamara. As I go on, I'll mention other things they added.

Then there's DTVC Hall of Famer Peter Weller. You may notice that I often extol the virtues of actors who play it straight in tongue and cheek films like this, and how much I don't like when other actors give us too much of the old wink-wink nudge-nudge to the camera, ruining the tone of the film. In the commentary, the people involved with making the film said the same thing: Weller made the picture great by playing it straight. And he didn't just play it straight, he made it his. He embellished it with his own movements and gestures. Without him going for it, RoboCop would've just been a man in a suit, and if we don't buy that, we miss everything else. Amazing role by an amazing actor.

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One thing I always had trouble with was how geeky the That 70's Show dad looked as the baddie in this film. Bad guys were always more like Hans Gruber as far as I could tell. In the commentary, I found out why this was. Verhoeven wanted him to look like Heinrich Himmler, the man who he thought was the ultimate baddie. Another thing he mentioned was that the dad from That 70's Show is a really nice guy in real life, and it's really nice guys who tend to make the best bad guys in movies. What does that say about Bruce Payne or Julian Sands then? (Oh, and before anyone comments and tells me what the guy's real name is: Kurtwood Smith.)

One of my all time favorite actors has always been Miguel Ferrer, and this of course is one of his best roles. I couldn't remember who said it in the commentary, but the goal was to make Ferrer such a dork that the scene where the dad from That 70's Show blows him up is supposed to be something we're rooting for, and he was surprised that that wasn't the case. I think in the writer's mind he was the classic Yuppy jackass, but to us he also created RoboCop, our hero, and he opposed Ronny Cox, the real baddie. Plus Ferrer was so cool, why would we want him to die?

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I've always seen the Frankenstein metaphors in RoboCop, but for some reason the Beauty and the Beast ones escaped me until the commentary, which is crazy, because it's so obvious in the scene where Weller takes off his RoboCop helmet and looks into the distorted mirror. Another one that I didn't pick up on came right after, when Nancy Allen is guiding Weller's hand as he aims at the baby food jars. That's the movie's one love scene, and they're shooting the baby food jars to show us the kids they can't have.

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I found out that there was a scene where RoboCop visits Murphy's grave that was cut, and it was cut because Verhoeven wanted to keep with the theme of the pervasiveness of technology, and have a computer tell him Murphy's dead. That scene has always worked so well, I never even questioned it. Had they gone with a graveyard scene, it would've seemed out of place, and I think the Paradise Lost scene where RoboCop goes back to his home was out of place enough.

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Finally, I just needed to show the NUKEM board game. How fantastic is that? But it makes perfect sense, if you're going to up the violence, why not up the ante in one of the more violent board games ever too. We never think of it like that though, do we? "You sunk my battleship!" "You sunk a boat full of sailors!" "You killed hundreds of people!" But it didn't do it in a way that was preachy, it did it in a way that was hilarious, and just made us think about what the games we played meant.

All right, it's time to wrap this up. I figured I'd go a little longer than usual because this is number 500, so thank for indulging me. Also thank you to everyone who's supported us here, because without you, I'm not sure there'd be a 100 or 200, let alone a 500 and counting over three years and counting. It's been a fun ride so far, and I can't wait to see what we do in the future. As far as RoboCop goes, I'm sure any of the recent DVD versions of it are fine, just make sure you get the unrated director's cut, not the R rated version, because you're missing a lot. Though the Criterion Version is out of print, if you keep your eye out, you should still be able to get it used for like $20, which I think is a great deal.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093870/

17 comments:

  1. Well it didn't long for us to be in agreement. Although I did like the sequence where Robocop goes back to his house, I always found it to be one of the most poignant and emotional scenes in the movie. Just an awesome movie though.

    Robocop 2 is decent and 3 is awful. Neither come close to the first one's brilliance.

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  2. Oh, by all means, I loved that scene too, especially because it was such a contrast to the rest of the film. I guess what I was saying was a graveyard scene as opposed to RoboCop finding out Murphy died via computer, which they went with, would've hurt the uniqueness of the scene where Murphy goes home, if that makes any sense. It's like they made all the right possible decisions in this movie.

    As far as 2 and 3, agreed and agreed.

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  3. Oh yeah I definitelyloved this film and part 2, I even found part 3 to be tolerable to a certain degree, though it would've been alot better if the damn MPAA hadn't cut trimmed it to get a PG-13 rating.

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  4. Three had its moments. Tuesday and Wednesday you'll get a better idea of what I thought of each, but this first one was so good, having sequels for it is almost not right, if that makes sense. It's like if Taxi Driver had a sequel.

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  5. Well I cna understand why the sequels were made, because the Robocop had lots of potential, so it's kinda hard to fault Hollywood for wanting to further explore the idea, and also I heard that a Robocop remake is in the works, no idea who's directing it or starring in it though. I'm not completely against the remake, while it will never otp the original it could still be decent entertainment, and I REALLY hope the studios don't get cold feet and make the remake PG-13.

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  6. Congratulations on reaching 500. Robocop is in my top ten movies for sure; I've watched it at least 30 times. I love number 2 because it is so ridiculous (the scene showing the two failed Robocop 2 prototypes has me in stitches every time) and 3 is total hogshit as it has no Weller.

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  7. Robocop 2 in its own way actually had a few poignant moments. I personally like the kid drugdealer's death scene (also that kid was a good villain and good actor) to which Robocop says "Yeah" to when he says "I'm gonna die..you know this feeling, it really sucks." I always thought that was the only one that came close to the original in feel. Another good scene was when he is told by the lawyer that he can't offer his wife a real man's love, to which Weller than tells her that her husband is dead. Indeed while I think Robocop 2 is worth seeing, the film would've definitely benefitted from scenes of such. Because the comedy in the commercials was even better in my opinion than the first, and the action was just as brutal and comicbookish. Another thing odd, is that Robocop 2 actually got you to sort of care about the bad guys which was also interesting. I think what happened is that Robocop 2 had enough material for 3 movies.

    As for Robocop 3, the only positive spin I can put it, is that the premise was a good idea. But the execution was just so wooden and lame. The comedy was gone. The action was watered down. Robert John Burke was no Peter Weller. The ninja robots were lame, Nancy Allen, Mako and ED 209 was wasted. The jetpack was absurd, the OCP army isn't nearly imposing enough. Indeed this is just a laundry list of everything wrong. Even more disappointing was that the same director made Night Of The Creeps.

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  8. Thanks for the congrats, Sutekh.

    I'm not sure if everyone noticed, but I mentioned in the announcements that I'm reviewing parts 2 and 3 on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. A lot of the points may be more pertinent in regards to those. I also discuss the rumored remake in my review of part 3.

    RoboCop for me is one of the few crossover films, in that it's as much at home on a blog like this, as it is at home in the Criterion Collection, or screening at an indie art house theater. It's truly transcendant. As I'll mention tomorrow in talking about part 2, the other films don't come near that, even if they may have their moments. Maybe the better analogy is saying a RoboCop sequel is like a Blade Runner sequel would've been. I too get why Orion made RoboCop 2 (and you'll see in my post tomorrow what Verhoeven thought of that), I'm just saying that RoboCop really should be thought of in the 1980s in the same breathe as Ran, or Raging Bull, or Do the Right Thing, or any others that might make a best of for the decade. Not just best action or sci-fi, but best period; and how often do people make sequels of films like that?

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  9. I think my favorite thing, is as one reviewer put it, Robocop takes place in a world of humane and merciful machines and mechanically cruel and unfeeling humans.

    As for Miguel Ferrer, I always thought he bought it in a viscous way due to the fact that he transferred Murphy from a good neighborhood in Detroit (Pontiac or Aurburn Hills?) to a horrible place to set him up for the slaughter. Maybe I'm reading more into it.

    Another classic from Verhoeven was Total Recall,Flesh and Blood and Starship Troopers. (Basic Instinct was pretty good but not quite at the level as the others) after that though Verhoeven just kind of sat it out. Perhaps furious over the way Hollywood wanted to keep him in check. Hollow Man in particular was weak.


    I still think Robocop is one of the best movies ever made in the genre.

    Here's hoping you save The Terminator for 750 or 1000 (Although such will take awhile) The Terminator is even more DTV because that was the B.movie that found it's niche except instead of the Skip By My Lou basketball player, this one grew up to be Michael Jordan.

    One more thing, Detroit is actually probably worse than it is in Robocop 1, not in crime but in look as it's all delapitated. But that's just this author's view.

    I was technically born in Pontiac and lived there but now even Pontiac is sort of dumb....anyway that's just a rant.

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  10. Love Kurtwood Smith in this film, esp. the way he deliver some of his lines, like when he says, "Ooh, guns, guns, guns! Come on, Sal! The Tigers are playing...tonight! I never miss a game." The glee in which he delivers this dialogue gets me every time and you can tell that Smith is having a blast with this nasty character. Another memorable moment is when he comes in to kill Ferrer's character and says, "Bitches, leave!" Heh. There's just something about how he says it that is pretty damn funny.

    Plus, you've got Ray Wise and Paul McCrane as Smith's flunkies and given the amount of screen-time they really go a long way in making their characters memorable which other films of this kind wouldn't have taken the time to do.

    I also agree wholeheartedly with you about Miguel Ferrer. I've been a fan of his for awhile. He always makes an impression, whether it be in TWIN PEAKS or TRAFFIC or THE NIGHT FLIER (perhaps my fave role of his).

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  11. Terminator is one to consider for the next milestone, so I'll keep it in mind. Also, RoboCop was filmed in Dallas (there were some file shots of Detroit, but that was it), because Verhoeven thought Dallas looked more futuristic, which probably speaks to what you were saying about Detroit. And I love that you're still going to my And-1 Mix Tape Tour analogy, even though Rafer Alston's street ball name is Skip to My Lou, not By.

    JD, it's funny you mention the Kurtwood Smith "Guns, guns, guns" line, because in the commentary, Ed Neumeier says he thought that scene was playing out like the run-of-the-mill action movie scene, until Smith comes in with that line and brings us back into the world of RoboCop. Yeah, Smith was one of the all time great baddies, proving that sometimes a solid professional actor often does a better job than a big name (think Travolta in The Punisher). The same can be said about Ferrer, Wise, and McCrane.

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  12. Congratulations on your 500th post my friend! You run an excellent blog, and its fun to come in here and read your reviews. Specially when you review such beloved classics as Robocop!

    Like you, I also grew up with this movie, I remember not being able to see it in theaters, because it was considered too violent by my parents, but I waited and waited for it to be released on VHS, and boy, when I finally had it, damn I must have burnt that VHS to death cause I watched it so much (same went for ALIENS)

    But whatever, I still worship this movie. It is still very watchable. The extreme violence, the over the top villains, and the stop motion animation make it a keeper.

    And lets not forget those infomercial thingys! Those crack me up every time! There is something kind of nihilistic about this movie, its so grim, so dark, some characters (even the ones who aint villains) seem to have no moral whatsoever. Which was really something that was amped up in part 2.

    My favorite scene was always when he breaks in to the CEO's office and plays that tape on all the t.v. sets and makes him pay for his evil deeds!

    And you have to admit to feeling pitty over Robocop when he was being shot to shit by the cops! And he's like crawling all over the place, all fucked up...loved that scene, and I apreciated how the film makes you feel for a freaking robot that way!

    Great review man, cant wait to see how you will most likely trash part 3!

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  13. Hey man, thanks for all your support too. Yeah, the love for this film has been pretty unanimous. It's just an all around great film, and it's been fun to see why other people love it too.

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  14. Congrats on 500!! A great post for a great milestone...how could you not like this movie? I owned the criterion, too..it was pretty expensive back then...I even had the criterion laserdisc..but thats the past, i had some rough times, financially, and still have...I like part 2, it has its moments, but yes, some movies can stand very well alone,but that character screams for more...But with such a great first one a follow up can only lose, I guess.

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  15. I've only seen Robocop once on AMC so, I had watched the exrta edited version. Didn't know there was so much I missed. Great review! : )

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  16. Thanks guys. The laser disc is awesome. Criterion had some great ones on laser disc. If I had the cash I'd get a laser disc player and collect some of those. And I enjoyed RoboCop 2 as well.

    And Joe I think you'd do well to get your hands on an uncut version-- I think all the DVDs are uncut-- because then you get the full effect of the satire in the gore.

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