Some things are great forever…some have an expiration date. For this fact alone, some “All-Time Greats” need a serious reality check to see if they still stand up or can still be considered great at this present time. Enter “The Wiz Retro Rewind,” where The Wiz re-examines some important and beloved films to see if it’s still good, still relevant or if could be expanded upon or updated.
This movie, however, has already been updated. It’s been updated into a pretty good movie in fact. But the original still remains a classic to most. The movie in question, shot Peter Weller to stardom before and after he became a more celebrated cult favorite actor (Naked Lunch, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension). The movie also has the distinct weirdness of not only being an incredibly adult film with ultra-violence and strong sexual themes, but also being a franchise that was strongly marketed to children with two different animated TV shows, figures, comic books and video games. It also has the distinction of being a film that is the tamest of Paul Verhoven’s catalog of movies, all of which feature highly sexual scenes and extreme graphic violence.
This movie also is responsible for bringing a robbery suspect to justice…you can’t buy that for a dollar.
Robocop is many things to many people who watch it. It is a classic action/science fiction film; it’s a satire on commercial society; it’s 80’s camp at its finest; it’s a Paul Verhoven film. And those are just a few of the things that Robocop is considered to be, including one of the best movies ever made. Not just ironically, but seriously: there are film lovers and critics who will earnestly and honestly put this movie on their best films of all time, not best action or science fiction films: best films of all time.
Looking at Robocop from afar, it’s reeks of cultism and a rabid fan base that are super passionate about a film that spoke to them in some way. It can also be revisionist autuerism; a means to use today’s outlook to see more messages in a film that originally weren’t seen before hand, giving the film a depth that most didn’t see.
It’s weird to watch this movie after experiencing the remake first: the remake was a surprisingly fun, engaging movie that will soon be a franchise yet again.
The original film is a strange relic that feels like Nostradamus was peering into the future as to what society would be like with law enforcement…if Nostradamus was a scientologist and was tripping on acid when he made the prediction.
On the outside, the film is as 80’s schlock and any action film from the 80’s will be: it has stop motion animation, loud and obnoxious bangs and him haws, it has Nancy Allen and it’s action is incredibly over the top. All of which, very much true.
Watching this film now: it’s a film that strikingly satirizes not only media at the time, but media now. It also touches on subjects that we as a society today are starting to feel the possible repercussions of.
Yet, it’s still also a damn good action movie.
The Age of Hyper Capitalism
The very first thing you notice in the film, in regards to themes, is its heavy anti-capitalism slant. And by heavy, it’s to the point of being satirical yet effective. Nearly every villainous character is basically a representative of Corporate bigwigs, from a VP who guns down a colleague during a meeting with a high-tech weaponry unit to the President of the company being disappointed because of how much money it’s costing that this unit is ineffective.
Is it deeply thought? Nope, it’s actually standard for the type of white-collar villain that movies nowadays use to represent the worst aspects of corporate greed. But what’s interesting is the fact that there really isn’t just one main villain: there are multiple and with the exception of one, they are all corporate representatives. In fact, almost each character in a corporate setting that is relevant to the plot is inherently evil.
This gives the movie a sort of strange angle of what the title character is fighting against. Is he fighting crime or the corporate standard? Or is the corporate standard the reason why this crime exists in the first place?
Are these questions answered? No. Are they given ponderous context? No.
But it’s leaving the movie that drew up interesting questions that, in the early 80’s, the filmmakers were starting to question. Are these uber-Gordon Geckos a future prophecy of what would turn into Enron, Washington Mutual and Bernie Maddof? In a strange way, yes it is.
Again, it’s not deep, nor does it provide deep subtext, but its way of shedding light on the evilness of corporate greed (without the headiness of the previous year’s Wall Street) offers something that very few action movies ever really tread: providing a message that concerns society today. Which is a testament to what good science fiction movies and TV shows strive to do: be fantastic, while being grounded in some reality.
The Degeneration of Media
Way back when I was in school for journalism, there was this movie that the professor, whom also advised the school paper as well, presented this video that was stunning to watch. I forgot the name of the film, sadly, but it was with this media mogul from the 60s or 70s and he talks about what will happen with the media in the next 30 to 40 years.
The crazy thing about the movie is that it eventually did the one thing that led me to stop pursuing journalism altogether: it predicted how the media who manipulate masses with corporate agendas; it described, in detail, how the next few presidents would be elected; it talked about how the media would cater to its audience instead of doing the noble and important thing the media was meant to do. I watched this movie in 2003 – 2004.
I mention this because the movie either must have seen that movie as well or had (once again) a way of predicting the future, because everything involving the media, from the way the news is represented to how entertainment is portrayed, is eerily similar to what we have today.
It was odd at first to have the very first scene of the movie be two news anchors talking about the events before the movie. It’s easy to chalk this up as an easy way to give the movie context in a quick and dirty way, because it works well as just that.
But why keep doing these types of vignettes? Why reinforce everything you just saw with a recap by two news anchors who provide no purpose other than to just reiterate the events and add fluff?
Again, after watching the movie, the film oddly reflects of the media today and how it’s scrutinized for its obvious slants and agendas. The only difference is that it is much tamer than the media we deal with today, which to call Robocop tame in any sense is surprisingly hilarious and incredibly disturbing.
Then we get to the entertainment which is dominated by the Bixby Snyder, which gave us the now played meme “I’d buy that for a dollar”. In short, it represents what is most popular in film and TV: give me the premise and the punchline, no context. This is how abhorrent shows like The Big Bang Theory and Blue Bloods work and become incredibly successful: they are shows that have a clear premise or punchline and they run it to the ground until there’s nothing but dust.
And this is before Idiocracy made a rather bad movie about it.
Tech with Feeling; Flesh with Jam
So, I know the last few sections haven’t been about the showpiece of what makes this movie still popular to this day: the brutal violence, the great action and one of the most over the top villains in a movie that surprisingly still works as action entertainment.
The movie is considered very gory by 80’s standards: today, it’s like the violence in Kill Bill: it’s meant to be brutal, but in a tongue in cheek, humorous way. Blood comes out in droves when shots are fired: the hero’s initial death scene has him losing a hand, shoulder and in a bloody stump fashion before finally shooting him in the head with a nice splashy spurt from behind.
And this is the violence in a nutshell: just gloriously gory in an excessive way that really shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. In fact, the use of blood for effect in the scenes are in par with Tarantino’s best films, including Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds.
Now, like with nearly all movies that use technology in the past, the movie looks dated when it comes to special effects. But, in a good way. The robot mechs are done in stop motion, which really does show the age of the movie, but gives it a pulpy, corny charm that is somewhat endearing.
Surprisingly, the classic Robocop costume also has an endearing, muted charm to it when it contrasts with the insanity in the movie (and by its performances). The look and the way Robocop acts, as well as moves and performs, is so well detailed: it’s really an interesting performance by Weller to pull off a character that could have aged horribly but ends up being creating an endearing character.
The other great, over the top character is also one of the best villains I’ve seen on-screen: Clarence Boddicker, played in gleeful 80’s over the top villainy by Kurtwood Smith. Even though he isn’t the “main villain” in the film, he’s easily the most charismatic of the character in this film. Even today, this character can be compared to the Hans Gruber epic villains list, easily.
Is it still good? Is it still relevant?
Who Should Watch It
Fans of Science Fiction Action Films
Fans of Paul Verhoven (Total Recall, Starship Troopers)
Movies with the gore and humor of Tarantino
Action movies that are more than action films
Who Shouldn’t Watch It
You hate Paul Verhoven
You hate Quentin Tarantino
You can’t watch movies with what is now considered subpar CGI
You can’t by that for a dollar (sorry)
Robocop is surprising not only because it has been remade into a solid movie, but the remake and the original hold itself on different pillars. While Robocop (2014) is a science fiction thriller with great action and an earnest plot, Robocop (1987) is a satirical science fiction comedy/drama that has some fascinating messages that turn out to be eerily true.
If you truly have issues with the gore or the special effects, don’t watch it. Everyone else, if you haven’t watched this movie at all or recently, it’s well worth a watch just to see how well it holds up.
The Wiz Retro Rewind #8