Paul Verhoeven’s Hollywood breakthrough remains a standout violent sci-fi actioner from the ’80s and a decent commentary on mankind’s ill-fated fascination with science and technology.
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy
Plot: In a dystopic and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories.
Awards: Won Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing & Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Film Editing & Best Sound
Subject Matter: Moderate – Man and Machine
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Mainstream
First Published: 5 May 2008
Paul Verhoeven’s first Hollywood picture was a commercial success as well as a hit among the critical community. The Dutch director took up the job after many failed attempts by the distributors to recruit established American filmmakers.
At that time, no one wanted to do a film with a title like ‘RoboCop’. It seemed too much of a kiddish concept, and it looked like the kind of picture that B-grade directors would do. The fact that RoboCop is still one of Verhoeven’s best Hollywood movies vindicates his brave decision to take up the directorial role.
Just three years after the release of James Cameron’s groundbreaking The Terminator (1984), RoboCop continues the trend of cyborg pictures. The contrast between the two films is obvious; while Cameron’s picture is dark and menacing, RoboCop is a serious high-octane action movie.
Peter Weller is no Arnold Schwarzenegger, though he is quite adept in playing the man of steel. In every way, he puts effort into ensuring that his movements and speech are characteristics that a cyborg would exhibit.
“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!”
Verhoeven is well-known for his pacing. This quality shows in RoboCop with numerous staged action sequences that work because of its editing and energy rather than the scale of it. There are gun battles galore and big explosions. And most of them end up with gory results.
In fact, RoboCop is like David Cronenberg meets Michael Bay. The violence is uncompromising and there are more blood and guts spilt than any other film of a similar genre, leading to censors to demand alternative cuts to the original film. The director’s cut runs over 100 min and it is the version that should be experienced.
Many fail to realize that RoboCop works excellently as a social commentary as well. Often, the film’s narrative is inter-cut by ‘advertisements of products and live news updates’ that reflect the absurdity of politics and mankind’s fascination with war, science and technology. It is a clever and neat touch by Verhoeven because this is rarely observed in an action-thriller.