With the RoboCop remake hitting theaters next week and the recent 4K remastered Blu-ray release of the original film, it’s a good time to look back at the story’s humble beginning. While 1987’s RoboCop launched two lame sequels and a terrible television series, the original was a gas-station-explodingly fun excursion into 80s action excess.
A few years ago, MGM released a Blu-ray set of the three films, but the RoboCop disc had no special features. These have been resurrected from the old DVD release and encoded on the new 4K remastered version, including the commentary by the filmmakers. It’s been a few years since this commentary track was recorded, but it still gives a nice retrospective of this action classic, including a look at why the film wouldn’t have made it through the MPAA and studio process now.
So whether the remake is good or bad, we will still have the original RoboCop in all of its violent glory. On to the commentary…
Commentators: Paul Verhoeven (director), Ed Neumeier (writer), Jon Davison (executive producer)
1. The opening shot of the skyline was added late in the game from stock footage because the producers wanted an establishing shot of the city.
2. Most of the movie’s exteriors were shot in Dallas because the production team thought that city looked futuristic.
3. Because most 80s action movies opened with a big action scene, the movie was originally supposed to open with the donut shop massacre referenced in the news footage. However, Verhoeven decided to open the film with comedy instead of harsh violence.
4. Peter Weller was chosen from a list of many actors, not just because the production team felt he was the best actor for the role but because they needed a lean actor who could fit in a bulky suit without looking comical. Plus, he had a strong jawline, which is the only part of him seen through most of the film.
5. Stephanie Zimbalist was originally cast as Lewis, but she bowed out shortly before filming.
6. During the locker room scene at the police station, a female cop is seen changing clothes. Verhoeven did this because he felt gender neutrality was something that will happen in the future. However, Verhoeven was not happy with the fleeting shot of her breasts, which is why he did a more explicit, longer scene of the same nature in Starship Troopers.
7. At the time of production, Ronny Cox was best known from his television roles as a nice guy. He enjoyed playing the bad guy for a change, and repeated the effort in Verhoeven’s next film, Total Recall.
8. The ED-209 robot design was based on a Huey helicopter because it helped play into the script’s allegory to the build-up of the military industrial complex leading up to the Vietnam War.
9. Like many people who read the script, Verhoeven originally hated it based on the title alone (which was the longer title RoboCop: The Future of Law Enforcement). While reading the script, Verhoeven threw it on the ground after reading the first few pages. His wife Martine saved the script and encouraged him to make the film.
10. Multiple scenes were cut in order to receive an R rating from the MPAA. One of them was when the ED-209 kills the man in the meeting, which is restored in the director’s cut of the film. Producer Jon Davison wanted this to be extremely bloody and added more shots of the massacre, including an overhead view of the body on the table covered in blood. The shot of Murphy’s arm being blown off in the steel factory later in the film was another moment that was cut for the R rating.
11. The name of the Bixby Snyder (S. D. Nemeth) TV show seen in the background (famous for the line “I’ll buy that for a dollar!”) is It’s Not My Problem.
12. The scenes at the abandoned steel factory where Murphy (Weller) gets killed were shot in Pittsburgh. However, by the time the production got to the city, they were already running over budget and over schedule. Rather than shooting the interior scene of Murphy getting killed, they used their allotted time to shoot other things in the surrounding area. When they returned to California, they told Orion Pictures that they only missed one scene. They knew Orion would pay for additional time to shoot it because it was so critical to the script, so the scene was shot in an industrial facility in Long Beach.
13. The doctors who try to save Murphy are from a real crash team at a Dallas-area hospital. Even though dialogue was written for them, Verhoeven had them just ad lib through what they would normally say, which offered greater realism.
14. After Murphy dies, the filmmakers wanted the screen to go black and silent for at least 15 seconds. However, executives worried that people would think it was the end of the film (even though this takes place less than a half hour into the story). The screen ends up going black for about 10 seconds, with silence lasting only 5 seconds.
15. The news and commercial footage was all shot on video. However, the shots from RoboCop’s point of view were shot on 35mm film with a filter to produce the video lines.
16. The scene where RoboCop exits the shooting range and catches the police car keys was the first scene shot with Weller in the suit. It took eleven hours to get him into it, and in the first shots of this scene, the keys kept bouncing off his gloves.
17. The convenience store robber was only meant to say “Fuck me!” just once. However, he kept saying it over and over while he tried to kill RoboCop. Verhoeven thought it played funny, so he kept it in.
18. The rapist (William Shockley) who is shot in the junk during RoboCop’s first night on patrol is the same actor who plays the rapist in Verhoeven’s Showgirls. Typecasting can be rough.
19. Several companies sued the production for copyright infringement over things that appeared in the video interstitials. One of the companies was named Nukem, claiming infringement on the Nukem board game commercial.
20. The scientists in the film are named after U.S. Presidents. The cops are named after serial killers.
21. To save money, Orion tried to cut the scene of Murphy returning to his house because it didn’t involve a key action scene.
22. The owners of the house where Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) is killed were thrilled to have their home shown off in the film, but they didn’t like the content of the scene – which includes prostitutes, drug use, and murder. They kept trying to get the production crew to change things on the day of shooting.
23. Rather than for strictly artistic reasons, the fast editing in many of the scenes involving gunfire was done because it was rare for all the guns to work properly in the same take. Few shots last more than two seconds because actors had to continue clearing jammed weapons.
24. During a press screening, Sheila Benson from the L.A. Times ran to the projection booth during the commercial for the 6000 SUX car featuring the dinosaur, telling them they had the wrong reel in the projector.
25. The secretary that Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) hits on when he comes to visit Dick Jones is Smith’s wife, Joan Pirkle.
26. Originally, the two villains of the film (Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith) were not in cahoots. Francis Dole from the Orion Story Department had the idea to link them.
27. During the casting of the film, Armand Assante read for the part of Murphy, performing the scene in which he takes off his helmet. Assante took the opportunity to go big with his performance, pulling at his hair and showing loads of emotion. When Verhoeven directed both Weller and Allen in the film, he went in the opposite direction, instructing them to play it as cool as possible for greater emotional effect.
28. Boddicker’s men use a 50-caliber sniper rifle to blow up cars and storefronts on the street during the police strike. Kurtwood Smith and Ray Wise were standing close to the sex shop when it was blown up, and there both ended up quite upset at the size of the explosion, concerned they were in danger. It caused a big fight on the set.
29. The MPAA wanted to cut the shot of the toxic waste thug exploding into goo when he is hit by a car, but Orion refused because it was by far the favorite moment of preview audiences.
30. When RoboCop confronts ED-209 outside of the OCP building, the production wanted a big explosion. However, the location had glass art hanging nearby, and they were not allowed to do it to the scale they wanted. They ended up having to add optical effects to make the explosion bigger.
Best in Commentary
- Neumeier: “One day, I was on a loading dock at a stage in Dallas with nothing to do, and the prop guy gave me a torch and told me to burn a bunch of money. And just at that point, the producer walked up, and he said… ‘Here’s the writer, burning money again.’”
- Neumeier: “The truth is every time he’s getting out of the car, he has no pants on.” Davison: “And you could never shoot the costume from behind because the butt wiggled.”
- Neumeier: “This scene could have been so stupid because it’s like Captain Kirk.”
Even though the remastered 4K version of this film has the director’s cut of the film, the commentary is taken from the theatrical cut. Fortunately, things still time out almost exactly the same, and it actually gives you a chance to see the edited scenes as the filmmakers talk about it.
With three speakers, things can get a bit crowded, though Jon Davison doesn’t say a whole lot during the film. Neumeier tends to monopolize the conversation, but Verhoeven has no fear of chiming in. They tend to overanalyze elements of the film – particularly the baby imagery near the end, which they admit was unintentional to a degree. Still, there’s a lot of good insight into the production of the movie, which was made just before digital effects starting becoming more popular.
If you have an older version of this film, it’s worth picking up the new disc for this old commentary, along with the other vintage DVD features. They’re not the most recent notes on the movie, but they are pretty comprehensive.