Ashe never got to see a ton of modern classics from his youth, so we’re making him watch them all as a nostalgia-less adult. Check out the inaugural article for more info.
I like to consider myself a skeptical person who indulges in silly things like wondering about time travel for amusement. But that ended when I finally saw RoboCop this week. I am of the firmest belief that Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, the writers of RoboCop, are, quite simply, modern damn Nostradamuses. Nostradami? Whatever.
I like sci-fi, don’t get me wrong, and there are a lot of writers out there who have been eerily prescient of things that were coming down the pipeline. Hell, look how many articles there are on the internet about Star Trek devices that have slowly become reality. Some people are just really good at being forward-thinking futurists. And some people wrote RoboCop.
My point is this: I think RoboCop makes way more sense in the 2010s than it ever did in the 80s. (And I’m betting pretty hard that the 2014 remake totally missed that boat. Maybe I’ll watch it sometime. Probably not.)
The film hinges on a simple conceit: that one day in the future, private corporations might take over for civic governments in running police departments. Do you realize how eerie that is today? In 1987, it was the top end of a slippery slope. Today, we’ve careened down that slope and are rushing headlong into for-profit hell. We’ve already got privatized prisons, parole offices, fire departments and ambulance services. We’re so close to privately owned robot cops that it’s not funny.
Other parts of the OCP-controlled future are pretty much already here. Militarized police? You’ve been watching what happened in Ferguson, right? Drone police mechs? Just toss some guns on Big Dog and you’ve nailed ED-209. Cyborg cops? Well, maybe not quite, but we do have exoskeletons!
This is a movie for the Occupy Wall Street generation twenty years before Occupy Wall Street was even a thing. It features creepily real concerns about the potential failures of a futurized police force. What if it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, as when ED-209 guns down an exec even after he complies with its instructions? Will police trained in military tactics and given high-end firepower still be able to retain their humanity? Why does no one seem to mind that RoboCop uses extremely excessive force on criminals throughout the film?
Now, this is not to say that private industry is bad (Private industry is fine! Film School Rejects is a privately owned, nearly-successful company!), but it does raise questions of oversight and what abuse of power might look like in a sci-fi private police force. When we’ve had real world scandals with private military corporations being able to skirt laws in war zones, it’s easy to picture similar things happening domestically. Is that worse than your normal police corruption? I don’t know. But when you’re throwing a bipedal invincible tank into the mix, it’s better to start looking for the worst case scenarios early on.
Okay, enough about real world politics and culture. Let’s talk about the movie itself. It’s corny. It’s full of cartoony violence. It has Red from That 70’s Show as a bad guy. (In fact, most of the bad guys are older white dudes. It’s pretty unusual for an action film.) But it has a charm throughout that’s just undeniable.
Yeah, ED-209 looks like crap and the scene where he can’t seem to figure out stairs is unintentionally hilarious. (Oh hey, it’s another thing that came scarily true.) But it’s still one of the most threatening villains in film. It’s completely faceless, more or less unstoppable, and has absolutely no humanity to it. Imagine if Darth Vader’s mask didn’t have a face and he never spoke. Super creepy.
Murphy himself looks patently ridiculous after taking off his faceplate toward the end of the film, but you roll with it because you know that it signifies that his humanity has returned. (Why did they even keep his face anyway?)
It’s just more of that charm, something I neglected to mention in my review of Raiders of the Lost Ark. You ignore that the personal story is hokey, that the characters are silly, because you’re so engaged in the world and the je ne sais quoi of what happens there. I suppose it’s the main reason these films became classics in the first place.
For more from Ashe, check out Weird Shit Blog and his book, The Book of Word Records, available now!