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Time Directive: Why The ‘Robocop’ Remake Was Three Years Too Early

An attempt to make the ‘Robocop’ remake work.
By  · Published on July 6th, 2017

An attempt to make the ‘Robocop’ remake work.

Remake. For many, it is a four-letter word, despite technically possessing six letters. It is true that there are some classic and/or beloved films that benefit nothing from a modern update, re-imagining, or especially market-researched revisits to the profit well. However, to take exception with any and all remakes is to commit dangerous generalization, and in fact, some filmic stories warrant retelling from time to time.

Were it not for remakes, we would not have Carpenter’s Thing, Cronenberg’s Fly, or Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11. What makes the former pair so interesting is that both have been critically analyzed for their not-so-subtle allusions to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. That alone–the ability to re-contextualize cinema to spotlight changing societal issues–is the antidote to a movie ever feeling stale.

For this week’s episode of the Junkfood Cinema podcast, Brian and Cargill are joined by Brian Brushwood (Modern Rogue, Night Attack) to take apart, and then reassemble, the many moving parts of Robocop. The bombastic sci-fi actioner is, on its surface, pure 80s exploitation. However, as many have noted, it’s also one of the most biting, self-effacing satires of its own era. It skewers corporate society, Reaganism runs amok, and the cheapening of human life in the pursuit of profits. It depicts a dystopian society in which companies privatize municipal necessities like the police force and in which Detroit has fallen into complete economic ruin.

Tough to imagine, right?

The projections of Robocop proved to be downright prophetic, as Detroit (and much of the rest of the country) did fall into steep decline around 2008. The American auto industry, based largely in Detroit, was especially affected. Years after Robocop‘s release it was not the police force, but instead, prisons that became privatized and the mortgage crisis through a stark focus on the greed and willing maleficence of big corporations. The cultural temperature was just right for the return of Omni Consumer Products’ prized law enforcement cyborg.

But the remake didn’t arrive until 2014. It’s not to say that all our national problems had been solved in those six years, but we had made it past that particular cultural crisis point. Still, zeitgeist alone cannot be blamed for the failure of the Robocop remake. After all, it was played as such a yawn-inducing boilerplate action film with not a circuit of satire in its entire mainframe. For some reason, it spent as much time focusing on drone warfare as it did Alex Murphy as if this were the most controversial topic we could conceive of at the time.

Can you imagine, however, a Robocop remake made this year? A 2017 Robocop, which would incidentally be the 30th anniversary of the original, would be a Robocop produced in a year when the President of the United States is the CEO of a major corporation with no political experience. A leader who’s surrounded by more controversy than an entire fleet of faulty ED-209s. And talk about a dystopian Detroit, chew on this. When the 2014 remake was released, the horrifying Flint, Michigan water crisis hadn’t even begun and somehow wasn’t resolved until, you guessed it, 2017.

Health care in crisis, marches for human rights almost daily, and gun violence haunting headlines nonstop? The Orwellian future depicted in Verhoeven’s masterpiece is, if not already here, then at the very least living on the same block as our present. If we were to issue a prime directive to Hollywood, it would be to reboot Robocop again, and this time place the project in the hands of someone ready to take the gloves off and satirize this bizarre time in which we live.

Give a listen to this week’s Junkfood Cinema with special guest Brian Brushwood to hear more on this, how Alex Murphy was almost Spider-Man, and why we want to see Charles Bronson as Robocop!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.