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The "RoboCop" Remake: Smash or Trash?
"Your move... Creep."
I was seventeen years old when Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop first hit theaters in 1987, and it completely blew my mind. The now-classic film - starring Peter Weller as a Detroit police officer gunned down in the line of duty, then resurrected as an indestructlble cyborg by an unscrupulous corporation - had everything I loved (and still love) about movies all rolled up into one flick. RoboCop was a dark, dystopian science-fiction flick packed to the gills with jaw dropping violence, black-as-coal comedy, and plenty of adrenaline pounding action. Watching RoboCop was like seeing a really dark, really kick-ass comic book come to life. I left the theater that night shouting the film's praises to anyone who would listen, and it's been my favorite movie ever since. I have lost count of how many times I've seen RoboCop over the past quarter century. Let's just say I have reached the point where I can now recite most of the dialogue along with the actors. I never get tired of it!!
Since RoboCop was a critical and box office hit, it was a no-brainer that there would be sequels. 1990s RoboCop 2 (written by comic book legend Frank Miller of "Daredevil" and "The Dark Knight" fame) upheld the high-carnage factor set by the original, but it lost most of its wink-wink sense of satire. Original "Robo" Peter Weller left the series after the second installment, so Robert John Burke donned the Robo-Suit for 1993's RoboCop 3. By the third film, the violence was noticeably watered down (RC3 was rated PG-13, while the first two films had both been rated "R") in the hopes of turning the cyborg lawman into a kid-friendly superhero that could be spun off into TV cartoons, action figures and other merchandise. However, RC3's disastrous box office performance quickly scuttled those ideas. Attempts to move the franchise off the silver screen and onto television were similarly unsuccessful. A 1994 syndicated TV series starring Richard Eden as "the future of law enforcement" was cancelled after one season, and a "mini-series" consisting of four made-for-TV movies (2001's RoboCop: Prime Directives, starring Page Fletcher in the title role) didn't garner much love from fans, either. By the early '00s, the franchise was on hiatus.
Original 1987 Trailer:
Rumblings of a Robo-Resurrection
As Remake Mania swept through Hollywood in the early 2000s, every major studio began strip-mining their back catalogs looking for properties that could be dusted off, re-booted and re-packaged for a new generation of moviegoers. Therefore, it was inevitable that someone would start looking at RoboCop sooner or later. The first rumblings of a possible new RoboCop film began making the rounds in 2005, with Darren Aronofsky (Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler) supposedly interested in directing. Originally envisioned for a 2010 release, the project never materialized and Aronofsky eventually moved on to other things. RoboCop languished for several more years while MGM (the studio which held the rights to the franchise) went through bankruptcy proceedings and became part of Sony Pictures. By 2011, the green light for RoboCop was "on" again and it was announced that Brazilian director Jose Padilha would helm the new film, which was described as a "reboot" that would start the Robo-Saga over from scratch rather than a new sequel. Padilha had directed several action movies that were box office hits in his native country (2007's Elite Squad and its sequel, 2010's Elite Squad: The Enemy Within) but the new RoboCop would be his debut Hollywood film. The film's budget was rumored to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 million, which is more than the cost of all three of the previous theatrical films combined!!
Jose Padilha's "Elite Squad"
Despite initial rumors that MGM/Sony was interested in pursuing an "A" list star like Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, or Keanu Reeves, the role of Officer Alex Murphy/RoboCop was eventually given to Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman, who is best known to American audiences from the AMC television series The Killing. In addition to Kinnaman, the cast includes familiar faces such as Samuel L. Jackson as Pat Novak, a "Detroit media magnate;" Gary Oldman as Dr. Dennett Norton, the scientist who heads the RoboCop project; and Michael Keaton as Raymond Sellars, the villainous CEO of OmniCorp, the corporation that creates the cyborg lawman. A release date of Summer 2013 was booked and things seemed to be rolling along nicely. However...
"There will be... trouble."
The majority of the new film was shot in Canada (though some scenes were supposedly filmed in Robo's actual "hometown" of Detroit) and the process apparently took its toll on director Padilha, who described RoboCop as "the worst experience of my life" due to near-constant interference from studio executives, which included numerous last minute changes and re-writes to the script. Padilha famously told his friend and fellow director Fernando Meirelles that "for every ten ideas I have, nine are cut," and said "This is hell here. The film will be good, but I have never suffered so much and I never want to do it again." Naturally, hearing such sentiments from the film's director didn't exactly fill fans of the franchise with confidence.
Things Get Worse...
When the first photos from the set of the new RoboCop hit the Internet in mid 2012, fans were not pleased with the new design of their hero, which didn't look very "robootic." In fact, he looked more like a plain ol' "Guy in a black armored suit," with many commenting on its similarities to the Batman suit in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" films.
In late 2012, MGM/Sony announced that the new RoboCop was being pushed back from its original release date of Summer 2013 and would now hit theaters in February 2014. That didn't exactly translate into a vote of confidence in the film, since February is well known to be a "dumping ground" month where studios simply push out whatever films they have left laying around in their vaults, hoping to make a quick buck off of them before they start ramping up the hype for their big summer franchise flicks.
"RoboCop" (2014) Trailer:
The first sneak-peek trailer for "Robo" 2014 finally hit theaters (attached to Vin Diesel's new "Riddick" film) and the internet in September of 2013... and the initial reaction from the fan community was less than encouraging. A scene of RoboCop leaping off of a building and making a perfect "three point landing" on the ground looked like they were trying to cop a Marvel super-hero vibe. The trailer also appeared to hint that Robo's "origin" had had an overhaul as well. In this version Alex Murphy - now a Detroit detective rather than a patrolman - is the victim of a car bombing rather than a brutal gangland shooting. The biggest change appears to be that even after he becomes RoboCop, Murphy's still aware of who he is/was. One of the main themes in the original film was that Murphy's memories of his past life came back to him slowly over time, whereas the new trailer indicates that he still has all of his memories ("What kind of suit is this? What the hell did you do to me?) as soon as he's switched on. Of course, lots of CGI gun play and other fancy computer graphics are shown in the trailer, which ends up looking more like a commercial for a video game rather than a movie.
When I showed my ten year old the new "Robo" trailer (he's never seen the original film, but he knows that it's Dad's favorite movie ever), he shrugged and said "Ehh... they're totally ripping off Iron Man." Mind you, this is coming from a kid who is, for all intents and purposes, a member of the target demographic for the film!!
Crash and Burn
When the new RoboCop finally hit theaters in February of 2014, it was met with a pronounced indifference from critics and audiences alike. Some reviewers praised the special effects but felt that the "edge" of the Verhoeven original had been sanded away. In other words, Hollywood took an extremely cool, subversive concept and watered it down into yet another nothin' special shoot'em up/blow'em up action flick that could be merchandised and served up with a McDonald's Happy Meal.
"Robo '14" had a disappointing opening weekend at the box office, pulling in a mere $21.5 million for a third-place finish behind "The Lego Movie" and "About Last Night." I chose to skip the new "Robo" when it came to my local multiplex and it would appear that many other RoboCop fans followed my lead!!
The film was rushed to DVD and Blu-Ray only a few months later, which was no surprise given its anemic box office performance. I finally saw it when it hit video in June 2014 and in this Robo-Fan's estimation, the remake was...ehhh. It didn't suck, but it didn't blow me away either. It's certainly a nice looking film, but the characters are bland cardboard cut outs. The film could've definitely used a shot of the original's black humor, because the 2014 model takes itself way too seriously. I think I even preferred the much-maligned "RoboCop 3" over this remake, which is really sayin' something!!
© 2013 Keith Abt