Sunday, June 17, 2012

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven)


Films like "RoboCop" are the prime reasons why the action scene of the '80s is truly the best there is. In a time where highly-paid action stars are being manufactured for the sake of non-stop, shallow-minded feast of blood, guns and guts, "RoboCop" stands tall as that rare work that mixes delicious satire, brutality and inspired originality in one action-packed entirety. 

It stars Peter Weller as Alex Murphy, an honest, hard-working Detroit police officer that was violently murdered in action by a ruthless gang led by the notorious Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). But because of revolutionary technology, he was resurrected back to the land of the living hardly as a man anymore but as a law-upholding, well, as what the title suggests, robot. 

But wait, there's a catch right there: his memory box is not fully wiped out. So guess what? He wants revenge. Motown is in for a ride. 

Paul Verhoeven, a truly visionary action and science fiction filmmaker, is arguably at his definitive best here. Possessing a unique vision for action that certainly can't be surpassed even by today's standards, Verhoeven paints every action scene with an attention for the explosive and the absurd. His action sequences are those that are inclined to shock, to excite and even to put a sardonic smile in a viewer's face all in one stride. For instance, if some action films utilize blood squibs for the sake of enhancing the effect of a gunshot wound, "RoboCop" uses it in a more ironic fashion. The said prop has instead been used to enforce a more cartoonish depiction of violence, which is greatly significant for the film's prevailing satirical tone and its distinct comic book feel. 

So with that being said, what is it that "RoboCop" is satirizing then? Very much like Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns", "RoboCop", finely written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, ingeniously pokes fun at what news programs may look like in an unstable future: A short running time, a couple of all-smiling anchors and an overly feel-good atmosphere ironic to the news at hand. Oh, and did I mention that this film is also a slight attack towards capitalism and consumerism?

As seen in the film's numerous faux TV commercials, there's this unforgettable TV ad in "RoboCop" that shows the fictitious 6000 SUX (a new car model) immensely dwarfing a dinosaur (which, I don't know, may symbolize the olden, more innocent times of simpleton living). Such image proves that "RoboCop" isn't just an action vehicle that caters to audiences' need for some adrenaline rush but also a timely commentary to our declining discernment between need and want. 

In a few years' time, we may just as well buy everything that the television tells us to. The film capitalizes in this sort of pessimistic view of capitalism and misuse of the media and made quite an unforgettably satirical impression out of it. 

But aside from conceptual originality and an iconic RoboCop design (by Rob Bottin), which are the primary reasons why this film is highly successful and was even able to attain a cult following, another potent reason as to why "RoboCop" is truly special is because of the performances. 

Led by Peter Weller's restrained approach to the Alex Murphy character, the cast is simply terrific. Although the performances were in no way deep or complex, they were uncannily energetic enough for the film to maintain its entertainment level even without the high-powered action sequences. 

Take Miguel Ferrer as a great example. He plays the ambitious and bureaucratic Bob Morton who, despite of being a cold-blooded douche, made Murphy's transformation as RoboCop possible. Ferrer, in all of the scenes in which he is in, is armed with a great sense of timing and articulate unorthodoxy that it's entertainingly exhausting to watch him perform. 

Same goes for Kurtwood Smith as the villainous Clarence Boddicker, who is so good in playing a major villain here in "RoboCop" that he was offered an equally despicable role again in "Total Recall" (also directed by Verhoeven), only to turn it down. While Ronny Cox, playing Richard 'Dick' Jones, the vice president of the film's fictitious corporation named Omni Consumer Products (OCP), is the stereotypical image of a purely manipulative corporate villain. Although contained within the limitations of a generic character, Cox was able to squeeze out something special and distinctive from the role. As for Nancy Allen, she plays Murphy's partner on duty with pristine calm. She is the image of sanity in the film. 

For jaded viewers, it's difficult to distinguish the gold from the dung in a genre (in this case, action) that is more inhabited by the latter. For me, watching "RoboCop" renders this viewing cynicism as untrue. Even from afar, it's easy to see this film's golden makings as a true action masterpiece even if you put it in a damn septic tank. And despite of the occasional garbage that may surround it, its greatness shines forth through the heap. 

"RoboCop" is one of the best action films of all time, and unlike other action pictures of the same kind that were made solely for the specific era to which they belong, this film transcends time. It has aged supremely well, and its entertainment and shock factor are just as potent as they were almost 30 years ago. This is one for the books.


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