It is amazing to think Robocop is 25 years old. What is even more incredible is the cultural impact Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 science fiction classic has made on the cultural landscape, spawning two theatrical sequels (penned by famed comic book author/artist Frank Miller), both a live action and animated television series, video games, comic books and action figures. Beyond that, there has been a movement over the last year to erect a Robocop statue in Detroit, Michigan – the dystopian location of Verhoeven’s film. It seems Robocop cannot die, especially since a remake is scheduled for release in 2013, helmed by José Padilha (The Elite Squad). Like a child star that desires an adult career (think Ricky Schroder from Silver Spoons changing his name to Rick to emphasize his manhood), Robocop is attempting a reboot.
Yet, after 25 years, Robocop is no longer a youthful adolescent shooting would-be rapists and stabbing Red Forman in the neck; Robocop is now a full-fledged adult. He is old enough to rent a car, avoid the first wave of the draft, and have voted in the 2008 presidential election. I am certain Robocop would have voted for John McCain, mostly because, like Charlie on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Robocop is an abortion survivor. He also likes guns. There is no doubt Robocop is a card-carrying Republican, and I hear he’s all for Santorum this time around.
25 years has passed since the social commentary imbedded in Robocop hit theaters, giving it a chance to prove either silly or prophetic – I am certain the latter is more accurate. Whether it is the 6000SUX, which gets eight miles per gallon (GM’s Hummer) or Detroit’s dilapidation (which is not just science fiction scenery), Verhoeven’s critique of America’s landscape in the 1980’s has yielded fruit. Probably the most realized of Verhoeven’s prophecies regarding the future is the state of American news reporting, which over the last quarter century (and beginning shortly before Robocop’s emergence) has changed drastically. Using Entertainment Tonight’s Leeza Gibbons as a news anchor implies that the nightly news is nothing more than entertainment masquerading as education, recalling Jane’s Addiction’s statement, “The news is just another show.”
The theme of propaganda and resistance towards it is prevalent in Verhoeven’s science fiction films (1997’s Starship Troopers pushes the point even further), but Robocop, Verhoeven’s first foray into mainstream American cinema, contains a youthful and almost whimsical aesthetic. Long before Verhoeven directed Robocop he was famous and controversial in The Netherlands, directing such films as Soldier of Orange (receiving multiple nominations for American awards) and having worked repeatedly with Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer. His outlook towards America during the Reagan administration was pure, unclouded by living stateside and the banality of American life. In essence, Robocop is a film about America, but looking from the outside in, making it a unique vision and something difficult to repeat.
Having been a Robocop fan since elementary school, I have reservations about the upcoming remake, but it has one key element: the director is not American. Padilha, a native Brazilian, gained notoriety for directing The Elite Squad and its sequel, films which were extremely popular in Brazil and also, like Verhoeven, critical of institutional power and authority. Hopefully Padilha’s rendition will carry the same spark making Verhoeven’s original so enjoyable and relevant. Otherwise, it will end up just another in a long line of remakes cluttering the cultural zeitgeist and dumbing down future generations. Hopefully the action figures will be cool.
Before we get there, let’s wish Robocop a happy 25th birthday and be hopeful that he is not real. That would be frightening.