Paul Verhoeven is something of an anomaly in the directing world. None for making exploitation films, he managed to string together a series of surprising commercial successes. He will likely be remembered for being the man to take Saved by the Bell’s Jessie and taking away her clothes in the universally condemned Showgirls, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is the same man who brought us Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers. In 1987 he directed RoboCop, a modestly budgeted ($13m) action film that would go on to spawn two sequels a television show, a computer game, a theme park ride and established RoboCop himself as a cultural icon of the 1980s.
Set in the near future, RoboCop follows plans by the Omni Corporation to tackle rising crime, destroy ˜old Detroit’ and replace it with the newly titled Delta City. During a presentation to the board, a new law enforcement droid ED-209 kills a junior executive, leading to the President deciding to begin work on the RoboCop initiative that sees old police officers turned into efficient cyborgs. The first person to undergo this transformation is police detective Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who is shot dead while dealing with a crime. Upon being reborn as RoboCop, Murphy begins to clear up crime in the city, but is lead to crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith),) and a sinister alliance with one of the high-ranking members of the Omni Corporation.
Like many of Verhoeven’s later films, RoboCop deals with big sweeping ideas such as globalization, rebirth and the growing influence and power of corporations. While it doesn’t necessarily go into great detail on these topics, it uses them to frame the action and pulp storylines that run through his films. The science fiction elements are indicative of the time RoboCop was released, with fashionable scientific ˜break-throughs’ like cryogenic freezing and ˜death-cheating’ cures to battle old age. The premise of a man being brought back from the dead as a cyborg clearly appealed to the cultural zeitgeist of the 1980s. The audiences took to cinema screens and resulted in RoboCop taking over four times its budget.
Like many action films in the 1980s, RoboCop‘s adrenaline-fuelled scenes of death and destruction are visceral and on-your-face. The blood flows freely as characters are mown down with child-like glee by the half-man, half-machine. The best of these scenes however belongs to ED-209, who mercilessly ignores the clearance of the young executive and unloads a ridiculous amount of ammunition into the unsuspecting suit. Why he was equipped with live rounds for a mere presentation is not explained, but as a demonstration of his destructive powers it is memorable and effective.
With plans for a 2013 remake constantly bubbling, it’s clear that RoboCop has never quite left the public psyche.