Luke Owen on the RoboCop remake…
It would be fair to say that RoboCop is a stone-cold classic. It would also be fair to say that it’s not only one of the best sci-fi films of the 1980s, but one of the best science fiction movies ever made. It blends a dystopian future with over-the-top violence and has a huge amount of subtext that can be overlooked in favour of enjoying the cinematic experience. Remaking this movie was not going to be an easy task.
People will often argue that remakes are not as bad as some make them about to be and, as movie lovers, we often get our panties in a bunch about them ‘messing with out classics’ (read Chris Cooper’s article on that here). And, to be fair, these people are right. David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly is a powerful, moving and superbly directed alternative vision of the head-swapping 50s movie, and this year saw the release of the Evil Dead remake which was loved by critics and fans alike (although personally I thought it was a bit naff). But for every classic remake like The Thing, we get a dirge of poorly handled studio demanded pap like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Total Recall, Red Dawn etc. It’s not just that remakes are often bad, it’s the quantity of them and the lack of effort put forward.
To get a remake right, you have to take the elements that made the original great and expand upon them to create something that is essentially new. Cronenberg’s The Fly might be a remake, but the two films are totally different – one a head-swapping nightmare and the other a horrific tale of a man trying to play God, losing his mind and paying the price. Based on the trailer (released yesterday) for José Padilha’s RoboCop remake, it appears as though this 2014 “update” has done a similar thing.
The biggest difference between the two movies (and what I imagine will set the two apart) is the process of getting Murphy from super cop to RoboCop.
In the original movie, Murphy dies a heroes death. As a lone police office (his partner was knocked out), he valiantly attempts to take down a vicious gang of thugs in their warehouse led by the sadistic Clarence Boddicker. Without a moments hesitation, Boddicker and his men not only gun down Murphy in cold blood, but also take sick glee from doing so. Every shot fired is enjoyed by these low life criminals as they torture this poor man just because he’s a cop (and they don’t like cops). Used by OCP as a pawn in their petty game of business, Murphy’s body is used as the basis for their RoboCop program.
Based on the trailer, the remake sees Murphy’s car blown up, leaving him paralysed with 80% of his body covered in burns. In order to save his life, he is transformed into RoboCop.
What’s jarring about this difference is that, at least based on the trailer, Murphy has no motivation for his revenge. Let us not forget, that the original RoboCop is a revenge movie – a man who was killed by a group of maniacs tracks them down one by one to bring them to justice. The car bombing in the remake’s trailer feels like a random attack, giving this Murphy no need to seek justice. So what will Murphy’s motivation be as a character now he is the seemingly unstoppable RoboCop?
Furthermore, this remake appears to have taken out all the tragedy of the character. In the original, Murphy had no choice in being turned into RoboCop and he was just being used by Bob Morton so that he can get one over his peers. Because of his death, his wife and child moved on with their lives which further fuels our sympathy for him. As a man regaining the human part of his mind, Murphy becomes a Frankenstein’s Monster figure, tortured by the ‘life’ he’s been granted and confused as what to do next – which leads to him getting revenge. The trailer for the remake shows us clearly that his wife is still around as is his child, creating more of a family drama around whether Murphy’s wife and offspring can love a machine that used to be their husband/father. Will this dynamic replace the Frankenstein’s Monster theme?
Bringing these two points together raises one question – will we as an audience have the right response to RoboCop as a character? Or, is he simply being used as a cinematic tool for ‘cool looking machine guy with gun who kills people’? We can’t judge too early, but the trailer sadly hints towards the latter.
No doubt the Jesus aspect of Verhoeven’s movie will be left out and the decision to make the suit black instead of grey just feels like a desperate attempt by the filmmakers to try and convince us they are being creative in this process – like changing Nancy Thompson’s name to Nancy Holbrook in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Removing the Jesus element could possibly be a smart move, but it’s these kind of qualities that has made RoboCop stand the test of time – it’s more than just a nuts and bolts science fiction movie with uber levels of violence. It’s not like this remake has ‘missed the point’ (as many are likely to claim) because it’s making a different one. A lot of people hound Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake for ‘missing the point’ of what John Carpenter did with his slasher classic, but that is not the reason why the movie is bad.
So, will the movie fail in comparison to the deeper original?
As with any first trailer, it’s too early to really judge RobcCop (although the above few paragraphs gave it a darn good go), but first impressions have actually left a lot of people slightly more positive about the remake then they were last week. It boasts a good cast and many feel that the new suit is an improvement. Does it look to be anything groundbreaking like its predecessor? Not really, but time will tell on that one.
Still, it’ can’t be as bad as RoboCop 3 right?