RoboCop Reboot: The Return of Social Satire

RoboCop is one of the all time great Sci-fi creations. A reboot has been talked about for years and, as of writing this, it looks like it's back on again according to this report on Den of Geek, What to expect from the RoboCop reboot.

I think the time is right for a reboot as I'll explain further below along with my ideas for how it might be approached. First let's start with what inspired this post and some thoughts on the first three films.

RoboCop 1, 2 and 3

I recently purchased the RoboCop Trilogy as a three disk DVD set. I can't say I'm a huge RoboCop fan but I do remember the first movie being released in 1987 and it was considered quite ground breaking for its time. I'm a Sci-Fi fan with an interest in any movie about robots and cyborgs so I wanted to add RoboCop to my collection.

After watching all three films (I've only ever seen the first previously) it's easy to see why the three movies were being sold in the one DVD case for half the price of your average new release DVD. I'm not going to say movies two (1990) and three (1993) were appalling but only a hardcore fan would buy them as separate disks... and even then, they'd probably have to include some compelling special features.

The original movie was considered a master piece and, what made it great from a story point of view, is exactly what enticed director, Paul Verhoeven, to take another look at a script that he thought was just some popcorn action flick. The multiple layers that give the film some intelligence and depth.

People say that RoboCop, at its heart, is an action movie. Personally I don't think it is. At its heart it is a human tragedy, layered with some very biting social satirical commentary. Paul Verhoeven saw RoboCop as a Jesus-like figure. A good cop resurrected. In some respects I can see it but this cop was resurrected without any say in the matter, resulting in a conflicted cyborg wondering about who he used to be.

That's not to say the action isn't important. One trademark of the original films is the over the top, graphic violence and destruction. However I think it serves more to enhance the dark comedy and take it to a whole new level. It's no so much laugh out loud it's more so far beyond reality you can't help but laugh.

But getting back to the human aspect and social satire. Although they tried to maintain this in the two successive films it never really had as much impact in RoboCop's story arc. To me it seemed more like a 'yeah we've dealt with those elements, now lets get back to the action'. Where as in the first film Robo's human side was much more integral to the action and the satire really was crucial to understanding many of the supporting characters motivations.

You've got to have those layers dealt with equally to make a RoboCop film work. It's the human aspect that makes us care about RoboCop, it's the satire that reflects life and adds intelligence and it's the action that makes it a 'Hell Yeah!' experience.

Time for a Reboot

Edward Neumeier, one of the first film's original writers, explains on the DVD's special features that the corporate world depicted in RoboCop is very much satire for the Wall Street high fliers and Company Executives of the nineteen eighties taken to the extreme of them actually killing each other.

In 2011 corporate success and excess has taken on a whole new meaning with technology companies like Apple driving consumer product demand to an almost ridiculous frenzy. Are we not now living in the world of Omni Consumer Products (OCP - the fictional developers of RoboCop)?

What about 'The War on Terror'. OCP was originally all about selling the ED-209 to the Military. However more to the point the War on Terror is also about protecting the homeland public from urban extremists. As one of the most successful abstract wars of all time, bringing in an erosion of civil liberties and a culture of almost extreme patriotism this is territory ripe for RoboCop's dark satire.

Finally more and more countries are attempting to give their police and the law in general more powers to police things that police have no business policing. For example, in my own state of South Australia, the anti-association laws that would have empowered police to prevent members of bikie gangs from even meeting up - for any reason. Surely there's some great social commentary to be had about Police states and what is considered to be 'real crime'?

What I'd like to see for a Reboot

Note that this is my personal opinion of what I'd like to see happen with a reboot. I'm sure, if you are a fan you have your own ideas too. You may even like to read some of the Den of Geek's ideas in their article, What we'd like to see in the RoboCop Reboot.

First up, do not change the suit. Get the original or make a copy of the RoboCop 1 suit. I'd almost go so far as to say keep it all real with no CGI but after Ironman, I wouldn't mind a little CGI if it brings in bigger action. However if an actor can do the scene, get someone as good as Peter Weller was in the role and use the actor first. (oh and use a more human voice like films 1 and 2. I don't know what was with that robotic voice used in 3?).

I say keep the suit and use an actor because we really don't need a more nimble CGI RoboCop. RoboCop was originally kick-ass because he could just walk into danger and blow its head off with that targeting computer and gun of his. Granted he got shot up quite a bit in films 2 and 3 but that didn't seem to deter him from getting up and just walking in all over again.

Next, let's not deny the key events of the first three films (but lets conveniently forget those robot ninja warriors in RoboCop 3 - thanks Frank Miller but not every idea you have is gold). We've got a very solid origin story, a well established and geniously flawed central character in RoboCop and a failed corporation in OCP that destroyed its self from the inside with corrupt management and failed business ventures.

Let's take all that and literally reboot RoboCop himself, twenty years after his funding from OCP ran out, into today's world. Why? Because even in today's world RoboCop is still ahead of his time. He personally hasn't dated even if the fashions and hairstyles of his films have.

I'd love to see a modern consumer company buy out OCP's Intellectual Properties for the rights to their flagship products, RoboCop, RoboCop 2 and ED-209 for further development and to once again privatize law enforcement focusing on the War on Terror as a public safety issue. 

To kick start the buy out the new company would relaunch OCP's only successful prototype RoboCop but secretly may have some concerns about his past renegade exploits. i.e. RoboCop will still be a walk straight  into the villain's hide out and deal with the consequences as they arise kind of guy - and perhaps he's still dealing with his former life issues pre-RoboCop that made him hiccup on those directives from time to time.

Rather than go over old ground with RoboCop's memory why not give him the new problem of attempting resolve his human side. The first film demonstrated his memory did affect his sense of identity. Is sitting in a chair during his down time really satisfying for his human side or does he need to find an outlet to remain balanced and reliable. Even if they can erase his memories he still has a human brain. It must do something that programming can't.

As mentioned, the War on Terror gives plenty of opportunity for all kind of extremist enemies, though I wouldn't like to see the obvious enemy of Islamic Extremists. I'm sure we can do better than that? What about patriot extremists or corrupt government agents, corporations etc. using the War on Terror for profit. Conspiracy theories even?

How about a rival robotics company building their own RoboCops with all the success (or lack of it) of the ED-209 or RoboCop 2 (if you really must have a machine vs machine battle that's one way to go).

I think I'm starting to ramble so finally, I would like to see elements of the first film maintained to tell the story. POV shots from RoboCop, News desk reports, satirical commercials, extreme violence and graphic, over the top injuries etc. Things that are really trademarks for how a RoboCop story unfolds. Not there for the sake of it but there to drive the plot just a little bit more.

You're not a fan if you don't want another film

The one thing I don't buy is all the rhetoric that some fans don't want to see another film. Sure they don't want to see another bad film but if you have a favorite character that's suited to a series of films then a new film will always be of interest.

Hopefully the studios have made enough mistakes with RoboCop to know what doesn't work and deliver a solid film that will set the direction for a real franchise reboot.
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