The RoboCop remake opens in theaters this February, and since the release of the first trailer, there has been a lot of debate whether or not it will live up to the original. Director Paul Verhoeven created a masterpiece in 1987, and it will be very, very hard to top, or even match. Although Peter Weller, the star of the original, hasn’t seen the new trailer, he recently weighed in on the importance and legacy of RoboCop.
Weller’s words are as true today as they were back in 1987. At first glance, RoboCop seems like a mindless action movie about a cop who becomes a robot. Honestly, the title alone is silly, though harmless, but almost caused Verhoeven to pass on the project. It wasn’t until his wife read the script that he gave the material a second chance. Once you past the surface, Robocop says so much about humanity, divinity, corporate greed, and American justice. And most importantly, all of this substance is contained in an entertaining package.
Verhoeven injected so much subtext into RoboCop that viewers have to watch the film multiple times to fully understand what the movie is trying to say. Weller’s own interpretation is why people have stayed with the genre film for more than 25 years after its release.
Granted, I haven’t seen the new RoboCop (I’ve only seen the trailer), but it doesn’t appear to retain any of the subtlety that Verhoeven infused into his film. It may reach for something different such as corporate responsibility (or lack there of) during war time, the evolution of man and machine, the importance of family, and the basis of free will, but it also seems like it will be a more comical, tongue-in-cheek version of RoboCop. It just looks too dam slick to be a gritty and dark crime tale.
Watching this video from HitFix, I was reminded of an interview with Verhoeven for the Huffington Post. In the interview, Verhoeven talks about the value of a remake while taking the source material into a new direction. He was talking about the then recent Total Recall remake, based on his own 1990 sci-fi film. In this instance he thought the film took itself too seriously without understanding the overall strangeness of the source material. When asked about the RoboCop remake, Verhoeven mentioned that it might be interesting because of Brazilian director José Padilha.
For now, we should give the RoboCop the benefit of the doubt, and reserve judgment until we actually watch the film. Padilha has proven to be a wonderful director with Elite Squad and its sequel Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. The new teaser trailer, however, doesn’t make you think the RoboCop remake will be any different from the new Total Recall; all style, no substance, while taking shortcuts to storytelling by referencing the original.
One thing Weller said about the original RoboCop that rings true is the last line of the film. When The Old Man compliments RoboCop for shooting Dick Jones, “Nice shooting, son, what’s your name?” RoboCop responds with a slight smile and answers “Murphy.” The line says so much about the themes of the film, which include identity, humanity, and resurrection. After the long journey Alex Murphy/RoboCop takes through the film, he answers with his human name and not his make or model. It’s about the search for the human soul.
What do we get from the 2013 version? We get a line like, “Make him look more tactical. Let’s go with black.”