Paul Verhoeven’s violent, subversive sci-fi film is now regarded as a classic, more than three decades later. The original RoboCop from 1987 really does deserve to be regarded as such. It intricately balances between violent black comedy, a sociopolitical satire (a satire on everything from commercial television, 80s Reaganomics to capitalism), and a broader story about humans versus technology.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven who previously directed lesser-known films such as “The Fourth Man” and “Flesh+Blood”, “RoboCop” was probably the film that made him a well-known name in Hollywood, with films that followed: “Total Recall”, “Basic Instinct”, “Starship Troopers”, and “Hollow Man” to name a few.
Taking place in a futuristic version of Detroit that’s facing financial ruin, the world in RoboCop is overseen by a robotic police force meant to improve upon humans and eliminate crime. “RoboCop” starred Peter Weller as Officer Murphy/RoboCop, Nancy Allen as Officer Lewis, Ronny Cox as Dick Jones, and Kurtwood Smith as Clarence J. Boddicker, and co-starred Miguel Ferrer as Bob and Dan O’Herlihy as The Old Man.
RoboCop himself is a recently deceased police officer reanimated in the form of a cyborg, much like Frankenstein’s monster. But the movie shows us that it’s actually not the countless robots that make this society a dystopia — it’s the capitalistic autocratic corporations. The repeated line “I’d buy that for a dollar!” comes from Cyril M. Kornbluth’s short story “The Marching Morons”, which presents a similarly cynical view of an over-commercialized future.
The corporation is in charge of virtually everything in the city of Detroit, including security, and sees protecting its profits as more important than protecting its citizens. In fact, Robocop only exists in the first place because of boardroom infighting when OCP’s plan A, ED-209, shreds a junior VP during a presentation. As seen above, it is our choice of a scene from 1987 Robocop that truly is iconic.
“Old Detroit has a cancer. The cancer is crime, and it must be cut out before we employ the two million workers that will breathe life into this city again.”
– The Old Man
The scenes with ED-209 have become memorable in VFX film history, probably because of the initial ferocity of the robot’s actions in stark contrast to its comical turns in navigating a staircase, and its eventual demise.
The robot design was made by Tippett Studio, led by legendary visual effects supervisors Phil Tippett and Craig Hayes, who together created the ED-209 effects. The studio built both the full-sized model of this Omni Consumer Products (OCP) robot, a mostly static set-piece that was around seven feet tall, and weighed 136 kg (300 lbs) and a matching stop-motion version capable of much more articulation.