RoboCop ★★★★★

It's been a very confusing couple of weeks on Letterboxd when it comes to RoboCop.

My stream has been filled with reviews of RoboCops past and present and my immediate reaction whenever I see one pop up that has a grade that seems to be to far too low for me to be happy with, I've been jumping in indignation - only to realise that they have almost always been for the recent remake. Very confusing indeed.

This may sound like a story that I have used on reviews of several other films I have done since my arrival on Letterboxd, but my first viewing of RoboCop was a butchered 'made for TV' version that ITV put out in the early 1990s. Just look at this ridiculous shit:-

RoboCop sat on the ITV shelf for several years before they were finally brave enough to show it, hoping that the brouhaha surrounding the violence in this film had died down when they finally scheduled it. Guess again. The fact was that this edit was so brutal that even I, as someone who had never seen it before, could tell that they had completely butchered it. The scene, for instance, where the ED-209 malfunctions and guns down some poor bastard in the boardroom, pumping him full of about a hundred rounds, was edited so that there was no blood!

There was such a backlash against this ridiculous version that ITV were forced to show the uncut version just a couple of months later and in some ways it was an important event in the showing of films on network TV over here. From that point on, films shown after the 9pm watershed were cut and dubbed considerably less and the uncut version of RoboCop received considerably less complaints than the original edited version they put out.

It could only be RoboCop that could force such changes, of course. It's such an over-the-top and delirious film that it would have seemed wasted if these changes had come about off the back of something considerably less notable. RoboCop just shouldn't work at all. It attempts so much in the space of just over an hour and a half, and does so armed with some seemingly questionable special effects even for their time, and yet it then succeeds with everything it does.

In that regard it really is a once in a generation film. Paul Verhoeven really does shove everything in this film but I think his most remarkable trick is that the jarring and sometimes unnerving ultra-violence (the murder of Murphy is still really tough to watch even now) somehow blends together with the splendid sense of humour that this film has with no problems at all. I've watched this film 7 or 8 times now and I still don't know how he managed that.

It could just be as simple as it beimg just one of those fortunate films where everything clicks. Then again, I don't want it to sound as though I am taking away credit that Verhoeven deserves for piecing together this film, because looking at the rest of his filmography it is clear that this is no fluke. He managed the same trick of juddering violence and marvellous humour in Total Recall and Starship Troopers as well. It could even be argued that he set his stall out with this style in the lunatic medieval romp Flesh + Blood.

It would seem as though Verhoeven has (had?) a gift that few other directors have perhaps ever had. There's no doubting that it's a gift that can create some remarkable images - there are at least a dozen scenes in RoboCop that are utterly memorable and endlessly rewatchable in their own right. At least a dozen. It does also help that he gets the cast just about right.

As fine as Peter Weller, an actor who really should have put more of his energies into action and sci-fi rather than 'serious' projects, and Nancy Allen are as the two main good guys here, Verhoeven's best piece of casting is when it comes to the bad guys. Kurtwood Smith and Ray Wise, both accustomed to playing out-of-control nutcases and villains, are ideal for this film as they both have enough ability with the required one-liners as well.

But when it comes to slightly more cerebral villains, who better than Ronny Cox to fill out such a role? I'd argue that Cox is the best thing here although Miguel Ferrer cuts him close - a man who has made a good career out of being believably smarmy and sarcastic and even his excellent Twin Peaks turn pales compared to his performance here.

Where Verhoeven perhaps amazed me most with RoboCop, however, is that even despite its razor-sharp and still relevant satirical edge he very much maintains its B-pic look by turning the daft special effects in his favour. By making his film unerringly grimy and industrial, it means that when ED-209 clods on to the screen it doesn't look nearly as ridiculous as it could have done if he made this look like an A-list Hollywood blockbuster.

You know what additionally secures RoboCop's legendary status, though? The arcade game was bloody fantastic as well. That would have pushed this to 5 stars in the unlikely event it wasn't getting them in the first place.

🇵🇱 Steve G liked these reviews