“I’d buy that for a dollar!” Like many movie fans, Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP took me completely by surprise when it was released 30 years ago this summer. The title alone was a turn-off for me and, not knowing a thing about the film, it simply looked silly.
I paid attention to the reviews just to confirm my suspicions, and to my surprise, the film was getting not only positive reviews but widespread acclaim for its subversive, satirical nature and extra-clever sense of humor. I went to go see it, and ROBOCOP remains one of my all-time favorites.
Set in a crime-ridden, near-future Detroit, the action-packed genre flick finds the mega-corporation OCP tasked with running the city’s police force. The powers that be introduce a new program with a prototype cyborg cop — using the remains of downed officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) – and crime quickly gets swept under the rug by the new “sheriff” in town. But soon Murphy discovers a conspiracy that leads to the highest levels of OCP, and bringing them down may threaten his second lease on life.
When I was at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, I unearthed some amazing behind-the-scenes footage on the set during the making of the film, complete with Peter Weller’s personal tour of the film’s set, his quirky sense of humor, and his candid reveal of how difficult it was to put on that unwieldy Robo-suit.
“They work bloody hard; it takes them an hour-and-a-half to put me in this thing,” said Weller, best known at the time as the star of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8th DIMENSION! “And then later on in the film, once I remove my helmet, I have a head that is shot, fixed, and computerized, a whole other design, and it takes four and a half hours to put on the head alone. It ain’t easy pal — it ain’t all dames and glamor if anybody asks.”
In discussing his role, Weller makes a point to explain that the film is more than just an action picture and that RoboCop is more than just an action hero. “This part, to me, it’s a commercial, action, futuristic thriller on the face of it, but at the heart of it … is about the discovery of what it is to be human,” said Weller. “It’s not about a bionic man or bionic woman. It’s not about a human-looking thing with mechanics inside, it’s about a mechanical thing with a human inside. That’s the twist here. … As opposed to just a science-fiction action-thriller film, it’s the story of humanity inside; the morality tale.”
Watch the great vintage footage of Peter Weller on the original ROBOCOP set that I assembled here:
A quarter of a century later, I caught up with Weller on the red carpet of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS to get his opinion on the then-upcoming ROBOCOP remake starring Joel Kinnaman in the title role. What was his take on the remake, and of remakes overall in a remake-frenzied Hollywood? His response was quite interesting…
“There should be a list of 25 movies you should not ever touch,” said Weller, calling the process “sinful.”
As for any possibility of returning to ROBOCOP himself in some way, he replied, “I’m done with ROBOCOP,” adding, “It’s anthropological; you can watch it in a hundred years and you can hearken back to say, ‘What was the political-socio-economic dynamic? What was the idea of commercialism? What was the beginnings of the age of information, ripping off identity? What was the story of identity theft?’ All that stuff is prescient to be written in 1981, filmed in 1985 or 86, and still lives.”
As for that still-to-be-seen remake of ROBOCOP, he said diplomatically to the new cast and filmmakers, “Sorry guys, I wish you well — it’s going to be a hard movie to beat.”
“Your move, creep…” Needless to say, the 2014 ROBOCOP reboot did not fare nearly as well as the original did at the box office, nor did it spawn and sequels. The people have spoken…
Watch Peter Weller’s response to the ROBOCOP remake here: http://players.brightcove.net/1242911076001/rkLHD3Uv_default/index.html?videoId=ref:title_138409&viewguid=5e489c1c-3311-4f57-9f9d-65a634fc5add
Then see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews, Summer Music Recommendations, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musings, Famous Monsters fun, cool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.