Monday, February 24, 2014

My Take on Robocop, Old and New

Hollywood seems quite fond of remakes and reboots and do-overs and anything else they can glean from the past. I'm not always fond of seeing my favorites made over again, so I wasn't sure I'd be seeing the new Robocop movie. However, I had a free movie ticket that was about to expire and some free time, so I put them to good use, grabbed some popcorn and a soda, and settled in to watch the new Robocop. My expectations were low as far as the storyline went, and high as far as the CGI went. I was somewhat pleasantly surprised at the story, although it could have been better, and I have an idea of where they went off track.

After watching the new movie, I tried to recall when I'd last seen the old one. It had been quite a few years. Curious, I went home and watched it that night so I could compare the two. When I first watched the original in theaters, I cried. That's probably not the intended emotional response the movie makers had, but my brother had either just joined the police academy or had just graduated. Regardless, he was a regular cop, like Murphy (in the original… in the reboot, he's a detective), and it brought to light a family's worst nightmare when someone's loved one is in the police force or the armed forces, and being an emotional teenager to begin with, it didn't take much to send me over the edge.

At any rate, I did not cry during the reboot. Just putting that out there.

I found three common themes between the two movies. First, corporations, and the people who run them, are greedy bastards. Even when a human (or bits of a human) are involved in their product, they still treat that human as a product, as an 'it.' Both movies tried to hammer this home.

Second, both movies poke fun at the media. In the original movie, the media is more of a joke, akin to silly commercials like the one advertising the new car, the 6000 SUX, with 8.6 miles per gallon. In the newer movie, the media is a little more dangerous, sly, tricksy. It's ironic that Samuel L. Jackson's character speaks about the 'biased media' when his show so clearly has an agenda.

Third, both movies touch on what it means to be posthuman, a common theme in science fiction stories, although the newer movie delves into the question a little more, questioning the impact of emotions on our humanity as well as a brief question about souls.

Three themes are more than enough for a movie, but the reboot touched on a couple of other issues that, in my opinion, made the movie feel a little disjointed and a little too long. First, it touches on the use of drones foreignly and domestically. Second, the mad scientist/doctor character touches on the question of medical ethics. As our technology advances, new questions arise about end-of-life, quality of life, etc. Both of these are fascinating topics and deserve further exploration, but they distracted from the other themes.

Another thing the original did very well and the reboot flunked was fitting in a ton of characterization with nuances. In the original, pre-robo Murphy takes the ramp out of the parking garage too fast, causing the patrol car's back bumper to hit the pavement and send sparks flying. He also twirls his gun like a gunman in an old west show because his son admires a character on TV who does the same. These are touching, humorous moments, and when Murphy is Robocop, he ends up doing both of those, showing that he's still in there, somewhere. Those moments tell a lot, and in an economical fashion. The new movie lacks moments like that.

One of the things I disliked about the new movie was a scene where Robocop took on some bad guys, and it looked like a video game. Some people like that, but for me, it took me right out of the story, and it cheapened the characters' deaths--and that moment--because it felt less real. Also, the bad guys put on night vision goggles and turn off the lights, as if Robocop doesn't have the most kickass, advanced technology in his visor. Dumb bad guys.

Of course, the special effects were far superior in the new version. The sound was better, the visuals were better, the robotic suit was better. Watching the original reminded me of how 80's villains were often ridiculous and over the top.

There were a couple of nods to the original in the new version, like "I'd buy that for a dollar" and "Dead or alive, you're coming with me." So all in all, I was glad to watch the new one, but I won't watch it repeatedly like I did the original.

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