1987 was an incredibly rich and varied year for film, from family favourites to brainless action to body horror, it was nothing if not diverse. Amongst the slew of releases there was an action flick that attempted to be something more than just another facsimile of everything else out there by mixing brutal ultra-violence with biting social commentary, that film was Robocop.
Set in a near future, semi-dystopian Detroit, overrun by crime and in the midst of a renewal project by the shadowy OCP corporation to construct their vision of a new, crimefree Detroit, Delta City. To facilitate this change OCP has 2 Crime fighting initiatives to crack crime in old Detroit, the robotic sentry droid ED-209 and the cyborg Robocop programme both headed by ruthless, power driven executives with dubious morals. When the ED-209 programme is discovered to be dangerously, even fatally flawed, the Robocop programme is greenlit. The question is, who’d volunteer for such a role?
Robocop is pretty much legendary for those of an age. For any young adult or in some cases, child, growing up in the 80’s, It was that film your mate had seen after he stole his brothers VHS copy and was the most violent thing ever! The violence of Robocop was indeed remarkably graphic and visceral for a mainstream motion picture, almost cartoon-like in its OTT delivery. Rivers of blood, severed limbs and melty humans popping like piñatas that left you wondering when hearing of these things before experiencing them ‘How do they get away with that?!’. Quite simply, it was this complete detachment from any semblance of reality that allowed the film to pass censorship with only minor cuts and still to this day retains the capacity to shock the uninitiated.
Robocop was a wonderfully subversive film, a rarity in the either po-faced or relentlessly daft action films of the mid to late 80’s. On the surface it may be perceived to be another throw away B-movie destined for the notorious ‘midnight movie’ circuit but expertly woven social commentary can be observed on such subjects as our relationship to violence, authority, gentrification & the media, the latter wonderfully sent up with increasingly absurd & satirical news reports & TV advertisements. It is this stance taken by Verhoeven on Robocop and also to some degree on his later film Starship Troopers, that made the film stand out from the pack in the brainless action film ranks as being a more thoughtful and intriguing treat rather than just empty calories.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Robocop. The film prompted 2 sequels, a TV show & a remake, all of which tried to capture the same anarchic satire as the original and all were failures in that respect. Robocop is a film that stands proud to this day as a daring, brutal and thought provoking piece of future-shock cinema.