RoboCop (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (18th December 2019).
The Film

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

The first two films that Netherlands-born filmmaker Paul Verhoeven made in America, RoboCop (1987) and Total Recall (1990) established Verhoeven’s critical perspective on American society, using the tropes of the science-fiction genre to offer a critique of the dominance of corporate ideology, the roles and functions of technology (and its concomitant impact on identity) and the use of the media as a means of manufacturing hegemony.

RoboCop and Total Recall are notable for introducing and refining Verhoeven’s ‘outsider’ perspective on American culture; these were the first two of Verhoeven’s feature films to be set in the US. Consequently, RoboCop has been seen as representing a collision of Verhoeven’s European sensibilities with the spectacle of Hollywood cinema. A 2002 retrospective piece about the production of RoboCop, published in the UK edition of Empire, asserts that the film represents ‘the machinations of Dutch party politics impact[ing] upon the notoriously insular Hollywood film industry’ (Smith, 2002: 86). RoboCop is also arguably a film of deceptive simplicity: using the template of exploitation cinema, it addresses a range of social issues. As critic Paul Sammon has argued, RoboCop is ‘as tight as a nest of Chinese boxes. You can keep opening these lids and finding different things inside, but each one of those boxes is perfectly hand-crafted. That film is very well put together’ (Sammon, in ‘Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop’, produced for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop).

Perhaps unfairly, Verhoeven’s films tend to be known for their violence. Whereas the films Verhoeven made in the Netherlands (in particular, the 1980 film Spetters) caused problems for censors in both Britain and the US due to their explicit sexuality, both RoboCop and Total Recall had to be cut in order to qualify for an ‘R’ rating from the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) within the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). In 1987, the CARA refused to give RoboCop an ‘R’ rating until the distributors had cut forty-one seconds of violence from the film (from the sequence in which ED-209 kills a corporate executive, and from the death of Murphy); the film was resubmitted to the CARA five times before being granted its ‘R’ rating (Easton, 2004: np). Likewise, in 1990 the CARA refused to give Total Recall an ‘R’ rating until cuts were made to the several scenes of violence (Benny’s death; Quaid’s use of a passer-by as a human shield during the gunfight on the escalator; and the stabbing of one of the ‘mutants’). Starship Troopers and Basic Instinct were also subject to some cuts before receiving their ‘R’ ratings. These cuts suggest that in a period in which attitudes towards screen violence in conventional ‘action’ cinema were becoming increasingly liberal, Verhoeven’s representation of the effects of violence and his combination of hyperbolic violence and satire was still considered distasteful by censors and audiences.

RoboCop was written by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, and Neumeier has claimed that the script for RoboCop was determined when ‘I had this vision of a far-distant, Blade Runner-type world where there was an all-mechanical cop coming to a sense of real human intelligence’ (Neumeier, quoted in Goldberg et al, 1995: 184). Originally drafted in 1984, the script was passed around several studios before eventually attracting the attention of director Jonathan Kaplan and producer Jon Davison (Van Scheers, 1996: 185). Neumeier has claimed that the satirical tone of the script appealed to Kaplan and Davison: ‘[w]hat attracted them was that it was funny. We always intended this to be funny; we were always fighting this battle with people who said “No, this is a robot movie, it can’t be funny”. The first draft had a certain adolescent silliness about it’ (Neumeier, quoted in Golberg et al, op cit.: 185). Eventually, Jonathan Kaplan left the project but Davison’s relationship with RoboCop grew and, Neumeier claims, Davison ‘encourag[ed] the humor’ to develop within the script (Neumeier, quoted in ibid.).

Michael Miner had originally planned to direct the film, but Neumeier notes that ‘as the picture got bigger [with the budget ballooning to $7 million before eventually settling at $13 million], it got more difficult’ to sustain Neumeier and Miner’s planned roles within the production of RoboCop (Neumeier, quoted in Golberg et al, op cit.: 186; see also Verhoeven’s comments on the audio commentary for the DVD release of The Hitchhiker: 'The Last Scene', HBO Video, 2004). After the concept was sold to Orion, Michael Miner was offered the role of second unit director but walked away from RoboCop when he was offered the opportunity to write and direct Deadly Weapon (Michael Miner, 1989); meanwhile, Ed Neumeier was given the opportunity to work as RoboCop’s co-producer (Goldberg et al, op cit.: 186).

Mike Medavoy (Orion Picture’s co-founder and the company’s vice president) and Barbara Boyle (Orion’s head of production) offered the RoboCop script to ten other directors before Boyle passed it on to Verhoeven, who initially rejected the idea: ‘I heard he saw the title page and said “Ah, one of those,” and threw it over his shoulder [….] Orion convinced Paul to read it again, and Paul reconsidered’, Neumeier has commented (Neumeier, quoted in Golberg et al, op cit.: 187). Verhoeven initially rejected the film as an example of the juvenile cinema that was dominating the ‘New New Hollywood’ of the 1980s, but he was persuaded to revisit the script by his wife Martine (Van Scheers, op cit.: 183). Reflecting on his initial response to the script, Verhoeven has claimed that ‘I thought, I’m not going to make a movie about a robot: I make movies about human beings. I’m an artist, not a comic book writer’ (Verhoeven, in Omnibus: 'Paul Verhoeven—From Holland to Hollywood', BBC, 1996). Elsewhere, Verhoeven has asserted that he initially declared that the film ‘was stupid [….] All of my films had been “normal”, if you like. No element of fantasy at all. I was definitely not interested in some movie about a cop who becomes a robot’ (Verhoeven, quoted in Smith, 2002: 86).

However, at that point in his career Verhoeven was considering accepting work in Hollywood as a way of escaping ‘the constant criticism of his films in the Netherlands’ (Van Scheers, op cit.: 182). His first English-language film, Flesh+Blood (1985) had offered Verhoeven the opportunity to experience the realm of international co-productions: Flesh+Blood had been a collaboration between Spanish and American companies, with $6 million of the budget being provided by Orion Pictures (ibid.). Despite the commercial failure of Flesh+Blood, Orion offered RoboCop to Verhoeven; and Verhoeven, who had found the experience of making Flesh+Blood a difficult one due to the issues involved in straddling both the European and American filmmaking establishments, decided that he had to make a choice between continuing to work in Europe or moving to Hollywood (ibid.). Reflecting on this period in his career, Verhoeven has said that on the suggestion of Irwin Yablans, who was then-head of Orion Pictures, he felt compelled to choose ‘between becoming an American director or staying in Europe and making European movies in the direction of De vierde man (The 4th Man, 1983) or Soldaat van orange (Soldier of Orange, 1977)’ (Verhoeven, on the audio commentary for the DVD release of The Hitchhiker: 'The Last Scene'). Shooting an episode for the television anthology series The Hitchhiker (HBO, 1983-7), ‘The Last Scene’, in Vancouver ‘was decisive’ in determining Verhoeven’s decision to find work in America, because it convinced Verhoeven that ‘the professionalism was there’ (ibid.). RoboCop began preproduction a mere two months after Verhoeven completed ‘The Last Scene’ (ibid.).

After studying the RoboCop script more closely, with an English-Dutch dictionary to aid his understanding of the colloquial aspects of the dialogue, Verhoeven concluded that ‘the film began to rise in his estimation above the platitudes of the action formula, but without abandoning the idiom of the genre’ (Van Scheers, op cit.: 183). Finding himself drawn towards the question of identity that is at the heart of the film’s narrative, with the ‘rebranding’ of the human Murphy into the nonhuman corporate-engineered cyborg policeman RoboCop, Verhoeven asserted that
‘Science-fiction gives you a great deal of freedom [in comparison with more “respected” film forms]. And besides, when that science-fiction layer is stripped away, you are left with a story about a man who has lost his identity. RoboCop goes in search of his past and gradually discovers he was once born as Murphy, a human. That to me seems a universal theme’ (Verheven, quoted in ibid.: 183-4).

Elsewhere, Verhoeven has claimed that the sequence in RoboCop that depicts the cyborg RoboCop’s return to the family home of his former human self, Murphy, was instrumental in determining his decision to accept the project; for Verhoeven, this scene represented the human heart of the film, convincing him that the script was about more than ‘a cop who becomes a robot’ (Verhoeven, on the audio commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). Verhoeven has suggested that his decision to accept the project ‘was really me thinking, “Okay, science fiction is not my genre, but I think I understand something of the soul of RoboCop”, and there is something artistic about the whole project and something humanitarian’ (Verhoeven, in ‘Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop’).

Verhoeven’s involvement resulted in changes to the picture’s direction: according to Neumeier, ‘Paul said, “I want to make this much more like my pictures. It has to be real”’ (Neumeier, quoted in Golberg et al, op cit.: 186). Verhoeven’s suggested amendments included ‘an affair [between Murphy/RoboCop] with Nancy Allen’s character after he became a robot [….] The writers complied with that – they thought it was a European touch’ (Verhoeven, quoted in Smith, 2002: 86-7). Neumeier and Miner began redrafting the script, but after seeing ninety pages of a third draft of the screenplay (and after Neumeier lent him a number of American comic books similar in tone to Neumeier and Miner’s original script) Verhoeven commented ‘Well, this is a piece of shit, I was wrong, we go back’, convinced that ‘[i]t was completely wrong to introduce European ideas into an American movie’ (Neumeier, quoted in Golberg et al, op cit.: 187; Verhoeven, quoted in Smith, 2002: 87; see also Van Sheers, op cit.: 188). Neumeier believed that humour was integral to the film’s premise, asserting that ‘it is a film about the guy in a suit walking around – it is silly. So it should be a funny movie’ (Neumeier, quoted in Golberg et al, op cit.: 188). Verhoeven came to an acceptance of the importance of humour, and especially black comedy, for the film. According to Rob Van Scheers, ‘Verhoeven realized that, for the American public, film was first and foremost a circus’ and ‘[h]is survival tactic was “Go with the flow”’ (Van Scheers, op cit.: 184). However, Verhoeven reinforced the point that ‘[w]hat the story particularly needed was clarity’ (Verhoeven, quoted in ibid.: 187).

Verhoeven has suggested that his experiences on his first two American feature films, RoboCop and Total Recall, were largely positive: both RoboCop’s financiers Orion and, later, Carolco (for whom Verhoeven directed Total Recall and Basic Instinct) allowed Verhoeven to make all major creative decisions apart from the casting of the main actors (Total Recall came with Arnold Schwarzenegger attached to the lead role, and Michael Douglas was already cast as the protagonist in Basic Instinct). On the experience of making his first American feature films, Verhoeven has commented that ‘[i]t felt like working in a non-studio atmosphere where you had the freedom of a European director, but you had the possibilities […] of the American [film] industry’ (Verhoeven, on the audio commentary for the DVD release of The Hitchhiker: 'The Last Scene'). However, Verhoeven has also noted that whilst shooting RoboCop and Total Recall, he was somewhat overwhelmed by all the different technical departments involved in shooting an American film; this was different to the Netherlands, where
‘you had to nearly do everything yourself and had to at least look at everything yourself because otherwise there would be mistakes, things would not be done […] all these amateurish kinds of thinking or behaving because you have to realise that in Holland, filming was not an industry, of course: filming was just a hobby [….] It was a nice job […] but every half-hour there was a problem, of course’ (Verhoeven, on the audio commentary for the DVD release of The Hitchhiker: 'The Last Scene').

In an email to the author of this article, Phil Tippett (who collaborated with Verhoeven on RoboCop and Starship Troopers) has suggested that the resources of Hollywood contributed to the excesses within Verhoeven’s films. Suggesting that the biggest difference between Verhoeven’s European films and his American films was the budgets allocated to them, Tippett has stated that
‘He had a great deal more resources in Hollywood. This had both a positive and negative effect depending on your perspective. Paul was always a filmmaker who took risks and would take things right up to the edge of the cliff and then jump. I believe his intentions have been largely misunderstood re: the excess attributed to some of his work in the USA (that raw 'sharp stick in the eye' shock tactics that […] comprised his work in Holland). The people of the future will see that he was a brutally honest artist, which seems, these days to have no place in corporate film making in H'wood [Hollywood] and is a very rare animal’ (Phil Tippett, email to the author; 17 May, 2007).

In the case of RoboCop, Verhoeven’s ‘brutal honesty’ was communicated through his foregrounding of the satirical elements of the script. Satire was always at the heart of RoboCop: co-writer Michael Miner has claimed that ‘[m]y original notion was that it [RoboCop/Murphy] was a robot and it was trying to understand why people were so fucked up. A notion of purer intelligence trying to figure out the corrupted intelligence of human beings’ (Miner, quoted in Van Scheers, op cit.: 186). Van Scheers suggests that in writing the film’s script, Neumeier and Miner used the twin reference points of two of American popular culture’s most openly satirical forms, comic strips and the allegorical science-fiction films of the 1950s, the latter of which ‘dealt not with the future but with the Cold War’ (ibid.). In this way, like its models ‘RoboCop had to say as much about the 1980s as about the future’ (ibid.). To this end, the script was littered with ‘[r]eferences to the Reagan era – the era of Michael Milken and the junk bonds swindle’ (ibid.: 187). Producer Jon Davison has commented that ‘[a]lthough the movie is set in the future, like any movie it’s a product of its time, and this was a product of the Reagan era’ (ibid.: 187).

For Neumeier, the film was always intended as a satirical representation of social attitudes in America during the 1980s, rather than a specific attack on the Reagan administration. Neumeier has asserted that ‘RoboCop to me is essentially a satire of the Eighties. Some people say that it’s a satire of Reaganomics, but it’s just a satire of that era when everybody was getting rich and everybody in business was being tough’ (ibid.: 187). Neumeier, who had gained first-hand experience of the corporate mentality whilst working as an executive for Universal, has suggested that in writing the script, his central targets were ‘stupid people in suits who were always working out of greed and getting away with it’ (Neumeier, quoted in Van Scheers, op cit.: 187). One of the key areas of Neumeier’s scorn was the appearance of an aggressive corporate mentality:
‘Businessmen were reading from martial arts books to learn to be better businessmen, and they were calling each other “killers”, and they were talking about “hostile takeovers”; and so I was trying to raise it just to the thing where they really were killing each other. It’s a cliché now, but at the time it was fun to watch the vicious yuppies’ (Neumeier, in ‘Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop’).

To this end, the society in the film is depicted as one in which ‘privatization seems to be a religion’, with the large corporation Omni Consumer Products dominating almost every aspect of the social sphere, including law enforcement (Van Sheers, op cit.: 187). Verhoeven drew parallels between this corporate culture and the ideology of fascism, both on a narrative-thematic level and on an aesthetic level—including making direct reference to the iconography of Nazism. For example, Verhoeven gave actor Kurtwood Smith glasses in a deliberate attempt to make the character of Clarence Boddicker (the thug paid by OCP executive Dick Jones to create crime as a means of validating OCP’s ongoing gentrification of Old Detroit) somewhat reminiscent of Heinrich Himmler (Verhoeven, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop).

By many accounts, Verhoeven’s visualisation of Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner’s script for RoboCop gave added nuance to the narrative: in the preface to an extended interview with Neumeier and Miner (in Science-Fiction Filmmaking in the 1980s: Interviews, 1995), Lee Goldberg et al assert that ‘[e]arly drafts of Robocop [sic] were what one would expect from the concept, but under Verhoeven’s care the script evolved into a far richer story than perhaps what was intended’, with Verhoeven teasing out the satirical elements of the script (Golberg et al, op cit.: 183). Michael Miner has suggested that the perspective that Verhoeven, as a cultural outsider, brought to the satirical elements of the film enriched the ideas within the script, giving the film an almost anthropological focus on American society during the 1980s: Miner has stated that ‘[f]oreign directors critique America better than Americans can, because they are on the outside and they approach it anthropologically. That’s another thing […] Paul brought to the material’ (Miner, in ‘Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop’). Suggesting that this almost anthropological study of the excesses of American society is a defining trait of Verhoeven’s body of work as a whole, Phil Tippett has argued that Verhoeven
‘is always provocative, always critical of the cultural milieu to the point of potentially alienating the choir he's preaching to. To me that's very compelling […] to the point of almost being self destructive - a very delicate balance that adds a sense of compulsion and urgency to his work which is real and original and not at all accepted in today’s corporate climate (no surprise)’ (Phil Tippett, email to the author; 17 May, 2007).

Aside from its critical examination of corporate culture, the role of the media and issues of technology and identity (to be discussed later), RoboCop contains several directly prescient and timely aspects. For example, in discussion of the costumes and police helmets used in the film, Ed Neumeier has commented, ‘if you look at international police forces [today], they look so similar to this: I think we probably helped to create a new cop aesthetic’ (Neumeier, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). Neumeier has also drawn attention to the timeliness of the film’s depiction of drug culture. Making reference to the sequence in which Boddicker is arrested by RoboCop during a deal in a mechanised cocaine ‘factory’, drawing parallels between the trade in illegal narcotics and conventional commercial industries (both visually and on a narrative level, in the relationship between Boddicker’s gang and OCP), Neumeier has commented that RoboCop was made ‘right at the time when crack cocaine was just coming out on the streets, and even though we’re pushing it here in terms of what was going on at the time, this is really what became of the illegal cocaine operations’ (Neumeier, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). Verhoeven himself has stated that he aimed to achieve hyperbole in the representation of the drugs factory, ‘not realising that in ten years, that would be the norm, really’ (Verhoeven, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop).

‘The Future Has a Silver Lining’: Gentrification and Urban Renewal
OCP’s planned transformation of Old Detroit into the new Delta City is another aspect of RoboCop that was extraordinarily timely. The concept of gentrification was one of the debates at the forefront of US social policy during the mid-1980s. A headline on the cover of the November, 1985 issue of the NAACP journal The Crisis asked the question, ‘Gentrification: Is it war on the poor, or simply economic opportunity?’ Inside this issue, Michael A Lawrence asserts that
‘[t]o many residents of inner and central city sections, the majority of whom are black, Hispanic, Asian or poor white, gentrification means displacement. It signals anew, and cogently, the economic dominance of majority, white Americans. To those whom, [sic] the term “gentrification” resounds like a cruel expletive, It [sic] says: you are nothing, you were powerless before, you are powerless now, and you and yours will always be powerless, for you are less than nothing’ (Lawrence, 1985: 20).

In light of this, the decision to set the film in Detroit is significant: in ‘Robocop [sic]: Murphy’s Law, Robocop’s Body, and capitalism’s work’ (1989), Julie F Codell notes that ‘[t]he images of the city, the model of Delta City, and the 6000 SUX all express the ironies in the choice of Detroit as site’ (Codell, 1989: 12). Codell asserts that
‘[t]he reputation of Detroit rests on both murder and the automobile industry as a barometer of our economic well-being. The film's Detroit has passed into its current state of collapse: the dismantled car industry, which in the 1920s invited workers by the 1000s, mostly Southern blacks, to a new life, and then rose to become a symbol of American prosperity and know-how’ (ibid.).

Codell states that by the end of the 1980s, this city of promise had developed into something that now represented ‘technological incompetence and the deficit in our exports and imports of the automobile, the product as central to the American Dream as the suburban home’ (ibid.).

During the mid-1980s, Detroit was one of the US cities affected the most by unemployment and poverty, and throughout the 1970s the fallout from the city’s 1967 race riots led to increasing racial segregation. During the 1970s, in both Detroit and Boston, which suffered from similar issues, ‘federal courts mandated the use of busing for public schools to achieve school desegregation’ (DiGaetano & Klemanski, 1999: 49). However, it has been claimed that these policies unintentionally exacerbated the problem of racial segregation. In Power and City Governance: Comparative Perspectives on Urban Development (1999), Alex DiGaetano and John S Klemanski claim that ‘[t]he attempt to desegregate public schools is thought to have encouraged “white flight” to the suburbs from Boston and Detroit since the 1970s’: according to the US Bureau of Census data, between 1970 and 1990 metropolitan Detroit’s white population dropped from 55.6 per cent to 21.6 per cent (ibid.; US Bureau of Census data, quoted in ibid.). As Detroit’s ‘white population […] abandon[ed] the city […] most jobs and new investments went with them’ (Berry, 2008: 18). In ‘Sprawl, Fragmentation, and the Persistence of Racial Inequality’ (2002), John Powell notes that, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development statistics, by 1990 Detroit had ‘poverty rates close to three times that of the regional average’ (Powell, 2002: 96).

By 1987, the year of RoboCop’s production, unemployment in metropolitan Detroit had risen to twenty per cent (Neill, 1995: 135). Additionally, as the population of Detroit declined, during the 1980s and 1990s the city was faced with
‘a high volume of vacant lots and homes [….] The area around 12th Street in Detroit, for instance, was once the most densely populated neighbourhood in the city. By 1993, after fires and abandonment, the area was covered with tall grass, and raccoons, turtledoves, and pheasants populated the area’ (Powell, op cit.: 102).

As a result of the increasing segregation of Detroit’s population during the 1970s and 1980s, DiGaetano and Klemanski argue that ‘Detroit’s population shift is perhaps the most striking example of the social changes that have occurred as a consequence of suburbanization and deindustrialization’ (DiGaetano & Klemanski, op cit.: 50).

Discussing how the Detroit-set RoboCop criticises the processes of gentrification, in Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film (2008) Adilifu Nama has allied the film with John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) (Nama, 2008: 113). Nama claims that both films ‘are two of the most radical SF films to emerge in the postindustrial era, explicitly critiquing America’s class divisions and the way racial inequality operates to further corporate interests’ (ibid.). Both films take place in urban environments marked by unemployment and dominated by abandoned and derelict spaces: They Live was shot in downtown Los Angeles, and its opening sequence features its homeless and nameless protagonist (nicknamed ‘Nada’ and played by Roddy Piper) wandering into a run-down, unnamed American city, unsuccessfully looking for employment.

Like They Live, RoboCop uses its story-space to establish the poverty of the city in which it is set. Much of RoboCop was filmed on location in Dallas (with some footage shot in Pittsburgh) because of what Verhoeven claimed was that city’s ‘futuristic feeling’ (Paul Verhoeven, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). For Nama, despite not being shot in the city in which its narrative is set, RoboCop ‘is a brash sociocultural satire of the implosion of Detroit, one of America’s most prominent industrial cities’ (Nama, op cit.: 113). Within the film, Detroit is shown as ‘an economically and morally bankrupt city’ with ‘rampant crime and social chaos’ (ibid.: 114). Despite ‘its rich and contentious racial and class history and its past as a symbol of American industrial predominance’, RoboCop depicts Detroit as ‘a cesspool of crime and chaos’ (ibid.). For Nama, at the centre of the film is ‘the socioeconomic conditions of a city that requires’ the creation of a RoboCop or an ED209: he claims that in its focus on Detroit, the film synthesises ‘contemporary events [in relation to the issues within Detroit during the late-1980s] into a futuristic narrative’ (ibid: 115).

As Nama notes, prior to the 1960s the city of Detroit ‘was an economic promised land’ due to the number of ‘employment opportunities in the Motor City’s automobile industry’ (ibid.: 114). However, within the city ‘racial cleavages ran deep, both inside and outside the factory’, and the city soon became dominated by ‘racially segregated neighborhoods’ (ibid.). Following the race riots of 1967, the issue of racial segregation became increasingly important to the city, and ‘it began to appear that civic vitality and the future of Detroit were shaped more by racial issues than by labor issues’ (ibid.). As a result, ‘race began to define Detroit politically and socially just as much as the popularity of Motown music defined it culturally’ (ibid.).

By the 1980s, Detroit’s traditional industries had fallen into serious decline, and the decade ‘ushered in the city’s transition from a symbol of economic prowess’ to a paradigm of economic collapse and ‘urban abandonment’ (ibid.). Discussing Detroit along with similarly-declining cities such as Cleveland and Newark, Michael A Lawrence suggests that by the 1980s, each city had areas that were deemed ‘suitable for gentrification due to extensive “contagious abandonment”’ (Lawrence, Michael A, op cit.: 22). Many of Detroit’s industrial buildings were left derelict: these ‘metal and concrete testimonies to the heyday of Detroit’s car-driven industrial revolution, now stood as abandoned ruins of industrial decay for self-proclaimed urban archaeologists to explore’ (Nama, op cit.: 115).

During the opening sequences of the film, as Murphy is rotated into metropolitan Detroit’s most notorious district, he is asked where he is from. ‘Metro South’, he replies. ‘I think OCP’s moving a lot of new guys here’, Murphy notes when he is faced with the ironic question, ‘What brings you to paradise?’ ‘Omni Consumer Products. What a bunch of morons. They’ll manage this department right into the ground’, he is told before being offered the curt greeting, ‘Welcome to Hell’. As the film progresses, the empty industrial zones of Old Detroit are shown as ‘no-go’ zones for the police, and abandoned industrial buildings are the focus of several key sequences. Murphy’s murder at the hands of Clarence Boddicker takes place in an empty and decaying mill, and after he escapes from OCP Murphy/RoboCop hides out in a similar derelict industrial building. Furthermore, Murphy/RoboCop’s final confrontation with Boddicker and his gang also takes place in an empty foundry.

These abandoned zones of the city, symbolic of its industrial decline, are the home territory of Boddicker and his gang: immediately prior to Murphy’s murder, the group of criminals led by Boddicker is shown fleeing from a robbery in which the stolen money is destroyed by the group’s attempts to blow open the safe containing it. Boddicker’s rage leads him to kill one of the members of his gang by throwing him from the vehicle onto the pursuing police car. Murphy and Lewis follow Boddicker into the industrial zone where his hideout appears to be located: Lewis identifies the location as ‘the old mill in Sector 3D’. (In a dialogue exchange from the fourth draft of the film’s screenplay, cut from the finished film, Murphy identifies a shortcut to the gang’s hideout; when Lewis asks him ‘How do you know?’, Murphy responds by telling her that ‘I grew up around here… it used to be a nice place’; see Neumeier & Miner, 1986.) Backup is unavailable, and Murphy and Lewis decide to investigate the warehouse alone. Isolated from Lewis, Murphy is executed by Boddicker, who before shooting the policeman taunts him by asserting, ‘You gotta be some kind of great cop to come in here all by yourself’.

In one of the ‘media breaks’, Boddicker is described as the ‘unofficial crime boss of Old Detroit’. The newscaster identifies Boddicker as responsible for the deaths of thirty-one police officers. However, later in the film Boddicker unexpectedly reveals to Murphy/RoboCop that ‘I work for Dick Jones’: Jones has forged an alliance with Boddicker, Boddicker’s gang’s criminal rampage validating OCP’s development of a cyborg policeman and its plans to gentrify Old Detroit by gradually razing the city to the ground and building in its place the new Delta City. The proposed Delta City is represented in the film through a scale model in OCP’s boardroom, which is present during the testing of Dick Jones’ Security Concepts division’s ED209 prototype. In his speech introducing the new ‘enforcement droid’, the Old Man announces that the construction of Delta City will begin ‘in six months […] where Old Detroit now stands. Old Detroit has a cancer. The cancer is crime, and it must be cut out before we employ the two million workers’ who will build Delta City. The Old Man reminds the OCP executives that ‘Although shifts in the tax structure have created an economy ideal for corporate growth, community services, in this case law enforcement, have suffered. I think it’s time we gave something back’. When the ED209 prototype malfunctions, the bloody body of Kinney is thrown by the droid’s machine gun fire onto the model of Delta City. As Julie F Codell notes, the model ‘represents the dream of OCP's president, who sees the robot's murderous malfunctioning as an annoying interruption in his creation of that new city’ (Codell, op cit.: np).

Delta City is also represented in the film through a series of billboards which are shown onscreen: these advertisements carry the legend, ‘Delta City. The Future Has a Silver Lining’. During RoboCop’s first night on patrol, he interrupts a sexual assault in progress which takes place under one of these billboards. (Via a point-of-view shot from RoboCop’s perspective, which shows readouts from the cyborg’s onboard computer, the crime is identified as a ‘415 in progress’ on ‘3rd Street/Nash Avenue’.) As the victim is attacked by two men, we are shown a long shot of the crime. The billboard takes up almost half the image, its bottom edge bisecting the film’s frame along its horizontal axis. The poster depicts a utopic drawing of Delta City which, through the mise-en-scene, is placed in juxtaposition with the crime taking place below it, the streets littered with debris and waste.

Delta City is also shown as presenting new opportunities for the city’s criminal class, something which is acknowledged and subtly sanctioned by OCP. When Murphy/RoboCop begins to present a problem for Jones, Jones issues Boddicker with a proposal: in exchange for eliminating Murphy/RoboCop, Jones reminds Boddicker that
‘Delta City begins construction in two months. That’s two million workers living in trailers; that means drugs, gambling, prostitution. Virgin territory for the man who knows how to open up new markets. One man could control it all, Clarence’.
In response to this, Boddicker dryly asserts, ‘I guess we’re gonna be friends after all, Richard’. Requesting some ‘major firepower’ with which to eradicate RoboCop, Boddicker asks Jones, ‘You got access to the military?’ To this, Jones responds by stating succinctly, ‘We practically are the military’.

Susan Jeffords has argued that in its association of corporate ethics and criminality, RoboCop ‘goes beyond simply condemning corporations for their values by linking street crime, drug-dealing, prostitution, gambling, and death to corporations’ (Jeffords, 1994: 111). Jeffords suggests that ‘Verhoeven shows the systemic ties between corporate operations and criminal operations, all finally linked by their disregard for human life and emphasis on profit’ (ibid.). Jones and Boddicker are linked not only by their shared endeavours but also by
‘their stated philosophy that each repeats during the film: “Good business is where you find it”. Holding such a position, “good business” can include drug-selling, bank robbery, prostitution, and murder, as long as a profit is turned’ (ibid.).

The phrase ‘Good business is where you find it’ is first used in the meeting that takes place in OCP’s board room: in his introduction to the ED-209 droid, Jones observes that OCP has ‘gambled in markets traditionally regarded as non-profit: hospitals, prisons, space exploration. I say good business is where you find it’. The phrase reappears later in the film, during the sequence in which Boddicker negotiates with Sal (Lee DeBroux) in Sal’s cocaine factory: Boddicker advises Sal to ‘Think about it, chum. Good business is where you find it’. In his aggressive conversation with Sal, Boddicker mixes business discourse with ethnic slurs and threats of violence (‘Listen, Sal. I’m the guy who owns Detroit. You want space in my marketplace, you’ll have to give me a volume discount [….] I got the connections; I got the sales organisation. I got the muscle to shove enough of this factory so far up your stupid wop ass that you’ll shit snow for a year’). In the blurring of the boundaries between the corporate board room and the gangland meet, Jeffords contends, Verhoeven’s film suggests that ‘the crime that occurs on the streets and the crime that occurs in corporate board rooms are continuous’ (ibid.).

Ultimately, in terms of its examination of the gentrification of Old Detroit the film’s resolution is ambiguous. Julie F Codell notes that with Murphy/RoboCop’s execution of Dick Jones, the
‘OCP president [the Old Man] and Murphy/RoboCop are free to work together, presumably in rebuilding Detroit as Delta City and privatizing our entire infrastructure of social, military and health services. The disembodied president is freed from any taint of corruption despite the hostility, decadence and greed evinced by his two top VPs. The order restored in the film is the corporate order. Murphy's consciousness has not changed significantly; he never dissented from the ethos of advertising and corporate profit, and he will most likely get to share in the latter by the film's end’ (Codell, op cit.: np).

However, Codell suggests that by this point in the narrative, the audience has already been exposed to ‘disturbing consequences of advertising hype, corporate calculations and product malfunctions which have so thoroughly failed us, despite Jones's warning that "the last thing we want is our products to turn against us”’ (ibid.). The film has informed us of the extent to which ‘[t]he profit motive undermines the seductive promises of capitalism’: it has presented us with Murphy/RoboCop’s alienation from his ‘quiet suburban home and family, [the] rewards promised to hard workers for their efforts and for living in a free enterprise United States’ (ibid.). The film has also narrativised the ways in which ‘the very nature of capitalism allows it to be readily assimilated for any and all uses, such as drug production in a defunct steel mill, simply substituting one industry for another’ (ibid.). For Codell, the film ultimately asserts that ‘Capitalist values are seamless in their application and offer a neutralizing amorality for any labor’ (ibid.).

As Codell notes, within RoboCop ‘capitalism deconstructs itself’: as the film progresses, Codell argues, ‘its [capitalism’s] demise is from within, represented by the partnership of Jones and Boddicker’ (ibid.). Caught in the middle of this conflict are the members of ‘the burgeoning service economy’: the police officers find it ‘impossible to serve at all, since it is so unclear what or who is being served’ (ibid.). Thus, Jones can enlist both the police force and Boddicker’s criminal gang to hunt down and brutally terminate Murphy/RoboCop. Codell compares RoboCop to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). Codell argues that like the Old Man, the master of Metropolis Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) ‘is disembodied’ and unable to empathise with his workers. Codell also suggests that ‘[t]he conclusion of both films is a return to corporate order’ (ibid.). At the end of Metropolis, the film’s hero Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), Fredersen’s son, assumes the position of mediator between his father and the workers. However, Codell claims that Verhoeven is ‘[m]ore cynical than Lang’ and, unlike Metropolis, the resolution of RoboCop ‘offers no easy synthesis and undercuts the return to order by his [Verhoeven’s] continual reminders that the order [sustained by Murphy/RoboCop’s execution of Dick Jones] is incompetent and entropic’ (ibid.). In this way, as Namas argues, ‘RoboCop warned of the consequences of unbridled corporate power, the colonization of the lived of people, and the death of the American working class’ (Nama, op cit.: 117).

In their 2010 monograph on Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985), published as part of the BFI Film Classics series, Andrew Shail and Robin Stoate argue that genre hybridity was a fundamental part of productions within the ‘New New Hollywood’ of the 1980s and 1990s (Shail & Stoate, 2010: 27). Citing Michael Allen, Shail and Stoate suggest that the ‘mixing’ of ‘multiple genres’ within this context differentiated itself from the hybridisation of genres in earlier Hollywood forms by ‘pil[ing] up genre tropes in no particular pattern, treating genre as content rather than a mode of operating’ (ibid.). Shail and Stoate argue that this was largely driven by economic factors and the belief that ‘if each genre attracts a relatively exclusive segment of the public, attaching multiple genre tropes to a film would make it more likely to attract a larger audience’ (ibid.). Film historian David Bordwell has suggested that this ‘piling up’ of genre signifiers is a key defining trope of the ‘hyperclassical’ cinema of the New New Hollywood era (Bordwell, cited in ibid.: 33).

Action-oriented science-fiction and fantasy were among the most popular genres of the 1980s and 1990s, typified by two films that helped to set the parameters of the New New Hollywood: Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1980) (Shail & Stoate, op cit.: 30). However, prior to the 1980s science fiction had not been seen as ‘a commercially viable Hollywood genre’ since the 1950s, with the science-fiction films of the 1960s and 1970s being ‘a mix of modernist obscurity (Alphaville, 2001, Solaris, The Man Who Fell to Earth) and Saturday-afternoon dystopianism (Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, Westworld)’ (Bukatman, 1997: 15). New New Hollywood’s turn towards science-fiction and fantasy was accompanied by a concomitant decline in films that conformed to the conventions of the genres associated with Classical Hollywood, including Westerns, musicals and historical epics (Shail & Stoate, op cit.: 30). However, the tropes of some of these genres were subsumed into other film forms: for example, Michael Miner has highlighted RoboCop’s ironic deployment of the themes of the Western: implicitly comparing RoboCop with ‘town tamer’ Westerns like George Stevens’ Shane, (1953), Miner has claimed that the character of ‘RoboCop is a little bit like the guy who rides into a corrupt town and cleans it up’ (Michael Miner, in ‘Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop’).

The spectacular function and allusive nature of many of these New New Hollywood science fiction/fantasy films has been criticised as innately conservative. In his study of Blade Runner (1997), Scott Bukatman asserts that the mode of production of science-fiction films and their commitment to ‘proven, profitable structures’ leads science-fiction films to be generally ‘more conservative’ than science-fiction literature (Bukatman, op cit.: 9). Likewise, in an article published in Movie entitled ‘Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment’ (1986), Andrew Britton famously declared that ‘Reaganite entertainment refers to itself in order to persuade us that it doesn’t refer outwards at all’ (Britton, quoted in ibid.: 31). Thus many of the science-fiction and fantasy-based films of this period developed a complex web of references to other films (both contemporaneous and from an earlier period of film history) in an attempt to erase their relationship with the social context in which they were produced: for example, Will Brooker (2009) asserts that Star Wars (a key film in determining the direction of subsequent New New Hollywood blockbusters) offers a ‘distillation of icons, myths, motifs and occasionally, entire scenes from the greatest films of the twentieth century, from The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Searchers and The Dam Busters to Metropolis and The Hidden Fortress (1958)’ (Brooker, 2009: 29). This allusiveness was driven by commercial protocols: Shail and Stoate note that the ‘popular-cultural reference[s]’ of many of these productions ‘was a way of signalling an affinity with the “niche” film audience of teenage males that [1970s] New Hollywood had reinforced as the industry’s bedrock’ (Shail & Stoate, op cit.: 32).

In Movie-Made America (1994), Robert Sklar has asserted that ‘[i]f we can speak of an Age of Reagan for movies, it was shaped not solely by ideology but also by technology, and the relationship between the two’ (Skar, 1994: 339). In an era that saw massive expansion in terms of digital technology, and the increasing cultural presence of the microprocessor (in the form of personal computers, programmable microwave ovens, video recorders and video games consoles), Hollywood films of the 1980s adapted to the growth of digital technology in two ways: ‘by dealing with [the issue] directly in pre-rendered sequences of hypermediation via computer graphical interfaces’ in films such as Tron (Steven Lisberger), WarGames (John Badham, 1983), The Lawnmower Man (Brett Leonard, 1992) and Menno’s Mind (Jon Kroll, 1997); and, in the case of films like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and The Last Starfighter (Nick Castle, 1984), by ‘saturating the film[s] with visual effects appropriating the novelty and the “magic” of digital technologies, and computers in particular’ (Shail & Stoate, op cit.: 55).

Films of this era thus responded to the growth of digital technology on both an aesthetic and a narrative-thematic level, by utilising digital effects and by incorporating issues arising from the growth of digital technology into their narratives. From the early 1980s onwards, the dualistic depiction of the relationships between technology and society became a central thematic concern of many Hollywood films, including Blade Runner, The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984), Runaway (Michael Crichton, 1984) and more recent films such as The Matrix (Andy & Larry Wachowski, 1999), Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008) and Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007).

In his 1996 study of The Terminator, Sean French argues that 1980s science-fiction was largely dystopic, especially in its attitudes towards technology, in comparison with popular science-fiction of the 1950s and 1960s. French suggests that 1960s popular science-fiction narratives such as Star Trek (Desilu/Paramount Television, 1966-9) – ‘with its clean surfaces, its hygienic technology of phasers and transporter beams, its jump-suited crew members’ – offered a representation of ‘the suburban American kitchen projected into the future’ (French, 1996: 22). In contrast, by the mid-1980s (the time of the production of The Terminator)
‘the future had failed. For the first time in history, the standard of living of the American middle class was falling in real terms; there were social problems that couldn’t be solved, diseases that couldn’t be cured and the future of Things to Come (1936) no longer seemed convincing. The crew members of the Nostromo in Alien are grubby, pale, unshaven, unfit. They complain about their food and their wages’ (ibid.).
This dystopic vision of the future can also be seen in Blade Runner, which adopts some of the iconography of classic films noir of the post-war era to depict a ‘rainy urban squalor of the future’ (ibid.). In these films, as compared with the science-fiction of the 1960s, technology is framed as largely destructive: it is far from ‘the harbinger of a new, rational, efficient order’ (ibid.).

Likewise, In Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film (1995), J P Telotte suggests that during the 1980s, the genre of science-fiction demonstrated a resurgence in popularity comparable with the 1950s (Telotte, 1995: 148). However, for Telotte 1980s science-fiction films ‘took on a rather singular focus’, with many narratives revolving around ‘the image of human artifice’, represented in the films by ‘various robots, androids, cyborgs, and replicants’ (ibid.). Where science-fiction films of the late 1970s and early 1980s offered ‘cute, personable and highly marketable robots’ (for example, in the form of Star Wars’ C3P0 and R2D2) who usually acted as a comic foil in the narratives in which they appeared, science-fiction films of the mid and late 1980s were more critical of technology (ibid.). These later films tended to be dominated by a ‘dark tone […] nearer to the alien invasion films of the 1950s’ (ibid.).

However, unlike the alien invasion films of the 1950s, in the science-fiction films of the 1980s the threat comes not from ‘outside […] our world’ but rather is ‘of our own construction’: revolving around the threats represented by modern technology, ‘cyberpunk’ films such as Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1989), Blade Runner, Cyborg (Albert Pyun, 1989) and Deadly Friend (Wes Craven, 1986) offer a deconstruction of ‘the postmodern body’ (ibid.: 148, 149). These films ‘ow[ed] much to the rise of a feminist-inspired discourse about the body, to the increasing alliance of the technological with the body – via the development of prosthetics, replacement parts, and mechanical life-support systems – and to the increasing role of the robotic in the workplace’ (ibid.: 149). For Telotte, these films offer ‘images of artifice’ that provide a deconstruction of ‘a new sort of anatomy of the human’, revealing how in contemporary society human identity is governed by ‘notions of artifice and constructedness’ and behaviour is ‘controlled by a kind of internalized program not so different from that which drives the artificial beings populating these films’ (ibid.).

An important element of many of these films is a reconfiguration of the human body as being ‘public’ rather than ‘private’: in these films, the body is acted on by various institutions, usually greedy corporations. In Telotte’s words, the films ‘repeatedly depict the human body as losing its private dimension, as an image that is constantly being reconfigured and presented for display’ (ibid.; emphasis in original). For example, in RoboCop Murphy is killed and redesigned ‘as a “product” that industry hopes to sell’; a hybrid of human and machine, his subjectivity colonised by the programming of the OCP corporation, Murphy/RoboCop ‘thus embodies, even in an exaggerated, public way, the sort of human identity that prevails in this near future—an identity determined by corporate and governmental directive and programmed by the voice of the mass media’ (ibid: 154). Citing the work of Jungian critic Robert Romanyshyn, Telotte suggests that our relationships with modern technology have resulted in the body becoming ‘a spectacular dis-membered specimen [….] a decontextualized body’ that has become absented from both memory and identity (Romanyshyn, quoted in ibid.). Using more dramatic language, Romanyshyn argues that technology has rendered the human body nothing more than an ‘anatomized corpse… resurrected as machine’ (Romanyshyn, quoted in ibid.; emphasis in original).

The figure of the cyborg, which as noted above encourages the audience to reconfigure their conceptualisation of what it means to be ‘human’ (in particular, challenging the hegemony of Cartesian subjectivity), offers one particular variation on this theme of ‘terminal identity’, and Bukatman has suggested that the cyborg offers an image of the ‘body […] [as] a site of deformation or disappearance [in which] the subject is dissolved, simulated, retooled, genetically engineered, evolved, and de-evolved’ (Bukatman, 1993: 20). For this reason, Bukatman argues, the cyborg is ‘the central thematic of contemporary SF’ and ‘dominates the science fiction sociologies of [Donna] Haraway and [Jean] Baudrillard as well’ (ibid.). Similarly, Ollivier Dyens has asserted that the cyborg is ‘a simulacrum that transcends the original [its human model], a monster that inexorably destabilizes all human foundations’ and therefore ‘directly questions the validity of human ontology’ (Dyens, 2001: 81-2). To this end, Bukatman suggests that in many science fiction narratives that feature cyborgs, there exists ‘an uneasy but consistent sense of human obsolescence, and at stake is the very definition of human’; the films variously propose ‘a series of provisional conclusions wherein the subject is defined, at different times, as its body, its mind, or sometimes its memory’ (Bukatman, 1993: 20; emphasis in original). The variety of different approaches to defining human subjectivity signifies that ‘our ontology is adrift’ (ibid.). However, in the increasingly technology-oriented culture of the 1980s and 1990s (and continuing into the Twenty-First Century), the human body ‘must become a cyborg to retain its presence in the world, resituated in technological space and reconfigured in technological terms’ (ibid.: 247). Bukatman argues that these anxieties which surround our relationships with technology underpin the many narratives revolving around cyborgs and the Extropian concept of uploading human subjectivity onto computers (as per William Gibson’s 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, in which the protagonist Chase ‘jacks into’ computer interfaces) (ibid.).

For Verhoeven, RoboCop had two key predecessors which determined the film’s representation of its cyborg protagonist: in the words of Verhoeven, the two films that ‘were important to me when I shot RoboCop’ were The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951) and Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927), and Verhoeven claims that he saw Murphy as ‘a male version’ of the robot Maria (Brigitte Helm) in Fritz Lang’s film (Verhoeven, in ‘Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop’). On the connections with Metropolis, critic Paul Sammon has commented that in 1922, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis ‘foretold and forecast the Western culture’s ambivalence about technology [….] Maria is this beautiful, shining, durable construct that at the same time is manipulative and violent and sexual and all the darker elements of what started to creep into technology and man’s awareness of technology’ (Sammon, in ‘Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop’). Suggesting something similar about the cyborg RoboCop, Scott Bukatman has suggested that RoboCop is a depiction of ‘programmed perfection […] a character of pure fascist functionalism devoid of the temporal experience of the human subject’ (Bukatman, 1993: 254). For RoboCop writer Michael Miner, both RoboCop and James Cameron’s The Terminator ‘could both be called postmodern robot films in the sense that the humour is very dark […] [The] Cameron film [The Terminator] is a much more horror film than RoboCop, which to me is social satire with some very real emotions in it’ (Miner, in ‘Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop’).

In ‘Technophilia: Technology, Representaton, and the Feminine’ (2000), Mary Anne Doane discusses Metropolis as an example of a film which foregrounds the mechanisation of human behaviour (Doane, 1990: 113). Doane argues that in Lang’s film, ‘the bodies of the male workers become mechanized; their movements are rigid, mechanical, and fully in sync with the machines they operate’ (ibid.). When Freder, the son of the city’s master Fredersen, is forced to take over from a worker who is exhausted, he discovers that ‘the machine he must operate resembles a giant clock whose hands must be moved periodically – a movement which corresponds to no apparent logic’ (ibid.). The chore is simply ‘a production routine reorganized by the demands of the machine’, and as Doane argues ‘the human body’s relation to temporality becomes inflexible, programmed. The body is tied to a time clock, a schedule, a routine, an assembly line’ (ibid.). The workers are controlled by an ‘oppress[ive] and mechaniz[ed]’ shedule: ‘the clock, a machine itself, is used to regulate bodies as machines’ (ibid.). Frederson commissions Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), ‘a curious mixture of modern scientist and alchemist’, to produce a female robot in the image of Maria (Brigit Helm), the leader of a threatened rebellion in Metropolis (ibid.). In the words of Rotwang, the robot (Brigitte Helm) ‘never tires or makes a mistake. Now we have no use for living workers’.

Citing Andreas Huyssen, Doane highlights the extent to which the robot Maria, designed to replace the human workers of the city, represents ‘the fears associated with a technology perceived as threatening and demonic’ (Huyssen, cited in ibid.: 114). As in RoboCop, Metropolis depicts the creation of an artificial intelligence designed to replace and regulate the human workforce. However, as noted above, Julie F Codell argues that although Metropolis and RoboCop are comparable in their focus on the colonisation of the individual by technology, the two films differ in their resolutions: where at the end of Metropolis Freder is able to negotiate ‘a return to corporate order’ by functioning as the city’s ‘heart’, uniting the workers (the city’s ‘hands’) and Fredersen (the city’s ‘brain’), Verhoeven’s film ‘offers no easy synthesis and undercuts the return to order by his continual reminders that the order is incompetent and entropic’ (Codell, op cit.: np).

Citing Baudrillard, Bukatman argues that in narratives featuring cyborgs, the human body ‘is dissolved’ and made ‘malleable’, ‘more ephemeral than its own stored image’ (Bukatman, 1993: 245). Sexuality becomes nothing more than a ‘special effect’, a ‘spectacle of a surface’, and thus the films narrativise the ‘disappearance of desire’, which becomes ‘a symptom of surrender to the desireless rationality of the cybernetic state’ (ibid.). In Metropolis, the robot Maria performs a seductive dance in the Yoshiwara nightclub for the city’s richest men, the dance intercut with the staring faces of the audience members, their eyes wide open. Towards the end of the sequence, Lang simply presents us with a kaleidoscopic image of the men’s wide-open eyes, metonymic of their lust. The spectacle of Maria’s erotic dance (a ‘special effect’) is designed to seduce the men into being the obedient servants of Fredersen.

RoboCop depicts this ‘disappearance of desire’ in the ‘cybernetic state’ through its representation of a society in which sexual desire seems almost completely absent, commodified and displaced (by advertising and television) onto consumer goods such as the 6000 SUX car. In the film, the 6000 SUX is promoted via a parodic television advert in which a Godzilla-like monster rampages through a city until it spots the huge 6000 SUX car, the monster’s eyes ‘boggling’ like those of the audience for Maria’s erotic dance (and accompanied on the soundtrack by a cartoonish ‘boing’ effect) as the creature sidles up to the enormous vehicle like a sexual mate. A voiceover asserts, ‘Big is back. Because bigger is better’, whilst onscreen a title appears which declares, ‘An American Tradition: 8.2 M.P.G’. Elsewhere in the film, a man who holds the city’s mayor hostage demonstrates the effect of this advertising when he demands ‘a new car [….] Something with reclining seats, that goes really fast, and gets really shitty gas mileage!’ He settles on a 6000 SUX. As Julie F Codell notes
‘Advertising's disembodied language which floats free of reality or truth can capitalize on anything, even turning failure into a valuable commodity and seducing us into adjusting our expectations down to fit incompetency. The most desired car, the 6000 SUX (sucks), is emblematic of inefficiency turned into merit for conspicuous consumption ("an American tradition, 8.2 miles per gal.")’ (Codell, op cit.: np).

The ‘disappearance of desire’ (or its desublimation) is evidenced elsewhere in the film. As in Verhoeven’s later Starship Troopers, in RoboCop men and women are shown sharing unisex changing rooms (in the Metro West police station) with nothing to suggest desire. This particular scene has been described by one anonymous American police officer (in Frances Heidensohn’s Women in Control?: The Role of Women in Law Enforcement, 1995) as ‘show[ing] men and women showering and changing clothes […] all in one locker room […] [T]hey had reached that point where they worked as one and they all worked together and there was no more doing that, no more line between’ the sexes (Heidensohn, 1995: 198). Peter Lehman (in ‘Penis-size Jokes and their Relation to Hollywood’s Unconscious’, 1991) has stated that this scene allows the viewer to ‘conclude that […] men and women share the same locker room with no sense of embarrassment or vulgarity. Dressing together is a simple fact of being on a police force composed of men and women’ (Lehman, 1991: 50; see also Lehman, 2003: 123-4). Lehman notes that ‘astonishingly’ the brief moment of female nudity in this scene ‘is not eroticized in any of the usual ways’: ‘[t]he camera does not dwell on her [the actress], there is no shot from the point of view of a man looking at her, and the lighting and positioning of her body do not create an erotic spectacle’ (ibid.). For Lehman, in this scene, ‘[v]isually, we as spectators are in the same position as the characters. The nudity has no erotic interest for us’ (ibid.: 124).

The ‘disappearance of desire’ is also explored through the relationship between Murphy/RoboCop and Officer Lewis. Early in his involvement in the project, Verhoeven suggested revising the script to incorporate ‘an affair [between Murphy/RoboCop] with Nancy Allen’s character after he became a robot’, which the writers thought was a ‘European touch’ (Verhoeven, quoted in Smith, 2002: 86-7). Neumeier and Miner integrated Verhoeven’s suggestion into the film’s narrative, but Verhoeven changed his mind, deciding that ‘[i]t was […] wrong to introduce European ideas into an American movie’, and the affair was written out of the film (Verhoeven, quoted in ibid.: 87). In the finished film, Lewis takes on a nurturing role for Murphy/RoboCop, partially achieved through the reworking of Nancy Allen’s screen image.

Verhoeven has claimed that ‘[w]e didn’t want to have RoboCop in the latter part of the movie feeling sexual towards the character that Nancy played, so we tried to tone down [the] sexuality [of Officer Lewis] as much as possible’ (Verhoeven, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). This resulted in the introduction of ‘gender neutral’ bullet-proof vests to cover Nancy Allen’s breasts, and Verhoeven also asked Allen to cut her hair short (Verhoeven, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). Lewis is introduced, shortly after Murphy has made his settled into in Metro West, via a scene in which she physically subdues and restrains an unruly male suspect. Murphy is a spectator to this moment; initially, he (and the audience) assumes that Lewis is male, due to her stereotypically masculine police uniform and her introduction via a moment of physical violence. (She is also filmed from a low angle, emphasising her authority within the scene.) However, Lewis reveals herself to be female when she takes off her helmet; Murphy’s facial expression suggests mild surprise, and Reed (the desk sergeant) tells Lewis, ‘Come here when you’ve finished fucking around with your suspect. This guy [Murphy] is gonna be your new partner’. Shortly after, in Metro West’s garage Lewis asserts that she wishes to drive (‘I’d better drive until you know your way around the neighbourhood’), but Murphy ironically asserts his masculinity by declaring, ‘I always drive when I’m breaking in a new partner’.

Introduced via signifiers generally associated with representations of masculinity, Lewis later takes on an almost maternal role for Murphy/RoboCop. After Murphy/RoboCop is confronted by ED-209 (whilst Murphy/RoboCop attempts to arrest Dick Jones), he is aided by Lewis, who transports him to a derelict building in Sector 3D, the abandoned industrial zone in which Murphy was executed by Boddicker’s gang. There, Lewis tends to Murphy/RoboCop, bringing him his gun, a cordless drill (with which he removes his helmet) and jars of babyfood. The film has already established that Murphy/RoboCop must ingest what Johnson describes to Morton (in the sequence in which Murphy is reborn as RoboCop) as ‘a rudimentary paste that sustains his organic system’, and Johnson asserts that this paste ‘tastes like babyfood’. In the sequence depicting Murphy/RoboCop’s recovery after his confrontation with Jones and the ED-209 droid, the jars of babyfood are shown in close-up. According to Verhoeven, the close-ups of the jars of babyfood, intercut with shots of Lewis, serve a dual function: to infantilise Murphy/RoboCop, signifying his absence of sexual desire; and to connote the cyborg’s awareness of his status as a creature that is unable to be a part of a conventional family—in other words, the impossibility of returning to his former life (Verhoeven, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). When, at the end of the sequence, RoboCop removes his helmet and walks offscreen with the gun (followed on the soundtrack by an offscreen gunshot), Verhoeven suggests that ‘I had the feeling that there should be the slight suggestion of suicide here, that basically Robo would give up’ in direct response to his awareness of his inability to be part of a family (Verhoeven, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop).

For Ed Neumeier, Lewis’ caring for Murphy/RoboCop carried many meanings: ‘It’s sex, or it’s a Western archetype, it’s all these different things together; it’s interesting’ (Neumeier, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). Notably, Lewis is the only central character who displays a moment of desire; Lewis’ moment of acknowledgement of her sexual impulse indirectly results in the death of Murphy. When Murphy and Lewis follow Boddicker’s gang into the old mill in Sector 3D, Lewis discovers Joe Cox (Jesse Goins) urinating in one of the rooms of the mill. Lewis holds a gun against Cox, who turns around to face her and asks, ‘Mind if I zip this up?’ Lewis holds Cox’s gaze for a moment, before glancing down at his penis, giving Cox the opportunity to strike Lewis with a blow that sends her over a balcony and onto the floor below. Left unconscious by Cox’s attack, Lewis is then unable to respond when Murphy calls for her on his radio, resulting in Murphy being taken captive – and shortly thereafter, killed – by Boddicker’s gang.

Lehman claims that ‘it is no exaggeration to say that the woman’s [Lewis’] glance at the penis [of Joe Cox] sets the entire narrative in motion’ (Lehman, 2007: 123). However, where the film openly displays the breasts of the female police officer who is putting on her body armour in the locker room scene, RoboCop coyly refuses to show Cox’s penis:
‘Nothing that we might see, it seems, could justify the impact this moment has on the narrative [….] [Where] the locker room scene treats the representation of the woman’s body maturely and without embarrassment […] the sight of a man’s penis becomes the object of a woman’s look and sets the narrative in motion, [but] we are denied the sight of it’ (ibid.).
In Shots in the Mirror: Crime Films and Society (2000), Nicole Hahn Rafter uses this scene as evidence that RoboCop ‘uses a double standard toward nudity, following the age-old practice of encouraging men to gaze on nude females but censuring women who gaze on nude males’ (Rafter, 2000: 86). ‘When a woman looks at a man’s sexual organ’, Rafter asserts, ‘all hell breaks loose’; for Rafter, the film thus reinforces ‘traditional notions of women as passive sex objects and men as determiners of who gets to look at whom, even while poking fun at gender stereotypes’ (ibid.). Rafter’s argument has credibility, but the fact that Lewis’ glance a Joe Cox’s penis results in ‘all hell break[ing] loose’ also signifies that in the technocratic society depicted in RoboCop, the ‘disappearance of desire’ (or rather, its commodification and displacement onto consumer products) is necessary for the functioning of ‘cybernetic society’: Lewis’ glance at Cox’s penis represents the collapse of ‘desireless rationality’ that leads to Murphy’s death (and subsequent resurrection as RoboCop).

The ‘desireless rationality’ of the society depicted in RoboCop is integral to the film’s examination of the corporate culture of the 1980s, ‘a perception of contemporary society characterized by divisiveness, [and] selfishness’ (Sklar, op cit.: 341). The film’s critique of corporate capitalism is foregrounded through the relationship between OCP and Boddicker’s gang: the narrative implies that OCP (or, at the very least, Dick Jones’ Security Concepts division of OCP) has been sponsoring the criminal activities of Boddicker’s gang in order to legitimise its razing of Old Detroit and the building of the utopian Delta City. The Delta City plan is introduced in the sequence in which Jones introduces Security Concepts’ ED-209 droid to the OCP board of executives; Morton, Johnson and Kinney guess at the Old Man’s reasons for calling the meeting, Johnson asserting that he believes the meeting has been arranged because ‘I figure they’re greenlighting Delta City’. In the introduction to the meeting, the Old Man declares that the construction of Delta City will begin ‘in six months […] where Old Detroit now stands. Old Detroit has a cancer. The cancer is crime, and it must be cut out before we employ the two million workers’ who will build Delta City. The Old Man reminds the OCP executives that ‘Although shifts in the tax structure have created an economy ideal for corporate growth, community services, in this case law enforcement, have suffered. I think it’s time we gave something back’.

As noted earlier, the connection between OCP’s Delta City plans and crime in Old Detroit is represented visually when, during Murphy/RoboCop’s first night on patrol in Old Detroit, a woman is shown being sexually assaulted by two street thugs. Above the scene is a large billboard which reads, ‘Delta City. The future has a silver lining’. Later, in one of the media breaks the newscaster Casey Wong (Mario Machado) announces that the building of OCP’s Delta City will ‘creat[e] an estimated one million much-needed new jobs, despite questions about worker safety in dangerous Old Detroit’. The relationship between OCP’s corporate ethos and violence in Old Detroit is foregrounded during the murder of Morton, commissioned by Jones and carried out by Boddicker. Morton’s murder is arranged by Jones for little more than Morton’s violation of established corporate protocols and his decision to ignore ‘proper channels’: in the videodisc Boddicker plays on Morton’s television system (just prior to his murder of Morton), Jones tells Morton that ‘We could have been friends. But you wouldn’t go through proper channels. You went over my head. That hurt [….] It helps if you think of it as a game, Bob. Every game has a winner, and a loser’. Later, the connection between OCP’s relationship with Boddicker’s gang is further highlighted when, after being released following his arrest by Murphy/RoboCop at the cocaine factory, Boddicker visits Jones. To enlist Boddicker’s co-operation, Jones reminds Boddicker that Delta City will begin development in two months, which will mean ‘two million workers living in trailers. That means drugs, gambling, prostitution. Virgin territory for the ma` who knows how to open up new markets’.

This encounter between Boddicker and Jones also highlights the film’s suggestion that both the executive members of OCP and the criminal members of Boddicker’s gang speak the same corporate rhetoric and share the same capitalistic goals. (The film makes repeated use of corporate buzzphrases, such as ‘urban pacification’ and ‘crime management’.) Boddicker’s gang is introduced almost immediately after the OCP board meeting has already depicted the OCP executives’ use of corporate rhetoric and their privileging of economic imperatives over human life. The car chase (between Boddicker’s gang and Lewis and Murphy) ends at the old mill in Sector 3D, in a sequence filmed in an abandoned steel mill, the victim of 1980s economic downturn in Pittsburgh (Verhoeven and Neumeier, on the commentary for the 2002 MGM DVD release of RoboCop). Murphy and Lewis split up, and after Lewis has been knocked unconscious by Joe Cox, Murphy approaches Emil and Dougy (Neil Summers), who are engaged in a discussion of the gang’s activities. Dougy moans, ‘We rob banks but we never get to keep the money’. To this, Emil responds by asserting that it ‘Takes money to make money. We steal money and buy coke, then sell the coke to make even more money. Capital investment, man’. ‘Yeah, well why bother making it when we can just steal it?’, Dougy complains. In response to this, Emil adds that there ‘Ain’t no better way to steal money than free enterprise’. Coming so shortly after the OCP board meeting in which Kinney is killed (and before the relationship between Jones and Boddicker has been highlighted), the exchange between Emil and Dougy highlights the fact that Boddicker’s gang operate according to the same imperatives as OCP and even use similar corporate rhetoric (including discussion of ‘capital investment’ and ‘free enterprise’) as the OCP board members. In the cocaine factory, Boddicker deploys corporate rhetoric whilst negotiating with Sal (Lee DeBroux): after asserting that he doesn’t want to pay Sal’s price for the cocaine (‘I don’t think I want to pay you that, Sal’), Boddicker tells Sal, ‘You want space in my marketplace, you’re going to have to give me a volume discount’. Marrying corporate rhetoric with overt threats of violence, Boddicker then goes on to assert, ‘Think about it, chum: good business is where you find it [….] I don’t want to fuck with you, Sal. But I got the connections, I got the sales organisation. I got the muscle to shove enough of this factory up so far up your stupid wop ass that you’ll shit snow for a year’.

Emil’s assertion that there ‘Ain’t no better way to steal money than free enterprise’ also directly criticises the political rhetoric of the 1980s, and in particular the significance of the concept of laissez-faire economics, or ‘free enterprise’, for the Reagan era. In the rhetoric of the New Right, the concept of free enterprise was usually placed in dialectical opposition to communism: despite the fact ‘[t]hat the vast majority of economic transactions fitted neither version […] [p]roponents of the free market deemed it essential to sustain the belief that there were only two possible systems, each characterized in absolute terms’ (Marchak, 1993: 10). In A Shining City on the Hill: Ronald Reagan’s Economic Rhetoric, 1951-1989 (1991), Amos Kiewe and Davis Houck have noted that
‘Metaphorically considered, free enterprise was the only medicine America needed in order to remain healthy. Thus free enterprise was a cure-all for Reagan, capable of healing any country that prescribed to its methods. To say that free enterprise was a “god-term” for Ronald Reagan is to understate the case. Rather, free enterprise had godly characteristics for Reagan, especially when considered in the light of its healing or redemptive powers’ (Kiewe & Houck, 1991: 69).


Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of RoboCop contains two presentations of the film: the unrated ‘director’s cut’ (103:18) and the more widely-seen (at least, until the digital home video era) ‘R’ rated theatrical cut (102:47). As noted above, when RoboCop was submitted to the MPAA for classification in 1987 CARA refused to give the film an ‘R’ rating until the distributors had cut forty-one seconds of violence from the film (from the sequence in which ED-209 kills a corporate executive, and from the death of Murphy); the film was resubmitted to the CARA five times before being granted its ‘R’ rating. The unrated director’s cut of the film (on DISC ONE) reinstates this footage. This cut of the film has been the most widely-circulated edit of the picture since the Criterion Collection DVD release in 1999, which contained the unrated version of the film: all subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases contained the unrated cut, sometimes alone and sometimes paired with the ‘R’ rated theatrical cut. The merits of either version are debatable: the additional violence in the unrated cut arguably, through its excess, tips the film’s most extreme moments of gore into comedy – which would seem to be somewhat commensurate with Verhoeven’s intentions. Certainly, there’s an argument to be made that in the ‘R’ rated cut, the death of the OCP executive during the ED-209 demonstration is more traumatic than in the unrated cut (which sees his lifeless body bouncing symbolically across the miniature model of Delta City as innumerable bullets rip into it), and in the new interview with Michael Miner on disc one, Miner argues that the MPAA cuts to the murder of Murphy by Boddicker’s gang conversely made the scene seem ‘more violent’.

Both versions of the film are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec and in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. (The old Criterion LaserDisc and DVD releases were in 1.66:1, which at the time was claimed to be Verhoeven’s preferred screen ratio for the picture – most likely owing to the fact that most home video versions of films were at the time watched on 4:3 CRT televisions as opposed to the widescreen displays that are more prevalent today.) Most of the film was shot on 35mm stock, with the media breaks and television ads (for example, for the 6000 SUX) shot on video; the presentations of both cuts are based on a 4k restoration of the film conducted by MGM in 2013 and based on a new scan of the film’s negative; this has been approved by Paul Verhoeven, Ed Neumeier and producer Jon Davison. The cut represented on the negative is the ‘R’ rated theatrically released version, and the material exclusive to the unrated director’s cut was composited into this from a positive source. (Owing to the restoration, the difference between the two is barely noticeable.) The level of detail throughout is superb, excepting of course the shot-on-video media breaks and parodies of television adverts. Contrast levels are very impressive, some subtle gradation present in the midtones and a balanced curve into the toe – where blacks are rich and true. Highlights are balanced and even. Colours are rich and consistent, skintones seeming accurate. The presentation retains the structure of 35mm film, thanks to a consistently strong encode on both discs, for both presentations of the main feature. This is a superb, filmlike presentation of RoboCop that easily eclipses the previously available Blu-ray releases.

Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review.


Audio is presented via a choice of (i) a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track; (ii) a DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 track; or (iii) a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. All of these tracks are perfectly serviceable, displaying excellent range and clarity. The 5.1 track arguably has a little less ‘oomph’ owing to the sound separation, with the 4.0 and 2.0 tracks feeling a little more impactful and tighter owing to their more narrow soundscapes. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are included. These are easy to read and free from errors.

There has been some small controversy in the past about the sound mix of the director’s cut used in different releases of the director’s cut of RoboCop, with different releases containing some small discrepancies in terms of the sound mixing of the scenes exclusive to this unrated version of the film. All three tracks on the unrated director’s cut (on Disc One) contain the same audio mix, which is commensurate with the sound mix on the 20th Anniversary Edition DVD and previously-released Blu-rays (as compared with the sound mix used on the DC cut in the old Criterion Collection DVD), adding a groan by Murphy in the shot that follows his hand being blown off by Boddicker and changing a few other, fairly minor elements of the mix in the scene in which Murphy is murdered by Boddicker’s gang.


The release includes the following extra features:
DISC ONE (Blu-ray):
- The Film (Unrated Director’s Cut) (103:18)

- Audio Commentary with Paul Verhoeven, Jon Davison and Ed Neumeier
. Recorded in 2001 and originally intended to accompany the ‘R’ rated theatrical cut, this commentary was re-edited in 2014 to fit the unrated director’s cut. The trio talk about some of the incidents that inspired their approach to the material, reflecting on the manner in which the media breaks comment on then-current issues. The logistics of planning and shooting the film are discussed, including the effects work. Verhoeven considers his approach to directing actors, and the three contributors examine some of the performances of the key cast members. It’s an excellent commentary track, lively to the point of breathlessness and densely packed with information.

- Audio Commentary with Paul Sammon
. Sammon, who is always an astute critic, discusses some of the thematic content of RoboCop and considers the circumstances of the film’s genesis and production. He talks about the connection between this picture and Verhoeven’s other work – particularly Verhoeven’s long-standing fascination with the life of Christ – and he examines the manner in which RoboCop channels so many cultural issues of the 1980s.

- Audio Commentary with Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart & Eastwood Allen
. This new commentary track, recorded for this release, features Griffiths, Smart and Allen – all of whom collaborated in making a crowdfunded documentary about RoboCop – offering plenty of trivia about the film. They reflect on the tendency for the film’s script to name ancillary characters after serial killers, and they talk about some of the other actors who were up for key roles (eg, Stephanie Zimbalist for the role of Anne Lewis, and Steven Seagal for the role of Murphy/RoboCop).

- ‘The Future of Law Enforcement: Creating RoboCop’ (16:51)
. In a new interview, co-writer Michael Miner talks about his career to the point of writing RoboCop, including a script adapting Philip K Dick’s novella ‘Paycheck’, before reflecting on how he came to collaborate with Ed Neumeier on the writing of RoboCop. Miner discusses his ‘sociological perspective’ on RoboCop through the introduction of the ‘media breaks’ and a focus on ‘predatory capitalism’, whereas Neumeier brought to the project a comic book sensibility, the boardroom material and a focus on robotics. Miner discusses the symbolic importance of the film’s setting in Detroit (which, importantly, was during the 1980s a union city), and he considers the manner in which the film connects OCP and Boddicker’s street gang – ‘if you look at predatory capitalism, it will find any way to exploit the workers’. Miner talks about how he and Neumeier were asked by Verhoeven to remove Murphy’s family from one draft of the script before convincing Verhoeven that Murphy’s family – and his loss of them – was a core aspect of the narrative. Miner also reflects on Weller’s performance and the significance of Murphy’s imitation of T J Lazer’s ‘gun trick’ which ‘becomes this memory thing for Lewis’, enabling her to recognise RoboCop as her former partner. This is one of the film’s ‘breadcrumbs of identity’. He discusses Verhoeven’s meticulous approach to shooting the scene of Murphy’s murder and the manner in which the MPAA cuts arguably made it feel ‘more violent’. Miner proves himself to be a thoughtful interviewee.

- ‘RoboTalk’ (32:08)
. In another new featurette, Ed Neumeier, David Birke (who wrote Verhoeven’s 2016 film Elle) and Nicholas McCarthy (director of horror film The Prodigy, released by Orion Pictures this year) talk about RoboCop. McCarthy and Birke interview Neumeier about the factors that influenced his decision to become a writer, Neumeier saying that he became a writer because of his father, a journalist and sometime novelist. Neumeier also reflects on his interest in science fiction, which was shaped by readings of Robert Heinlein during his youth. Birke and McCarthy talk about some of the writing techniques on display in the RoboCop script, including the use of the media breaks to sketch a wider context for the immediate narrative. They also reflect on the anti-corporate elements of the script and its satirical tone. The question of the distinction between the human and the inhuman, which the trio connect to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and also a theme of technology, is considered, and Neumeier is keen to assert that even amongst the darkness there is a thread of optimism which is asserted in the film’s final moments. Birke, who worked with Verhoeven on Verhoeven’s long-planned film about the life of Christ, raises the topic of Verhoeven’s assertion that RoboCop is an ‘American Jesus’. Neumeier tells McCarthy and Birke that Verhoeven initially wanted to lose much of the script’s humour but, after Neumeier redrafted the script, decided to keep the more comic elements. Neumeier reveals that he have ‘some Iron Man comics and Judge Dredd comics’ to Verhoeven, who ‘showed up […] wearing a Judge Dredd t-shirt which said “You are being judged” on it’.

- ‘Truth of Character with Nancy Allen’ (18:26)
. In another new interview, Nancy Allen discusses her role as Anne Lewis. Allen reveals the script ‘spoke’ to her because her father was a police officer. She talks about Verhoeven’s approach to directing the material, discussing the decision to cut her hair for the role, and reflects on her working relationship with Peter Weller. Allen also examines some of the preparation for her role, including the gun training in which she participated – to enable the scenes in which her character used weapons to seem as naturalistic as possible. Allen talks about filming in Detroit, reflecting in some detail on the production of the climactic showdown at the deserted steel mill. Allen makes some interesting observations about the casting of Kurwood Smith, by all accounts ‘a very warm guy’, as the film’s villain, resulting in a character who despite his cruelty the audience, on some level, ‘can’t help but like’ – ‘and that’s Kurtwood’, she asserts.

- ‘Casting Old Detroit with Julie Selzer’ (8:20)
. Julie Selzer, who was a casting director on the production, discusses how the key roles were cast. Selzer talks about how Peter Weller came to be cast as Murphy/RoboCop, stating that Weller is a sensitive actor who brought a sense of gravitas to the role. She reflects on the casting of the roles of Boddicker’s gang and the manner in which Ronny Cox ‘relished’ playing against type as Dick Jones. Selzer says Miguel Ferrer would bring his cousin, George Clooney, to the casting office.

- ‘Connecting the Shots with Mark Goldblatt’ (11:06)
. Goldlatt, a film editor and the second unit director on RoboCop, discusses his work on the picture. Goldblatt met Verhoeven at a screening of the European cut of Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985), a meeting which Goldblatt suggests helped him get the role as second unit director on RoboCop. Goldblatt talks about some of the material he shot for the film, including the explosion of the gas station that Emil robs and the shooting range scene. He reveals that Weller, as a method actor, would only react to direction when addressed as ‘RoboCop’.

- ‘Analog with Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaver’ (13:10)
. The film’s photographic effects are examined by Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaver, both of whom worked for VCA, the company that provided some of RoboCop’s visual effects. They talk about the overlays used to articulate the POVs from RoboCop’s perspective. Kuran and Kutchaver discuss their childhood friendship, which involved shooting 8mm films with rudimentary special effects. They then talk about their attempts to make the photographic effects convincing (eg, through the video glitches in RoboCop’s vision).

- ‘More Man than Machine: Composing RoboCop’ (12:08)
. Basil Poledouris’ score for RoboCop is discussed film music journalists Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, Daniel Schweiger and Robert Townson. Poledouris’ career is discussed, with Lukas Kendall suggesting that Poledouris’ scores tend to be connected by their association with films about masculinity. The participants consider some of the musical themes used in the film – in particular, the evolution and development of Murphy’s theme.

- ‘RoboProps’ (12:50)
. Collector Julien Dumont talks about his assembly of props from RoboCop and discusses his motivations and techniques for maintaining these items. Dumont shows some of his collection, including some of the police jumpsuits, a complete RoboCop suit, reels containing some of the dailies from the production, still photographs and an original script.

- ‘2012 Q&A with the Filmmakers’ (42:37)
. Recorded live on stage at UCLA in 2012, this Q&A features Verhoeven, Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ed Neumeier, Michale Miner and Phil Tippett talking about RoboCop. It’s a lively conversation, packed with information, though with much overlap with the separate interviews contained on this disc.

- ‘RoboCop: Creating a Legend’ (21:10)
. Made in 2007 for the 20th Anniversary DVD release of RoboCop, this featurette focuses on the construction of the RoboCop suit. Verhoeven, Weller, Neumeier, Miner, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer and Jon Davison are interviewed. They talk about the importance of Weller’s performance and how this helps to ‘sell’ the suit (and vice versa). Weller discusses how he incorporated mime into his performance as RoboCop, under the tuition of mime artist Moni Yakim. Bottin’s design for the suit evolved as Verhoeven and the other key members of the shoot changed their ideas about how RoboCop should appear and move. The final suit comprised innumerable smaller pieces which were hung on a concealed harness that Weller wore. Weller initially struggled with the weight of the suit, which resulted in production being shut down for two days whilst Weller, Moni Yakim and Verhoeven worked out how to change Weller’s performance to fit the weight and bulk of the suit – which resulted in Weller slowing down his movements.

- ‘Villains of Old Detroit’ (17:00)
. This is another featurette assembled in 2007 and featuring interviews with Verhoeven, Neumeier, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Ray Wise, Miguel Ferrer. This featurette examines the performances of the actors who play the film’s villains. The actors explain how they approached their respective roles and offer a number of anecdotes about the production – such as the explosion of the storefront, when Emil tests the military cannon Boddicker has provided for the gang courtesy of Dick Jones, which was much bigger than expected. Smith talks about how he contributed to the costuming of Boddicker, with the intention that Boddicker looked more like a ‘revolutionary’ than a member of a street gang. Cox says that with Dick Jones ‘I bought into what he was saying, and once I did that I tried to play him as simply […] as possible’.

- ‘Special Effects: Then & Now’ (18:21)
. In another featurette from the 20th Anniversary release, Verhoeven, Paul Sammon, production designer William Sandell, Phil Tippett, matte painter Rocco Gioffre, ED-209 designer Craig Hayes talk about the film’s special effects. Gioffre’s approach to creating and capturing matte paintings is discussed in some detail with some interesting examples provided. Hayes reflects on how he designed and created the ED-209 droid, which was partially inspired by large animals like killer whales

- ‘Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg’ (0:39)
. In an ‘easter egg’ from the 20th Anniversary DVD release, Verhoeven talks about his brief cameo as a frenetic dancer in the nightclub scene.

- Deleted Scenes: OCP News Conference (1:17); Man in the Street interview (0:15); Topless Pizza (0:26); Final Media Break (0:51)
. These deleted scenes may also be accessed through a ‘Play All’ option (2:50).

- ‘The Boardroom: Storyboard with Phil Tippett Commentary’ (6:02)
. Recorded in 2001, this archival featurette displays the ED-209 boardroom scene in both its final version and via the original storyboards, as on the audio track Tippett explains how the effects in the scene were realised.

- Director’s Cut Production Footage (11:34)
. This is raw footage from the production of the film’s major scenes of violence (ED-209’s malfunction in the boardroom; Murphy’s death, the climax at the steel mill), which includes the on-set audio of Verhoeven directing the actors. Some of this (the close-up inserts) would seem to be second unit work, as for some of these shots the director is identified on the clapperboard as ‘R Anderson’ (presumably Rick Anderson).

- Trailers: Trailer 1 (1:38); Trailer 2 (1:23)

- TV Spots: TV Spot 1 (0:31); TV Spot 2 (1:02); TV Spot 3 (0:31)
. With ‘Play All’ option (2:03).

- Image Galleries: Production Stills (109 images); Behind the Scenes (84 images); Poster & Video Art (56 images)

DISC TWO (Blu-ray):
- The Film (Theatrical Cut) (102:47)

- Audio Commentary with Paul Verhoeven, Jon Davison and Ed Neumeier
. This is the same commentary with Verhoeven, Davison and Neumeier that is included with the director’s cut.

- Isolated Score (DTS-HD MA 2.0)
. Basil Poledouris’ score for RoboCop is presented in a ‘raw’ form, before being mixed and edited for the completed picture. This track also includes some music not used in the final film, including some alternate cues.

- Final Score (DTS-HD MA 2.0)
. This is the final version of Poledouris’ score, mixed and edited to conform to the finished feature.

- Edited for TV Version (95:16)
. This is the (in)famous television cut of RoboCop, presented in its entirety, its moments of violence abbreviated and the stronger language dubbed. It is presented in open matte 1.33:1, with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track, with optional English HoH subtitles. (I vividly remember watching this edit on television back in the late 1980s/early 1990s and marvelling at the fact that even the word ‘scumbag’ was censored – dubbed over with the nonsensical word ‘crumb-bag’, whatever that means).

- ‘RoboCop: Edited for Television’ (18:35)
. This featurette compiles the alternate takes used for two different television edits of RoboCop, using recently-discovered film elements as the source for this footage.

- Split Screen Comparisons: Theatrical Vs Director’s Cut (4:02); Theatrical Vs TV Cut (20:16)
. Both of these feature side-by-side comparisons of the named versions of the film. The comparison of the TC and DC focuses on the scenes altered for the DC: ED-209’s execution of Mr Kinney in the OCP boardroom; Murphy and Lewis’ pursuit of Boddicker’s gang’s van, with a brief extra moment of violence; the murder of Murphy, which is much more protracted in the DC; and some additional gore when RoboCop uses the spike that appears from his fist to gouge Boddicker’s throat during the climax of the film. The side-by-side comparison with the television cut features all of the lines that were dubbed to eliminate profanity, together with the cuts for violence and the use of alternate takes in the television edit.


RoboCop is inarguably one of the most significant American films of the 1980s. An extension of the cyberpunk mentality that had been sketched in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), RoboCop offered a version of the future that was rooted in a satirical approach to some of the sacred cows of the then-present. (Interestingly, though the exact setting, in terms of year, isn’t identified in the finished film, one of the television spots suggests the story takes place in 1991.) RoboCop connects the inhumanity of corporations and their essential venality to the cruelty of street gangs: and equivalence is drawn between these two systems of exploitation and oppression through the relationship between Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker. The changing urban space becomes a core theme of the film – a deindustrialised landscape swept away in a process of gentrification that, for American audiences, must have chimed with the gentrification of New York, in particular. A vision of soulless corporate drones whose existence is defined by a dog-eat-dog scramble to the top of OCP, the new Delta City is a space which has no place for the poor or the disadvantaged. In the context of this, RoboCop’s status as what Verhoeven has called an ‘American Jesus’ seems integral to the material, Murphy being ‘reborn’ as RoboCop and, symbolically, turning the tables and striking back against the ‘den of thieves’ – like Christ turning the tables of the money lenders and merchants in the temple. Verhoeven hammers home this connection with the shot, during the climax, in which RoboCop seems to walk on water, but even without this the parallels are fairly obvious.

Verhoeven brought to Neumeier and Miner’s script a deeply European sensibility, an outsider’s perspective on the extremes of American culture and an approach to the material which was unafraid of courting controversy. Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release of RoboCop is absolutely superb, the new restoration looking incredible and easily surpassing the presentations of previously-available home video releases of this film. Three versions of the films are included: the unrated director’s cut; the ‘R’ rated theatrical cut; and the edited for television version. Beyond this, Arrow’s release contains a superb array of contextual material, gathering together archival featurettes and commentaries and adding to these some superb new interviews with the likes of Michael Miner and Nancy Allen. This is an excellent, arguably essential, release of a superb film.

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Van Scheers, Rob, 1996: Paul Verhoeven. London: Faber & Faber

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