It’s become instinctual for movie fans to complain about remakes, reboots and whatever else Hollywood does to repurpose and rework the old into the new. It’s not a wrong instinct. The most common question fans lob at studio recycling is: “What’s the point? Why bother remake something that didn’t need to be?”
Sometimes that question is propelled by a great deal of nostalgic affection. Sometimes it’s propelled by the soon-to-be-updated movie remaining a legitimately great work that can’t possibly be improved upon. Sometimes – more rarely – the question is propelled by the fact that there’s nothing to update because the film remains relevant in every way.
That’s certainly the case with Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Revisits of old material generally operate under the principle of wanting to make the old once again current – lend it the benefits of modern sensibilities, filmmaking and technology. The thing about the 1987 film is that – Claymation ED-209 and ‘80s fashion aside – it’s not just as topical as ever, it may be even more relevant than it’s ever been.
No matter how José Padilha’s remake turns out, here are a few ways RoboCop has become an uncanny mirror of 2014 nearly 27 years after its first release.
The State of Detroit
Riddled with debt, crime and infrastructure woes, RoboCop’s near-future Detroit is exactly like our present-day Detroit. The city is currently $8 billion in debt. Its current violent crime per capita rate is one of the highest in the country. Its police force is stretched thin, and “is down by more than half from 12 years ago.” And it’s become a city with infrastructure that can accommodate two million people, but only houses a population of soon-to-be less than 700,000. In 1987, RoboCop must have seemed like it was presenting a depressing dystopia. It turns out the most depressing thing is the fact that its dystopia became a reality.
Technology and People Are Merging
The idea of a RoboCop – half-man, half-machine – existing is, still largely science fiction (though we’re getting closer). The spirit of the idea isn’t. With smartphones practically welded to our palms, and the rise of wearable tech enhancing and quantifying everything we do, the merging of human and tech is very much happening already. The existence of Google Glass (or Meta Spaceglasses)alone recalls RoboCop’s digitally enhanced visual experience, and designers are only going to push further and further into augmenting the human day-to-day experience with omnipresent technology.
Technological Efficiency Is Sacrificing Jobs
Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) pitches RoboCop as a more efficient alternative to human police officer that can single-handedly wipe out crime in Detroit. Sure enough, we see him put a pretty big dent in it. Morton tells us that thanks to RoboCop’s enhanced abilities he can better protect the people of the city, all while doing the work of several police men without needing any sleep. It’s a classic modern-day corporate move of presenting something as a benefit to everyday people that’s also at their expense – specifically, their jobs. Consider: we’re pitched the exciting possibility of better service via drones delivering our pizzas, or robots navigating warehouses to facilitate quicker shipment of our Amazon orders. Yes, that all sounds amazingly efficient, but of course that kind of innovation comes at the sacrifice of human jobs.
The Corporation As Bad Guy
Corporations have always been met with a certain degree of cynicism and resentment (especially in movies), but postrecession we’re all particular wary of big companies. It’s no accident Google, very much aware of this, adopted “Don’t Be Evil!” as its unofficial motto. Sure, RoboCop paints its corporate villainy with a pretty heavy brush, but that doesn’t keep it from being remarkably relatable in the here and now. Take the scene where the Old Man talks about wanting to benevolently help give something back to Detroit, and then talks about the corporate growth it presents. It’s a remarkably topical understanding that a lot of corporate philanthropy is really just thinly disguised business strategy – whether in the form of gentrification or military contracts.
Lowbrow Entertainment Is King
RoboCop’s satire of vulgar, shallow, lowest common denominator entertainment via Mr. “I’d buy that for a dollar” hasn’t aged a day. If anything it’s become more common. Pick any Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Real Housewives or Two and a Half Men episode, stick it into the TVs in RoboCop, and you’d get pretty much the same point Verhoeven is making with good old Bixby Snyder.
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