Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Robocop 2 deconstructed

I can stil remember sitting in prep in the proximity of Luke Nunn whom was asking questions about Robocop 2, and the teachers gave it a bad review. 'It wasn't for kids like the first one.' or something... maybe I don't still remember it. Maybe those teachers were just trying to do right by kids who didn't understand why we couldn't see a movie about Robots that kill child drug dealers whose characters are only 5 years our senior.

I remember it because Robocain fired my 7 year old imagination, in just the same way that I imagine Iron Man and Iron Monger from Iron man fired the 7 year old imaginations of 10 year olds today.

But having watched Robocop for the first time ever, then rewatched Robocop 2 and Robocop 2 is vastly inferior. What did they screw up?

I'm glad I asked me.

Robocop 2 has a bunch of good ideas - how many originate from Frank Miller's screenplay, and how many from the other writers that took it over.

But finale backwards, the big story arc is Robocop vs. Robocain aka Robocop 2, if there's a sequel to the remake then it's even money it'll be called Robocop 2.0. Anyway Robocain conceptually was a good nemisis, you had the original Robocop which despite it's christian themes of resurrection and Robocop as a fascist christ figure, could be said to be about 'what makes us human' much like any film about AI, robots etc.

And both screenplays feature heavy dialogue service to 'you're a product, not a person' so it was a good story - human's being individuals and products being mass producable - does the next years model render the prior one obsolete, or does the individuals character in the cyborg account for more.

And thus you had Robocain, the contender, the upgrade. The upgrade is conceptually easy and makes for a good action sequel too. It's a no brainer and not a bad one, bigger, more guns, more menacing. That part was easy, though it was given to somebody amazing to handle - Phil Tippet.

I mean Phil is an artist and a craftsman, and he put a lot of craft into creating the monster of Robocain from an amazingly simple brief. Robocain is just one of the best pieces of design ever, so good it makes me just want to give the fuck up.

But you have a plotting issue, if Robocain is bigger and stronger, how do you put the inferior mind into Robocain. You can't just make it inferior because it IS a machine, vs the human-machine hybrid that is Robocop, because that is Robocop vs the ED-209, which was literrally a stupid machine.

Frank Miller, based on the comic adaptation of his original screenplay furnished a good plotting solution - bring in the psychologist to deconstruct and hypothesise on the nature and character of Robocop.

So you have Dr. Love, who is almost the true nemisis - she contends that it was Alex Murphy's nature that made him the success story of the original Robocop project. She then draws up a psychological profile for ideal robocop candidates - Miller's solution was simple, almost premeditating the milatary security contractors employed controversially in Iraq (and possibly drawing from a long recurring history) he had the drug addicted psychotic mercenary 'Kong'.

The movie take drug baron Cain, and here working backwards the movie starts to get unstuck. Cain is a good character, but he has little in common with Robocain, they got in Tom Noonan who played the antagonist in the original Micheal Mann adaptation of Red Dragon - 'Manhunter'. He's a great on screen villain, creepy and he virtually reprised the red dragon/tooth-fairy role for cain. A spiritual nutjob - hence he fits Dr Love's profile and is more complex than Miller's Kong character. But a thug is what Robocain is, whereas Cain is so totally different, a mastermind, rather than a tough guy, or even the tough-guy-mastermind hybrid like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

The one scene Cain exhibits any malicious side is pretty good, but by having a compelling character (if a little cheesy with lines like 'Jesus had days like this') he is just basically lost completely in the Robocain character.

And here you have the foundations of Robocop 2 going from a nice concise movie with something to say about the human condition to a 'bunch-of-scenes' movie.

The human condition aspect is also touched on nicely with the scene in which Murphy is harassed by lawyers and told to inform his wife that he is not murphy but just a robotic tribute to him.

Inbetween though you have this diversion where robocop is 'killed' again by Cain then reprogrammed by Dr Love, and you have this big commical short within the film of Robocop becomming a PR joke. And it's neat and funny in and of itself, but it just pads out the movie, it does serve as pretext for Robocop's character growth, where he relinquishes himself of his directives and becomes an independant being - Alex Murphy once more.

Miller's script works, fundamentally, although it ends up being an attack on psychology, with Dr Love being the symbolic face of evil 'talking through our issues' while Robocop represents the good 'man up and take action' .

So I don't think there was any real travesty committed in the rewrites, I think they recognised all Miller's great ideas, just like they carried over heaps of Paul Verhoeven's great directorial touches from the original.

It just remained waaaay busy conceptually, which seems a common downfall of most sci-fi-action films. Same mistake got made in Transformers 2, Iron Man 2, Spider Man 3... these films were made two decades after Robocop 2, so this mistake won't go away any time soon. I can't be sure if it's because Producers get carried away and demand more shit to wow audiences or whether they get overconfident and let the concept artists and SFX departments go crazy based off of the original success.

I just think storytelling is where it is at, and less is more with storytelling. Making a sequal to a good story is a hard fucking problem, because you need reasons to dredge up characters again, and you need to give them something to do - again. I think when making a film, comic, drawing etc. it is good to think about the audience, and there was this great piece of wisdom about sequals I was priveleged enough to read a long time ago now - people aren't going because they want to see a new film, they are going because they want to see the first film - for the first time again.

Thus for the screenwriter, you need to make the same film again but different some-way-some-how. It can't repeat, it has to rhyme. And even post-Miller's script there's a bunch of great sequal-rhyming solutions - like Robocop's directives preventing him from shooting Hob. It's not the same because while Hob is a villain, he isn't an OCP executive - engaging the secret 4th directive, but he's a minor hence Robocop can't shoot him. But as stated by some critic somewhere, the conniving child-drug baron just doesn't work, and Hob is perhaps the crazy concept too far in the film.

I think they did a good job of coming up with great solutions to the fundamental problems, just didn't trim enough fat.

I think the Judge Dredd remake is a fine example of a refined sequal, and instructive to Robocop who was in part inspired by Judge Dredd. The difference being that Dredd (2012) was a reboot of a flop in Judge Dredd (1995) which didn't make money. But Dredd just took two characters and put them in a situation, and the film though a financial flop is compelling. It moves well, it's simple, it has good characters and good story structure.

So, if the new Robocop production makes money, and somehow improves upon the 1987 original making fans demand a sequel, and assuming the new Robocop is again about Murphy's struggle to reclaim humanity, what I suggest is the following:

Bring back the obsolescence issue, OCP wants to release a new model of Robocop, and scrap the old Robocop.

Bring back Robocain - he needs to be made like a Marlow from HBO's 'The Wire' though, like a ruthless psychotic gangster, somebody you as the audience don't want to get any more power. He isn't a nut-job, he's actually good at his job. You then get the powerful emotional response from the audience in their relief that Cain is dead, then quickly robbing them of that by making Cain even worse.

Reduce the conflict to this - Robocop's struggle to regain free will and avoid obsolescence vs. OCP's desire to have a more obedient tool.

That's it. Leave it at that, a two act movie. The war on Cain is act one, the resurrection of Cain as Robocain is act two.

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