what makes RoboCop such a great movie

December 9th, 2007

Some works are just.. the only ones of their kind. RoboCop is such a work. The first of the series dates back to 1987; the last, to 1993. Altogether the three movies form a body of work that stands out from the plethora of supposedly similar works, action movies, cheap-story-big-boxoffice productions. It is simply.. art.

On the face of it, RoboCop is a lame story about the decay of society as a pretext for violence. The world portrayed in the story is dystopian, there are raving bands of hoodlums, there is organized crime, social order is all about defeated. And it's a cold world, filled with cruelty, void of compassion, a world of desperation. And above all, a world where corporations have taken over.

In this world, the dead police officer Alex Murphy becomes the cyborg RoboCop. A robot with a half-human mind, preserving some of his memories and emotions. But programmed by the powerful Omni Consumer Products (OCP) corporation to obey the directives he has been given. Essentially a killing machine, but a somewhat restrained one. Imagine a slow thinking, emotionally numb human, in terms of decision making.

Irony and comedy

But appearances can be deceiving. Sure enough, there is enough gunfire to go around, but the writers saw no reason not to have a little fun with the story. Picture your average worker stuck in a dead end job who has to pretend he's taking it very seriously, but when the boss isn't standing over him, he finds ways to amuse himself.

In order to drive home the point of a violent world in need of an enforcer like RoboCop, we have Media Break, the news program that reports nothing but violence. Since the writers already had this means of narration, they decided to put in some commercials as well, just like on real tv. These ads are wonderfully ironic and humorous. One is for a board game called Nukem, showing your average family sitting around a table playing wargames, where the culmination, of course, is the nuclear strike that wipes out everything.

Another ad goes like this:

*attractive woman by the pool in a robe* They say 20 seconds in the California sunshine is too much these days. Ever since we lost the Ozone layer. *takes off robe, now wearing a bikini* But that was before Sunblock 5000. Just apply a pint to your body *stars smearing herself with an opaque blue substance* and you're good for hours. See you by the pool. *by now completely covered in the blue stuff*

But there are other humorous angles to it. Take how RoboCop, who is by no means the brightest intelligence, suddenly develops deep sensitivity, so that when the little girl says she misses her parents, and he scans his data to learn that they were killed in the riots, he decides not to tell her. For a robotically enhanced killing machine he's also quite polite (compared to the humans around him), never curses people, the worst he ever called anyone is scum. In a rather unfortunate reprogramming mishap he even becomes politically correct, condemning wrong doing by lecturing delinquents rather than arresting them. Then, in a risky act of self-sacrifice he electrocutes himself to restore him own judgment.

Or take how in order to wrap up the story (whose premise it is that the OCP corporation controls the world) in some fairly definitive way, the writers decided that an unannounced, amateur broadcast of 2 minutes over the corporation's network would result in OCP's stock to drop to zero within 5 minutes. Problem solved. Then, just as we remember from The Karate Kid, Part II, the powerful owner of the Japanese company which absorbed the OCP in a hostile takeover came out to meet the people who had valiantly defended themselves against their corporate aggressors, decided he had made a mistake and paid tribute to them.


For all the parents out there on the fence about whether they should let their kid go see RoboCop, there is plenty of educational value in these movies.

Lesson #1: Crappy tv commercials never go away

That commercial with the bald guy and the hookers who says "I'll buy that for a dollar" appears several times in the first movie, and reappears in the last one.

Lesson #2: The success of the corporation is the suffering of humans

The big, evil corporation OCP is plotting to tear down all of Detroit to replace it with some sort of high tech metropolis called Delta City. But before that can happen, goes the story, crime must be brought under control. They even deploy their own special "security force" to speed up the process. And they own the police, so they can tell them what to do. The only incentive for any corporation is more profit, which means ever decreasing freedom for the average person, and ever increased in-fighting inside the corporation itself. Another movie that explains this is in great detail is The Corporation, so have that one ready when the kids start asking about it.

Lesson #3: Media is run by corporations
Media Break is driven by an agenda to be a scare mongering institution, a propaganda device. All they ever report is violence domestically and violence abroad. This is exactly like modern day media institutions which have lost all credibility and only pander to corporate interests. CNN, anyone? But at least Media Break has more of a conscience, as one of their reporters walks out in the middle of a newscast because she can't stand to dish out the misinformation.

Lesson #4: A system can only be secure when it's physically secure

Over the course of the three movies various people get their hands on RoboCop and reprogram him. In the third movie the little girl even plugs into the ED-209 robot using her laptop and makes it friendly to the rebels. This is the truth about computer security that everyone knows. If your system is physically compromised, you can't trust it. Sending a robot out into the world gives everyone access to it and they can plug into it just like you do at the lab.

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2 Responses to "what makes RoboCop such a great movie"

  1. erik says:

    Robocop as an educational movie, now that's a new one :D

  2. numerodix says:

    Actually, it's not a new one :D