Why ‘Robocop’ (1987) Was Ahead Of Its Time
I believe that the ’80s era of movies was the greatest. A lot of IP that is still being produced, rebooted, replicated, and copied are from that era. But there is one IP from this era that stands out a bit. It’s a grand concept about a half-man/half-machine police officer, and the film went through hell and high water to be made. Thankfully, it was made, and it’s a piece of film that is very relevant in 2022. That film would be Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop.
We all know the plot of the film: Officer Murphy (Peter Weller) gets murdered by crime boss Clarence (Kurtwood Smith) and his clan of killers. He then gets put into the Robocop program. A program created by Morton (Miguel Ferrer) a worker for Omni Consumer Products, after Jones’ (Ronny Cox) demonstration of ED-209 goes bad leaving an employee dead. He soon starts remember his past after a nightmare and his old partner Lewis (Nancy Allen) questions him and sets out for revenge against the men that killed him. The story is deeper and more complex than that if you look past the surface. It’s a ta;e about gentrification, corruption and how CEOs/companies ultimately control the fate of citizens.
Gentrification is the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process. Robocop is based in Detroit, which was a wild place in the ’80s. The crack epidemic was booming and most people in the inner city were either doing something illegal or working in car plants. The gentrification in Robocop comes from the concept of New Detroit. OCP employee Jones planned on destroying the inner city and rebuilding it.
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The corruption of the film was that Jones funded the villain Clarence Boddicker and his band of criminals. He was paying them to murder cops and create chaos in order to get people to support his gentrification plan. He planned on evacuating the downtown area and having 200 employees live there while they tore it down and rebuilt it. He also planned on having his malfunctioning Ed-209 robot roam and guard the area as well. But there was also a plan called Robocop — a half-man, half-machine that would eventually be the better option.
The big part about this film that sticks out to me though is Big Tech. Amazon, Tesla, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc. are all companies that resemble Omni Consumer Products. They have programs that help people and do things for the community. Also, the government has funded Big Tech projects that put people in danger. They surveillance communities, track your information online, and many other things. Yes, in some ways it works for catching criminals (just not ones that are planning on mass shootings apparently), but in others, it is very dangerous.
Consider things like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill or the many anti-abortion laws that have been put into place recently. Bills like these have help from Big Tech with forms of social media surveillance. Period apps tracking women, and several different ways to keep up with social media activity of citizens in those states. They claim to be tracking terroristic threats as well whether foreign or domestic, but they have failed recently on several occasions to stop domestic terrorism.
In the film, they also fail at stopping the terrorism. Robocop shows what happens when the government uses billionaires to keep the public safe. Undermining public safety for the sake of the rich has never worked out well. Robocop shines a very bright light on how big tech and the government shouldn’t mix. While there is a small hole that benefits the public, it’s inherently a bad idea.
Robocop is very overdramatic in its storytelling, but it gets the point across. It was ahead of its time in terms of saying how bad technology can be. It wasn’t the only film to do that, either. There were several films in the ’80s that essentially told the same story in different ways. Blade Runner and Terminator can also be pointed to as films with similar concepts, but Robocop still stands above as a cautionary tale.
Robocop is now streaming on the Showtime App, VOD, and in stores.
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