Remakes frequently are safe ways for Hollywood to turn a profit. If something works once, theoretically it should work twice. Never mind the cases when not enough time has lapsed between versions to avoid seeing the original, often better film, running in marathon fashion on basic cable for an entire weekend — hello, “Footloose.”
Like “Footloose,” “RoboCop” was made during the 1980s. Sure, special effects are better now. It was a different period, not only politically and socio-economically, but certainly culturally. Then again, it wasn’t like “RoboCop” was made in the 1930s. It still can be relatable and undated enough for new fans, as long as they aren’t gazing too hard at characters’ hair and fashion choices.
So why remake “RoboCop?”
Because we love seeing robots/cyborgs/androids/mechanically enhanced people on the big screen.
But — and not to sound like my 5-year-old — why?
There are lots of reasons. Robots can be servants without the immorality of enslavement, such as Rosie, the Jetsons’ maid. They can harness enviable power and intelligence unobtainable by humans, such as the giant robot-car-alien thingies in the Transformers movies. And, in frightening films such as 1973's “Westworld,” they can satisfy humans’ violent and/or sexual fantasies without harm (seemingly) coming to another human being.
There always seems to be something about robot movies that makes us think, which, obviously, is a good thing. That didn’t necessarily help Dave Bowman deal with HAL 9000 in “2001,” but they learned from their mistakes by the sequel.
Robots/mechanized people (let’s just say “robots” and not dawdle on semantics) reflect our humanity, or lack thereof. They represent power without conscience, and the ones in film who come closest to being human draw our sharpest interest (there’s a reason why C-3PO and R2-D2 bickering like an old married couple have, so far, been the only common characters through all the “Star Wars” films).
Besides offering plenty of shoot ‘em up action, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 version of RoboCop — starring Peter Weller as a Detroit police officer killed in the line of duty, only to be resurrected as a half-man, half mechanical supercop — featured plenty of commentary on 1980s America. Not that it was why people loved “RoboCop” — it was a well-made futuristic thriller that didn’t necessarily have people leaving theaters talking about the big-picture issues.
But the new “RoboCop” (which I haven’t seen yet, but I’ve read a lot about) reflects an updated human view of what robots can do for us. In a post-9/11 world, in the wake of unpopular wars that are among the longest in U.S. history, the idea of technology doing the fighting (the whole premise of the “Terminator” movies) and taking what would otherwise by human risk can be appealing.
Robot movies make us think critically.
“We set out to make a movie about issues, not the regular superhero thing,” Jose Padilha, director of the new “RoboCop,” recently told USA Today.
We’re already pondering the moral dilemma of unmanned drone strikes overseas. In the new “RoboCop,” conflicts largely are automated all the way around, fought by robot soldiers.
“They make their own decisions and they make their decisions based on a program, and the human aspect is taken out of it,” Joel Kinnaman, who plays Alex Murphy/RoboCop, told the paper. “That creates a moral dilemma.”
Padilha expects to see machines with RoboCop-type abilities created very soon. “When a machine is able to perform as well as men,” he explained, “you can ask what is it that separates him from them?”
Great question. Let’s give it some thought.