Last year, Total Recall provided an important reminder: It’s very dangerous to try and remake Paul Verhoeven. He not only made off-kilter blockbuster movies, but he made them in a time when a director could get away with off-kilter blockbuster movies. The R-rating definitely helped, but there was also a strangeness that some could find off-putting. The original RoboCop has its share off odd moments, but what stands out more than the action scenes is the satire like the fake commercials. My biggest question about the remake was if they would carry over the social commentary, or make a forgettable action film featuring a killer cyborg police officer. I got closer to an answer at this afternoon’s Comic-Con panel for the film where Sony showed the first footage from the remake.
Hit the jump for my recap of the panel. RoboCop opens February 7, 2014.
Opens with Samuel L. Jackson as a Bill O’Reilly figure Pat Novak, host of the “The Novak Element” and showcasing the military “promoting peace and freedom abroad”. We then lead into seeing machines overseas operating in a military capacity in “Operation Freedom Tehran”. “Where loacals have embraced the robots,” says a chirpy reporter, but we see citizens holding up their hands to be scanned. Novak asks why we can’t use these machines at home. “Why is America so robophobic?”
We then cut to a congressional panel where weapons manufacturer Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) says putting the machines on the streets will save human lives. But of course, we then see the machines going haywire and killing citizens in Tehran. Sellars points out that machines feel no anger, no fatigue, but also no remorse. A senator asks, “If a machine killed a child, what would it feel?” Sellars replies, “Nothing.”
The lights then come up and director Jose Padilha comes on stage followed by Jackson, Keaton, Abbie Cornish, and Joel Kinnaman while the classic RoboCop theme plays over the speakers.
When talking about remaking RoboCop, Padilha says, “It’s just not a film you can do again, because it was perfect the day it was, so we just took the concept and made it relevant.” He mentions that we’re now seeing drones and we’ll soon be seeing robots in real life like we see in the film. And the original l movie saw that way back, “and now we have more knowledge about what will happen,” says Padilha.
Keaton says his character is a “big thinker”, but he believes that while Sellars understands the bigger picture, he’s a pragmatist and is doing what he feels is right. If the world is a dangerous place, then Sellars thinks his machines are necessary.
Working towards achieving the mix between man and machine, Kinnaman reveals that Sellars’ company manages to save Alex’s life in the remake, but they replace his body from the neck down. He has an internal battle with the artificial intelligence and his own humanity.
Cornish talks about her character (Alex’s wife), and how the inhuman robot part interacts with his family, and they try to humanize him when he becomes RoboCop.
Then they show us the first trailer. I can’t break it down beat-by-beat (even scribbling in my notebook in the dark, I couldn’t get it all down), but the overall tone is trying to mesh the action with the satire like the original. However, this trailer went heavier on the action where we see Alex (who is almost killed by a car bomb in the remake and has to be rebuilt) as RoboCop and a lot of his action through a visor. There are also some odd, high-contrast black-white shots that are shown from a different perspective, and this POV is unclear. Overall, my impression is that they clearly haven’t forgotten the satirical aspect, they know what they’re targeting, and the action could be good.
Back to the Q&A, Kinnaman says that in all social-interaction scenes, the visor comes up, but in all the action scenes the visor goes down, so it wasn’t too much of a challenge to interact with other actors, although he did have to practice his “jaw-acting”.
Padilha reiterates the social commentary that we’ll be seeing about the ability to judge human error, but if a robot makes a mistake, who’s mistake is it? Then how does that carry to our reliance on machines in war? There’s also some satire like the figure of Pat Novak and how he represents the media.
The movie takes place in the future and countries are using robots in foreign policy. Since they’re not accountable, they can’t be used on domestic soil. Sellars circumvents this law by putting the man (Alex Murphy) inside the machine.
Jose also believes that humans and machines are going to mix more and more, and RoboCop “is the perfect movie to address that.”
Watching the panel and the footage, I mostly forgot about the scathing script review that went online last year. The original is unforgettable, but I appreciate that Padilha is trying to not only aim higher than simply cribbing the action premise, but that he knows what he’s aiming at when it comes to the worthwhile critique of militaristic reliance on impersonal weapons. For what was essentially the film’s big coming out, the panel for RoboCop was encouraging, and I look forward to seeing more.
The images in this article come from the Robocop OmniCorp website that was just relaunched with more images and info.