Part Man. Part Machine. All Human.

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32 Responses

  1. InMD says:

    Robocop is one of my favorites as well but is it really fair to call it reactionary? I think it probably played that way in its original run but watching it now the satirical elements, while funny and effective rather than heavy handed, are apparent enough. I think I’ve read that Paul Verhoeven felt he was intentionally making something like a ‘fascist movie for liberals.’

    One of the best segments is where they’re showing man on the street interviews about the police strike. They’re hilarious but also eerily prescient.Report

    • pillsy in reply to InMD says:

      IMO, a lot of the best genre parodies still demonstrate an affection for the genre they’re parodying, and I don’t think RoboCop is an exception. That’s sort of where I think he was going for with “a fascist movie for liberals”. Maybe you’re troubled by a lot of elements of, say, Dirty Harry, but that doesn’t mean you hate it, or that it’s bad that you don’t just hate it. And to be clear, there are more than a few parts of Dirty Harry that make my skin crawl, but overall I think it’s a classic.

      This is why the fact that Verhoeven just hated Starship Troopers causes the movie to be so flat and dull. There are plenty of things in Troopers that make me uncomfortable, but there’s no interest or reckoning with the parts that aren’t just sort of militarist and reactionary (and there are a lot of those parts!)Report

      • InMD in reply to pillsy says:

        Certainly fair and I agree with you that the best have the ability to hold their own in the genre they’re poking fun at. On the horror side I’ve always found the Howling and to a lesser extent the Howling 2 do this (and obviously something like Return of the Living Dead really being the epitome of the concept). It’s also why I think so many modern movies seem unable to toe the line. The key to making a good genre parody or cult film is making it a good genre film first. Too self-aware and it won’t work.

        On Starship Troopers I never understood why they had Verhoeven direct it. IIRC he was a teenager during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. With baggage like that I’m not sure he could’ve ever given it a fair shake.Report

  2. Oscar Gordon says:

    I am pretty sure Verhoeven hated the Troopers source material, and wasn’t even remotely interested in trying to explore it.Report

  3. Aaron David says:

    What gets missed about Blade Runner by its detractors is the concept of the sublime. It works as an aesthetic object because you see it as a transcendent beauty. This is increased by the different variations (multiple Directors Cuts, voice over/no voice over, Denver print, etc.), all adding to the feeling that the more that is seen, the more that is known. Ie; you get closer to the beauty without ever coming into true contact. In this sense, it is like Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle.

    I don’t have an opinion on Robocop other that it stars Red Forman.Report

  4. Great piece! Thanks for writing it!Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    Robocop was My First Rated R Movie.

    I couldn’t believe how over-the-top violent it was.

    But, anyway, what makes Blade Runner so awesome for me is the fact that I keep finding new things in it every single time. Like William Sanderson asks Daryl Hannah (and my other Daryl Hannah) to do something to demonstrate that she is one of his and she does a flip. And then, in the fight against Deckard, she uses flips as pretty integral to her combat style.

    The movie is *FULL* of stuff like that.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

      But, anyway, what makes Blade Runner so awesome for me is the fact that I keep finding new things in it every single time.

      Oh yeah. I just noticed the way “More Human Than Human” applies to 1he contrast between Deckard and the replicants while writing this article!Report

  6. Pinky says:

    I don’t think you can characterize RoboCop as parody, though. The 1980’s action movies were not so unambiguous that they could be parodied. Dirty Harry was a 1970’s anti-hero, depicted critically, and as his movies continued they explored the dangers of vigilantism. First Blood was anti-reactionary, and Death Wish didn’t glamourize the lead. Both of those franchises became cartoonish, sure. But you can see the same skepticism toward the revenge fantasy in Falling Down. Martin Riggs was a suicidal lethal weapon, and he (just like half of Arnold’s characters) was messed up from being a government killer and was pursued by crooked government killers. And all these movies were targeted at the same audiences as saw the straightforward Tango and Cash mindless action movies. There weren’t two opposing genres. Even something like Red Dawn questioned the heroes and respected the villains. Over on tv, you had Crockett and Tubbs shooting every low- to mid-level drug runner they could find, but the crime bosses were protected by the banks and the shadow government. So yes, RoboCop did an excellent job exploring some dark themes, but it wasn’t alone in this. It occupied one point on a continuum.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Pinky says:

      The best 1980s action movies weren’t so unambiguous as to be easily parodied, but parodies usually, by necessity, end up taking their shots at the more typical (and mediocre) entries in a genre, not the high points. I don’t remember where I came across the idea, but someone once pointed out that the movies that spawn genres are often among the most interesting and subversive entries in the genre. It’s hard for me to think about a better example of that than Dirty Harry, especially the first movie, which practically deconstructs a genre that doesn’t exist yet.

      But you look at the later sequels in these series, and the cash-in imitators, and generally you lose the nuance, and have easier targets.

      One of my other favorite movies is Hot Fuzz, which is undoubtedly a parody, and mostly aims its (very affectionate) barbs at movies like Point Break and Bad Boys 2.

      But if you just compare RoboCop to Dirty Harry, things look very different. If anything, RC is a more optimistic take! Compare Callahan throwing his badge in a lake after killing Scorpio to Murphy proudly walking out of the OCP board room.Report

      • greginak in reply to pillsy says:

        Dirty Harry was a direct descendant of Bullitt. It was the same genre though much more bitter and nihilistic. DH didn’t start a new genre though it was an inflection point that led to a lot of crappy worse moviesReport

    • pillsy in reply to Pinky says:

      Also Falling Down is a great movie, and one that deserves both more love and more attention. I should re-watch it one of these days.Report

      • veronica d in reply to pillsy says:

        Yeah Falling Down has its strong points. On the other hand, just as you cannot make an anti-war movie without glorifying war, I’m not sure if you can make an angry white guy movie without — well — saying something odd about angry white guys. Falling Down certainly looks different now, in the age of Trump, than it did then.Report

        • pillsy in reply to veronica d says:

          Yeah that’s part of the reason I think it’s worth a re-watch. I haven’t seen it since the W years.Report

          • veronica d in reply to pillsy says:

            My biggest complaint is how they handle racism. Regarding race, they make a hamfisted effort to show the character as visibly non-racist. First, he soundly rejects the white supremacist character. Second, he shows sympathy to the black character protesting a bank’s loan policy (“Not economically viable!”).

            Which, good for the character, but I have to ask, are they really being honest about the “angry white men” set? I’m not suggesting they should have made the character a cartoonish Nazi, of course not. That would be banal. On the other hand, men of that ilk typically have a lot of racist attitudes. They did not explore that in any depth. Instead they swept it under the rug.

            By contrast, consider Gran Torino, about which I have many complaints, but suggesting it was unrealistic about racism would not be among them.

            (I saw Gran Torino in the theater with a black friend. That was awkward.)

            My other compliant is a bit more subtle. It goes like this: I expect that when angry white men lash out through violence, we are seeing an expression of narcissistic injury and rage. Thus we really need to see the inherent narcissism of the character. For example, men like that believe they own women. In the movie, yes he missed his daughter and ex-wife, which is understandable. I miss some of my ex-girlfriends. But I didn’t stalk them, because I never felt like I owned them. Few people would.

            “But if you were pushed far enough…”

            That is the premise of the movie, but it is flawed. He wasn’t pushed. Sure, he was a victim of capitalism and anomie, just the same as many people. I get that. But the rage? The murder? That’s extra. They hinted as his rage and need to control, but not enough. They missed the real story.


            Googling around, I just found this article:

            The article point out how they hinted at his violent narcissism, inasmuch as his wife had a restraining order against him, and they showed him exploding in rage at his daughter in a home video. But still, I think that message is buried in a way that will be missed by audiences — the same way dudebros responded to Fight Club by creating idiotic fight clubs. Those dudes could not see that FC was critiquing them.

            Anyway, from that article:

            Meanwhile, as D-Fens’ ex-wife, Beth, Barbara Hershey offers a startlingly realistic portrayal of an abused woman. Early on, she gives us every clue we’d need to know that D-Fens isn’t the hero: He doesn’t pay child support, she’s taken out a restraining order against him, and he won’t take no for an answer. Of course, not everyone reads those cues as I might. If you dare dwell for a few minutes on men’s rights activism (MRA) movie message boards, you’ll find that this film is seen by many as an “MRA anthem,” though some are conflicted because they’ve picked up on D-Fens really being the “baddie.”

            Falling Down offers a stark choice: Viewers can choose to ignore Beth’s warnings and get caught up in D-Fens’ Everyman crusade, or they can believe the woman. But Schumacher and Douglas make D-Fens so charismatic that it’s a given that Beth’s warnings will be ignored by many. In real life, sociopathic abusers often get passes, especially when they’re clean white men with charisma. Women, in this story, bear the brunt of D-Fens’ anger while acting as the Cassandras, trying to warn people — and the audience — who refuse to listen.


          • Pinky in reply to pillsy says:

            Falling Down was explicit about who the bad guy was. He was a complicated character, and one you could sympathize with, but you can’t say that the movie failed to point out that he was the villain.Report

          • veronica d in reply to pillsy says:

            They failed to demonstrate that he was the villain, in the sense that they left the audience identifying with him, not his victims. To repeat my example, this is similar to how Fight Club failed to demonstrate that “Operation Mayhem” was a colossal bunch of dipshits.

            The way we see this failure is to look at how audiences responded. Yes indeed, minorities and women (some of them) could watch Falling Down and clearly see him as a villain, but as the article I linked to points out, white men identified more with the “angry white man” main character.

            Furthermore, it’s not only about seeing these facts in a “logical” sense. It is more about experiencing them in a visceral sense.

            Let me give you an example of the latter. Take Inglorious Basterds. Here is the thing about that film: it is obvious to me that Tarintino was presenting a critique of the audience. You see this, right? In the beginning, he explicitly dehumanized the Nazis (“ain’t got no humanity”). Later we the audience cheer as the “Bear Jew” used a baseball bat (how American!) to bash Nazi skulls. Okay, nice. Then even more later, he shows a theater full of Nazis cheering on a propaganda movie where a German soldier slaughters enemies of Germany.

            You get it, right? Tarintino is telling us that we are just like them.

            I see this. It’s really obvious.

            But I don’t care. They’re fucking Nazis. The “Bear Jew” was a badass.

            Tarintino’s critique felt shallow to me, because they’re fucking Nazis.

            My point is, just because I could see it intellectually, that doesn’t mean it “scored a hit.”

            In Falling Down, I’m sure many white men could see analytically that he was the “bad guy,” but I don’t think they could feel it in their bones. The movie didn’t do that. It couldn’t. The camera was pointing the wrong way.

            It is this: writing is hard. Exploring moral complexity is particularly hard. Exploring power dynamics and abuse is very, very hard, especially when the targets of the abuse are women and minorities — or otherwise “invisible” victims.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

            Yeah, when I was a little kid, my church didn’t think that movies like The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur were sufficiently Christian.Report

          • pillsy in reply to pillsy says:

            This is actually why I think the movie is interesting. I am with Pinky, in that I thought they made it really obvious that D-Fens was, in fact, not a good guy who was pushed too far. But it didn’t start there: initially he’s portrayed in exactly that way and then the movie kind of pulls the rug out from under us, with the cops uncovering his backstory and the restraining order, and the Nazi telling him how great he is.

            But then a lot of people miss it entirely.

            I didn’t think it was that subtle. But if enough people miss the point that way, maybe that is an artistic failure.

            Which is a shame, in a way, because I thought it was a great deconstruction of the Angry White Male, and part of why is that it starts out like just another movie where we feel like we’re supposed to be on the AWM’s side.Report

          • veronica d in reply to pillsy says:

            I didn’t think it was that subtle. But if enough people miss the point that way, maybe that is an artistic failure.

            As I said, writing is hard.Report

  7. Stillwater says:

    Great post.

    I didn’t realize why until I read this essay by Gretchen Felker-Martin2 on why the movie isn’t very interesting.

    A bit off-thread, but I think the fact that Felker-Martinez has thought so deeply about the negative critique she presents undermines her own claim that the movie isn’t very interesting. I think she just wishes the film were different than it is. But whateves.Report

  8. I was dissatisfied with the movie when I saw it for the first time (only a couple years ago). I had heard that Deckard was (possibly) a replicant because I had read a review that discussed that possibility, but I didn’t get that sense from watching the movie. Overall, I was underwhelmed by the movie, perhaps because so many people had told me how it was the greatest movie ever. I might have to watch Blade Runner again, but this time without the voice over.

    I will say that the novel, which I read right before the movie, didn’t give me any hint that Deckard was a replicant. Are people who make the argument that he was (or might have been) also suggesting the book explores the same theme? If so, I just didn’t see it in the book. (However, two things can be true. One, the book did explore that theme and I didn’t catch on. Two, it’s not unusual or in my opinion even a bad thing if the movie departs from the book.)

    At any, great post. Thanks for writing it.Report

  9. Pinky says:

    I’ve seen it twice the whole way through, and a bunch of clips. I’m not sure which version/s it all adds up to. I hadn’t heard before watching, and didn’t pick up while watching, anything about Deckard being a replicant. I didn’t think it was profound, but I thought it was a great movie on the basis of the visuals and the acting.

    It does bug me that there are substantially different versions of the movie. It’t be like if there was a longer version of A Few Good Men, where you find out that maybe Colonel Jessup was framed by the Cubans. I don’t know what to do with that.
    I think the film’s legacy is in its artistry, so the director’s cut really just meddles with the film’s reputation. Anyway, it’s film noir, so I have no problem with a Chandleresque voice-over.Report

    • greginak in reply to Pinky says:

      Ridley Scott said the took it as Deckard was a replicant. Also people take his unicorn dreams and that his cop boss makes an origami unicorn for him strongly hinting that he was a replicant.

      I don’t think it makes good story sense for him to be a replicant. The flick makes more sense with him as a human who finds his lost humanity in the struggle of the actual replicants who are more vividly alive and fighting for life then any of the other human characters who are sleep walking through life.Report

  10. Tracy Downey says:

    This is a great post. 👍🏻 I think Tron and The Terminator also we’re some of the best visual effects. But Tron’s visual and special effects definitely was early CGI.

    Ever since I saw the Terminator I am terrified of Robots. Short Circuit creeped me out, Batteries Not Included did nothing for me. I Am Robot I feel is the future in the wrong hands. And if you saw Ready Player One-If the oculus generation comes to pass we’re doomed.
    Blade Runner, and Robocop, (love Peter Weller) and Judge Dredd were great in their ability to sell a decent script with enough special effects to overlook It’s plot driven format.Report

    • I had mixed feelings about Short Circuit. Or rather, I have mixed feelings now, but probably didn’t at the time when I was probably 13 or so.

      Tron is a film I definitely have to see again. I saw it in the theaters when it came out, but I was just a kid and I don’t think I’ve seen it again since.Report

  11. Kolohe says:

    Your last footnote on Starship Troopers – while it’s not as strong in its bit -, or overall, for that matter – it is exact same sort of ‘this is shown ironically but people will take it at face value’ as Robocop does. Moreover, in Robocop, the background real world premise amped up to dystopia, the crime wave, started to diminish in the real world a few years later. In contrast, Starship Troopers released in 1997, actually anticipated a more militarized, jingoistic society in perpetual war at a time of peak Pax America.Report