robocop remake poster

Now, before I go any further, this post will contain spoilers for the new “Robocop” movie. It will also contain spoilers for the original Robocop movie, but anybody who hasn’t seen the original should be flogged anyway, so there you go (note to the terminally stupid: that was a joke. The punishment for not having seen the original Robocop should literally be to be forced to sit down and watch it because it’s pretty damn good, and a real source of inspiration and memes for so many newer movies).

So, if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to know that the plot is pretty identical to the original, then don’t read the rest of this post.

So, now I’ve spoiled the movie for you, let’s carry on, shall we?

This movie, the remake that is, is… okay. I mean it’s… not bad. It’s not, however, anywhere near as good as the original. Out of the two, I’d suggest seeing the original first, the uncut version that includes such gratuitous 80’s violence as the half-mutated guy getting splattered across a car and having his head roll up and over the top, and leaving the second for contrast. Seriously, that’s my second favourite scene in the entire movie.

The first one, of course, is where ED-209 hilariously growls at the executive and orders him to put down the gun that he already threw down onto the floor… before blowing him the fuck away out of the 20th (ish) floor of the OCP building.

The humour here (in the original movie) is delivered with all the subtlety of a freightrain, but it does deliver.

The sub-text, of course, is that corporations are evil, soulless bastards and should never, ever, be trusted with the welfare of the public.

some 30 years later (ish) and I’m rather horrified to see that nobody listened to the moral of the original robocop story and the actual world we live in is pretty much the old new Detroit from Robocop.

I’m still laughing. Thigh-slap.

Anyway…

On to the point of this post: the AI as depicted in the old and now the new version of Robocop.

See, in the original, the subtext was “machines can’t be trusted, and mankind will out”. The whole movie is about how the grandiose soul of a True Hero(tm) cannot be beaten down, and will shine through and triumph no matter what.

Machines, in the original Robocop, were Evil and Not To Be Trusted. This could be seen by the clearly bestial and vicious nature of the ED-209, and it contrasted directly with the heroic and faithful nature of the titular Robocop. ED-209 (everyone’s favorite robotic guard-dog) was an over-armoured, clumsy thug that couldn’t handle stairs (I’ll get on to Daleks and their mobility issues another day, I promise), and because it wasn’t imbued with True Human Nature like Robocop was, it had to be superceded by something perceived as more friendly (robocop, with a human face), but which was intended to be “just a machine”. Punchline is that he wasn’t.

The new Robocop though… wow. This gets turned on its head.

First of all, I do have to say that I was disappointed that they never really went anywhere with the humanity sub-plot that they had brewing in the first/second act. They kind of weaseled out of using it somewhere around the midway mark and just… got tired of pontificating and instead dropped all the clever bits that I really liked in the first half to go straight for the guns, guts and glory of the original movie’s ending. Just without the guts.

Seriously, the biggest disappointment of the new movie is how clean everything is. It’s the same whitewashed, overly clinical, bloodless bullshit that winds me the fuck up about modern action movies. Ugh. Sorry about the language, but I really despise the current trend of demonizing sex and sexuality whilst glorifying and at the same time nullifying violence on screen. It’s a real hangup in modern society that needs to be dealt with.

But I digress – to the meat of things!

The new movie, as I said, turns the old on its head: In the new movie, Murphy the human is nowhere near as quick, accurate or efficient as the AI. He’s actually brought in just to be a pretty face, and when his human abilities lag severely behind that of the AI… they switch him off. That actually forms part of the “humanity” arc, but they really don’t use it well. Or at all. It’s actually a disappointing remake, and not at all necessary…

The interesting part, though, is that the AI in the movie is specifically better and more trustworthy than the humans. The robots are scary, sure, but they work. And not only that, but they do it flawlessly.

I find myself agreeing with Samuel L. Jackson’s character (though I really don’t understand why he is there. I understand his place as the loud-mouthed antagonistic press… it just doesn’t make sense) – why aren‘t OCP’s robots allowed on American soil? They’re quicker, faster, more accurate and gentler than any of the human antagonists or protagonists and they execute their functions in every way better than the humans, including Robocop himself!

At one point, in a direct contrast to the original movie (and it was this scene which has caused me to waffle on for over 800 words so far), a police officer gets in the way of several ED-209 robots so that Robocop can get up and destroy them because when the police officer gets in the way of their firing solution, they stop firing.

Let me make it more clear: The previously deadly, bestial, vicious, unpredictable and dangerous robots will not fire on an innocent bystander, even to the detriment of their murderous ramapaging directives.

This is huge.

We have Robocop, who can overcome his programming and shoot somebody in defiance of the law – being a vigilante is actually illegal, folks, as well as generally held to be immoral in most circumstances – but the robots? Nope, they actually will not injure normal humans. They’re perfect.

This is an entire 360-degrees-and-walk-away (to quote another meme) change from the original.

And I find that fascinating, and I wonder what it means. Was it done merely because the film-makers wanted to do something different? Send a different message? Or does it show a new understanding of AI in general?

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3 responses »

  1. My secret fear is that the new Robocop plays into a social directive to make drones, and increasingly invasive machine Big Brothering more acceptable. That it is propaganda for the benefit of the Owners.

    It is perhaps more likely that the new Robocop is what it is just because them as what made the film plain up and failed to understand the original at all. I never underestimate the stupidity of the American public… or the American Motion Picture Industry. It is far too easy for me to see folks just missing the whole ‘John Henry / Jesus in Metal Underoos’ mythology of the first movie entirely.

    That said, I do like a movie that paints artificial intelligence in a positive, non intrinsically evil light. That… I approve of.

    But, I am less charitable than you, I think, on the issue of which was a great movie, and which just filled time. The original Robocop was… brilliant. Dammit, but it was just amazing. Glorious. Horrifying. Very funny and amazingly clever. It is easily the Saint Of ‘B’ Movies, if not the Pope of ‘B’ Movies.

    The new Robocop… I was very disappointed in, because every second was a poor comparison to the original. Then again, I am old and cranky and afraid of all these new-fangled ways the young-uns are up to. That or I value good writing too highly.

    All I’m saying is, I agree that the new Robocop does some interesting things with AI, but the original Robocop? Well, I’d buy that for a dollar!

    • dmayoss says:

      Actually, the more I think about it, the less impressed I was with the new movie. It’s a pale shadow of the original, and isn’t worth watching except as contrast to the very much superior original.

      The new robots are clearly still scary though, so I don’t know whether the makers simply didn’t know what they were doing or whether the backers didn’t understand and made the writers give up the clever parts.

      The final tally though is still that robots don’t deserve to be used because humans are still better. Or something. It’s really confusing an ending actually, because as I says, the robots work and technically the human broke the law and turned robo vigilante… Sure the CEO deserved what he got, as usual, but it just wasn’t the satisfying story.

    • dmayoss says:

      And I should add, I was only really impressed with the well realized robots and robotics. The rest was dumb to begin with…

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