It has been 25 years ago since Robocop was released, changing everything we know about robots, law enforcement, Detroit and the value of a dollar. It might look like a b-grade science fiction action yarn, but the story about Murphy, Clarence, Ed-209 and co. is loaded with interesting factoids and trivia… It was his debut American film, yet Paul Verhoeven nearly didn’t make Robocop. In fact, he refused it after the first reading. But his wife liked the story and urged him to reconsider. The name was a big problem: virtually every notable American director turned the script down because of it. For the same reason it took more than a year to get a crew and actors who would make it. At some point a name change was considered, but for some reason it remained ‘Robocop’.
The Robocop suit took more than 6 months to design and cost over a million dollars. It was not possible for a wearer to get out of a car or walk up stairs with it. The rubber gloves made it hard to catch anything, which is why the shot where Robocop catches the keys took an hour to get right. Peter Weller was not happy with the suit: it was incredibly hot and took over nine hours to put on. Once he did, Weller also discovered that much of what he and his mime coach trained for was not possible. Production was halted while they trained new movements.
It was Rob Bottin, the suit’s designer, who suggested that the audience not be shown Robocop in full immediately. The idea was to sell the audience on that they were looking at more than a guy in a costume. It was a huge gamble, seen to make or break the film. This is why initial shots of Robocop are glimpses from screens, through textured glass and past fences.
There are several trivial things connecting Robocop to other sci-fi movies. The scene where Robo dreams was inspired by the book ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ Scriptwriter Edward Neumeier had done some work on the Blade Runner set and learned about the book’s title through that. Robocop was produced by Orion, the studio responsible for the first Terminator. When the theatrical trailer for Robocop was made, its soundtrack score was not ready yet and the trailer used the Terminator theme song instead. The robot cop’s fourth Prime Directive, which stopped him from arresting any OCP staff, was a pun on Isaac Asimov’s three robot laws. And the robber in the shop, Robo’s first arrest, picked up an Iron Man comic.
Robocop has several metaphor themes. The first is Vietnam. Dr. Macnamara, who comes in with the robot Ed-209 in the boardroom scene, is named after Robert Macnamara, Secretary of Defence during that war and largely seen as its architect. Ed-209 was designed to resemble a Huey combat helicopter. It is ironic that while Robocop had many liberal-centric values, the sequel – written by uber-hawk Frank Miller – was very much slanted towards conservative values.
Phil Tippett animated Ed-209, adding touches such as the famous stair-fall scene, the twitching toe in Ed’s death scene and the dinosaur in the car commercial. His other claims to fame include the AT-AT and AT-ST sequences in The Empire Strikes Back and the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
Fascism and violence combined as a second theme. Director Paul Verhoeven, who grew up in the occupied Netherlands, had first-hand experience of the horrors of war and pushed the idea. A privatised, corporate-run police force played into this, as did the scene where Robocop throws Clarence Boddicker through glass panes while reading him his rights. While proving popular with cops, the scene also signified Verhoeven’s feelings that America police were very aggressive. The same goes for the line where Dick Jones says: “We practically are the military.” Another fascist nod: the reason why Clarence wears glasses is to invoke the memory of Heinrich Himmler, Nazi number two and head of the SS.
he only in all of his movies. During the club scene (which used an unreleased Skinny Puppy song), Leon kicks Robocop. Right after this is a short clip of a long-haired man dancing. That was Verhoeven getting the crowd in the mood for the scene. It was a b-roll moment and never intended to be in the film. But the editor put it in and despite all he tried, Verhoeven could not get the bit removed.
Theme three: Jesus. Verhoeven is well-known for his academic interest in Jesus Christ – he published a book on the topic a few years ago. According to him, Murphy’s death was similar to crucifixion, while the transformation to Robocop was a resurrection. One of the final scenes, where Robocop approached Clarence and Lewis across the pool of water at the waste plant, suggested he almost walked on water. Robocop makes clear he intends to kill Clarence – to Verhoeven this signified how American Christianity had become very aggressive and abandoned the religion’s pacifist roots.
The naked woman in the locker scene is to signify a society where gender matter little. As Verhoeven put it, everyone was equal. Lewis’ hair was also cut short to tone down her sense of sexuality – filming originally started with her having long hair.
Most of the film was shot in Dallas, which was both a boon and a bust. Verhoeven wanted to shoot there as the movie needed a slightly futuristic look. He was captivated by a skyscraper in Dallas that was framed by green neon and wanted it in some of the shots. But as the movie crew arrived in the city, the neons stopped working. According to the film’s producer, they worked again as the movie crew left. The front entrance of the OCP skyscraper was actually the Dallas City Hall – when ED-209 is destroyed there, Industrial Light & Magic had to add extra effects as the explosion had to be small. Not so for the explosion that destroys the gas station. This was so big that it set an building next door on fire and nearly had the movie production stopped by the Dallas Fire Department.
The glass panes in the cocaine factory, through which Robo throws Clarence, were real. The stuntmen felt it was safer than stunt glass. Using primer chord, the panes were blown out just before the stuntmen flew through them.
When the news crew interviews people on the street about the police strike, the homeless man is played by rock star Eddie Van Halen. And in the scene where Clarence visits the ruined office of Dick Jones, Jones’ secretary is played by the wife of Kirkwood Smith, who portrayed Clarence. Apparently this is why he could be so nasty to her in the scene. Kirkwood would ad-lib many of his lines, notably when in the coke factory he exclaims: “Guns! Guns! Guns!”
The scene where Emil – by then the melting man – is killed by Clarence’s car, proved both the most popular and unpopular in the preview screenings. The MPAA wanted it cut to give the film a lower age rating, but the studio refused, arguing that they cannot cut the most popular moment in the film. Meanwhile one of the movie's most violent and visceral scenes – where Murphy is killed by Boddicker's gang – was nearly never shot. At the end of filming the makers realised they did not have enough budget to shoot this critical moment and they had to go back to the studio with cap in hand.
The name of the TV show everyone watches on TV, with the line “I’d buy that for a dollar!” is called ‘Not My Problem’. It was shot prior to the main production and while Verhoeven filmed it, he admits that nobody found it funny at all (and managed to concern some actors who were tied to the movie). Instead he was just following suggestions from the producer on what would appear funny. The idea was an inane show that the movie’s characters all appear to love.
Last Updated: July 17, 2012