The ROBOCOP remake shows off first footage and is actually starting to sound decent

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Let’s be frank: We haven’t exactly been kind to Jose Padilha’s Robocop remake around here. The combination of our love of Paul Verhoeven’s original film, and early script reports that sounded as if the folks involved had no idea what the original movie was about, meant that we as much patience for it as Darryn has with old ladies at the post office.

But this weekend, Padilha and his film’s stars took to Comic-Con to show off the first footage and talk about the film, and what was shown and said actually sounded pretty good.

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The panel started with the first footage to be seen from the film. Here’s Collider’s description of what was shown:

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 came up to show Padilha on stage along with star Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy aka Robocop), Abbie Cornish (Murphy’s wife), Samuel L. Jackson (Pat Novak) and Micheal Keaton (Omnicorp CEO Raymond Sellars), who all engaged in a Q&A.

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As the footage showed off, this is not simply a copy-paste version of Verhoeven’s classic, and Padilha explained that they intentionally wanted to make this stand on it’s own.

“It’s just not a film you can do again, because it was perfect the day it was [made], so we just took the concept and made it relevant.”

That relevance takes the form of the human factor of modern wars and the use of such mechanised tools as drones and the like.

“Yes, the original RoboCop tonally was very ironic and very violent, and it was a critique of fascism, at least the way I’ve seen it.  But it was also very smart and it dealt with some concepts that maybe not everybody caught on to, but they were there.  The relationship between fascism and robotics, for instance, it’s very clear that it’s going to become way more important as time goes by.  I’ll just give you an example.  If you think about the war in Vietnam, or even the war in Iraq, the war in Vietnam ended because American soldiers were dying.  It’s the same thing that’s happening in Iraq.  We’ve got to get out of there.  Now, if you picture the same war with autonomous robots instead of soldiers, then you don’t have the political pressure at home.  And so, there is a relationship between being able to use robots for war and fascism.  The issue has already been posed by the use of drones by the way.  You open all major American newspapers nowadays and you hear opinions pro and against drones.  This issue is already in the original RoboCop, and our movie is pretty much about that.  That’s one part of it.”

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The other part relates to one of the film’s biggest changes from the original, namely that Peter Weller’s Alex Murphy is a gunned down police officer that’s been declared dead and is then brought back to life as this robot, whereas Kinnaman’s Murphy is also gunned down, but never dies, never loses his identity at all. His mind, memories and emotions are fully intact while his body is replaced from the neck down. Padilha spoke to ShockTillYouDrop about why this change was made.

“We’re in 2026.  Wars all over the world are being fought with robots.  In America, you’re not able to use robots for law enforcement because robots are not accountable.  If that’s the case, some company that’s producing robots is losing a lot of money, how do you go around the law?  You put a man in the machine because the man has a conscience.  The reason RoboCop comes into being is because it raises a philosophical issues. It’s about being a man and being a robot.  We made the choice of not taking RoboCop out of the picture.  If you look at the original, Alex Murphy is blown to pieces and then when he comes back, he’s not there.  What you don’t get is a man waking up and discovering he’s a robot.  Because we’re talking about the difference between man and robot, we needed an intact human being waking up and thinking, what am I?  What have I become?  That makes the movie amazingly intimate.”

That realization of becoming a robot is also not one that will happen in between fades to black as it did in the original, with Padilha revealing that this transformation takes up “maybe 30%” of the entire film.

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More than that though, the film will be taking a serious look at how Murphy becoming this robot influences his life with with his family as Kinnaman explains.

“…we go a little further with Alex Murphy.  We get to know him a little better than in [the original].  We spend more time with him when he’s at work as a cop, as an undercover cop, and as a family man.  He’s got a beautiful little family.  And then, that is very much the question.  Is he now a property? Is he owned by OmniCorp? He’s very vulnerable because the system needs to be changed and it needs to be plugged in.  So he is dependent on this corporation that has made him to survive, that has made him very powerful, but at the same time, very vulnerable.  There are continuous interactions.  They let him interact with his family.  He gets to reconnect with his family after he has become RoboCop.  That is of course something that’s not easy to come home and try to embrace your six-year-old son and your wife when you have just a big robotic body and you can’t really feel them.”

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Kinnaman also hinted that RoboCop has some sort of AI implanted in his brain (which perhaps takes over during battle – this wasn’t made very clear), which his human side is constantly warring with. He also indicated that OmniCorp has designed RoboCop’s visor to actually lift during social-interaction scenes, but stay down during combat, which meant he had to seriously work on his “jaw acting”.

And visible eyes are not the only humanizing aspect that’s been built into this new version of the character. As many people have noticed, while most of RoboCop’s body is machine, he has a very visible, very human right hand. Padilha revealed what the deal was with that:

“Because in a sense, the corporation has to sell the idea that this robot is still a man and can be accountable.  How do I greet you as a man?  You shake his right hand.  There’s a marketing reason for it [in the world].  There’s also a whole commentary on marketing.  When they’re building RoboCop, they’re thinking like they would sell a computer from Apple or something.  They run focus groups to find out how he looks.”

Speaking of focus groups, Padilha and Jackson also addressed whether or not the film would be R-rated like the original.

Padilha: “Well I don’t get to make the decision.  We screened the movie to the MPAA and they will tell us.  We were shooting the movie to be seen by the broadest possible audience which means PG-13.  This whole idea about RoboCop has to be R-rated because the first RoboCop was amazingly violent and was R-rated, I never really bought into that.  Dark Knight is PG-13 so you can get away with a lot these days with PG-13.”

Jackson: “It was R for its time.  It’s not an R now.”

Padilha: “Maybe now it isn’t.”

Jackson: “There are TV shows more violent than this thing now.”

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While it disappointing to know that there won’t be any acid melted bodies bursting apart, I have to admit that Padilha’s logic makes a certain kind of sense. The hyper-violence of the original was as a result of Verhoeven’s satirical take on society’s acceptance of it. And according to Collider, the satire is most definitely still there alive and kicking in this new version, it’s just that they’re directing it somewhere else, with a different message to deliver.

And that seems to be the major story here: This is not the RoboCop we know, and they never intended it to be, with seemingly quite a bit of thought going into various details of the story they want to tell. And I can certainly respect them for that.

Am I convinced it will all be a success? Nope, not yet, but I am definitely way more intrigued and looking forward to seeing it more than ever.

Dead or alive, RoboCop will be showing up in cinemas on February 7, 2014.

[Sources: Collider, ColliderSlashFilm, ShockTillYouDrop]

Last Updated: July 22, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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