Viking Night: Robocop
By Bruce Hall
March 2, 2011
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
It’s ironic that a movie about a mechanical police officer was the first one I ever sneaked into. In fact, it wasn’t even that simple. Since a friend and I were too young to get into a rated R film not only did we sneak in to see Robocop, but we hid in the theater until the next showing and watched it again. I’m not trying to glorify breaking the law; I’m just waxing nostalgic about a film that made a significant impact on me as a child. Maybe because at that age the primary appeal of Robocop was the violence and the fact that it was, well, about Robocop. Come on, it’s a movie about a crime fighting cyborg with a big gun and a cool voice. What more do you need? But with the benefit of years you don’t always tend to appreciate a film for the same reasons you did the first time you saw it, and sometimes you lose the ability to appreciate it at all. It turns out that for me, Robocop is still equal parts entertaining and disturbing, but even more interesting than before. The film’s biting cultural satire resonates more now than it did then; what seemed like an over the top depiction of the future looks, in some ways, pretty quaint today.
It’s said that Peter Weller spent his time between takes in character, refusing to respond to any name but "Robo." This level of dedication to a movie about a crime fighting robot might seem unnecessary. But had everyone involved not taken it so seriously, the material wouldn’t have worked as anything other than excruciating B movie camp. As a result, the first 30 minutes of Robocop are among the smoothest of any film you’ll ever see. You’re whisked into a bleak, funhouse version of the future. You’re shown how things work and why. You’re introduced to the main characters and to the origin of everyone’s favorite titanium traffic cop. It’s a near perfect arc that richly sets the pace and tone of the story and positions the film for what should be an easy home run, but ends up being more like a sweet double play.