The story is well known: a policeman named Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is brutally murdered, but a company called OCP, which controls the Detroit police, manages to revive him using technology that unites his remains with robotic parts, although in the process he is killed. erase all your memories.

With a script that did not inspire much security about his fate, the director Paul Verhoeven took the Robocop project and achieved a forceful film, which left its mark on the screen. But his confrontational style and the numerous frictions he had with his cast made this shoot a small battlefield.

With the help of the Terminator

The Robocop saga begins with a young aspiring screenwriter named Edward Neumeier. His work at Universal bored him tremendously and, as a form of escape, he used to fantasize about writing some science fiction story that would drink from the comics that had shaped his palate so much. Iron Man and Rom, both Marvel titles centered around men in powerful suits, were his most immediate influences in creating a plot about a robotic police officer (both comics, by the way, are sneakily seen in the film).

Around this time, Neumeier met a film student named Michael Miner, who was doodling a similar concept called SuperCop, and together they put together a script called Robocop: The Future of the Law. With satire as the guiding tone, the duo began to polish their proposal while they toured studios and producers’ offices with the intention of selling them the script. But nobody was interested in the idea, the executives thought it was too expensive a concept for a product that had a class B destination. Until everything changed.

The Terminator

The Terminator

Released in 1984, James Cameron’s Terminator became a huge hit that fueled public interest in robots. And in the offices of Orion Pictures (just the ones responsible for Terminator), they then reconsidered the Robocop script, and gave it the green light. With a modest budget earmarked for the feature film, the studio drew up a list of potential directors; one of them was Kenneth Johnson, who rejected the proposal as too “disgusting and ultra-violent”. Alex Cox was also tempted, but he preferred to bet on his project, Straight to Hell. David Cronenberg, a name on the rise in the mid-1980s, was also given the script, but ended up declining the offer. And so an almost unknown Paul Verhoeven arrived on the scene.

Verhoeven was a Hollywood newcomer with some notable titles in his native Holland, including Turkish Delight, Spetters and Soldier Orange. With the intention of continuing a career in the mecca of cinema, he managed to surprise with Flesh and Blood, a violent portrait of 16th century Europe.

Due to his way of capturing violence on screen, his was an ideal name for Robocop, but after reading the script, Verhoeven discarded it as mediocre. At the time, his wife Martine read it and found it to be a witty political satire with a stinging corporate critique. Without hesitation, she insisted to her husband that she should take over the title, and finally the director ended up accepting.

With a captain on board, the producers were relieved, but then discovered that Verhoeven’s heavy-handedness would be far from making that shoot a paradise.

The thousand and one battles of Verhoeven

While the Dutchman reviewed the material and began to devise how to approach it, he began the process of selecting the cast. The director really liked Arnold Schwarzenegger for the central role, but they had to discard that option when they discovered that they did not want a Robocop that was imposed more from the muscles, than from the robotics. That led to the arrival of Peter Weller, who ruled out a leading role in King Kong 2 to become the policeman of the title.

An actor dedicated to the Method, Weller began taking mime classes in order to work on his physical movements, in order to compose a character that he should express more through his body than his words. Regarding Anne Lewis, the companion of the protagonist, the first option was Stephanie Zimbalist, but at the last moment she resigned due to her commitment to the Remington Steele series. In this way, Nancy Allen kept her role, cutting her hair as a first measure, in order to get away from the usual sensuality that her roles gave off in other feature films. Kurtwood Smith as Boddicker, Miguel Ferrer as Bob Morton and Dick Jones as the ambitious vice president of OCP, completed the cast of the film.

With everything ready, on August 6, 1986, filming began, in which everyone discovered that the climate was very tense. Verhoeven had a fierce temperament, he was not someone very open to dialogue, his way of addressing the cast was not very diplomatic and, without too many turns, he badly rejected the ideas that his collaborators approached him. For all these reasons, the actors and actresses preferred to exchange ideas with the person in charge of the second directing unit, Monte Hellman, a living legend of cinema.

Due to his irascible personality, it didn’t take long for Verhoeven to turn against a good part of his stars and collaborators, especially Peter Weller. Actor and director were constantly arguing and seemed to disagree on nothing. To top it off, Weller was so into character that he asked to be addressed only as Murphy or Robo, which Verhoeven found absurd. A few weeks into filming, and after a back and forth that almost ended in fist bumps, Orion considered that it was better to start from scratch, and called Lance Henriksen to play Robocop.

In that hiatus, the production continued filming, with stunt coordinator Gary Combs inside the robotic suit. Eventually, Verhoeven and Weller made amends. The director confessed that in the Netherlands he directed films with a very heavy hand, but he understood that this was not the way in Hollywood. And so it was that, little by little, the filming experienced a climate of greater peace, and the project went ahead without further surprises.

As the director so feared, the making of the armor was the hardest test. The person in charge of the design was Rob Bottin, who carried out dozens of designs. As a reference for what he was looking for, Bottin studied the movements of C3PO, one of the main androids in Star Wars. Finally, the team developed the final visual idea, and made seven suits of armor, which cost almost a million dollars of the 13 that the film had budgeted.

When it came to fitting Weller into the suit for the first time, the team took almost eleven hours, a time that took them to refine design issues to make it easier to put on. The actor deeply hated that armor in which he could move much less than expected and that made him perspire so much that he lost a kilo and a half per day (eventually, some ventilation devices had to be installed on the armor). In a note, Weller recalled that suit: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I think it might be the hardest thing anyone has ever done.”

Although Orion had a lot of faith in Robocop, his success far exceeded expectations. The Dutchman put the emphasis on excessive violence (in this way seeking to underline the absurdity of the matter), without losing sight of that sharp gaze on the danger of privatized justice, and even encouraged himself to reflect on concepts as complex as the ethereal condition of the soul and where it resides. And to those ingredients, Verhoeven wrapped them with an overwhelming staging full of action.

Robocop Scene (1987)

Robocop Scene (1987)

The producers were concerned about the excessive violence of the title, and even more, they were afraid to turn against the police, due to such a brutal representation of force. But when Robocop debuted in July 1987, audiences were ecstatic about this visceral portrait of the near future, with moviegoers flocking to theaters to watch and watch the film; Verhoeven, in fact, knew that many cops enjoyed his story, especially the scene in which the protagonist reads Boddicker the rights as he throws him into several glass walls.

Despite the difficulties, and the bad relationship he had with his actors, Verhoeven was able to achieve his first great success in Hollywood, a path that led him to make other great films such as Low instincts, The avenger of the future or Invasion.

Not intending to waste any time, Orion launched a sequel to Robocop, but Verhoeven was not part of the project. Over time, a third part also arrived, some cartoon series, as well as comics, novels, video games, toys and even a remake in 2014.

With the exception of the sequel, directed by Irvin Kershner, the rest of these continuations and adaptations were not of the best quality. None of them achieved the impact of the original piece, and Verhoeven’s speech soon liquefied in the hands of other authors who, mistakenly, thought that Robocop had triumphed only by its violence. But meeting again in this 2022 with the first film puts into perspective the value of a director who, with more impetus than political correctness, was encouraged to show the ashes of a burning society, hand in hand with a protagonist who, in the loss of his humanity finds itself.

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