A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #23: Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop.


This is a good time to ex­plore the Criterion Collection’s mis­sion state­ment, since I know plen­ty of peo­ple think that hav­ing RoboCop on a list with The 400 Blows and 8½ is an abom­i­na­tion.

The Criterion Collection, a con­tin­u­ing se­ries of im­por­tant clas­sic and con­tem­po­rary films, is ded­i­cat­ed to gath­er­ing the great­est films from around the world and pub­lish­ing them in edi­tions that of­fer the high­est tech­ni­cal qual­i­ty and award-win­ning, orig­i­nal sup­ple­ments.

RoboCop is the kind of film on which an en­ter­pris­ing and lazy film stu­dent could base an en­tire the­sis. It is a post-mod­ern mas­ter­piece, in both lit-crit and cult-crit us­ages of the term. While films like The Terminator and The Matrix are al­so ex­cel­lent post-mod­ern films, they lack a cer­tain cul­tur­al ap­plic­a­bil­i­ty that is the main mo­tive force in Verhoeven’s im­age of the fu­ture. To call RoboCop a com­e­dy or satire is to do it a great dis­ser­vice. It is of­ten bark­ing­ly fun­ny, but the per­vad­ing bru­tal­i­ty, cal­lous­ness and cyn­i­cism is not present for its own sake but to flesh out an idea and warn­ing about Verhoeven’s pre­dic­tion of cul­tur­al evo­lu­tion in the late 1980s. The fact that RoboCop is more and more of­ten billed as a com­e­dy does more to strength­en the pre­science of the film than any­thing else. We laugh at RoboCop be­cause we are con­tin­u­al­ly be­com­ing closer to the fu­ture it pre­dicts. We laugh be­cause it is cor­rect, even though we don’t want to be­lieve it.

RoboCop, there­fore, be­comes the poster child of post-mod­ern man. And there is noth­ing fun­ny about him. While gay gang-mem­ber drug deal­ers blow apart Detroit with huge guns held crotch-high spurt­ing fire [No, I am not kid­ding], RoboCop is dri­ven by his prime di­rec­tives to bring jus­tice to all and sundry but for a se­lect few. He is a man im­pris­oned with­in cir­cuit­ry, who can feel his fam­i­ly al­though he can­not re­mem­ber them. With a sub­jec­tiv­i­ty so frac­tured and con­trolled by cor­po­rate and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests there is lit­tle cause for RoboCop to ac­cept the name of the dead man he is [Are all cops named Murphy?] or to ac­cept any­thing at all.

RoboCop is far too sym­pa­thet­ic a char­ac­ter to be fun­ny. Despite all of the stric­tures placed up­on him, he strives to be as au­tonomous as pos­si­ble, to live up to ob­so­lete stan­dards in a cut­ting-edge en­vi­ron­ment with ADD news­casts NUKEM board games; he ul­ti­mate­ly tri­umphs be­cause his pris­on is al­so his weapon. So if that isn’t rea­son enough to in­clude RoboCop in the Criterion list, noth­ing I can say will change your mind.

I can’t end this re­view with­out men­tion­ing the stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion debt that the film owes to Ray Harryhausen. I love that man, and were it not for him, the ED-209 and the 6000 SUX com­mer­cial, in­te­gral to the cul­tur­al aro­ma of the film, would have not been near­ly as ef­fec­tive.


Criterion Essay by Carrie Rickey
• YouTube clip of RoboCop’s in­tro­duc­tion, one of cinema’s great re­veals.
The RoboCop Archive
The Criterion Contraption’s re­view.

Speak your piece