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.