Making the Grades
It is no surprise Robocop is a franchise ripe for a reboot. The 1987 release spawned a couple of sequels, live action and animated TV series, video games, comic books and even kids toys (yes, we’ve been marketing R-rated violence to children for a very long time). And all this from a movie that only cost $13 million to make—a mediocre sum even by late 1980s standards.
The new Robocop brings officer Alex Murphy (now played by Joel Kinnaman) back to the streets of Detroit to retell the original story of how a man becomes a crime fighting cyborg. After sustaining a targeted bomb attack from a criminal, Alex is fighting for his life with what little body he has left. The timing, however, couldn’t be better for Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), owner of OmniCorp.
Sellars’ has been executing a plan to sell robots around the world and eliminate crime. His success can be seen in the number of these monstrous minions walking the streets of virtually every country. (This point is further demonstrated in a vivid scenario involving suicide bombers and children in the Middle East). Yet ironically, the U.S. entity hasn’t managed to sell to its own. The political climate in America still favors a human trigger finger, as opposed to a mechanical one that makes life and death judgments based on mathematical algorithms.
However Mr. Sellars has his fare share of supporters at home. One of the most vocal is conservative talk show host Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) who acts as both foil to the opposition and narrator of the story. Riding the fine line between playing an aggressive talk show host and spoofing America’s litany of right-wing pundits, Jackson’s character fawns over the prospects of a perfectly safe society patrolled by emotionless droids incapable of falling prey to situation bias. His popular commentary adds fuel to a rising public acceptance of robocops and OmniCorp’s growing profit potential. All OmniCorp needs to do is find a poster boy for its cause—and that’s where the near-dead Alex Murphy comes into the marketing strategy.
A first-rate policeman, caring husband and father, Alex is the perfect specimen for Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), the head of robotic development at OmniCorp. Dr. Norton has been doing “good” in the world using the company’s know-how to make high tech prosthetics. But what if he could take Alex’s mind and torso and integrate him into the body of a robot? After convincing Alex’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) that this is the only way she’ll be able to see her husband survive, she gives the go ahead. Soon Alex has a new body of whining hydraulics covered in a near-bulletproof skin. But will this infallible protector, with perfect logic and a human soul, manage to convince Congress to repeal an act that prohibits the use of robots to fight crime on the streets of America?
On premise alone Robocop makes for an engaging couple of hours. Considering governments’ embrace of drones and other autonomous technology in the military theater, the concept is even less farfetched than it was three decades ago. Undoubtedly the idea will set the stage for an interesting discussion afterward.
Sadly this conversation will occur only after you’ve seen more flying bullets than there are popcorn kernels at the concession stand. Scene after scene has robots and humans battling one another with countless deaths, including onscreen shootings with blood effects. However, compared to the 1987 version (which was rated R in the U.S. at that time) the gore and carnage aren’t nearly as explicit. You will also hear a single sexual expletive, along with a moderate amount of other cussing and scatological slang. Sexual content is contained to a moment shared by a married couple that is cut short when it is interrupted.
Depending on your concerns about violence, Robocop may pass muster for the oldest of teens. If they do work their way through the action, make sure you take the opportunity to discuss the deeper ethical situations this movie presents.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Robocop (2014).
This movie poses some interesting ethical considerations in the use of robots for protection. What do you think is more effective—A machine that acts without feelings or emotion or a human that can assess more complex scenarios? Are machines/computers always perfect? If not, where might their imperfections come from?
Do you feel differently about the use of robots in military applications in other countries than in your own? Why might there be a difference of opinion? What are the benefits to our society in using robots elsewhere? What are the benefits of using them to patrol our own neighborhoods?
How close are we to seeing Robocops on our streets? Check out this company that has been marketing robots to the military for some time: http://www.irobot.com/us/learn/defense.aspx
Now take a look at Boston Dynamics, another developer with military connections, and one of many robotics companies recently purchased by Google. (Remember, this is what we are allowed to know about: http://www.bostondynamics.com )