Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Robocop 3 (1993)

Title: Robocop 3 (1993)

Director: Fred Dekker

Writers: Frank Miller & Fred Dekker

Cast: Robert Burke, Nancy Allen


So every now and again a franchise becomes mega successful, and takes over the world. It churns out a sequel or two and then dies when one of said sequels becomes what I like to call ‘The Franchise Killer’. It happened with Spiderman 3 (2007), it happened with Batman and Robin (1997) and it happened with Terminator Salvation (2009). The only solution that studios are left with is to reboot the entire series; start from scratch, make believe the previous films never happened. This is exactly what happened to the Robocop franchise. Paul Verhoven’s Robocop was a huge hit that instantly turned the robotic cop into a pop cultural icon. The sequel, Robocop 2 (1990) got a lot of heat because it was such a violent film, it had a 12 year old kid running a drug cartel, wielding machine guns and cursing like a sailor. Plus, the body count was even higher then that of the first movie! But it was filled with action and that dark sense of humor that the first film was so known for, it wasn’t a disappointing Robo-sequel in my book. Then came the third film, The Franchise Killer. What went wrong here?

Well, a couple of things went wrong here. Number one, the studio had decided to turn Robocop into a series of films for kids. But was Robocop a series of films made for kids? No, far from it; if you remember correctly, since inception Robocop was a violent series of films. I just re-watched the first film, and that’s a violent, gory piece. I mean, Murphy gets his hand blown clean off! He gets blown away by shotguns! He gets a bullet in the head! And we get front row tickets to the whole thing, we got to see it all. Hell, a man gets toxic waste spilled on him and melts into a bloody pulp! For Christ sake, we see Robert Morton  -Robocop’s creator- hanging out with two whores as he sniffs cocaine from their bare breasts! Point is, the first Robocop was not a film intended for children. Neither was the second film, that one was centered around drug addiction. Ever stopped to count how many people died on Robocop 2? A lot that’s how many!  So why turn the third film in the series into a vehicle to sell video games and action figures? There was  money to be made and the studio knew it that’s why. So sad they decided to turn Robocop into a nanny. How was this PG-13 version of Robocop when compared to the previous two films? For starters, the body count was low, there’s no nudity, no blood, no gore, no foul language. Robocop gets a sidekick, and she’s a little girl who is a computer whiz. This is what Robocop was reduced to.

Robocop 2 was written by Frank Miller, the renowned comic book artist behind Sin City and 300. Writing Robocop 2 was a bad experience for him because the script he wrote and the film we ended up seeing where two different beasts all together. So different were they, that in 2003 Frank Miller released a comic book called Frank Miller’s Robocop 2 which stuck close the original script for the film. Miller’s script was so convoluted that the studio deemed it “un-filmable” and so they brought in a team of writers to rework it. Robocop 2 was a sour experience for Frank Miller, but, like a resilient cockroach, Miller came back anyways to write part 3, thinking he could teach Hollywood a thing or two. Instead Hollywood taught him something. In his own words: “Don’t be the writer. The directors got the power. The screenplay is a fire hydrant and there’s a row of dogs around the block waiting for it” So according to Miller, his screenplays got pissed on by Hollywood. Fred Dekker was the guy who pissed on Millers script, Dekker took Miller’s script and reworked it under studio orders to make it more kid friendly. So if we have to point a finger at someone, it’s the studio who wanted to turn Robocop into a Saturday morning cartoon. Dekker was just playing ball, excited to be playing with the Robocop franchise and willing to do anything he could to make the film.

In a scene during Robocop 2, when they are injecting Robocop with all these useless new directives one of the directives read: “Directive 262: Avoid Orion Meetings”, funny they should put that there because Orion Pictures was going bankrupt around this time! So you can add that to the list of things that went wrong during Robocop’s 3 production; Orion Pictures, the studio that financed and distributed the film was going bankrupt. As a result many films where put on hold while the studios gargantuan debt was being resolved. Reportedly, the debt had risen to the vicinity of 690 million dollars! This was a studio in trouble, no doubts about that! And it was sad too, Orion Pictures had produced so many Oscar winning films like Silence of the Lambs (1991), Platoon (1986) and Dances with Wolves (1990). They were behind fun films like the Bill and Ted movies, The Terminator (1984) and even Return of the Living Dead (1985)! So, Robocop 3 was made during the last days of Orion. Robocop 3 had been finished in 1991, but ended up being released a couple of years later, in 1993, which of course led to speculation about the studios integrity. When a studio holds a film back like that, it’s because of something, and usually it aint good. Movie buffs such as myself can smell a troubled production from miles away! Situations like this can put a dark cloud over a film, making its target audience suspicious about the films quality. 

Fred Dekker on the set for Robocop 3 (1993)
Finally, the saddest part of the whole Robocop 3 ordeal is that it was made by a director whose work I’ve enjoyed very much. The man is Fred Dekker. Strangest part about the whole thing is that Dekker says that working on Robocop 3 was “the most enjoyable movie making experience I’ve had, and for me, the most accomplished work I’ve done as a director” That comment baffles the mind, considering he is the guy behind such great sci-fi horror classics as Monster Squad (1987) and Night of the Creeps (1986), two far better pictures in my opinion, but it’s what the man thinks, you gotta respect that. I guess Dekker is actually referring to working with a bigger budget and having all the equipment necessary to make a film; this was his biggest film ever and he was excited to be working with all these professionals. Frank Miller, the comic book god and Rob Bottin the make up effects god, these are all great industry professionals respected in their fields, hey, I’d be excited to be working with them too. For Robocop 3, Dekker was working with a budget of 23.5 million dollars, of course he was enjoying himself! All his previous films were made under the 12 million dollar mark. On the positive side of things, Dekker does accept the blame for the film not working and recognizes the mistakes he made. He says part of the films failure was that it was a story about Robocop siding with the poor guys (a very left wing message) at a time when the country was mostly right wing. He also admits to having shot himself in the foot by following studios order to make the film more kid friendly. Gone were the violence and cynicism that made the first two films successful. Dekker also wishes he’d put more action in it, I agree right there too, the action falls flat on this one.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, the reasons why Robocop 3 failed to lift off at the box office. I personally didn’t mind that this was a story about Robocop siding with the poor and the needy, because you know, this world is filled with evil corporations wanting to kick the poor out of their homes so they can make their expensive condos that only the rich can live in; spreading their Ivory towers around the world, and that sucks in my book. There should be space for all of us in this world, “this could be heaven for everyone”, but it isn’t because of corporations like Robocop’s Omni Consumer Products. Yeah, it’s a tired story, but apparently it keeps happening in the world because films with these themes do not stop getting made. I personally enjoyed that angle of the story. The human characters had heart to them, unfortunately, though Robocop was siding with them, he had no emotion or heart himself. On this film Robocop was more robotic than ever! I mean, didn’t Robocop turn a bit more human in previous films? He’s supposed to be thinking on his own now! He’s supposed to be more Murphy than Robo, but he isn’t. On this third film he speaks in a colder fashion, with a whole lot less emotion, he’s not Murphy and that was one of the biggest problems for me with the film. And when Robocop flies through the air, it just looks so cheesy, so fake. All things considered, at the end of the day I can’t bring myself to completely hate this film because it’s Robocop and I’ve always loved the character. Let’s hope this new reboot that is on the horizon does the character some justice! Let’s hope the series doesn’t loose that cynicism, that violence and that edginess that the previous films had. But I digress, in all honesty this new Robocop film will probably be PG-13. The more things change, the more they stay the same.  
Robo Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5


Jack Thursby said...

Ironically, this was the first Robocop film I ever watched. I actually got into the series as a kid by watching the live action TV show!

I feel sorry for Fred Dekker. Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps were both excellent but this really killed his career. He didn't direct anything for years after this.

In fairness it is a pretty weak film. Robert Burke is a great actor (check out Dust Devil) but he doesn't suit Robocop. The problem is that Robocop gets beat up and spends most of the movie broken.

I know Frank Miller gets credited as the scripting this but I'm never sure how involved he was. I always got the sense he wrote the script for the first sequel about OCP creating a 2nd Robocop and hiring Rehab officers to replace the police. And they basically took his ideas and rewrote 2 movies out of it (also tossing in the Nuke drug plot).

Franco Macabro said...

I saw a couple of episodes of the television show way back in 1994, when it was airing.

Robocop 3 definetly killed Dekker's directorial career, he hasn't made a film since then. This is a sad turn of events as far as I'm concerned, the guy really understood the horror and sci-fi genre. Robocop 3 was just a misstep, and taken because of studio preassure to make the film "kid friendly".

Yeah, saw Burke in Dust Devil, a very strange and slow paced film, but very artful, as ar most Richard Stanley films. Yet another director that doesn't get to make more films. Burke did a fairly decent job at playing Robocop, but he needed to infuse the character with more of Robocop's human side, more Murphy.

Miller wrote the script, Dekker re-wrote it to make it more childish.

As for Robocop 2, theres a comic book called "Frank Miller's Robocop" that is based on Miller's original screenplay for the film, you might want to check it out to see what Miller really wanted for that film. It's an interesting comic book, it's 9 issues long, worth picking up. Its from Avatar press if I'm not mistaken.

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, I picked up a copy of the Frank Miller Robocop comic book a while back.

I really enjoyed reading it. Even though it wasn't Miller's artwork (except the covers) I loved the super detailed look. The story I felt was still a little flawed but infinitely better than what turned out in the movie. No Kane, no Nuke, no Hob. Lewis was more of a no-nonsense cop like the original movie.

Going to do a dual review of the comic and movie soon.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I also loved that comic, like you said, the artist who did it Juan Jose Ryp, did a good job in my book, the artwork was loaded with details. I only read about the first few issues, but its nine issues long, and if the artwork held up it's quality all the way through to the last issue, then it was definetly worth it.

Plus, it's what Frank Miller had in his head when he wrote Robocop 2, it's worth it just to see what he had originally created. Interesting, no nuke...no Kane??? Damn, thats a really different story, I need to get the rest of the issues and finish this thing!

A comparison between the books and the movie is a brilliant idea, I'll probably do my take on them too once I finish reading the whole thing. Looking forward to that article!

Richy Lacey said...

I think RoboCop 3's underrated.
It isn't a patch on the original, but I find it a lot better than 2.
RoboCop 2 was an unlikeable, stupid film where they couldn't even get the RoboCop suit right (it's clearly blue plastic!)

RoboCop 3 is dumbed down, but it has a campy charm to it, not unlike Dekker's other films!

Rip Torn is great and the Japanese corporation plot is interesting given what was going on at the time.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree with you, it's not completely terrible, I just don't like certain elements in it and I didn't like how they toned things down cause I liked the "R" rated violence from the first two films, I liked that those first two films were violent, harsh and cynical. Robocop 3 feels to "soft" in comparison.

I personally love Robocop 2 a whole lot, it's got lots of action, robot fights, I mean, the entire last half is this huge scene with two robots fighting and destroying the city....gotta love that. The stop motion on that film is amazing stuff!

Robocop 3 is Fred Dekker's weakest film in my book, but it's still watchable.

Thanks for commenting!


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