If there's one thing that science fiction has been warning us about for a century, it's giving robots guns. Ninety-nine years ago, playwright Karel Capek coined the term "robot" with his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). By the end of Act Three, the robots, which were created as a source of cheap labor, have armed themselves and are hunting humans to extinction. R.U.R. was set in the year 2000. Here in the 21st Century, we actually have the technology to make robots, and what's the first thing we do? Give them guns.
Paul Verhoeven knew this was not going to end well in 1987, when he made RoboCop. Like most of Verhoeven's output in the 80s and 90s, the film was dismissed as trash at the time, but is now held up as a classic. This Saturday, at the first Time Warp Drive-In of 2020, you can see both RoboCop and RoboCop 2 on the big screen.
In the future Detroit of RoboCop, corporations and government have merged. (Sound familiar?) In this clip, Omni Consumer Products (OCP) CEO Dick Jones (Ronny Cox, in a career defining role) demonstrates the latest in autonomous law enforcement technology:
The ED-209 model was made by Craig Hayes, who used a microphone to create the body, and animated by Phil Tippet, the stop motion animation legend behind the holochess sequence in Star Wars: A New Hope. Since it was clearly not ready for full deployment, OCP went with their plan B: a cyborg police officer created from the dead body of Alex Murphy (Peter Weller). Murphy's humanity is at war with his programming, and Weller's tortured performance elevates what was sold as a typical 80s, cynical action film into a real human tragedy.
Weller returned in 1990 for RoboCop 2, but Verhoeven had moved on to make Total Recall. The sequel, which is a much more conventional sci fi action film, was the final film directed by Irving Kirshner, who had started out the previous decade by directing The Empire Strikes Back.
Weller continues to work in film and TV today, appearing in Sons of Anarchy and Star Trek: Into Darkness. He took hiatus from acting to earn his PhD in Italian Art History and for a while was a notoriously difficult classics teacher at UCLA. You can see him tearing up the screen in his prime on Saturday at the Summer Drive-In. The Time Warp Drive-In RoboCop Lives! double feature starts at dusk.