The much-ballyhooed new RoboCop movie starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Samuel Davis, just opened to mixed reviews, but will very likely have vigorous box office. But some critics and moviegoers feel the film is just Hollywood’s latest version of reeling and recycling with RoboCop. They say it is yet another example of an unimaginative and pasteurized endeavor disguised as art.
It’s been 27 years since the original RoboCop, directed by Paul Verhoven, and starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen and Ronny Cox hit screens and became a cult classic. The story is about a Detroit that has become a godforsaken crime haven. Enter a lethally wounded policeman who comes back as an unstoppable cyborg to wreak havoc on criminals. It grossed $53 million in 1987 dollars. It was lauded by many for its wit, satire and political commentary.
The L A Times calls the new version a “lumbering remake.” Over at USA Today, film critic Claudia Puig said the film contained a “bland story, murky cinematography and frenetic special effects.”
Other critics were more positive. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times commented that the film was, “a nicely cast respectable remake.” The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr opined that the remake was “content to be of its time,” and “the film doesn’t embarrass itself or dishonor its predecessor.”
At the Washington Post, critic Ann Hornaday writes, “The RoboCop of today manages to meet expectations without exceeding them,” but, “for all its playfulness, the new RoboCop can’t help but lack the novelty of the original’s jolting mixture of dumb smart irony and visceral pulp.”
Mick LaSalle, critic for the San Francisco Chronicle hailed the film noting, “it’s not a canned remake of the 1987 action film. It’s a reimagining that responds to everything that has changed in American life over the past 27 years, addressing new threats and exploiting new anxieties. It’s not a somber movie, but it’s dead serious in its intent, using fantasy to present audiences with a cautionary glimpse of where modern life may be heading.”
The arrival of Robocop once again begs the question. Why is Hollywood obsessed with making so many reboots and remakes? Is it just more reeling and recycling with RoboCop the latest installment.
Many Tinseltown observers feel that major Hollywood studios lack the creativity to make mostly original movies. The rap against the studio ‘suits’ is that they are mostly moneymen and have no real life experience such as the maverick moguls and directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Critics further say that it’s less risky to green light a tried and true story with characters that worked once in the past.
While remakes sometimes do bomb at the box office, others do well both financially and critically. In the past decade remakes have been made of such films as Total Recall, Ocean’s Eleven, True Grit, Straw Dogs, The Thing, King Kong, Psycho, 3:10 To Yuma, The Manchurian Candidate, Cape Fear, Godzilla, and Frankenstein. Reboot advocates say remaking or reimagining a movie is well within Hollywood’s prerogative.
Remake advocates also indicate that younger audiences are often unfamiliar with an original film and its characters. At the same time, filmmaking technology has made such advances in special effects that directors can now tell a story so much more effectively these days with the help of state-of- the-art computer generated imagery (CGI). And in the case of a foreign movie original, chances are that few Americans have seen the first film while many U.S. audiences still do not prefer to watch a film with subtitles. A case in point is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Three Swedish films were made several years ago that were wildly successful in Europe. That did not stop Sony from making an English language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.
U.S. film audiences can expect more of the same in the coming years as reports from entertainment trade papers say the following movies are also in the works to be rebooted: Point Break, Poltergeist, Jumanji, Gremlins, Short Circuit, and Weird Science.
There’s also talk that such other cult classics as Scarface, Ben-Hur and The Wild Bunch are in the planning states for remakes. For some there will be wild anticipation. For others, however, it will be more of the same, reeling and recycling with RoboCop.
By Jim McCullaugh