From time to time Amerigo Film will host some of my firsthand stories from Hollywood. I often attend QnA sessions throughout the year and what you are about to read is the report of one of those glamour nights.
RoboCop is still relevant to this day. The themes of what it means to be human, corruption, military, government, media, capitalism; these issues still and will continue. The film this year is having its 25th anniversary and since most of the cast and crew are UCLA alumni (Peter Weller got a Ph.D. in art history at UCLA, focusing on the Italian Renaissance) it was only fair that the reunion would happen at the James Bridges Theater on campus. The event, put on with great attention to details by Melnitz Movies Director Samuel B. Prime, the FT Dean Emeritus, Bob Rosen and with the help of producer Jon Davison, who provided an original 35mm print from his private collection, filled the theatre to capacity. Almost everybody from cast and crew attended, while only 6 people were on the panel for a post screening QnA, everybody else sat in the audience, including Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Paul McCrane, Ray Wise, Angie Bolling, Del Zamora. Even the general public waiting outside to fill the remaining available seats got an early treat by the appearance of a guy in an authentic replica costume, who moved and talked like the character and gladly took pictures with everybody who asked.
But it was the live discussion in the end that got everybody excited. On stage were director Paul Verhoeven, star Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, visual effects designer Phil Tippett, screenwriters Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner. Weller started it off by giving a shout out to the crew sitting in the audience and jokingly called out on Ray Wise: “Why everybody here on stage has aged and Ray Wise managed to look exactly like 25 years ago!”
Interesting insight stories came up during the QnA like the fact that Verhoeven at first refused to direct it: “When I first read the script I thought it was terrible. But I was living in Europe where things are different and I perceived it differently. My wife convinced me to give it another reading. Barbara Boyle convinced me eventually to do it. At the beginning I didn’t really get what the movie was about. What finally did it, for me, was the scene where Robocop walks in the empty house and he has flashes, memories; at that point I understood it and decided I wanted to do it”.
The never-ending argument about the extreme violence in the movie came up but it was early dismissed by Ed Neumeier: “I was lucky meeting with Paul, we both have an esthetic for violence”. Putting on the prosthetics face took actor Weller six and half hours, a process that wasn’t always comfortable but everybody on set agreed that the final product should only be seen by the audience step by step. Verhoeven: “The idea came from Rob Bottin, you can’t show it like ED-209. It’s not gonna work, people would not relate to it. You see it through the glass first and then another bit by bit. The forehead on the unmasked Robocop is already fake. Because the back sits lower than the head, in order to do that we created a fake forehead, the head would then become taller and the mechanic part would sit in the back of Peter’s head”.
The film is loaded with social history, satire and political comments. Peter Weller: “The movie starts off with a last-bastion holdout of apartheid against black South Africa. And the film is filled with that stuff. I recently saw it again in Dallas and for the first time I got past seeing myself. I could distance myself and finally see it as a film and I was genuinely proud to be a part of it”. Nancy Allen, mostly quiet at that point was brought into the conversation to express what attracted her to the project: “I was raised in New York, my father was a cop; I looked into it in terms of partnership”. Verhoeven: “I thought they should have an affair, Murphy and Lewis, it was an European thing. Then I understood here we are in America where this is wrong. I had the screenwriter write an additional draft with the affair and then I realized it was garbage and asked them to go back to the second draft. In fact I asked Nancy to cut her hair short, be as masculine as possible”. Neumeier: “This is a testament to the greatness of Verhoeven, most directors would have just fired the screenwriters and never admitted to be wrong”.
Weller: “Ultimately, it’s a story about resurrection. I’ve been doing and directing a lot of TV lately, and on TV they want you to do all the consequences physically. In Robocop he has dreams first and then Nancy comes up to him and says ‘what’s your name? Murphy?’ And then he wanders in the empty house. On TV she would have called him Murphy first, he would have seen the house first and then he would have had flashes of memories. And I had this discussion back then with Paul, and we agreed that’s because there’s a little left of his soul in him. Stuff like that today couldn’t be said”.
A question was posed by the audience to the writers on how they felt about not being involved with the sequel. Neumeier: “We pitched an idea for a sequel where Robocop gets freezed like Han Solo in the second Star Wars and then he wakes up 25 years later but at the studio they didn’t want to go that way. I remember asking Nancy if she would have been ok with being aged 25 years and she said, I would not like that”. Verhoeven jumped in: “I didn’t want to do the sequel and I’ve been blessed enough to have the luxury to always say no to sequels no matter how much money they were offering”. A remake of Robocop is already in the works and this year will see also the release of another remake of a Verhoeven’s movie, Total Recall; neither Weller nor the director appeared too happy about it, “I think it’s depressing” quipped the director.
Robocop was made in a time when there wasn’t so much paranoia and the political correctness had yet to plague society. Michael Miner: “In today’s action movies the narration is different, post 9/11 they are all influenced by the Bush’s doctrine. While back then we could have law enforcement that turns against who governs them, today we have The Avengers which is cartoonish. Back then we could load the movie with political issues. We also had rules, John Wayne rules I call them, for Robocop: he can’t kiss the girl, can’t talk on the phone and he can’t fly. And he did all three on number 3”; a funny final comment that claims there can be only one Robocop, the original model of 1987.