Thursday, December 9, 2010

RoboCop Character (In)Consistency

Paul Verhoeven: This guy is completely robotic and starts to realize that there was something else. (...) In the second act, Robo starts to remember. That was for me the emotional level and the reason I wanted to do the picture (Cinefantastique Dec. 1987)

Peter Weller: The heart of all this is a morality tale. It’s like Beauty and the Beast, or the Tin Man of The Wizard of Oz. It’s a great little jewel of a human story

RoboCop always had Alex Murphy's signature characteristics and personality, just didn't have his memories. Murphy's personality started to come through in a rapid pace, resurfacing as soon as on the first day of his duty. The first sign appeared even before he went on his first patrol when he was in the shooting gallery. The gun spinning trick

Very soon after there was another one - his inability to properly enter the exit way from the Police parking

Robocop's way of talking is very official at first ("Thank you for your cooperation. Goodnight", "Madam, you have suffered an emotional shock. I will notify a rape crisis center") but that didn't last long. Murphy's witty personality and one liners started to re-emerge the very same night starting with "Your move creep" after shooting a guy between the legs and that night was the last time we've heard him talking in a very official manner.
The turning point was his "dream", in which he got a first snippet of his memory back and when he started investigating his identity and origins, that's when Murphy's personality and signature characteristics fully emerged. He wasn't using official by-the-books speech anymore, he was using his one liners. "Dead or Alive, you're coming with me". By that point we've already seen RoboCop scared and in pain while experiencing his nightmare.

He was a MAN, only with significant memory loss and enclosed in a metallic body. He had Murphy's personality and acted like human all the time, getting angry, shocked, confused, sad and experiencing pain. He even sleeps like a man, with head down and his mouth open.

It's even more evident when he's visiting his home, regaining small pieces of his memory. Even with the helmet on, we see plenty of emotions in him

Peter Weller: Lost guy trying to find who he was. (...) I simply approached it as a man who had had amnesia (AMC Special)

Nancy Allen: [Peter Weller] brought a soul and a heartbeat to that character. You don't even see his eyes, when you're even looking at him it's just this little visor. You can feel the character through all of that. (AMC Special)

Soon after we see even more of his character, when he grabs a guy in a very painful way - this time, by the hair. "Let's talk"

He also doesn't take crap from anyone and throws the suspect against obstacles, leaving his face badly damaged and cut.

Another cool characteristic of Robocop are his fancy moves during the shootout which make the action that much more engaging and interesting

He is also visibly mad when he responds to Jones' talk with "I will!". We see Robocop in pain many times, gritting his teeth and twisting when he's fighting the painful program in Jones' office,

or when he's impaled by Clarence,

or when he's shot by ED 209. We also see him scared, surprised and angry, like when Lewis tells him who he is, or when he sees Lewis after getting chased by the SWAT team,

or when he sees his own photo with the "Deceased" written across it and there's many more examples. We see him sad and depressed. We also see him visibly making a physical effort to lift heavy things, like when he's taking the debris off of himself after killing Clarence,


and he can even be seen making some effort while squeezing Boddicker's throat

We also see him visibly exhausted and hurting

Again, he's a man, just in a cyborg body. When he's pissed, he's pissed and when he's sad, he's sad. When Lewis got shot in RoboCop, he shouted "Lewis!!"on the top of his lungs, with both fear and concern in his voice.

Nancy Allen: That character was not a cartoon, it was a real life human being and [Peter Weller] really made sure that that was not lost (AMC Special)

What changed at the end of the movie is that he got small snippets of his memory back and realized what he is and who he was. There really wasn't any drastic shift in his personality, he was just grieving because of what he had found out. Once the final showdown starts, he's the tough character again with his witty personality. Even though he could just shoot them, he wanted to screw around with Clarence's gang first. First he tosses a piece of debris to startle them, then he says "Looking for me?!" and starts taking them down, starting with Joe

"Murphy had a wife and son what happened to them"
"I can feel them but I cant remember them"
Murphy never fully comes back. He only has flashes of his memory, but he does feel connection to his family and misses them. He does however, have Murphy's signature characteristics and personality.

Murphy really dies, totally flatlines. While it may be true that some of Murphy's memories and personality may resurface through the cyborg's computer programming, Robocop does not restore Murphy's life, nor does it provide him with enough of a semblence of human for him to have any hope of rejoining his wife and son - Cinefantastique ,1987

He also made sure that his most wanted enemy knew that he was going to get shot to death: "I'm not arresting you anymore" he says, after which he slowly starts to aim the gun at his future kill

After making sure that Lewis was safe he threw a joke "They'll fix you. They fix everything". That's all Murphy, since we also get to know that outside of  his witty tough character and one liners, he was also a jokster "Why won't you drive"?


Bottin, a comic book fan, decided to give Robocop the kind of heroic physique seen in Marvel comics superheroes. "It's meant to look very speedy and aerodynamic. All the lines are measured to go on a slant - forward, forward, forward! All the lines were geometric, and compliment every shape on the body from all angles. When Verhoeven came on the project he requested numerous design changes, additions to the suit which looked more like machine than man-like. I've never done so many conceptional drawings for a director in my entire life - changing it, and changing it, and changing it!" Bottin sculpted numerous variations to determine the practicality of Verhoeven's suggestions only to end up with the design close to his original heroic concept. "Robocop looks the way he does because that's the way a man's body works! Although we went through fifty different variations, developing his character, everything came back to man-like. It's definitely a guy in the suit, which doesn't belittle it any" - Cinefantastique 1987


Irvin Kershner: I wanted the characters to go further than they went the first time. I was working towards an emotional base that would be true to Robo one year later. His synapses are beginning to join up, memory has returned, and he has to deal with the fact that he's a man in an iron suit. He's a man in a no-exit situation (Cinefantastique, 1990)

In the sequel, we get to see Robocop who accepted his fate and carried on after a significant time has passed (the strike we see in the movie is not the continuation of the same one from the first movie. It is said that the police has returned to the picket line, and the Old Man says "about a year ago we gave this city Robocop"). We also get to see the conclusion of his internal struggle when he cuts the ties with his family for their own good, realizing that by not letting go he's only hurting them.

Peter Weller: It's a continuation of a dillema of a guy who's doomed to science. He's reaching out for ways to return to who he was. Except now he's reaching out - he's not just finding out, he's trying to find a way back
[I decided to do the sequel because] I just didn't feel complete about the character.I thought there was something else to say with it (Cinefantastique, 1990)

Murphy-Robocop returns, and so do his signature characteristics like the gun spinning

grabbing people in a painful way (this time it's by the nose)

and throwing his suspect against obstacles, leaving his face broken and bleeding after he's done with him

And of course, the witty one liners return ("You are a rotten cop!", "As good as money can buy" , "Think it over creep" or "Have a seat" before smashing the guy against the arcade game)
We also get to see his sadness. We see him twice on a verge of crying, with a shaky voice, when he's responding to Holzgang's mental bashing with teary eyes and when he's comforting Hob,

And we also get to see his anger ("I ..will ...kill... you!") and ruthless stubbornness against criminals

And just like before, he makes a visible effort to move something heavy, like when pulling RoboCain off the rooftop and he's reacting to pain like a human being, gritting teeth and screaming, for example when he's tortured in the factory.

Fancy moves during the shootout make their return as well

Just as before, Murphy makes sure that his most wanted enemy knows that he's going to get shot to death: "You Want Me?- Dead or Alive. -Then one of us must die. -Dead then", after which he slowly aims at his future kill

And lastly, we get to see the last of Murphy's personality traits, which is his humor: "Patience Lewis, we're only human"

Peter Weller made sure that the character is consistent: There are a lot of guidelines to the character. Sometimes Frank [Miller] would have to alter his stuff because he wasn't used to writing the character.(...) So a lot of those things, when I would read them, I'd say 'Frank, this is out of the character'. Instinctively, I knew what was right (Cinefantastique, 1990)

Irvin Kershner, 1990: I wanted to extend the character, I wanted him to make choices, I wanted him to get back free will (Making Of).
Once free [of his programming] he doesn't walk away from the evil around him, but stays to risk his life to destroy Robo 2. By doing his duty he is giving purpose to his existence (LA Times).

Peter Weller: He's reprogrammed and he becomes almost comical. He becomes kind of sadly impotent. And then he gets his life back and he becomes pretty brutal (Starlog, 1990) 

Jon Davison (producer, RoboCop, RoboCop 2): One theme of the first picture that's also in the second is Robo's obsession with his human identity (Starlog, 1990)

Peter Weller: You know, Frank Miller, a great writer, and Irv Kirshner, but, I read the second one and I knew it didn't have a third act. It has a great plot, but it never had a third act, whereas the first one is a great classic because the third act is the thing that makes all great third acts of all great movies, and maybe that's what makes this movie alive to this day (DIFF 2012)


Jon Davison: The new suit looks a lot better. It's got a different paint scheme and it looks like a brand new car (Starlog, 1990)

Dennis Pawlik (Rob Bottin team): Jon Davison and Rob talked about a lot of stuff. They made a list of things they would like to try out, and they came up with the changes through trial and error. It looks better now. The basic design is the same. We had the basic inner suit from the abdomen up. It was all a rubber inner suit before. Now, he has the beauty suit, which is a hard suit with movable pieces on the abdomen. We're able to polish it and do a nice shine.
(Starlog, 1990)

Rob Bottin: I wanted him to look like a damned show car. In the first one we couldn't, because we didn't have time to sand him and get all that right. (Fangoria, 1990)
Under street lights the costume is a vivid, unusual blue. When Weller stepped into the more balanced glow of the film lights, the suit miraculously turned a steely blue-gray - Starlog, 1990


Fred Dekker: "I loved the first picture, and I thought this was a character who was ripe for exploration. I wanted to pay homage to Verhoeven and get back to the roots of what the character was all about, RoboCop is the ultimate example of the endless conflict of man versus machine, with the added twist that they are both in the same guy." (1993)

The above quote is extremely confusing since Dekker did the exact opposite. RoboCop 3 introduces major changes. In this movie, all humanity is taken out of the character - throughout the entire movie, there's not one trace of emotions or humanity on his part. His voice is so deep that he sounds angry all the time, but he's not, it's just the way he talks and how his robotic low and loud voice sounds like. He's just raising his voice sometimes and that is all personality we get, but he never even changes tone and sounds like the text-to-speech reader. He doesn't react at all when getting hurt. He feels no pain. When he gets his fingers and then armed chopped off, he just looks at it , and has the same expression on his face that doesn't change once in the entire movie - a blank expression

Same goes when he gets hit in the grenade, which seems to damage him more than anything else before - zero emotions or expressions. Just a stoic "cover me"

He acts like he's constantly on Valium. Again, remember in RoboCop when he kills Clarence and screams after the hurt Lewis? "Lewis!!" and in RoboCop 3 he never does anything, he just looks at her and then he still shows no emotions at all.

Even when she's shaking and sobbing and saying that she's scared, he still stand there expressionless like a statue

And not to mention his Robot talk - "a vehicle is approaching", "tracking", "Scanning". And he actually responds to a little 9 year old girl's question "How are you feeling" with "My efficiency rate is 93%". It seems like he is unable to have any humane conversations. He's not even looking at her and stares blankly into space like a robot

There is NO gun spinning
There is NO grabbing and hurting the suspects, or throwing them against something
There is NO witty humor or one liners, replaced with lines like "Maybe you have a hearing problem"
There is NO humor on his part - he actually doesn't even recognize jokes, and responds to them literally; Marie (joking): "It looks like you've become friends with a Mac Truck", Robocop: "I don't have many...friends"
There is NO humanity, NO Murphy, NO pain and NO personality on his part. When he gets his arm cut off, he even says "Detroit Police, identify yourself (...) You under arrest for destroying Police property". Robocop is back with his official robotic talk. There's plenty more like "Good evening Sgt. Reed. Please direct me to the Rehab staging area. Thank you."
There is NO fancy choreography either. When he enters the Rehab station he only...burns the walls while only walking in a straight line. He never even hurts his suspect but uses force of the explosion to put him down and grabs him by his clothes.

Even when he pushes heavy things, like when folding the elevator door, he shows no physical effort and - as usual - no expression on his face

He also is unresponsive plenty of times. He doesn't respond to  Lewis and Nikko when they're talking to him. He also seems disconnected from the world sometimes. When Marie and Fleck are talking about wiping out his humanity, he just stares blankly into space and seems sleepy. Also his responses sound like the reprogrammed Robocop from the previous movie: "I'm fine Anne, thank you for asking"
Even without the helmet he displays no visible emotions when remembering his death or that Nikko's parents have been killed

This is how we see Robocop and all of his emotions throughout the entire movie:

Ed Neumeier (co-writer Robocop): I think the more weaponry you gave Robocop the worse it got, and the less interesting he was. I think. If you look at the Leone westerns later on it's all about the decision of a gun, and I think that there's something to be said about with Robocop. I think that he kind of is this notion of, when he shows up, and the gun comes out, it's the same sequence, he's a gun slinger, and he's here to clean up the town
Robocop is a gun fighter, so Robocop should not have a machinegun arm, and Robocop should not be in a jetpack, I mean, this is boy stuff, sorry. But I thought about this things probably too much for my own good as a middle age man, but no, the jet pack ruins him (via RobocopArchive 2013)

Nancy Allen: It was kind of half baked in my opinion, but I tried to do the best that I could (...) They tried to make this mainstream, you know, PG-13, and that was not the sensibility, you know, I mean Robocop was a really gritty, political, reverend stark piece, and the minute you start turning it into a kind of a fairy tale it just doesn't work (via robocoparchive 2013)

Jon Davison (RoboCop & RoboCop 2 producer): I didn't want to do the picture without Weller, which was something suggested by the studio - "the hell with it, it's like the Mummy, just put anybody under the bandages.". I thought that was probably not a good idea (...) I think some of Weller's best performing is done under that rubber suit. He really has it down. (...) You can tell when Boris Karloff was playing the Mummy and when Tom Tyler was doing it. (Cinefantastique, 1990)


Rob Bottin: We had pretty much kept everything intact in terms of materials and the suits. We were told at the end of the second picture that there would probably be a third; so this was sort of a known subject matter, And I had no reticence about working on yet another sequel-we created this character, so it would be kind of silly to say no, I'm proud of the character: and I'm proud of the fact that my company built it.(1993)

The loss of Weller presented the budget-conscious filmmakers with the problem of finding a new actor who could step into Weller's shoes- both figuratively and literally. "They wanted to be able to save money by using the old suits from the second picture," Bottin recalled, "So they were on the hunt for an actor who would fit into the suit we had -it was the 'Cinderella Syndrome.' They didn't have the money to create a whole new body cast and a whole new sculpture just to basically get what they had before, Also, they didn't want to have to change the look of the character at all, So they went searching for Cinderella. We gave them Peter Weller's measurements -ridiculously precise measurements, like from wrist to elbow, elbow to shoulder joint, center of rib cage to the outside of rib cage, et cetera, They found two actors they liked, and the one that fit into the suit the best was Robert Burke. But it wasn't as if he was cast merely because he fit the suit; Robert had had mime training, so he was able to do really good robotic moves," Even with the close size match, the suit still had to be tailored to Burke's physique, "The upper chest didn't fit him exactly, Also, Robert's neck was much longer than Weller's, and his head was a different shape, So we did have to cast some new parts, cut them, make them wider or longer, shorten them or refit them by remolding. But, all in all, Robert fit into the suit very well".
In addition to modifying the suit to better fit the new actor, Bottin was required to refurbish the existing suits which had been heavily damaged by the rigors of shooting the previous film. "We would have preferred to make all new suits, just to make it more comfortable for the actor. Anytime you have to patch up holes or fix things up, it adds to the weight of the thing. A hand-sized bit of bondo here and there, a little wire and a little metal reinforcement -it all adds up, By the time you distribute all the little fix-ups over the suit, it can add ten to fifteen pounds to the weight -and that's a problem when people are already complaining that the suit is too heavy. But much to Robert's credit, he pretty much made it to the end of the film before he started complaining about how heavy the suit was" (1993 via RobocopArchive)


  1. Fantastic article

  2. I guess Dekker thought that Robocop as a toy is more appealing to kids

  3. "There is NO humanity, NO Murphy, NO pain and NO personality on his part. When he gets his arm cut off, he even says "Detroit Police, identify yourself (...) You under arrest for destroying Police property". Robocop is back with his official robotic talk. There's plenty more like "Good evening Sgt. Reed. Please direct me to the Rehab staging area. Thank you.""

    - You forgot to mention this. Before entering the area Robo says to Reed: "You may wanna call the fire department"

  4. Robocop 3 might've worked (somewhat) if the previous movies didn't exist...
    Weller, Verhoeven and the rest of the crew managed to set the bar too high however, having created something which is outright cooler than most modern movies, even now, in 2013.