‘Robodoc’ Review: An Exhaustive and Informative Tribute to ‘RoboCop’
I love a pop culture documentary. So, I was naturally eager to check out the four-episode docu-series, Robodoc: The Creation of RoboCop. The program looks back on the creation of Paul Verhoeven’s violent action flick, RoboCop. The 1987 movie satirized consumerism, government overreach, the Reagan economy, and our society’s desensitization to violence. The picture follows Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) as he perishes in the line of duty. After his death, Murphy’s physical form is combined with cutting-edge technology to create an unstoppable crime-fighting machine.
Robodoc is a fascinating look into the genesis of RoboCop and the relentless efforts of the creative team to bring it to the screen. The audience gets a wealth of information on what went on behind the scenes. We hear firsthand accounts from those involved with the project. And a lot of what I learned was news to me. For instance, I was surprised to discover that screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner had such a hard time finding a home for their script. And when they were eventually courted by distributors, they had execs (from companies that ultimately passed on the project) telling them they needed to change key elements that viewers now consider integral to the picture.
But it wasn’t just distributors that passed on the project; several directors declined the opportunity based solely on the film’s title, which makes this one of those cases where hindsight is 20/20. We also get details on several of the other actors who were considered for the titular role that ultimately went to Peter Weller. Every story showcases what a different film RoboCop would be if another actor had been selected to play the lead or if key aspects had been meddled with. It’s abundantly clear that Robocop wouldn’t have been as effective if key details had been changed. On that basis, it’s riveting to hear how hard Neumeier and Miner had to look to find a distributor and director who could see the potential in the premise. And then, along came Paul Verhoeven and Orion Pictures.
Verhoeven’s eccentricities and commitment to his vision make for great anecdotes, while Orion proved to be very director-focused. But the production wasn’t all fun and games. In fact, it’s almost shocking that the film came out as well as it did with all the challenges faced along the way. Listening to some of the accounts from the cast and crew, it seems like the project could easily have become a dumpster fire rather than a resounding success. But somehow, creative differences, strong personalities, and a chronic inability to stay under budget were overcome in service of crafting a phenomenal story.
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To be able to hear Verhoeven’s recollections and the accompanying accounts of those who worked alongside him makes this docu-series a joy to behold. The director is a central fixture in the doc and he doesn’t shy away from speaking to his strained relationships with nearly every member of the cast and crew. In spite of his larger-than-life personality, it seems that the on-camera talent and craft workers came to respect him in the end. Moreover, they recognized that Verhoeven’s passion stems from a place of honesty and creativity, rather than a desire to self-aggrandize. And that may have been his saving grace.
Robodoc directors Eastwood Allen and Christopher Griffiths do an impressive job of sourcing input from people involved with all aspects of production to tell the film’s story. Robodoc isn’t told solely through the eyes of its famous director or the picture’s biggest stars. No, we see the craft team and tertiary players recount their experiences in depth, alongside Verhoeven and the core cast. We get the entire story from almost everyone that lived it. The series goes into great detail, giving the audience behind-the-scenes context on how every aspect of the titular character was brought to life. And that’s really just the beginning.
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Viewers are also treated to anecdotes regarding the genesis of the ED-209 prototype, the creation of the RoboCop suit, and so much more. We also get the rundown on the titular character’s walking patterns, body movements, and associated sound design. It’s riveting to get input on almost every aspect of the production. This docu-series truly gives fans everything they could want and then some.
Amongst the most enlightening topics profiled is Rob Bottin’s impact on RoboCop. He was not only the creator of the titular character’s aesthetic but also had input on numerous other aspects of the production. One noteworthy example is the way Bottin influenced the way the RoboCop character was introduced to viewers. Bottin reportedly made the suggestion to Verhoeven that the man-machine hybrid be at least partially hidden from the audience upon his introduction, building anticipation for the full reveal. And that conceit is used to remarkable effect in the finished product. The moment where we finally see the character in all of his glory is powerful and leaves a lasting impression.
Also noteworthy is the series’ visual presentation. There are some playful onscreen effects used during the interview footage and some colorful cutaways that recreate scenes from the film in storyboard style. That adds a splash of color and also serves as a nice nod to the film’s comic book inspirations.
On the whole, I loved the Robodoc series. But if I have one primary criticism, it’s the length. The episodes collectively clock in at just under five hours and that makes for a major time investment. I loved hearing in-depth accounts of creating the sound design, onset hookups, lines that were adlibbed, and various other intricacies of the production. The addition of those elements does add value. But I also think some of the segments go a bit too in-depth, causing the series to drag at times. I would have been content with a slightly more truncated approach.
I also wish the sequels and licensed properties had been covered in more detail. They are spoken to as a footnote at the end But there’s a lot more that could’ve been said. In a perfect world, I’d like to have seen three episodes dedicated to RoboCop and the fourth speaking to the sequels, animated series, comics, and more. Minor criticisms aside, I had a great time with this docu-series. If you’re a fan of Robocop, I would absolutely recommend seeking Robodoc out when it bows on Screambox on August 29, 2023.
‘Robodoc’ provides an in depth look at the genesis of one of the greatest action films of the ‘80s.