Screening Robocop

Robocop (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1987) is a remarkably clever action comedy; even if its climactic shoot-out is somewhat protracted and disappointing, its first two-thirds are sharp and funny enough to make up for it.  Like other 80s techno-thrillers (Blade Runner, The Terminator, etc.) it’s also a film that engages directly with postmodernism—particularly in its use of screens, which is sometimes so complex that it borders on the avant-garde.  It’s via screens that characters in this film understand the world, none more so than “Robocop” himself, for whom his field of vision is a digital matrix.  And it’s via a screen that Robocop learns that he is actually Alex Murphy, a Detroit police officer who has become a kind of Frankenstein monster.  It’s a mirror-stage moment in which the mirror is replaced with a computerized image (see below).

The funniest scenes in the film, though, involve Verhoeven’s fake television footage: local news broadcasts hosted by preternaturally chipper yet vaguely emotionless newscasters, parodies of commercials for absurd products (a family board game about nuclear war called “Nuke ’Em”), and, most intriguing, some sort of gratuitous sitcom involving a bald man, always flanked by two blonde women (his wink-nudge catch phrase is “I’d buy that for a dollar!”).  I found myself wanting to see more of this fake show, which looks surreally horrible.  (It almost resembles the clips of Invitation to Love, the fake show-within-a-show from Twin Peaks—and Ray Wise, Leland Palmer of Twin Peaks fame, appears in Robocop.)      

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