Book Review: "RoboCop: The Definitive History" (C. Waddell)
- by Señor Editor, 21 November 2014
Here on Trash Mutant, many of us (at least two) treat RoboCop as a personal hero and a patron saint. The 1987 movie is a classic, and even though most of the RoboCop stuff that followed it wasn't nearly as good as Paul Verhoeven's movie, our admiration of Robo knows no bounds. So you can imagine we're pretty damn excited about Calum Waddell's "RoboCop: The Definitive History".
The first thing that you really notice with this book are all the amazing photos from the set. My pictures of the book won't do it justice, but believe me, they are all in fantastic quality and there's some stuff here that, to my knowledge, was never before seen. There are some great shots of shooting all the classic scenes, accompanied by storyboards, promotional photos and posters.
The photos, however, are far from the only reason to get this book. There's a lot of great stuff here detailing the origins of the character, the 2000AD inspirations behind him, and the process of bringing Verhoeven's, Neumeier and Miner's ideas to the screen. There's a lot about how the mid-80s zeitgeist influenced the creation of the movie, and you really get to experience the whole process of making the movie, step by step.
Quotes from the writers, Verhoeven, Peter Weller, Nancy Allen (Anne Lewis) and other stars help bring all of this to life. And if you wanted to know why Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was considered for the role of Murphy) didn't get the part, exactly how damn heavy the costume was, or what were the inspirations for the movie's criticism of consumerism, you will find all that and more in this chapter.
L-R: Robo with Verhoeven, Weller chilling in-between takes, officer Lewis. (Click on each to enlarge)
While the sequels never really managed to be as good as the original movie, they are still thoroughly covered by Waddell. In fact, the author does a good job of building a case for why exactly RoboCop 2 and 3 (especially 3...) failed to fill the big boots left by the 1987 original. Irvin Kershner, while a great director, didn't really seem to know what to do with the sequel (coincidentally, it's the last movie he ever made) and some of the cast members had a real tough time working with him. Nancy Allen apparently had the most problems with Kershner, as the director made her part as Officer Lewis much smaller than originally intended, deciding to focus instead on Belinda Bauer (Dr. Faxx). Kershner was brought in real late in the project to direct it, and it seems like his heart was never really in it.
The book details the many things that made the original so great and that were missing in the sequel. The humor being one of them, and the critique of American consumerism being another - Verhoeven, being European, apparently was able to do a lot better job criticizing the culture in an amusing way than the American Kershner managed. Even though Kershner wasn't that into RoboCop, and the sequel was much different from what Verhoeven envisioned for it (Orion was in financial problems and needed the movie the movie to come out fast, so they decided to hire somebody who could meet the deadlines), the director apparently remains very fond of the movie.
L-R: Storyboards from Robocop 2, Cain's brain, a promo shot from "Prime Directives". (Click to enlarge)
Of course, "RoboCop 2" is "Citizen Kane" when compared to the awful third movie in the franchise. With Weller's schedule making him unable to return to the part, and the studio pressing for a PG-13 rating, the third part was so awful even my 8 or 9-year old self was disgusted with it. Crappy effects, dumb plot, poor acting and Frank Miller's incredibly stupid ninja robots probably remain the lowest point in the character's history.
When you read about how this movie was made, you sort of feel bad for all the actors involved, because Waddell's book really makes it clear that working on it was a pretty horrible experience (especially for Nancy Allen and Robert John Burke, who replaced Weller in the role of Murphy). I appreciate that the book doesn't sugarcoat anything and is honest about the franchise's low points and what lead to them.
L-R: Shooting Emil's post-acid scene, setting Robo on fire.
The "Legacy" chapter largely moves to RoboCop's life as a TV show character, and later the hero of the made for TV "Prime Directives" series of movies, that pretty much nobody saw. It also talks about everything from the Detroit Robo statue, to the toys, games and comics. There are a few posters thrown in there for the fans, too, which help flesh out the book.
One piece of Robocop's history that isn't really featured much in "Definitive History" is the 80's Robocop animated series from Marvel Productions. Oddly enough, the Marvel comicbook series isn't present either. I don't know if this omission was caused by some issues between the studios and companies involved with Robocop or what, but it's a little strange to see a 1999 Robocop cartoon ("Alpha Commando") mentioned, while the character's first cartoon is missing.
Similar deal with the comics: the Marvel ones do get a brief mention, but the author chose to highlight the Dark Horse and BOOM! Studios ones. It's not that the Marvel ones are particularly good or anything (they are not), but adding more about them could help make this book a little more "definitive". Also, there's a bit of talk about Frank Miller's Robocop comics, even though the man never really managed to capture what made Robocop cool in the first place (he usually only focuses on the "depressed robot" angle, while completely forgetting about the Judge Dredd-isnpired part of his persona). You want a decent Robocop comic? Forget Frank Miller and get this one.
L-R: Anti-drug Robo, wall-crashing Robo, sleeping Robo (DUH).
The last chapter of the book is about the remake. I didn't care for the remake, so this part interested me the least, but it's nice to have it there.
All in all, this is an amazing book for RoboCop fans. It's obvious that a lot of work went into it, and the result is something no fan should miss. It's a great mix of fascinating info and great visuals, and it's by far the best book made about the franchise. We highly recommend it!
Thanks to Titan Books for providing the review copy. Are you a RoboCop fan? This is something you shouldn't miss. It's available now in all good bookstores, so pick it up!