One Notable Film from 1987
The films I’m picking for this feature show a lot about my tastes in film (or at least the kind of movies I tend to actively seek out and watch) and today is no different, as we’re going to be talking about a movie that combines sci-fi, action and sharp satire-it’s Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop.
Verhoeven has made a number of stinkers in his career (Hollow Man and Showgirls being the most notable), but when he’s on his game, few have done better at making action movies that engage you beyond just the action. Robocop fits right in with the hyper-violent, over the top 80s action movie aesthetic paved by Rambo: First Blood Part II and Commando, yet pushes beyond what those movies would dare to do, to the point where it becomes a source of black humor (with Boddicker running over the toxic waste guy and the famous “somebody wanna call a goddamn paramedic?!” line being the best examples). The effects and the Robocop costume still hold up really well (even stop-motion ED-209, whose jerky movements emphasize how inelegant and clumsy a solution to crime it is). Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian)’s score is excellent and the theme is one of my favorites ever (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_AkU8wJ1ZA). Even the acting is way above average for an 80s action movie, with Peter Weller expressing an incredible range of emotion just through his mouth, the only part of him we see for most of the movie.
Besides all that though, what really sets the movie apart from 99% of action movies is how strong its themes are. First is the battle between humanity and technology, with Alex/Robocop trying to figure out exactly what he is as a thing with a human brain and face in a Robot body and in the end regains the humanity he lost. Second is the increasing corporatization of America, something this film satirizes with brutal effectiveness and gets the general attitude most corporations have about…well, humanity at large to a T. Lots of movies in the 80s-90s had this theme, but were extraordinarily uncreative and blunt about it; what makes Robocop different is how they presented this message in a way that was still really entertaining, typified by the commercials that pop-up every once in awhile that both serve as comic relief and do an incredible job of world building. Robocop’s themes are more relevant than ever and the movie is still one of my favorites of both the action and sci-fi genres.
Other Notables from 1987
Withnail and I
Good Morning, Vietnam
Evil Dead II
Full Metal Jacket
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The Princess Bride
1987 Nominees in Review
Broadcast News: A-
The Last Emperor: B+ (Won Best Picture)
Fatal Attraction: C+
Hope and Glory: D+
The Last Emperor is exactly the kind of movie that wins tons of Oscars (big historical epic with lavish costumes and sets and big drama), so it winning Best Picture isn’t a surprise and I don’t have any issue with it winning over another film that I thought was slightly superior. Moonstruck was solid, but the other two nominees were very weak, with Hope and Glory being my least favorite nominee in quite some time.
For 1988, we have: William Hurt’s fourth straight year starring in a Best Picture nominee (the last actor to do so); This movie needed to be rushed into production and out to theaters because there were somehow two big budget adaptations of a 1782 French novel coming out within a year of each other; Most of the extras playing KKK members were actually KKK members; The only film to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Golden Bear from the Berlin International Film Festival; and Melanie Griffith was so wasted on cocaine and alcohol that her lines in a key scene were unintelligible, production had to be shut down, and she was fined $75,000-she still ended up getting nominated for Best Actress.
But first, in celebration of 1987 being the 60th Oscars ceremony, we have another “Best of” list