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22 YEARS LATER, THIS GENERATION GETS THEIR ROBOCOP!!!

In 1987 there was this movie with a silly name, odd premise, a main character that looked like something out of Metropolis, and a non-A-list-celebrity in the lead role. The movie opened in theaters and subsequently kicked down the front door of Hollywood, gave it an uppercut to the jaw, and started pissing in its coffee pot. This film was Robocop.

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Two decades later Hollywood had lost its way again, it forgot its lesson. Luckily, on August 14th 2009 director Neill Blomkamp decided to crawl into the bedroom window, while Hollywood was sleeping, and knock up its daughter. He did it with a film called District 9. It was exactly what we needed.

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No big-name actors to weigh down the budget, no lame attempts at adapting already existing properties, no non-sense, no entanglements… District 9, much like Robocop, is just hardcore, passionate film making from a new voice. A voice not to dissimilar from a young Paul Verhoeven.

Now, first off, if you are looking for a straightforward review of the film may I direct your attention over to the talented writings of QuickStop’s own Christopher Stipp. Second, I am in no way saying that District 9 is a “rip off” of Robocop. While there are tonal, character, comedic and satirical similarities between the two films, my point is not to insult District 9 for rehashing, stealing, or ripping off of another movie. Let me repeat that: I’M NOT SAYING THEY ARE THE SAME MOVIE; I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT PLAGIARISM; THE PICTURES ARE NOT MEANT TO POINT OUT THEFT. However I could probably say that 50 times and still some body will come on here, look at the pictures without reading anything and call me an idiot. The internet is a beautiful thing. Still, my point is one of praise. This film is not only an artistic success, but a financial one as well, much like Robocop, it will leave Studio Execs scratching their craniums wondering how and why this film worked.

Both of these movies, above all things, are social commentary. They are bloody, gritty, dirty, futuristic satires. District 9 is obviously about apartheid, political corruption and corporate greed, where as Robocop is about fascism, political corruption and corporate greed. And for people that have a hard time thinking outside the box, and tying their shoes, I suppose they are about aliens and robots as well. They are good companion pieces in that they use these rather deep socio-political frameworks to ask questions, not answer them, and to ultimately facilitate the action, special effects, gore, and humor.

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The tonal similarities they share are pretty significant, to the point of being complimentary. You have two cities in dire straights, Johannesburg and Detroit. A corporation offers to swoop in, get involved politically, and take care of the problems at hand. District 9’s MNU (Multi-National United) is painfully similar to Robocop’s corrupt behemoth of industry called OCP (Omni Consumer Products). This is not theft; this similarity is simply a by-product of the fact that a giant, evil corporation with a cold-industrial moniker is the only way to skin that particular satiric-cat. When films like this are done properly, they are bound to share elements. I know I sound defensive against my own assertion that these movies are similar but, sue me, I like to argue with myself.

********************MILD SPOILERS START HERE*********************

Wikus, District 9’s “hero” is not unlike Officer Alex Murphy. The two men both start out the respective films as part of the machine that is trying to fix the problem. In the process of such, they both get injured, disfigured, loose their humanity, their ties with their family, are betrayed by their corporate superiors and are forced to use their new found situation to fight for what they see as right, all under the back drop of a much larger dystopian future. Wikus’ situation isn’t as finite as Murphy’s (as Murphy never had the option of going back to what he was, he died,) nor is Wikus a purely “good” soul as Murphy is, yet the similarities of their loss are apparent. Both futures, I might add, are very dank, dirty and covered in decade old grime. They both sport monuments of former glory, statues that depict utopia are engulfed in excrement and failure. Johannesburg is shown to be over run by a slum motif, covered in 20 years of stagnation, much like Detroit in Robocop; it is a city that looks like it has been without maintenance for several years.

*******************MILD SPOILERS STOP HERE***************************

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District 9 starts out in a documentary style, which, I would argue is the equivalent of Robocop’s several commercials and news programs. In the 80’s that is simply the way they decided to break the fourth wall, today audiences are more open to characters just talking to the camera. This device in both films, leads to, or creates most of the humor. The humor being very important, cause if you’re not laughing from time to time, you will forget what the filmmakers want you to remember… this is entertainment, it should be fun. However, it’s not mindless fun, there is depth, and sometimes it’s damn funny.

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Neither film bothers to deal with the grandeur of the devices at hand. Robocop’s narrative isn’t about the technical developments of robotic technology; District 9 isn’t about the complex nature of the alien’s world, society, and knowledge. In fact, District 9 shows audiences something very new to this decade, aliens that aren’t all that remarkable. They are about as smart and physically vulnerable as us, they just happen to have lived long enough to develope space travel and superior munitions technology… other then that, they are just humans that look different. A fresh, gut-punch approach to such sci-fi material is what made Robocop so biting in the 80’s. Same goes for District 9.

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If you look at a lot of the criticism of District 9, you will see a pattern. My opinion is not fact, nor is anyone’s, but it seems to me that those that have put the movie in a negative light are not seeing the movie for what it is, they are simply seeing the premise. The premise sounds stupid, much like Robocop (which also has the added opposition of have a name that sounds ridiculous.) However, there is still people to this day that don’t “get” or “understand” the love for Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi-horror-action classic… they are so dense that all they see is a stupid violent movie about a robot cop. The same goes for District 9, which is confusing, since even critics that are fully aware of the African Apartheid plot device still seem as though they aren’t in on the “joke.”

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If everything I just said about the comparison between the two films seems like just a meandering mess… then at I’ll give you a good, clean, surface comparison. District 9 had its own ED-209:

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That proves nothing, and goes against the angle of approach I was taking, but why fight it, let the internet have its fun.

The biggest similarity that the films share is in what they represent for mainstream entertainment at the time of their release. These are real films, not adaptations, written and directed solely for the screen and the screen alone. Big-budget science fiction films, with substance, made with passion instead of a goal (i.e. “We want a movie based on this toy line… do it, do it right, and do it so everybody can understand it!”) They are huge, filled with counter-culture ideas, abnormal themes, for a select audience, and most of all heavy with questions. That is what you get when studios get behind things other then the bottom line. So thank you to Neill Blomkamp, Paul Verhoeven, and even Peter Jackson for “mavericking” the hell out of cinema. Let’s hope that Hollywood doesn’t try to emulate-rape the premise… the last thing we need is the Robocop 3 version of District 9, I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.

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SORORITY ROW

Really? So did we just have a script lying around from the lame horror trend of the 90’s that a studio thought they might as well sink a couple millions into it just for laughs? This movie is 10 years past its prime. The sub-genre ignited by Scream and killed by every subsequent Scream rip-off, then chopped up by no less then 76 Scary Movie spoofs is coming to a theater near you!!! Isn’t it too early to do throwback to bad movies of last decade? Well at least Carrie Fisher is in it.

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Comments:

5 Responses to “Opinion In A Haystack: This Generation’s Robocop”

  1. swobobafett Says:

    But…they share a killer secret. Get it?

  2. LemonsNeedHelp Says:

    Bob,

    I have yet to see District 9, but I’m excited to see it, ever more so now that you’ve made this comparison. I’m surprised that you didn’t throw in a mention of Verhoven’s Starship Troopers given the alien premise, the futuristic dystopia, and. the government’s control on its populace. And, more poignantly, Starship Troopers gave the audience subtle notion that the aliens are really just like humans, and that they’re not violent, we actually invaded them, not the other way around, and of course, all main characters ignore that.

    However, having not seen District 9, the correlation of Robocop and DIstrict 9 are likely closer, and Robocop made a bigger impact financially and otherwise it the time it came out.

    But hey, Robocop remake! WoO!

    Oh, and have you seen the previews for the film Post Grad. I know, I know, but you know what irks me? It says, “Starring Alexi Bleidel (whatever) from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” Um, hello? Michael Keaton plays her father! Give the man a shout out!

  3. Opinioninahaystack Says:

    swobobafett: I get it. Yet I don’t want to.

    Lemonsneedhelp: I thought about the Starship Troopers reference, but even with the aliens and such I thought Robocop fit better. This is mainly do to with when it was released, what it meant at the time of release, and the similar urban dystopian themes. Starship Troopers is great, but it is more of a space/war movie, and its wasn’t really “revolutionary” when released.

    The Robocop remake needs to die.

    I didn’t know Michael Keaton was in POST GRAD, perhaps now I’ll watch it. He still deserves better.

  4. Huey DaVinci Says:

    Bob. Your reviews make long days at work slightly shorter, and for that, I thank you. Really dude. Great review.

  5. malak Says:

    I just saw District 9 last night and I thought that its comparisons to Robocop were uncanny … about the only thing that would have made it even more uncanny would have been were District 9 to have to have gone through the editing out of the comedic blood, guts & gore that Robocop had to go through for its theatrical release in order to remove the X rating, which ironically made it all the more horrifying having left the deleted scenes to the imagination …

    As for the comparison to Starship Troopers, I thought that there was a comparison — often far more direct and point for point — however Starship Troopers was far too camp and obvious, and even far to juvenile, comedic and even slapstick in its blood & gore to have any real grit (at least come through). In the point-for-point comparisons I think that the more comparison points there were, the less the “whole products” were comparable, it all lies in the grit.

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