Robocop: The Definitive History by Calum Waddell (book review).

If ever there was a Science Fiction film series with diminutive returns, then ‘Robocop’ must surely be somewhere in the top of that list. Borrowing elements from a certain ‘Mega-City’ blended with a satire of commercialism, Detroit was in for a corporate take-over but it needed a new law-enforcer. One that could also bow to the corporation that made it and be a police officer. The result was the cyborg Robocop, whose original personality of Alex Murphy reasserted itself in a job that he hadn’t volunteered for when he was practically killed. The rest is here as ‘Robocop: The Definitive History’ as author and critic Calum Waddell explores all three films, TV series, computer games and the new revised film version.


With his iconic look, designed by the great Rob Bottin, ‘Robocop’ was really made for kids but the target was the adult audience and the changes over the films for that audience was largely because the studio Orion needed a bigger audience to ward off its pending bankruptcy. Looking at his body, Robocop was made for a toy line than a satire so these changes were less of a surprise for people like us but more how could they tone the violence down for the junior level. Considering the similarities, it still amazes me that Marvel haven’t got a ‘Deathlok’ film out there yet.

RobocopHistory-23                  RobocopHistory-13

Anyway, there are lots of things to read and look at the photographs. I’d forgotten that they made a life-size version of the ED-209 as well as animating a smaller version. Frank Miller’s original plot for the second film became part of the premise for the TV series. I liked the clarification that Peter Weller would have played Murphy for the third film except there was a schedule conflict with ‘The Naked Lunch’ which he also wanted to do. His replacement, Robert Burke, was slighter in build and as a consequence had an armour built up that weighed over twice times as much that even his stuntmen balked at. The third film also, unfortunately, put the end to the directing career of Fred Dekker. When you read the demands and difficulty of making these films, you can’t help think that things were a little unjust when it didn’t return the expected profit. A lesson to be learnt is that the director has to be assertive in making the film they think needs to be made than just to appease the studio.

RobocopHistory-22     RobocopHistory-16

Looking at how ‘Robocop’ was used in so many other formats, you would have thought the cyborg cop would have been treated better over the years. Although I have yet to see the latest film, reading about it and the changes that were made, the most obvious thing was making it different to the original. Although original scriptwriter Michael Miner says new director Jose Padilha made ‘Robocop’ his own, with his ebony armour, he looks far different to the original’s more, shall we say, good-hearted spirit. You could trust the first version if you weren’t a criminal. I tend to think the new version looks far too intimidating. More likely to cause fear in the innocent as well as the felons.

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Although this is the history of ‘Robocop’, it is more a visual guide than nitty-gritty, so don’t expect episode guides or extensive film credits. Where it fails there, it makes up for it in the amount of photos, design, art and storyboards. If you’re a fan of ‘Robocop’, then I have a feeling you’ll want this book in your collection. Your move.

GF Willmetts

November 2014

(pub: Titan Books. 223 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £24.95 (UK), $34.95 (US), $39.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78329-325-4)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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