The original RoboCop is a science fiction classic. It’s an almost perfect blend of satire, action, gruesome violence, and slapstick comedy. It spawned two or three sequels (I lost track — check IMDb if you’re really curious), a television show, an ongoing comic book series, and a comic book miniseries written by the great Frank Miller and drawn by the great Walt Simonson in which the title character took on The Terminator.
Of course it was going to be rebooted. Or, remade. Or reimagined. Or whatever you want to call it. That’s what they do in Hollywood. The kids who loved RoboCop have grown up and are now working at movie studios and writing scripts. They want to celebrate what they loved. By remaking it. By extending the life of that intellectual property, just like they do in comic books.
However, it turns out that some of the kids who loved RoboCop also grew up to moderate message boards and run fandom websites. And what they do is rush to judgment about their favorite intellectual property. The “creative” people are celebrating that intellectual property they loved by remaking it. The “fans” are celebrating that intellectual property they loved by offering withering attacks and/or withering praise, based on whatever the conventional wisdom happens to be at the time.
Setting that conventional wisdom is often a major accomplishment for a fan. If a film turns out to be a “classic,” then you look and feel really smart for saying so as early as possible. Take for example the case of The Dark Knight Rises. Most fans had already made up their minds before that film came out that it was going to be an epic film experience. It was, we kept being reminded, the most anticipated film of the year (check out this list, which also included the Total Recall remake, and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, both of which set the world on fire. and the G.I. Joe sequel, which was actually pushed back to 2013– which means that film will now have almost two years worth of anticipation behind it). In fact, last year, TDKR actually won a Scream Award for “Most Anticipated Movie,” which might be the most important award ever given to any film. It’s not an award for quality, it’s an award for what we expect of the quality.
And at advance screenings, the thunder of applause could be heard drowning out everything else. Except, of course, the sounds of fans making death threats and vituperations against critics who were too stupid to recognize the greatness of a movie that many of them had yet to actually see. Since its opening, there have already been attempts to canonize the film as one of The Best Movies Ever. In a post at Comicbook.com, the movie was ranked as the third best comic book film of all time, despite some reservations:
In spite of a flawed third act, The Dark Knight Rises functions beautifully as a third act all its own, following up Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to give a movie that’s so ambitious in scale and meticulously mapped-out in the big picture that some of the niggling details may not be 100%, but they don’t really impede your enjoyment of an absolutely inspired piece of filmmaking.
This list was posted on July 21, 2012, one day after TDKR‘s American release date. It’s a wonder that the author, Russ Burlingame, was able to exercise so much restraint in deciding on the film’s ultimate all-time ranking, especially when you take a look at his list of Seven Comic Book Movies that are Exactly as Bad as Think, in the introduction to which, he writes:
For fairness, we’re going to disqualify Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, because it’s so fresh that it’s impossible to look at it with anything resembling a fresh eye.
That was posted on August 12, 2012. GR:SOV was released in America on February 17, 2012. Why is one day a suitable wait to pass judgment on “GREATNESS,” but six months is still too soon to be sure about “CRAP”?
Well, there wasn’t much anticipation for a Ghost Rider sequel. But TDKR was the most anticipated film of the year (it won an award)! By the time it was actually released, the film itself was almost an afterthought. So many people were convinced– some for a year or more before they actually saw the film– that it would be great that they’d already made up their mind that it was great. When the “anticipation time” is factored in, we’ve actually had years to decide on TDKR’s “greatness,” and the only real difficulty was in deciding whether it would come in above or below The Avengers.
It’s only too bad about those “niggling details” that “may not be 100%.” Those “niggling details” that Burlingame mentions is actually just another way of saying “the actual film we got versus the one we anticipated.” But in the race to be first to recognize greatness (and, therefore, feel a little bit great ourselves), we will overlook the film in order to come to the correct judgment of the film.
And now, TDKR is great, and everyone knows it.
The original RoboCop was released in July 1987. It’s had a full 25-years to establish its credentials. It’s one of those rare films that I saw in the theater on its first release and loved when I was a kid, and then watched again as a chronological adult and would still buy for a dollar. It’s a genuinely witty and clever film with a great story and some great set pieces. I’m not “anticipating” the remake, but I’m also open to the possibility it represents. The world of 2012 is even more fantastical and satirical than the world of 1987. As A.Jaye has put it over at his terrific Thrill Fiction site:
Through the decades remakes have always been an option in Hollywood: The Bells (1926), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1941), The Magnificent Seven (1960). This is with good cause; movies, like hair and fashion, tend to date. Good movies that date due to dialogue, acting style, special effects, social attitudes et cetera can be revamped and remade (eg Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978).
There’s a lot of satire-worthy stuff happening today that wasn’t even dreamed of back in the mid-1980s. The special effects have vastly improved. Given the fact that we seem to be going through a great Recycling Age in corporate entertainment, a RoboCop remake might actually be worth “anticipating.”
But then, I haven’t read the script. Not like someone called Drew McWeeny of the website HitFix (and also known as Moriarty at Ain’t it Cool). He read it and then tweeted his reactions (apparently while actually reading it– I guess his nearly 17,000 followers are interested in a live-tweet of a script reading they themselves haven’t seen), and then someone at Bleeding Cool collected them under the headline, Details From The Robocop Remake Script May Deflate Your Excitement. Hell, we even covered it… and here I am sinking my Contrarian teeth into the hand that feeds me.
First of all, there aren’t exactly a lot “details” revealed in McWeeny’s snarky tweets. Second, even if there were, why should McWeeny’s lack of enthusiasm about a script (perhaps not even the script) in any way have any bearing on my level of “excitement”? They’re not going to influence me one way or another, but I have trouble feeling “deflated” about some of what McWeeny alleges to be in the script. I’m not going to cut and paste all of the tweets, but here are a few:
Then they show a focus group scene where criminals laugh at the design. “He looks like a toy from the ’80s!”
So they redesign him to look “meaner” as Robocop 2.0, who passes focus group approval.
So they not only make sure to include the original design, they also point out it’s dated and stupid. *facepalm*
Hold onto your sides for more hilarious “Robocop” details. They outsource his construction to China. #seriously
And we meet the ED-209s in the field in Iran, where they’re used to subdue suicide bombers. #ineedallthedrinksnow
Short version: this script makes my stomach hurt very, very badly.
Ahhh… now they just dropped Robocop 3.0 onto an Al Queda training camp to see what he does.
I realize that I’m getting this information second-hand from someone with a chip on his shoulder whose opinion means absolutely nothing to me, but some of that stuff sounds promising. The idea of a RoboCop being used as part of the “war on terror” could be a really effective satire of the United States’s indiscriminate use of drones in the Middle East, and the transfer of those drones to domestic law-enforcement. It could also be an effective parody of the morally reprehensible first Iron Man film, in which a private weapons designer creates his own weaponized suit and then promptly heads over to the Middle East to perpetuate the government’s neocon imperialist war. Referencing the original design could be a PoMo reference to the fact that this is, in fact, a remake and update of a film from the 1980s.
But I don’t know, because I haven’t read the script. Nor have I seen the movie, which doesn’t yet exist and might look nothing like the script. Which, again, I haven’t read. McWeeny read it.
And I’m not criticizing McWeeny. He read a script and didn’t like it, and then he tweeted about it. It’s his opinion and he can share it if he likes. Almost everyone else (those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to actually read the script [full disclosure: I have no interest in reading the script]) is at a total disadvantage in this case because we can’t in any way argue for or against it, but it’s not his job to only comment on things that we’ve all seen and read.
But look at what the author of the Bleeding Cool post, Brendan Connelly, says about the tweets:
As the Robocop remake has come together so far, most signs have been very good. Jose Padilha is a very interesting choice of director and his cast list features a lot of great names – Joel Kinnaman, Samuel Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel, Hugh Laurie, Michael Kenneth Williams.
I was feeling pretty optimistic.
But then Twitter reminded me, in the worst way possible, of some weaker links in the chain.
We’re at a remove, here, reading only McWeeny’s reactions and very filtered selection of lowlights, but the fact remains that this is by no means the first script this man has read but it’s [not?] everyday we see him kicking one to death on Twitter like this. It’s clear that he was moved to attack this script in particular.
We’re at a remove, but my optimism is diminished in the worst way possible by a series of tweets about a screenplay.
Over at NerdBastards, the prognosis is even more grim, as the headline warns New ‘Robocop’ Deets Will Probably Make You Weep.
Yeah, whenever the words “oh dear god,” and “Ohpleasedon’t” enter into a review, there’s slightly more than genuine cause to be concerned. It seems that screenwriters Joshua Zetumer and Nick Schenk have discovered that it is possible to stray too far from the source material. Robocop by way of Iron Man and Transformers? Color me unimpressed.
You pass judgment on a film based on a few “deets” in the form of out-of-context tweets from someone who didn’t like a script? In that case color me unimpressed, too.
As bad as that post is, there were two comments that were even worse:
Wow… I was so unimpressed when I read this report, it bombs my expectations. And to think they may (and most certainly will) do this one as a PG-13, I’m gone. That’s it. No matter if they got to resurrect Marlon Brando and put him in a scene, I wouldn’t give a damn anymore. Yes, I pass judgment solely based on what I read, and I don’t like what I’m reading so far. The trailers will have to convince me a lot, and even that may not suffice. I’d say a complete re-write should do it, and the only reason I’d go see this one is if I win tickets. I’m not giving them any money. It wounded nice, but as things progress, my spider-sense is tingling quite a bit.
The more we criticize and the louder our voice, the higher the chance it will be changed, everyone share this and repost it wherever you can.
The fandom collective (note the singular “our voice”– this is how we feel, our one voice) is passing its judgment. They don’t like what they’re reading because McWeeny didn’t like it and sent out some snarky tweets. Well, maybe the trailer can convince one of the fans, but that particular commercial is going to have to work extra hard to impress. In the meantime, the fans need to make their disapproval known. They don’t like what they’ve seen so far. No, they haven’t actually seen the movie itself. And only one of them has actually read a script.
But they don’t like what they’ve seen so far!
Remember last year’s disastrous Green Lantern film? Yeah, I’ve already forgotten it, too. But that was the film that fans fought hard to get. It turns out that Warner Bros. actually had what might have been an interesting and unique take on that character, when they had Robert Smigel (creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and TV Funhouse) write a script for Jack Black to star. The fans let their displeasure be known (the ones who haunt message boards and fandom websites anyway), and a chastened Warner Bros got the message “loud and clear.” Plans for a unique, comedic take on the character were scrapped in favor of a more “serious” approach. (And if people can pass judgment on a film based on one person’s tweets about a screenplay, then I can say that Robert Smigel’s version of Green Lantern would have been one of the funniest and freshest films of the decade.)
Hey, fans! How’d you like the Green Lantern you got? It’s sure a good thing Robert Smigel’s take on the character didn’t get made. It might have been a bad movie that tainted the character you love so much.
Warner Bros did the same thing with Watchmen, which essentially used the original comic book miniseries as a storyboard. Well, the fans wanted a “faithful” adaptation. They used their loud voice, and they got what they wanted: a live-action motion comic.
The entertainment conglomerates know the importance of fan enthusiasm in promoting their product. The Toy Story trilogy, in particular the third chapter, is a paean to the energy and devotion of fans to intellectual property, and the role they play in its promotion.
One of the great ironies of fandom is that so much of it is motivated by a lack of imagination. If it’s something that deviates from the familiar, then the “voice” will be loud. In her essay “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” the film critic Pauline Kael wrote,
“The problem with a popular art form is that those who want something more are in a hopeless minority compared with the millions who are seeing it for the first time, or for the reassurance and gratification of seeing the conventions fulfilled again.”
TDKR was full of “niggling details” (“deets”?) that “may not be 100%,” but that doesn’t matter because it was the third act of Nolan’s Batman, and it paid sufficient homage to the source material that the fans love:
One of the overriding memories I have of my press screening of this film is centered on Bane and Batman’s brawl in Gotham’s sewers. I was sitting next to a couple of fellow comic book geeks, and when Bane lifted Batman over his head we all held our breath. When he dropped him over his knee we all winced, and one of my fellow viewers whispered “Oh my God, he did it.” This was the oft-rumored iconic Batman comic book movie playing out on the screen, with brutal effectiveness.
We heard rumors that they were going to show this iconic comic book moment, and when they did, we were reassured. It was familiar. So what if the film was full of “niggling details” that “may not be 100%” (full disclosure: I disliked the film immensely, those “details” were not “niggling” to me), when Bane lifted Batman over his head and the dropped him on his knee, well, that was the money shot, it was what we’d all been waiting for, and all the “niggling details” around that scene don’t matter. Nolan took it seriously, so we’ll go see the film again and again, and rank it third on our all-time list.
Besides that, we’d been “anticipating” the film for over a year. We’d already made up our mind to like it. And now, we’re making up our mind about the RoboCop remake. And no, it’s not too early to start hating it.
*Pauline Kael quote from The Age of Movies, page 233.