Saturday, March 19, 2011


1987, US, directed by Paul Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven has always struck me as the ultimate have-your-cake-and-eat-it director, and perhaps never more than in his debut American film, a satire on, among other things, the violence of American life that's one of the most violent -- although often cartoonishly violent -- films of the 1980s.

His ostensible main target, though, is the violence of corporate America, content to re-shape cities and people for its ends - and certainly the choice of Detroit as a location lends the film sustained relevance today, given how that city has been transformed, or more accurately chewed up, by the arrival and then the slow, catastrophic departure of industry. Despite the fact that today's media landscape looks nothing like the future imagined on film - network TV still looks like the norm - many of the adverts have the ring of truth nearly 25 years on, while their very ubiquity for a viewer in a world where every TV show, baseball half-inning and website seems to have a corporate sponsor feels entirely on the nose.

The filmmaking has a terrific visceral edge, never more so than in the sequences set in an abandoned steel mill, the camera racing through the decrepit locations. The sequence which introduces us to RoboCop, seen entirely through the machine's eyes, is also a clever taste of what's to follow, although some of the subsequent special effects look a little creaky now, closer in spirit to Ray Harryhausen than to the CGI which began to dominate soon afterwards.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States