Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Serve the public trust. Protect the innocent. Uphold the law.

Although my last RoboCop post went over like a lead fart, I said I would cover "RoboCop: Prime Directives," and was bugged by not completing my ramblings about old Robo.

Prime Directives is a four-part, Canadian-made TV miniseries from 2001 -- the last live-action Robo adventure until the remake is released. (The remake's been pushed back until '14!) It's an attempt to get back to basics -- not that RoboCop's had the most solid continuity or anything, but this movie pretty much only cares to include the first film. (Although it's not above using a lot of stock shots from the maligned TV series.) Fan reaction was mixed -- some appreciated the darker tone and attempts to get away with goriness, others felt it was too cheap to make an impression. (Its cumulative budget was supposedly even less than what the budget of the 1987 movie was!)

To be honest, I found it a little difficult to get through the first two parts, which are titled "Dark Justice" and "Meltdown," but I enjoyed the last half of the series, "Resurrection" and "Crash and Burn" more. Overall, I feel that this miniseries would have benefited from condensing it all into just two parts -- tighten the scripts up a bit, and I think it would have made for a much more impressive entry in the franchise. Because there's a lot of neat ideas here...

The most interesting idea involves the character John Cable, who was one of Murphy/Robo's partners before Murphy transferred to the precinct he did in the movie. Cable is pretty much the flip-side of Murphy -- Cable takes his police work seriously and wants to make a difference, but he doesn't care about disregarding rules or morals to get his way. Cable is cynical, his home life is unhappy. Compare that to Murphy, who's a very by the book, stand-up guy with a happy marriage and son. Murphy, now as RoboCop, eventually crosses paths with Cable again for a case, and eventually is manipulated into killing Cable. OCP decides to turn Cable into "RoboCop 002," a RoboCop they can better control, a RoboCop that will eliminate the original RoboCop. Clad in black rather than silver, the two Robos, like Cable and Murphy, are night and day -- whereas his former life is what keeps Murphy/Robo going, is what makes him such a good cop, Cable/Robo's bitterness and misery in life is what makes him such a ruthless, "dark" version of RoboCop that creates a major roadblock for OUR RoboCop. It's an interesting idea, and one that's a big improvement over the idea introduced in the second RoboCop film (where an outlaw is turned into RoboCop to create the contrast). The two contrasting each other also reminded me of G4 and G3-X in the Agito movie. G4, who knew the system would kill him and was just waiting for his death, says something to G3-X like, "The way you embrace living, I embrace death." Murphy has fought to live on as RoboCop; Cable just wants to die.

Page Fletcher, the Murphy/RoboCop of the Prime Directives miniseries.

So, how does the guy playing Murphy/RoboCop stack up against the others? Veteran Canadian actor Page Fletcher is the man behind the mask for this miniseries, and he also gets to play Murphy in flashbacks more than any actor since Weller. Fletcher's performance is quite different, even a little off-putting at first, but I grew used to him. He claims to have never seen any of the other RoboCop titles before and wanted to come up with a different take, which has divided fans. Some describe him as moving like a Rock-em Sock-em Robot, but he reminds me more of a wind-up toy. But like I said, I got used to it. (More distracting to me? The different sound-effects. You're used to RoboCop's footsteps being that CRUNCH-CRUNCH, and here it sounds like someone slapping a stapler.) The biggest controversy over Fletcher's performance is how emotional he makes RoboCop -- his RoboCop shouts, shows anger, even cries. I kinda liked this take; it makes sense to me that so much of Murphy has come through over time that he started to show emotion again. Fletcher's different, but I liked him.

Maurice Dean Wint, who plays John Cable/RoboCop 2/RoboCable.

Cable/RoboCop 2/RoboCable is played by the always divisive Maurice Dean Wint. I've seen this guy play the bad guy in a couple of movies and I can understand the criticism against him. He sometimes just goes a little too over the top and cartoonish and can be unlikable; he sometimes comes across like he's trying a little too hard to be "bad-ass." (What's funny is that he played Scout in Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, where he was the young, funny, joke-maker of the team, and he was immensely likable in that role. But it seems that once he got older, he got pigeonholed as villains, and I wonder if he's just more suited for playing good guys rather than villains.) As human Cable, Wint falls into some of the same traps he does when he plays villains, but I thought he was really good as RoboCable -- I think he could have even made a good RoboCop, he has the moves and everything down. I also have to wonder if the makers of the remake got the idea to make RoboCop's armor black from RoboCable.

All in all, I liked some of the what the miniseries did, but as I said, it could have told its story in just two parts -- there's a lot of stuff that could be cut. There's one too many scenes of OCP corporate shenanigans (the weakest elements of the miniseries) and a plot turn in the second half involving a newly introduced character hatching a scheme to infect OCP's newly launched A.I. system called SAINT. The AI subplot would have worked on its own, I think, by just having it become self-aware and turning on the citizens of Delta City, rather than bringing in this new character who wants to manipulate it for his own goal. (I was a little surprised they even had this SAINT subplot, since it's pretty close to the TV show's Neuro-Brain and Metronet, and this miniseries was trying so hard to distance itself from the sequels and follow-ups.) A lot of it is surprisingly not focused on RoboCop, when the focus needed to stay on the RoboCop VS Cable story, which was the strongest piece of the miniseries. It's a bit of a shame, because this could have been some classic RoboCop.

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