The creators and cast of Sony’s upcoming RoboCop descended upon Comic-Con International in San Diego to debut the film’s trailer, discuss the remake’s themes and divulge tidbits about what fans can expect from the reimagining of director Paul Verhoeven’s beloved 1987 original.
The world premiere of the trailer, with voiceover by Samuel L. Jackson’s charismatic and controversial journalist character Pat Novak, revealed the intense political debate beating beneath the movie’s action. We see what is obviously spun news footage of residents in the Middle East being “protected” by robots (clearly subdued), with Novak explaining that, “Incredible! Not long ago, that would’ve been American men and women risking their lives!” As he exclaims – over live footage of the pacification – that the technology must be brought to American homes (“Why is America so Robo-Phobic?” he begs), the scene erupts with fire and explosions from radicals.
Michael Keaton’s character Raymond Sellars – the CEO of the largest robot manufacturer in the world – wrestles with the question of whether or not machines can be responsible for human lives, as they don’t have feelings. “If one of them had killed a child,” he asks a panel, “What would it feel?” “Nothing,” is the response.
This sets up what seems to be the crux of the film – the global implications of and politicization of drones used in warfare. After the clip, director Jose Padilha and actors Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson and Joel Kinnaman ascended the stage.
Padilha got right to the heart of the matter, explaining why he opted to remake the original 1987 film. “We didn’t try to redo the same RoboCop, because it was perfect the way it was,” he explained. “We just took the concept of RoboCop and we brought it to the present. We are more and more in a society that RoboCop is relevant…we’re seeing drones…we’ll soon see robots used in war…this is going to become a big issue. The first film saw it way back, which is a great merit. I think it’s gonna go down exactly as you see…first we’re gonna use machines abroad and then we’ll bring machines home.”
Of his character, who seems to be a bridge between the emotional and political extremes in the film, Keaton said, “He sees how you define what is right and what is wrong – he’s a complex dude and a big thinker…he sees the bigger picture…he’s the ultimate pragmatist.”
Jackson likes to refer to his news anchor character as “Rush Sharpton” — an amalgam of Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton. “You get a combination of those two guys,” he explained. “A guy who has an opinion, isn’t afraid to state it and will use any means necessary to get you to agree with him.”
Kinnaman – who plays cop Alex Murphy-turned-RoboCop – highlighted a key difference between the original film and this new version. “Alex doesn’t die – they manage to say his life,” he said. “He’s amputated from the throat down and he has some form of respiratory system inside the armor. Over the course of the movie he has this internal battle with the artificial intelligence and his own soul.”
Cornish plays Murphy’s wife Clara, and explained that Alex’s wife and child “Sort of grounds the film in basic humanity.” “He does become half man, half robot,” she said. “It’s how he’s affected on a deeper level in regards to his wife his child…and how that interacts with how that becomes part of the robot. It was kind of nice to play a woman who really fought for a man.”
So – despite all his misgivings – what’s Keaton’s character’s motivation for creating RoboCop? “He’s a believer,” Keaton explained. “The thing about Sellars is: money is fun and there’s a lot of it…he’s way past that…this is something he believes. I think he thinks past that question of, ‘Is this right or wrong?’ I always saw him as a guy who’s deeply involved in this…and he’s thinking of the next move.”
When asked how he managed to emote while wearing RoboCop’s infamous helmet, Kinnaman joked, “I had to perfect my jaw acting…I think I got a lot better at it! I’d be angry with only my mouth!” But he specified, “In all the scenes where there’s social interaction, the visor comes up…when a crime is committed in his near vicinity, that’s when the visor comes down.”
A key element of RoboCop’s transformation in some of the footage shown included the fact that Alex’s hand was kept intact. “Our movie’s in the future, and in the future America and other countries are using drones and robots in foreign policy,” explained Padilha. “But because a robot cannot be accountable, robots cannot pull the trigger domestically. So they [Sellars’ company] are losing a lot of money because they can’t sell robots in America. How do they bend the law? They put a man in the machine – they create a machine with a conscience. They have to sell the idea that this is a machine, and that this is a man…so they keep his hand for that reason, only. Human contact.”
“At the end of the day,” said Padilha, “you should never fear the gun – you should fear the guy holding the gun.”
RoboCop hits theaters February 7, 2014.