For acclaimed Brazilian director Jose Padilha ("Elite Squad," "Bus 174"), remaking "RoboCop" (February 7, 2014) is the perfect storm of politics and robotics. We chatted at Comic-Con about re-imagining the Paul Verhoeven cyborg classic from '87, which recasts Joel Kinnaman ("The Killing") as Alex Murphy, the Detroit cop gunned down and transformed into the half-man/half-machine Frankenstein. The timely actioner co-stars Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, and Abbie Cornish.
In the film's near future, drones are winning global wars but in order to bring this technology to the homefront, OmniCorp must humanize it. Hence, RoboCop. "Humanity and technology are going to colide very quickly," Padilha said. "My personal reason to make 'RoboCop' is that it's a good template to debate certain issues that have been suppressed from mankind. One, it's these drones. It's also not only the bombs they create but a certain freedom for states to interfere in other states without political pressure from home. In a certain sense it's the industrialization of war.
"The second thing is if a soldier pulls a trigger, they have free will and are making a choice and know the meaning of that choice. Once you have a machine doing that, there is no more accountability. Say you have a Brazillian robot in the middle of the Amazon forest that run into drug dealers and starts shooting and kills a kid by mistake. Who's fault is that? Is it the guy that released the robot? Is it the manufacturer of the software? So once you have autonomous robots who decide to pull the trigger, you have a whole set of philosophical and political issues that are not being debated in the press right now."
So this is the foreign policy backdrop of "RoboCop's" new futuristic spin. Padilha likes the way this global political issue plays out in the head of Murphy. This movie spends more time than the last one setting up his personal and professional life before transforming him into the cyborg. Not surprisingly, the director's favorite moment is when Murphy awakens from near-death and discovers his new hybrid state of being. He will inevitably question the validity of his own humanity through this cautionary tale.
"We've created a connection between a philosophical and moral dilemma in one character that's going to face humanity."
That's not to say that Padilha has abandoned satire completely. He's only replaced making fun of corporate advertising with the media, especially Fox News, as portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson's Glenn Beck-like riff.
But for depicting the slow process in which Murphy realizes that he's no longer Murphy, Padilha went for a Stanley Kubrick vibe using steadicams and wide lenses. The action, meanwhile, utilizes a lot of hand-held shots. But the movie is aiming for a PG-13 rating, unlike the original, which was R-rated.
Technically, though, the director's biggest challenge wasn't the new high-tech suit but finding a way to realistically portray Murphy's POV (he's being monitored by Big Brother). Since normal steadicams turn too slowly, they created a special RoboCop steadicam with a rotating head on top that moves quickly.
"The movie's very grounded," Padilha concluded. "So you're very strong but you're also very fragile. If you don't have your butt cleaned every night you're going to get a bug in the rest of your biological system and you're going to die. So it's a move that has a giant element of drama."