Hollywood Just Doesn’t Get the “Vision” Thing

Cuz most executives only know how to look, you know, back.

robocopnewby Tom Scocca

This new RoboCop movie does not care that anyone might compare it unfavorably to the original 1987 RoboCop movie. It has been programmed not to care about these things. The most readily available metaphor, which is also true, is that the new movie has killed the human mind and guts of its predecessor and kept the cold mechanical body. The whole thing is flat and obvious; even its musical cues land with the clanking unsubtlety of its protagonist’s metallic footsteps.

Most importantly, though, it is not funny. At the screening I attended, there were two lines that drew real laughs, both of which referred to something outside the world of the movie proper. One was simply that the filmmakers had decided to create an arbitrary opportunity for Samuel L. Jackson to say “motherfucker,” because Samuel L. Jackson is all about saying “motherfucker” in movies, dig? Motherfucker!

The other one was when one of the characters supplied a winking paraphrase of a line from the original RoboCop, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” In the old RoboCop, this was a dumb catchphrase delivered by a sweaty TV host as he leered at large-breasted women, to the idiotic delight of the cretins watching his show in the broken hellscape of Old Detroit. Now it is a dumb catchphrase delivered to … the audience watching RoboCop.

There’s a basic confusion about genre at work here. The original RoboCop was a brilliant comedy operating in the guise of an ultraviolent action movie, or rather, it was a scathing jeremiad operating as a comedy operating in action-movie guise. It was—and remains—a masterpiece of a specific kind of speculative fiction: tales of a world that is recognizably descended from our own, but which has collapsed under the weight of stupidity, consumerism, violence, and vulgarity.

To put a name on this not-quite-imaginary culture, it is a defining vision of Idiotopia—a visionRoboCop shares with works including The Running ManMax Headroom, and (most explicitly) Idiocracy. These are tales of a particular sort of future that awaits us, the future of “I’d buy that for a dollar!” and Idiocracy‘s “Oww! My Balls!” and the sketch show Time Trumpet‘s “Rape an Ape.” It is the ironic frame around Quentin Tarantino’s movies, artifacts of an alternative Idiotopian universe where entertainment is a bit more brutal and trashy than our own. (There’s a reason “Kill Bill” is syntactically identical to “Rape an Ape.”)

Read it all