Dead Or Alive: A Robocop Retrospective – Part Two

Well, this certainly turned out to be a longer article than I anticipated, to the point where I had to split this into two parts (part one here). First up RoboCop as a live-action TV show…. oh dear…

RoboCop

No, this wasn’t a remake of the original film but a live-action TV series. Originally airing in 1993-94, this show only lasted for 1 season and 23 episodes. ‘Technically’ 23 episodes, I should say. The pilot was basically a feature-length episode that was later split into two parts but counted as 1 episode. I have to admit to being a little confused as to where this sits in the timeline. It seems to be a direct follow-up to (or at least based on) the first film and it also seems to ignore the sequels… but its tone and style are much more in line with the kid-friendly RoboCop 3 film. There is no over-the-top violence that those first couple of films were known for, there’s no swearing or even the slightest sniff of any adult-themed content. According to robocop.fandom.com, this show takes place 5 years after the events of the first film.

ROBOCOP SERIES SCREEN 2

Plus most of the characters of the original film have had name changes. Murphy/RoboCop is still here but Lewis is now Lisa Madigan, as an example. Sgt. Reed is Sgt. Parks, even Murphy’s wife and kid were renamed, I believe the name changes were a rights thing. The producers got the rights to the RoboCop character to make this TV show (and other elements of the character) but not the rights to other characters from the films. I really do not know how that works out, how can you get the rights to use RoboCop… but none of the other characters? To make things even more mysterious, this show uses footage from the first film. The flashbacks that show Murphy’s ‘death’ include Clarence Boddicker and his gang, with all of the original actors too. There are clips from Murphy being taken into hospital and more taken directly from the first film. So they secured the rights to use footage, the Murphy/RoboCop character and so on, but none of the other character names? I mean, they reshot scenes of Murphy’s death to replace Anne Lewis with Lisa Madigan as his partner. So this is a direct sequel to the first film then… but everyone changed their name (and face)? Honestly, this makes no sense.

What is rather interesting about this kid-friendly show is that the pilot was written by RoboCop’s creators, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner (or at least adapted from one of their film sequel scripts). They actually okayed this, they willingly put their names on it. So it must be worthy of the original film… right? Originally, the producers even tried to get Peter Weller to return and reprise the main role. However, he showed zero interest, so they cast Richard Eden as Murphy/RoboCop instead. You know what? Eden is actually a pretty decent RoboCop. But this show suffers the same issues that RoboCop 3 had. The actor was decent enough, he just had shit scripts to work with. Which does bring me to the meat of this show.

ROBOCOP SERIES SCREEN 1

Again, this TV show decided to be more kid-friendly, à la RoboCop 3. Episodes featured villains that RoboCop would take out using non-lethal means. Plus all of the bad guys felt very 1960s Batman TV show. I mean, one of the main villains was called ‘Pudface’, so that will give you an idea of the quality here. In fact, the whole show has that 60s Batman kind of a flavour to it. The leaders of OCP are played up for laughs, instead of being the cutthroat corporate bastards that they were in the first film and so on. RoboCop even gets a really annoying kid sidekick called Gadget… because of course he does. This really is more like a live-action version of the previously covered animated show, over the movie it was based on. By now and after the release and failure that was RoboCop 3, the franchise was a bit of a laughing stock anyway, so there really wasn’t a great deal of expectation for this TV show. In that regard, this is a very typical 90s kids/early teens cop show.

RoboCop (the TV show) is a very, very ‘meh’ effort. But, to be honest, I never really expected much from it at this point in the franchise. The episodes are a bit cheesy and the villains do feel very pantomime for the most part. RoboCop feels more like a kid-friendly superhero here than a bad-ass cybernetic cop from the first film. This is the kind of show that would be on before a film, early Saturday evening. So you’d put the TV on ready to watch the said film, only it hadn’t started yet and this was on. But you just couldn’t be arsed to change the channel, so you’d just watch this while waiting for the film to start.

RoboCop: Alpha Commando

And so here we are, the second animated version of RoboCop. Again, I have no idea where this is supposed to sit in the timeline. Lasting for just 1 season but a whopping 40 episodes, airing between 1998 and 1999. I don’t know if this is a sequel to the previous animated show or a stand-alone thing. Many of the writers on this also worked on the other animated show, so there is that connection at least. It does have an awesome theme tune with some of the greatest lyrics you will ever hear though… honest.

You already know the score by now. Lots of lasers, bad puns and non-lethal means to stop the villains… who are typical 90s animation bad guys. Nothing like its source material and an even more kid-friendly version of the ultra-violent film. Very much a standard 90s kids cartoon with plenty of ‘tude’… RoboCop even has inline skates and calls women ‘babes’! Really, this has even less to do with the source material than anything else before it, that’s including RoboCop 3. The only returning character, other than Robo himself, is Sgt Reed (so it’s connected to the film series then?). Lewis even isn’t in this and there is no explanation why either (so it’s not connected to the film series then?). The art style is also a load of shit. I mean, look what they did to RoboCop…

ROBOCOP ALPHA COMMANDO

RoboCop: Alpha Commando is strange, to say the least. Save for the main character and Sgt Reed, this has nothing to do with any RoboCop lore before it. Seriously, this could very easily have had a different title character and still been the exact same show. Even the other animated show connected to the first film and had Clarence Boddicker and his gang, it had other returning characters and while it was massively toned down, it was still connected to the first film. This show though… nothing. The other animated RoboCop show wasn’t great, but it was somewhat watchable and at least recognisable as being a spin-off of the film. That other one even had kid-friendly messages about racism and such, it even addressed Murphy’s humanity. This one has RoboCop falling into a janitor’s closet and having a bucket end up on his head. RoboCop: Alpha Commando is more like an updated version of Inspector Gadget than a Robocop-based show. This feels more like a parody of RoboCop than something that is supposed to be an official addition to the character. Of the two animated shows, I’d suggest you avoid this one and give the first one a chance instead. That first one wasn’t great, but it wasn’t this either.

RoboCop: Prime Directives

So now we have a TV mini-series, released in 2001 and was somewhat of a return to form, to be honest. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in no way saying that RoboCop: Prime Directives is on par with the first or even the second film. But it is a massive step up in quality from what came after those first two films. This was actually four feature-length episodes: Dark Justice, Meltdown, Resurrection, and Crash and Burn. Now, I’m not going to go over all four episodes individually but just go over Prime Directives as a whole.

First up, this takes place 10 years after the events of the first film and works as a direct sequel to the original that ignores events from the sequels. This is also another one of those ‘strange rights’ things as the production company of this didn’t have the rights to use footage from the film… even though the 1993-94 live-action show did, when that re-wrote the characters to be all new and unconnected to the first film. They also couldn’t use ED-209 as that character has its own copyright too. RoboCop rights really are a bit weird. Well okay, there is some footage from the first film in one of the episodes but it’s been slightly altered and not shown how it was originally screened. I don’t know if that was done to get around copyright.

ROBOCOP PRIME DIRECTIVES 2

Anyway, even though this is a direct sequel to the first film, the only returning character is RoboCop. After some digging around, it appears that Lewis did exist in this universe but she died before the events of this mini-series are shown. How she died is not known and it (supposedly) isn’t connected to her death in RoboCop 3 at all, she’s just dead in this timeline. Other character disappearances are not addressed. It’s been 10 years since the first film, people move on I guess?

The basic plot of RoboCop: Prime Directives revolves around RoboCop being obsolete and how a new RoboCop is created. Yeah, it does sound a bit like the plot of RoboCop 2 but it’s also very different and very much does its own thing with the idea. The four episodes can really be split into two acts the first two episodes focus on the older and newer RoboCop as they battle it out, only to later decide to team up and take on the big bad of the series. The last two episodes follow the two RoboCops as they do what they do and clean up the streets and take out Dr Kaydick, who is threatening to destroy all known life with his ‘bio-tech’.

Look, I’m not going to sit here and say that RoboCop: Prime Directives is a well-written piece (or four pieces) of TV but compared to anything post-RoboCop 2, this is fucking Shakespeare. In terms of tone, it kind of hits the middle ground between the violence of the first two films and the kid-friendliness of the first live-action TV show. Some of the bad guys that RoboCop goes up against can be a bit ‘pantomime’ but at the same time, the character kicks some arse. In the opening 10 minutes of the first episode, RoboCop shoots someone in the head… with a bullet too and not some kind of non-lethal device, then another person gets blown up when a bomb strapped to his chest is shot with a mini-gun. This is a violent TV show, not as graphic as the original film and you don’t see blood spraying everywhere, though there is blood in the series, it is used sparingly.

ROBOCOP PRIME DIRECTIVES

The way it is filmed is darker and grittier too, miles away from how the other TV show looked and felt. Along with the violence, there is swearing. Like the violence, it’s not terribly graphic but there is some swearing. You won’t hear anyone screaming “fuck me, fuck, me, fuck me” over and over, but you will hear the odd ‘shit’, ‘son of a bitch’, ‘bastard’ and so on. Speaking of bastards, that is how the OCP executives are portrayed too. Not the comic foils they were in the other TV show but more hard-nosed and ruthless. Plus the satire of American culture is back It has a lot of what the first two films featured… just not as well implemented. Page Fletcher plays Murphy/RoboCop and he’s pretty good in the role. He’s no Peter Weller but he ain’t too bad at all. Fletcher plays the character similarly but his movements are faster and more urgent.

Overall, RoboCop: Prime Directives is actually pretty decent. Okay so it’s not original film great, but it is certainly far better than anything from RoboCop 3 onwards. If I had a gripe, then that would be that with the four episodes being over 90 minutes each, they can drag on a little bit. An edit to bring the total runtime down to 4 hours would be great as there are some scenes that seem overly long for no reason and other scenes that seem very redundant. Plus, there are times when you can tell that the budget for this that wasn’t great. I can’t blame the show for not being big-budget, it’s a TV show of a franchise that was all but dead at the time.

ROBOCOP PRIME DIRECTIVES 3

The show even delves into Murphy’s history a bit more before becoming RoboCop. There are a few continuity errors given that this is supposed to be a direct sequel and it’s a shame they didn’t (or couldn’t) use other characters other than RoboCop as this really could’ve been lifted higher with the addition of Lewis, etc. Generally speaking, RoboCop: Prime Directives is watchable, even pretty damn good in places. After going through the entire RoboCop franchise for this article, it’s nice to end on something that’s not too bad and proof that given a better budget and more care, a RoboCop TV show could work. Oh yeah, it’s not quite the end yet, is it?

RoboCop

I guess it had to happen at some point, the dreaded remake. Now, I’m not somebody who has anything  against remakes, generally speaking. Remakes can be good and I honestly welcome the idea of seeing a different take on a story and characters that I enjoy. Still, I am fully aware that remakes can be and usually are fucking terrible. Even so, I did go into this version with an open mind and on paper, it really had a lot of promise. There are some great actors in this, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. ‘mother fucking’ Jackson. The trailer looked good too, not great but good.

ROBOCOP REMAKE2

So this one is a full-on remake of the original. Through the franchise, we have had film sequels, animated TV shows and live-action TV shows that have both worked as direct sequels and alternate timelines. But this was the first and proper full remake. Released in 2014 with Joel Kinnaman playing the title role. Originally, the RoboCop remake was due to come out in 2010 with Darren Aronofsky on board to direct… which could’ve been amazing as Aronofsky is a wonderful director. However ‘creative differences’ had Aronofsky leave the project and the film was delayed. So why did Darren Aronofsky leave? Because he wanted to make a hard adult-themed film in line with the original, whereas the studio wanted something more ‘bankable’… or PG-13 (mainly because the studio were having financial difficulties at the time). So Aronofsky was out and after a delay or seven, José Padilha was brought in as director instead, while Aronofsky went on to make Black Swan.

Anyway, as mentioned, what we got was a ‘safe’ PG-13 take on the notoriously violent RoboCop. Okay, so this wasn’t as toned down as some of the other projects, like the third film, the animated shows and the live-action attempts… but this still felt very diluted. And it wasn’t just the lack of violence either as this version completely missed out on the subtle humour and satire that the first film was famed for. Overall, RoboCop (2014) is very dull. In terms of being a remake and judging it as a remake, it’s okay at best. In terms of being part of the RoboCop franchise, it is piss poor and a wasted effort.

ROBOCOP REMAKE1

There are things that I do like about this version. There are some great performances all through the cast. The likes of Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. ‘mother fucking’ Jackson are really enjoyable here, even if their characters aren’t very interesting, their acting is worth it. Then there is Joel Kinnaman playing Murphy/RoboCop, he’s actually really good too. Some of the updated tools that RoboCop has do make a lot of sense, like being able to connect to (basically) wi-fi and search for police suspects. But then there are parts that make zeros sense, like RoboCop having non-lethal means to take out the bad guys. That’s something from the toy range and RoboCop 3 when they wanted to make the character more kid-friendly and PG-13. RoboCop, as a character, isn’t, nor should he ever be, kid-friendly.

The plot is devoid of any depth. Just going back to the first film, on the surface, it is just a film about a cyborg going out for revenge. But it is also a film with a lot of layers to it when you really explore it. There is a reason it is still talked about and revered 35 years later. Here, there is nothing but a bog-standard action flick to sell to the masses with little to no depth. There is no battle with Murphy’s humanity because they changed the character from not knowing who he is, to knowing exactly who he is. Worth a watch… as in singular. This really is a shame too because a more satirical and deeper Robocop remake that was aimed at adults could’ve been awesome.

Other Appearances

That is all of the main big and small screen appearances of RoboCop, but the character has popped up elsewhere in some very strange instances too. So here, I’m just going to sum up a few other notable times that RoboCop has ‘entrained’ us over the years. Outside of the usual novels and comic books attached to the franchise, RoboCop has appeared in some very strange places since the first film was released. From meeting an ex-president of the United States to selling noodles and insurance. Here are all of the curious appearances of RoboCop that I could find.

RoboCop met Richard Nixon. Yup, this actually happened. Just think about that for a second. RoboCop, who is known for upholding the law (it is one of his directives) meeting one of the most famously crooked politicians/ex-presidents in American history. You may think that sounds stupid (it does), you may think it never happened and that I’m just making it up, but…

ROBOCOP AND NIXON

… it happened alright. So then, the big question is ‘what the fuck?’. Well, after some digging around I found out that this picture was taken in 1987 by Chuck Pulin. For those that don’t know, Pulin was famed for his shots of rock stars in the 60s and 70s. It was a charity event and the meeting of RoboCop and Nixon was done to help promote the VHS release of the first film. It was published in the December, 1987 edtion of Billboard Magazine and the caption under the photo read:

Richard M. Nixon is escorted by RoboCop at a national board meeting of the Boys Club of America. The RoboCop character was on hand to call attention to Orion Home Video’s RoboCop RubOut promotion. Sweepstakes tickets, packaged with each “RoboCop” cassette, offer a number of instant prizes for retailers as well as $25,000 in donations to the Boys Club. The sweepstakes is part of a $3 million promotional effort launched by Orion in conjunction with the action-adventure film’s video release. The cassette will be available in video stores beginning Jan. 28 for a suggested list price of $89.98.

As you can tell from the photo, that’s not the ‘real’ RoboCop (as in, that’s not Peter Weller). The suit looks like something that a drunk cosplayer would knock up in 10 minutes. It’s fucking terrible and proof that they were bastardising the character long before RoboCop 3 existed. Still, RoboCop meeting Richard Nixon is pretty ‘out there’… and that’s not even the strangest thing RoboCop has ever done.

RoboCop teamed up with some Marvel heroes. Long before the MCU was even thought of, RoboCop was already kicking arse with some of Marvel’s biggest superheroes. Okay, so he didn’t so much kick-arse as he just pulled a lever. Still, you really want to see RoboCop teaming up with Captain America, don’t you? Well, it all happened at the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade in 1987. But why? Well at the time, Marvel had secured the rights to use RoboCop for their comics. A series of RoboCop comics were released in the 90s but before those, there was a comic book adoption of the film released in 1987 from Marvel. So anyway, for a while, Marvel had the RoboCop rights… so they put him in a Thanksgiving Day parade with Marvel heroes, logic? It is a very quick ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ appearance but here it is and it all happened using the theme from Back to the Future because?

So then, after teaming up with some of Marvel’s finest, where can RoboCop go from there? Saving Pee-wee Herman, obviously. Oh yeah, before Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) was caught playing with his pee-wee in a porno cinema, he was attacked by ED-209 for RoboCop to come and save him. No, this isn’t some deluded fever dream I had, this really happened at the 1988 Oscars. Just as Pee-wee is about to present an Oscar, ED-209 bursts into the theatre and begins shooting at Pee-wee as he starts to fly… yes fly. RoboCop turns up and shoots ED-209 with his left hand… even though he’s right-handed (the things you spot where you’re a big RoboCop fan) with some very questionable effects work. And then… hang on, why the bollocks am I describing this to you when you can watch it right here?

ROBOCOP WRESTLING 2

RoboCop even did a bit of professional wrestling… kind of. Capital Combat: Return of RoboCop was a one-off PPV event at some wrestling thing held in 1990. Look, I don’t watch wrestling, I have no idea what this is or what the ‘eff was going on. There was some kind of backstory thing and one of the wrestlers put another one in a cage. RoboCop turned up and ripped the cage door off its hinges (read: lightly pulled the fake and obviously unlocked cage door of a fake cage) and that was it. The best bit was when RoboCop accidentally opens the cage when he was clearly not supposed to… to then pull the door off its hinges even though it was open. Basically, RoboCop 2 was set for release and so this event was set up as a promotion for the film. Click this link to see the few seconds of RoboCop’s short wrestling career. He doesn’t even do any wrestling… in a wrestling event named after the character. They filmed a short promo for it too if you want to watch it.

So now, I have a few Asian ads that make little sense in their own right and feature RoboCop to make far less sense. I don’t have exact air dates for these, but I’m pretty sure they all came from the 90s. First up RoboCop killing bugs. There really is little to say here other than that there must be very little crime in Japan (I think it’s Japanese) if all RoboCop has to worry about is CGI bugs. Next up, RoboCop advertising GoldStar (now LG) TVs. I have no idea what was going on there but I’d definitely buy a TV from RoboCop. This next one could be the most bizarre ad yet… and that’s saying something. Do you want a TV ad where RoboCop comes out of a TV, eats some fried chicken and then steals a fridge? Of course you do, click here. I think this one is Korean and aside from the very, very shiny and chrome RoboCop, did you hear what was playing in the background? It’s not very loud but listen carefully with the volume turned up… that’s the Back to the Future III theme. After the 1987 Thanksgiving parade using the BttF theme, I have to ask why is RoboCop stealing BttF music?

ROBOCOP NOODLES

Then we have RoboCop advertising instant noodles… cos you know… Asian. There were actually a series of these ads, I don’t know how many there were in total, but here’s a video of two of them. I did find a site claiming that these ads were from the 80s. However, a copyright pops up at one point that clearly says “RoboCop 3 1992”. Though RoboCop 3 was released in 1993, it was meant to be released in 92 but was delayed when Orion Pictures went through Bankruptcy. So I assume that these ads were originally made to help promote the original 1992 release of the film? Oh yeah, I also found someone selling the RoboCop eclectic toothbrush that was made to help promote the noodles, as shown in the last ad.

This last ad (so far, before a slight break), also from the 90s, didn’t feature the official RoboCop, nor was it Asian. But I just really had to include it here because it’s so fucking stupid. I mean, fake and rose-pink ‘RoboCop’ going to buy a new exhaust (I am English) for his car? Then a ninja appears for no reason and fake RoboCop does nothing other than praise the price of his car part. Two thumbs up for its utter nonsense.

ROBOCOP RIDE

From 1993 was RoboCop: The Ride. Not based on any of the films, but it was released to coincide with the release of RoboCop 3. This was one of those ‘sit down in a chair with loads of other people and get thrown about while looking at a big screen’ type of rides… or a motion ride, as they are called. This one popped up in several places like the Granada Studios Tour in Manchester. It also appeared in Texas, California and a few other places. The basic plot of the ride was you tagged along with RoboCop, as a new recruit, patrolling Detroit. The mayor is kidnapped and you have to save him. It was a mix of live-action and CGI sections. There’s a good video that takes a deeper look at the ride right here. But footage of the entire ride does not seem to exist. Now for an all-star cameo featuring a T-Rex (presumably from Jurassic Park), Darth Vader, Ferengi from Star Trek: The Next Generation, a Cardassian soldier from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, G.I. Joe and yes, RoboCop. From the 1995 film, The Indian in the Cupboard, this little snippet is a cornucopia of popular character cameos at the time.

ROBOCOP KFC

Alright, let’s have a few more RoboCop TV ads before I end this retrospective. Once more, there were a series of these ads, how many in total? I have no idea. But what is RoboCop pushing onto punters now… KFC, obviously. We already know he loves his fried chicken following that Korean ad previously. But now, he’s taking on the king of fried chicken with the Colonel himself. Here’s a link to a collection of the KFC ads. This KFC ad campaign seems to come from 2019, that’s pretty recent. What I love is that they blended both the famed Colonel Sanders and RoboCop to make Colonel RoboCop, as if the Colonel died and was bright back as a cyborg. Even better… that’s Peter Weller. The original RoboCop actor back playing the character that made him famous. Now, I’m pretty sure that’s not Weller in the suit, he would’ve been around 72 at the time. But it has been confirmed as being Peter Weller’s voice.

The last RoboCop ad (so far) was as recent as 2020. It was for Direct Line insurance. Playing RoboCop this time was Derek Mears, a name that you may not recognise, even though he’s played some of cinema’s biggest characters. Mears played Jason Voorhees in the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th, he played a Predator in Predators from 2010 and he was also the title character from the 2019 Swamp Thing TV show.

ROBOCOP STATUE

For the final RoboCop appearance, I just want to quickly look at a statue. A more than 11-foot tall, 2.5-ton bronze statue of RoboCop was made and it took 11 years too. Here is a video of its reveal and an article looking at its making. Basically, the statue was made because Philadelphia had a Rocky statute and someone on Twitter asked why doesn’t Detroit have one for RoboCop. Over a decade later and RoboCop finally had a massive statue made. Originally set to be placed outside of the Michigan Science Center, Detroit in 2021… it never was. As of writing, the statue is in storage with it set to be publicly placed and unveiled elsewhere in Detroit this summer.


And that is ‘yer lot for Robocop on the big and small screen… and some wonderfully bizarre appearances. There was been a lot of talk of a direct sequel to the first film coming out. Called Robocop Returns, the film is said to have a completed script that has been penned by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, who co-wrote the original film together. Neill Blomkamp was originally attached to direct but he left the project in 2019. Abe Forsythe then came on board as director… and then the whole covid thing happened and it has been very quiet on the Robocop Returns front since then. News on the film is non-existent (or top secret) and I have no idea if the project is moving ahead or not, as of writing this article.

ROBOCOP CAR

I hope it does though, the idea of a new sequel that ignores most of the franchise to create a new timeline is something that worked with Halloween. I’d love to see a new Robocop flick and seeing as the remake was utter arse-gravy, the franchise needs to get back to its roots. It would be great to see Peter Weller return in the lead role too… but perhaps not in the famed suit itself. Weller is (as of writing) 75-years-old. I really don’t think he’d be up to playing the character again, at least not physically. But there have been some great leaps forward in digital technology these days. They could get a younger actor in the suit and have Peter Weller’s face digitally added, with Weller providing the voice too. I mean, he did come back to advertise KFC. That is, of course, if Robocop Returns ever does go ahead.

Well, now I have covered everything about Robocop in terms of TV and film, time to take a look at some games.

Dead Or Alive: A Robocop Retrospective – Part One

The awesomely violent and rather multilayered Robocop turns 35-years-old this month. Originally released on the 17th of July way back in 1987, happy 35th birthday to Robocop. Seeing as this is one of my favourite films, I guess I have to write something. So, I’m going to be looking at some Robocop video games in another article. But here, I’m going to explore Robocop on the big and small screen, everything and yes, I’ll even cover the TV shows too… along with some rather surprising appearances at the end. Starting off, chronologically, with the first film.

RoboCop

Part man. Part machine. All cop. RoboCop was one of the first films I ever saw on our own VHS player. I was about 13-years-old at the time and I remember being really shocked at the swearing in the film. Younger me had heard swearing but just not that much and that frequent. That fella robbing the store in the film and screaming ‘fuck me, fuck me, fuck me’ over and over almost made me want to cover my ears… almost.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, co-written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, Robocop possibly began life as a possible Judge Dredd film. You can see a Judge Dredd influence in the final film but the story goes that writer Neumeier began penning the story as a Judge Dredd film but could not secure the rights, so he then changed it to an original character instead. I say ‘possibly began’ as a Judge Dredd film because I can’t seem to find any concrete evidence that outright states this, just user-submitted ‘trivia’. Still, Edward Neumeier is a self-confessed Judge Dredd fan. Also, there was the early test sculpt of the RoboCop suit…

ROBOCOP DREDD

… yes, that one. Very clearly Judge Dredd influenced but still not proof the film itself was originally a Judge Dredd one. I’m leaving this tit-bit as inconclusive.

But anyway, getting back to the film. Director Paul Verhoeven first thoughts of the film were that it was utterly stupid. Apparently, he only read the first few pages of the script and then threw it in the bin. The idea of a robot/human police officer hybrid was something that Verhoeven just could not get past and he failed to see a film worth directing. His wife, Martine, took the script from the bin and read it herself. She then convinced Verhoeven to read the script properly as it had a lot more depth to it than he first realised. As Paul Verhoeven recalled himself:

“She read it in a completely different way: she felt there were elements that weren’t so far away from me, like [Murphy] losing his past, and the philosophy of losing your memory. … Even my films in Holland, if they were about a war, none of them were action movies. I was more interested in the philosophical underpinnings of the script. I saw RoboCop a bit like a futuristic Jesus.”

That really is the key with RoboCop, it does have a lot of layers and a lot of depth. Yet, you can misunderstand it as just being a stupid sci-fi action flick. Just going back to 13-year-old me watching the film on VHS. That was how I saw it. RoboCop was just a ‘naughty’ film with a lot of swearing that looked cool. But when I watched it as an adult, the film seemed so different… but still with a lot of swearing in it and that it looked cool. The layers on RoboCop really are impressive. You’ve got your satire of American culture and Reaganomics. Those funny little TV ads within the film take on a very different meaning when you realise what they are poking fun at.

ROBOCOP TV AD

Then you have the central character of Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) himself. The fact he loses everything, including his memories, and is just used as a ‘product’ by a massive corporation. His humanity is thrown aside so some slimy corporate executive could climb the ladder. Which does bring me to the Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) character and ‘father’ of RoboCop. He’s a slimy snake in the grass for sure… but the way Ferrer played him made him a very likeable guy. He was a bad guy with a heart and one that did actually care for his creation. Speaking of bad guys…

Man, I adore Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and he is one of cinema’s greatest villains. The slightly nasally voice, the ‘Heinrich Himmler’ glasses, the one-liners. He’s a complete dick and has zero redeeming characteristics… but you can’t help but love him. A good film needs a great villain for it to work and RoboCop has one of the best. Officer Lewis (Nancy Allen) was used as the connection between RoboCop and Alex Murphy. The ‘Murphy, it’s you‘ scene really is one of my favourites in the flick. The way that RoboCop does that literal little step backwards and becomes Murphy for just a second or two, before snapping back into RoboCop and continuing on. It’s the really subtle acting that sells it. Acting that must’ve been tough for Peter Weller when we the audience can’t see his face. For an actor to convey emotion and reaction… without having the luxury of using their face is damn tricky.

ROBOCOP MURPHY ITS YOU

Which does bring me to the main man himself and the one who gets the big job of carrying the weight of the film on his shoulders. How Weller pulled off playing the titular character is incredible. I’ve read stories of just how damn uncomfortable it was to act in the RoboCop suit. Apparently, it took 11 hours to get Peter Weller into the suit the first time. They got better over the course of the film shoot but it still took a good few hours. Then he couldn’t go to the toilet easily, or at all. It was so damn hot that Weller would lose around 3 lbs a day via sweating. Yet, even with all of that, he still put in an amazing performance and one with so many layers and facets. Look, I’m more than 1,400 words into this retrospective, I’ve only briefly looked at the first film and I need to move on. I could most probably write a huge and in-depth article just on RoboCop alone, just not now.

Still, I really do love this film. Paul Verhoeven’s directing is sublime and RoboCop is a film that I have grown up with. From 13-year-old me watching this on VHS and being shocked at the swearing to 46-year-old me peeling back the layers and enjoying this film for its depth and (sometimes not) subtle digs as 80s Americana and culture. In the middle of all of that, you have this story of lost humanity and one of the best acting performances you’ll ever see in an 80s sci-fi flick.

RoboCop

What do you do when you have an overtly violent and very adult-themed film? You make a kid’s cartoon out of it, of course. Honestly, this was a bit of a trend in the 80s and 90s, taking an obviously adult-focused film and turning it into kid’s entertainment. Be it a cartoon, TV show or even kid’s toys, there are loads of examples of this happening back then. I mean, in the 80s, you could buy officially licenced Freddy Krueger pyjamas for kids to wear… just think about that for a second.

FREDDY PJS

This animated show only lasted for one season and 12 episodes. Originally airing in 1988, a year after the film was released. I mean, they didn’t even wait for the film franchise to begin and get stale before they turned into a kid’s show. RoboCop (animation) was released when the film was getting its home release. The film had been an unexpected hit and work on a sequel was already underway by then but why wait for a proper sequel when you can make a kid-friendly cartoon ‘sequel’ instead? RoboCop (animation) does follow the events of the film quite a lot but it also changes things up a fair bit. For example, Murphy is still killed by Clarence Boddicker and his gang to become RoboCop. But Clarence Boddicker and his gang are actually still alive in the cartoon. Lewis is in this too as are a few of the film’s characters. No Bob Morton though (well I guess he did die in the film) and Dr. Tyler is his creator. Now, Dr. Tyler was in the film but as a very minor character. Look, I could sit here all day and point out the differences between this cartoon and the film it is based on but I need to look at if the show was any good or not.

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I never watched this show back then. In fact, I only watched it recently just for this retrospective. It’s kind of like a kid-friendly retelling of the first film that (obviously) replaces the violence of its source material with morals and lessons for children. Guns don’t fire bullets, they shoot lasers… ‘cos kids love lasers. It’s that kind of thing, very typical Saturday morning cartoon fare. None of the film’s actors reprise their roles but it’s not like you’re going to miss them here anyway. The voice cast are actually pretty decent, for a kids cartoon. When watching RoboCop (animation) for this retrospective, I tried to put myself in the shoes of teenage me and work out if I would’ve watched it back when it originally aired. I reckon I would’ve. A bit of Teenage Mutant Ninja (or ‘Hero’ as they were called here in the UK) Turtles, some Spider-Man, a portion of Rude Dog and the Dweebs and a helping of RoboCop on a Saturday morning. Yeah, I think I would’ve gotten into this.

It is very obviously massively diluted from the film but as a kid’s cartoon, it is pretty good. Some episodes even deal with more ‘adult’ content, in a kid-friendly way. Things like racism, terrorism, the environment, various prejudices and so on. The kind of subjects that these types of cartoons like to force in now and then. To be fair, RoboCop even deals with the character’s humanity pretty well too. It is 12 episodes of a very typical but still a fairly entertaining show. If you want to introduce your kids to RoboCop and not worry about scarring them for life via the original film, this is a decent way to do it.

RoboCop 2

Released in 1990, this sequel saw a few of the original cast return like Peter Weller and Nancy Allen. But throw in plenty of new characters, including an ‘improved’ RoboCop 2 (title) to contend with as well as a city-wide drug problem and a Detroit running out of money. Behind the camera, director of the first film, Paul Verhoeven was gone. As too were the original writers with Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Sitting in the director’s chair was Irvin Kershner, with the film being written by Frank Miller and Walon Green.

ROBOCOP 2

There were several behind-the-scenes issues with RoboCop 2, mainly the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner began work on writing a very different and gritter sequel. But the aforementioned writer’s strike put an end to that script. So Frank Miller was brought on as writer instead and he penned a much darker script that involved corporate fascism and would explore the backstory of Alex Murphy more. Then, Walon Green was hired to rewrite Miller’s script and ‘lighten’ it, make it more fun and jokey. This new script also removed a lot of the backstory and ‘simplified’ everything. Then there was Orion Pictures themselves. With the first film, as it wasn’t expected to be a big hit, they left Paul Verhoeven to do whatever he wanted. With this sequel, the studio saw the potential of a franchise, and so they began to control everything much more tightly and perhaps played it too safe.

ROBOCOP 2 SCREEN

RoboCop 2 is a hard film to outright dislike but it is clearly a film that suffers from studio interference and horrible script rewrites. It is still ‘adult’… I guess. Yet, it had this undercurrent of trying to be broader and more appealing to a wider audience. RoboCop 2 is nowhere near as creative or deep as the first film, it’s very shallow and lacks heart. We do get to learn more about Alex Murphy and his (widowed) wife, yet it all feels very ‘off’, lacking in any real meaning. When speaking to avclub.com, Peter Weller said that:

“RoboCop 2 didn’t have a third act. I told the producers and Irv Kirshner up front, and Frank Miller. I told them all. I said, “Where’s the third act here, man? So I beat up a big monster. In the third act, you have to have your Dan O’Herlihy. Somebody’s got to be the third act.” “No, no, the monster’s going to be enough.” “Look, it’s not enough!” When you have a movie like the first RoboCop, where the bad guys are never the bad guys and it’s always the morality of the thing. You know, like the idea that progress in the name of progress can steal a man’s identity. Look, the first RoboCop’s got deregulated trickle-down social economic politics in it, way before Bush and Romney and the debates with Obama and Senator Clinton. It’s got a morality to it. If you don’t have that, man, you’ve got no flick, and I said that so much.”

He was right too, the lack of a real third act thing aside, there really isn’t much of a flick with RoboCop 2 at all. The whole film is just so lacking over the first one. The idea of morality, humanity and so on are just not here. It’s a very typical ‘oh look, we may have a franchise on our hands’ type of sequel. One where the studio were reluctant to take any chances and played it safe just to make a better-looking and bigger budget film but one with very little substance. RoboCop 2 is watchable, even enjoyable at times… but it is still a pretty poor sequel. One thing I will say about this film though is that it got it right about Detroit going bankrupt.

RoboCop 3

RoboCop 2 was a flawed but still a somewhat watchable sequel. RoboCop 3 was just fucking atrocious. Third film and third director with Fred Dekker at the helm. Dekker also co-wrote the screenplay with Frank Miller. Now, in Frank Miller’s defence, his original script was said to have been far better but once he handed it into the studio, it went through several edits and changes. To the point where Miller turned his back on Hollywood and refused to write another script until 2005’s Sin City. Miller turned his bastardised RoboCop scripts into well-received comic books later. Some of the first two film’s cast returned for this sequel… but not Peter Weller, he had good taste. Robert Burke stepped into the chrome suit this time around and he’s a bit terrible. But I think that has more to do with the awful script than the actor. RoboCop 3 was released in 1993 when Orion Pictures were going through bankruptcy.

ROBOCOP 3 SCREEN

There really is very little to like here. You have a film where RoboCop is now helping homeless people and going to get revenge because Lewis has been killed. To be fair, Nancy Allen as Lewis is about the only saving grace in the whole film… and they killed her off about a quarter of the way in. RoboCop gets an interchangeable hand-thing that feels like an idea from one of the kid’s toys. He uses a flamethrower, wears a jet-pack and takes on a ninja robot from Japan. Seriously, I’m convinced that the producers just looked at the RoboCop kids toy line that existed at the time and said ‘make a film like that’. RoboCop has gone from shooting potential rapists in the dick to babysitting an 11-year-old girl who makes ED-209 ‘as loyal as a puppy’.

You know how the first film had real depth. Yeah, it was in its most basic form, just a film about revenge. Still, it had some amazing writing, characters you cared about, satire, witty observations, good acting and more. RoboCop 2 lost a lot of that, yet it did still have some semblance that could be connected to what made the original great. This film, RoboCop 3 however, is just truly heinous. This one feels like a made-for-TV movie that was being used as a vehicle for a family-friendly TV show… which I will get to soon enough. The iconic violence is gone, the excessive swearing is gone and the social satire is gone to be replaced with cheap parody. What you have is a prime example of why the PG-13 rating should never have been invented.

Now, before anyone starts jumping up and down on my nuts for praising and liking the animated RoboCop show earlier for it being kid-friendly, whilst decrying RoboCop 3 for going kid-friendly… allow me to explain. First, I did qualify the animated show by wondering if I would’ve liked it as a teenager back then, not as an adult now. Plus, the animated show may have been the same characters on a technical level, but the show was a retelling of the first film and created its own continuity. Those ‘same’ characters existed in a different universe to the first film. With RoboCop 3, the characters are still supposed to be the same ones from the first two films and it is in continuity with the 1987 original. So RoboCop now being all ‘help a granny cross the road’ is stupid. The character hardly does anything in the film and spends most of it out of action and being repaired.

ROBOCOP 3 SCREEN 2

There’s always been something that bothered me about the film too. Well, there are a great many things that bother me about it, to be honest. But there is one specific thing that always annoyed me. When you see RoboCop moving and talking, the suit looked terrible. You could see the jawline flopping about when Robert Burke spoke. You could see the joins in the suit more than before and it just looked really ‘fake’. It really did just look like an actor in a suit. Whereas before, it looked and felt genuine, even if we did know it was just an actor in a suit. I later found out that the suit used was the same one from RoboCop 2. Now, there is nothing wrong with reusing older props in films but with the RoboCop suit, it was measured and built specifically for Peter Weller and his body. Robert Burke had a different build and his jawline was not as strong. One of the reasons Weller got the part in the first film was because Paul Verhoeven loved his strong jawline. So when Burke wore the suit, it didn’t fit, or it didn’t fit well enough. You can really see as much in the film too. I later learned that the suit was so uncomfortable on Robert Burke that it actually hurt him when he was acting in it and he’d be in that thing for several hours at a time. I genuinely feel sorry for Burke. He had a shit script to work with and spend hours in a suit that caused him pain… just to make a shit and utterly pointless sequel.


And this is just half of the ‘fun’ too. There is more questionable RoboCop content coming up in part two of this retrospective, including some of the most bizarre appearances of the character ever…

ROBOCOP 3 SCREEN 3

Movie Review: Elvis

I’ve been sitting on this one for a few days now. Originally, my review of this simply read: “Well, Tom Hanks was quite good.” and that was it. A one line review for a one-note film. This really isn’t very good. But that one line review, while justified, felt lacking… just like the film. I thought I’d better explain my disdain for this film.

So yeah, I really didn’t enjoy this at all, except for Tom Hanks, a performance that is really dividing people. Music biopics are all the rage recently, a trend that seemingly kicked off with Bohemian Rhapsody a few years back. Yeah, I know that these kinds of flicks predate the Queen biopic, but the recent trend seems to have really kicked off because of it. A few weeks back, I actually reviewed the Kurt Russell starring TV Elvis movie. A film I hadn’t seen for quite a few years. Despite its low budget and age, it has held up pretty well and Russell is a really good Elvis too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not great or anything but it does have one major saving grace… it’s not this film.

Rap music, rap music in an Elvis biopic! ‘Cos you know, Elvis and the 50s – 70s didn’t have much in the way of music to use eh? It was just so out of place and jarring. I don’t mind when films make artistic music choices. Quentin Tarantino using a mashup of James Brown’s The Payback and 2Pac’s Untouchable during the Candyland shootout in Django Unchained was awesome. But that was a fictional film set in a fictional universe with fictional characters. Let me bring this comparison closer to home with Rocketman, the Elton John biopic had songs being sung at times decades before they had been recorded. The Bollywood dance scene during the Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting scene was completely erroneous but wonderful. However, Rocketman was billed as being a ‘musical fantasy’ and it worked.

ELVIS SCFREEN 2

This Elvis biopic is neither of those things, it’s not a fictional film telling the story of fictional characters. Nor is it a fantasy using a well-known musical artist’s life as its backdrop. It’s supposed to be a genuine and direct attempt at telling the story of Elvis… and it really is not.

There are several major events of Elvis’ life that are skipped over. Sun Records and Sam Phillips? Nope, aside from a very brief mention. Elvis’ long-standing friendship with Red West? Nope. Elvis’ close relationship with his mom? Nope, Gladys Presley is in this, but their close mother/son relationship is pretty much glossed over and when she does die (spoilers) it lacks any character or stroy depth. His time in the Army and being stationed in Germany? Blink and you’ll miss it. Even his marriage to Priscilla is glossed over and feels like a footnote. There are more instances of Elvis’ life that apparently didn’t happen, according to this film. Now, someone said that’s because this is told from the perspective of Colonel Tom Parker and if he wasn’t there to witness events then they can’t really be part of his narrative. Okay, fine I accept that… so why are there so many scenes shown that Colonel Tom was not a part of? We see Elvis as a young boy years before Colonel Tom was even involved. Just one of many examples. If this film wants to use the narrative of this being told through Colonel Tom’s eyes, then stick with it and stop cherry-picking moments to tell a disjointed narrative.

ELVIS SCFREEN 3

This film just skips over major events of Elvis’ life… in a biopic about Elvis. You know, I actually really liked the idea of the story being told from the point of view of Colonel Tom Parker. It’s unique and hasn’t been done before. Tom Hanks was amazing in the role too (some say otherwise) and it’s very unusual to see Hanks playing the bad guy and he really is portrayed as being a bad guy too. But this is an Elvis biopic, it’s called Elvis and is centralised on Elvis. If they want to make a Colonel Tom film… then make a Colonel Tom film… and don’t call it Elvis.

Austin Butler as Elvis is both great and terrible. In the early years, showing his and Colonel Tom’s relationship, Butler was atrocious as young Elvis. I kept thinking he was going to stop and marry a couple in Vegas he was that bad. However, as older Elvis in the 1970s, Butler was fucking amazing. In fact, this film really doesn’t get even slightly interesting or good until the last 30-40 minutes with Elvis doing his Vegas thing. The film actually feels like a disjointed mess of scenes that is just bulldozing its way to the finale. I’m pretty sure the only research done for this film was reading a few paragraphs of Elvis’ Wikipedia page.

ELVIS SCFREEN 1

The main issue is that this is a Baz Luhrmann film. Stroy by, screenplay by, produced and directed by Luhrmann and he’s crap. He’s wearing so many different hats for this film that I’m amazed he didn’t do the catering. He lets his ego get in the way of his art and everything has to be ‘Luhrmannised’ to the point where his films become the epitome of style over substance. That is exactly what this flick is style on top of style, on top of more style… and a tiny bit of substance at the end. It tried to be Rocketman with its glitz and failed. Because unlike the Elton John flick, there’s no real story here, just scenes. A film with a 2-hour and 39-minute runtime and only the later 39 minutes feel anything like a watchable film.

This flick is just an over-bloated mess that doesn’t do anything particularly well (until the end) and what it does do, it does really badly… in style. Elvis is a film that straight up pisses on an icon, it is the cinematic version of someone doing a paint-by-numbers version of the Mona Lisa… with glitter paint and not following the numbers/colour coding…. while painting over the lines. Don’t bother watching this at the cinema, wait until it is on streaming services (which should take a few weeks going by recent trends) because you can just fast forward to the last 40 minutes when it finally gets good then and save yourself a couple of hours.

Oh well, at least Tom Hanks was quite good.

Movie Review: Elvis: The Movie (1979)

There’s a new Elvis film coming very soon. From director Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as the King of Rock ‘n Roll, with Tom Hanks playing Colonel Tom Parker. Full admittance, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but my older brother is and so, I grew up with Elvis’ music and films whether I liked it or not. Whilst I’m not a huge Elvis fan, I certainly appreciate him and his work. I’m actually really looking forward to seeing the new Elvis flick too. In the meantime, I thought I’d re-watch the 1979 biopic. A film I’ve not seen since I was a kid and I just wanted to see how it holds up or if it does at all.

The first thing that I do want to cover with this flick is that it was low budget and that it was originally a made for TV movie (though it did see a theatrical and very edited release outside of the US). I mean, this film was made for around $2.5 million which is under $10 million in 2022, that wouldn’t even cover Tom Hanks’ salary in the new film. Still, even with the low budget, Elvis: The Movie is a very worthy effort in telling the life story of The King.

Starting out in 1969 with Elvis (Kurt Russell) waiting to take to the stage in Las Vegas after not performing for a number of years. Elvis begins to doubt that he still has it, worried that he will be a disappointment. The film then cuts to Tupelo, Mississippi in 1945 where we see young Elvis talking to his dead twin and getting a guitar for Christmas (it was actually on his birthday in real life). Beaten up by a local bully, young Elvis decides that he wants to do something with his life and get out of Mississippi. Singing and playing the guitar is what he loves to do, so that’s what he’ll do.

ELVIS 79 SCREEN

From then on, the film follows Elvis at various moments throughout his life and career. His rise from a poor country bumpkin to a global megastar. With scenes featuring teenage Elvis at school being picked on because of his hair, his first recording sessions at Sun Records and his friendship with Red West (Robert Gray). Some of Elvis’ acting roles, his close relationship with and the death of his mother Gladys (Shelley Winters), signing up for the army, meeting and marrying Priscilla (Season Hubley) and ending in 1970 with Elvis’ triumphant return to the limelight after several years of not performing. So it doesn’t cover the last few years of his life before his death in 1977.

What you have here with Elvis is a very ‘by the numbers’ biopic that really doesn’t take any chances. It never delves into any of Elvis’ darker moments and even I, being someone who isn’t a big fan, knows that he wasn’t a saint. Yet that is pretty much how this film portrays him, as the golden child who never did anything wrong. It really isn’t a very deep film at all. Bearing in mind that Elvis died in August of 1977, this film went into production less than a year later and was filmed in mid to late 78, to be released in early 79. Perhaps there was a little hesitance on the filmmaker’s part as to not upset the still grieving fanbase and the Elvis Presley estate at the time by exploring some of his darker moments? This often feels like a collection of Elvis’ ‘greatest hits’ put to film over an accurate retelling of the man’s life.

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Yet, even with this flick being very ‘safe’, it is still a really good and enjoyable watch. Kurt Russell is absolutely amazing as Elvis. To this day, the best performance as The King ever seen on the big or small screen. Obviously, I’ve not seen the new film yet so that could change in a few weeks. Still, Russell really is brilliant. He has the mannerisms down perfect, the voice and that Elvis swagger. The fact that Kurt Russell kind of looks like Elvis really helps too. Now, Russell didn’t do any of the singing, he just lip-synched to recordings made by Ronnie McDowell, which are really damn good. Close your eyes not knowing that you are listening to an Elvis impersonator and I think that even the biggest Elvis fans could be fooled.

The rest of the cast do really well too. Shelley Winters as Elvis’ mother is wonderful and the chemistry between her and Kurt Russell really does come across well on screen. Playing the part of Elvis’ father, Vernon, is Bing Russell… yup, Kurt Russell’s real father. So obviously their chemistry is perfect, a father and son playing a father and son. Pat Hingle plays Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker and this is what I mean about this film being very ‘safe’ because there is none of Parker’s shady life in this film at all. Again, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but I’ve heard the stories of how Colonel Tom Parker exploited Elvis and perhaps mismanaged and pushed him too far. Of course, Parker was the man who took Elvis from small-time performer in Tupelo, Mississippi and turned him into a global phenomenon but he was still a bit ‘dodgy’ as a person and there’s none of that in this film.

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The rest of the cast do their bit as the friends of Elvis with Robert Gray paying Red West, Elvis’ closest friend and he does a fine job. Season Hubley as Priscilla Presley is good too, even if she doesn’t come into the film until about halfway through and really isn’t used as much as perhaps she should’ve been. Elvis was directed by the legend that is John Carpenter. Now famed for his sci-fi and horror films. In fact, Carpenter landed this job after directing the classic horror film, Halloween. This was also the first time that John Carpenter and Kurt Russell worked together. This sparked a long, fruitful friendship and collaborative working relationship between the two.

For a low budget TV movie that this is, it is certainly far better than you’d expect it to be though. Really great performances throughout and even if the film never really gets very deep or delves into some of the more ‘personal’ aspects of the whole Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker relationship, it is still very much worth seeking out for a watch. Oh yeah, try to find the full version too. As I said earlier, this film was edited for its release outside of the US. I remember a cut of the film that starts just before the death of Gladys Presley. This version cuts out everything before her death too, Elvis growing up, going to school, his first song recording, and the wonderful chemistry between Kurt Russell and Shelley Winters, it’s all gone. It pretty much cuts out half of the film. In fact, this is the cut of the film I remember watching as a kid and it comes in with around an hour and a half runtime. There is another 2 hour cut too however, the full version is actually just under 3 hours and it was only when writing this review that I found the full version to watch for the first time.

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This flick also missed a fantastic opportunity to do a wonderful in-joke. See, Kurt Russell’s first-ever movie acting role was actually with Elvis. It was in the film, It Happened at the World’s Fair from 1963. A then 12-year-old Kurt Russell had to kick Elvis in the shin.

They meet again later in the film and young Russell kicks Elvis in the shin again. There are scenes in this Elvis biopic that have Kurt Russell playing Elvis acting in films. Why they didn’t recreate this scene with Russell playing Elvis and some kid playing Russell kicking him as Elvis, I have no idea. It would’ve been amazing. Apparently, the two got on well on the film set too and would often throw a baseball between each other as they waited between scenes to be filmed. This isn’t Kurt Russell’s only connection to Elvis either. Aside from kicking The King in the shin (twice) and playing him in this film, Russell also played an Elvis impersonator in 3000 Miles to Graceland. A film where Russell’s character is suggested as being Elvis’ illegitimate son, he also sings Such A Night as Elvis during the credits. Kurt Russell voiced Elvis in Forrest Gump too, which starred Tom Hanks, who plays Colonel Tom Parker in the new Elvis flick.

Okay, so a bit more trivia before I end this one. Kurt Russell met with the real Vernon Presley at Graceland while making this film. Vernon was a big supporter of the flick and offered to help out in any way he could. Vernon Presley actually wanted Kurt Russell to wear some of Elvis’ real clothing for the film. Russell picked out the iconic Adonis white jumpsuit. Now, there is a slight anachronistic error here as that jumpsuit was made in 1972 and this film ends in 1970. So in reality, the suit didn’t exist when it is shown in the film. Still, that is Kurt Russell wearing Elvis’ actual famed jumpsuit on the poster for the film and in the film itself.

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But yeah, Elvis: The Movie may not be perfect, it may ignore some of the more questionable aspects of Elvis’ life, his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker and so on and it may come across as being a bit too ‘safe’ as to not want to upset the fanbase/Elvis estate. But still, this is a really good film. Kurt Russell is amazing in the lead role and he is supported by some great actors too. Watch the full and uncut 3-hour version though as it really is the best version of the film out there.

Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once

The multiverse, a wonderful concept that can lead to an inexhaustible infinity of ideas. There could be between one other and an infinite number of universes, other than this one, where there is another version of you leading a different life. Maybe in this universe you clean toilets for a living but in another, you are a world-famous movie star, a scientist who discovered the cure for all known cancers, an honest politician… or just a slightly different version of you wearing a hat while cleaning toilets for a living. The multiverse is an endless well to pull ideas from.

Marvel have been exploring the multiverse with their films, most recently with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. A film that I felt was very okay and that was mainly down to the fact it was directed by Sam Raimi. Then there was Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that used the multiverse to play on fan nostalgia. I really enjoyed this one but I can’t help but feel that enjoyment mainly came from the fact it did feature past Spider-Men and villains already familiar to me. If it had been the same film but with a completely un-nostalgic cast, I honestly don’t think it would’ve had the same impact.

SPIDERMAN VERSE

On the flip side of that point, there is Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. An animated multiverse flick that didn’t have nostalgia to fall back on and did something a bit more ‘out of the box’. I mean, I doubt that you’ll ever see Peter Porker/Spider-Ham in a live-action Spider-Man film. Why am I bringing Marvel/Sony’s attempts at tackling the concept of the multiverse? Well mainly to show how the same idea can be handled in very different ways. With the MCU, they don’t really seem to be using the idea of a multiverse all that well, it feels very ‘safe’ and ‘fan-service’ like. However, Sony’s effort with the animated film allowed the filmmakers to be a bit more experimental and push the concept of a multiverse a bit further to make a much more interesting film.

And this brings me to Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film about Evelyn and Waymond Wang, a middle-aged married couple who own a laundrette and who are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Yup, in terms of multiverse films, laundrette ownership and tax audits are not exactly high concept ideas. And yet…

“When an interdimensional rupture unravels reality, an unlikely hero must channel her newfound powers to fight bizarre and bewildering dangers from the multiverse as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.”

Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels. These guys have a bit of a penchant for the ridiculous. See 2016’s Swiss Army Man as proof. A film that features a man stuck on an island, and who uses a dead body with severe flatulence as a jet ski to travel the seas. The dead body has a multitude of other uses too, hence the title. So yeah, that’s the level of absurdity we are dealing with here. If you can’t get on board with the idea of a dead Daniel Radcliffe’s erection being used as a compass in Swiss Army Man, then Everything Everywhere All at Once will most definitely have you screaming ‘what the fuck!?’.

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Starring the absolutely awesome Michelle Yeoh, who I have adored for years now, and Ke Huy Quan… or Short Round from Indiana Jones, as he will always be known. Yeoh and Quan play the aforementioned married couple Evelyn and Waymond Wang, running a launderette. As they are being audited by Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) an IRS official, Evelyn learns that she is part of something much bigger than washing people’s undercrackers. An evil ‘verse jumper’ called Jobu Tupaki is threatening the destroy the entirety of the multiverse and Evelyn must connect with multiple parallel universe versions of herself (that she created by making different decisions in her life) to stop that from happening. Oh and don’t worry, I’m not doing spoilers here, so this is safe to read.

What kind of a genre is Everything Everywhere All at Once? Well, it’s kind of everything, everywhere and all at once really. It’s a martial arts, black comedy, romance, action, fantasy, family drama, animation, sci-fi… a discussion between rocks about the existence of the universe, a film about bagels and so much more. This film is just utter bat-shit crazy and the title really does sum everything up nicely. Split into three parts the Everything, the Everywhere and the All at Once that the title suggests. We follow Evelyn Wang as she learns that she has to stop the pretty major concern of the end of the multiverse and destruction of all life everywhere, ever in every possible reality. In terms of threat, this is a pretty big one.

Evelyn pulls skills and talents from the many other versions of herself to help defeat the evil… and that is all I’m going to say.

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The film shows many different universes and some of them are really quite sane, such as the self-referential one where Evelyn, played by Michelle Yeoh, a martial arts movie star in our reality, becomes a martial arts movie star in the reality of the film. To the not quite as sane universes, such as one where everybody has hotdogs for fingers… because? There is even a part of the film that becomes a deep discussion between two rocks about how and why the universes and life exists… all done in complete silence and via text-based dialogue. Yup, that is the kind of craziness that Everything Everywhere All at Once throws at you. I mean, it does feature butt plug kung fu…

And yet, in all of that insanity, there is a real human story here about acceptance and family values, especially within Chinese culture that is highlit by the fractured relationship between Evelyn and her daughter (Stephanie Hsu). Really, nothing here should work because none of it makes any logical sense. And yet, it is the utter nonsense of it all that ends up making the most sense. Obviously, I am avoiding spoilers here so can’t really get into the details of what happens to who and how. But the basics of an evil possibly destroying the multiverse really is the gateway to a much deeper and engrossing plot about family.

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The various universes that we get to see, from the perfectly sane to the utterly ludicrous, are wonderfully realised and a joy to experience. There’s a lot of circular symbolism (washing machine doors, googly eyes, scribbles on IRS receipts and more) that is seemingly pointless at first but it all becomes clear towards the end of the film. Everything Everywhere All at Once is crammed with loads of little touches that you may miss the first time around but pick up on with subsequent viewings. As I write this review right now, I have watched the film three times in two days and I’m still picking things up that I previously missed. I have only just noticed how, when Evelyn first experiences the multiverse and the screen fractures, so do the subtitles that we the viewer read. from tiny little details, to much bigger ones are littered all through the film and you’ll need a keen eye to not just see them but also understand the point.

As basic as the good guy (or gal in this case) has to stop the naughty evil plot is, there is so much more going on in this film that is subtext and leads to a much deeper piece of storytelling all round. I have been trying to summarise exactly what watching Everything Everywhere All at Once felt like and I think I may have it. Watching this took me back to the first time I watched The Matrix. Both films have that stylised action look to them and both have a lot more depth and meaning behind them too. Both have that ‘WTF’ aspect to them, even if for entirely different reasons. Both films have a duo of filmmakers at the helm with a vision that is so non-Hollywood that it stands out in its own right. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that has challenged and entertained me in the way that Everything Everywhere All at Once has since I watched The Matrix 23 years ago.

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The cast is wonderful too. I have loved Michelle Yeoh ever since seeing her in Jackie Chan’s Police Story 3: Supercop back in 1992. Speaking of which, this film was actually originally written specifically for Jackie Chan. However, the Daniels decided to change the lead to a female, I think this would’ve been a great film for Chan to do too but Yeoh is outstanding. From the action scenes to the more grounded in reality/family drama stuff or even when this film goes full-on absurd hotdog fingers mode, Michelle Yeoh is perfect. It really is great to see Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from Indiana Jones) doing something with some real meaning too. He’s not the kid with the cute voice anymore and depending on which version of Waymond he is playing. The dowdy and useless one from the ‘normal’ universe or the kick-ass and exposition spouting version from the Alphaverse, he’s on point.

Jamie Lee Curtis as the IRS official is really more of a supporting character but don’t worry, she also gets pretty involved in the more bizarre aspects of the film… as well as some doing some ass-kicking of her own. Seeing Jamie Lee Curtis do some martial arts and pro wrestling moves could be the greatest thing you’ll see this year. Even James Hong is in this and if you are a big Chinese/American film fan then you should know who this legend is. I mean, Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China… ’nuff said.

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Everything Everywhere All at Once is beautifully shot too with some great use of cinematography to allude to certain aspects of the plot that are very subtle. I only just noticed, on my third viewing, that the aspect ratio of the film changes as it progresses. It becomes more wide-screen as Evelyn sees and understands more of what is going on, clever. The action is captured brilliantly and clearly. Funny nods and references to things in our universe that are different from the universes shown in this film (the Ratatouille bit was great). A madcap hodgepodge of film genres, filming styles and story threads. But like a patchwork quilt, everything is stitched together to make a final product that works as a wonderful sum of its parts.

In terms of multiverse films that I have seen recently, Everything Everywhere All at Once blows all of them out of the water… and on a much smaller budget too. Proving that money doesn’t always buy the best of everything. Jamie Lee Curtis even took to Instagram to declare that this film “out marvels any Marvel movie they put out there”… one in particular. She’s not wrong either. As pissed off as a lot of Marvel fans were over her comment, that is exactly how much better this film is as an exploration of a multiverse concept and as an overall film. Around $200 million is what Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness cost to make, this film? $25 million. An eighth of the budget and yet, infinitely better in every possible way.

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Now, I know that Everything Everywhere All at Once is not going to be for everyone because it is so ‘out there’. Yet as crazy as this film can be and does get in places, under all of that chaos is still a very grounded story about family relationships and human needs, mothers vs daughters, husbands vs wives, aspirations vs disappointments. There is a lot to take in here and as I said earlier, subsequent viewings can reveal details that you may have missed first time around. Like The Matrix, this film can be viewed on a multitude of levels. You want to just watch some well shot and pretty awesome action? This flick has that. You want a film with scenes that would make the Monty Python Colonel character appear and say “stop that, it’s silly” over the nonsense? Check. You want a movie about relationships and love? That’s here too.

A few days ago I watched Top Gun: Maverick and I thought it was the best film I had seen this year. A very worthy sequel to a classic 80s flick that is adored by many. Then I watched Everything Everywhere All at Once afterwards and suddenly, Top Gun: Maverick seems so ‘underwhelming’… but still amazing in its own right. Everything Everywhere All at Once is what cinema should be about more often. Ballsy filmmakers taking chances with smaller budgets to deliver refreshing pieces of unique art… no matter how absurd they may get. Proof that you don’t need a $200 million budget to make a deep and engrossing film… with a scene that features two rocks discussing the existence of life in utter silence.

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