SDCC 2013: 'RoboCop' Press Conference

Friday, 26 July 2013 10:12 Written by  iamrogue
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SDCC 2013: 'RoboCop' Press Conference

Much like an honest Detroit cop brutally gunned down in the line of duty and reborn as an unstoppable piece of law enforcement tech, RoboCop is returning in a new form.

RoboCop, a modern remake of Paul Verhoeven's brilliantly acidic satire, is hitting theaters next year.

So far, Sony Pictures has kept its promotion of the RoboCop quiet, issuing nothing so much as an official, properly lit image of Joel Kinnaman (AMC's The Killing) in costume as the new title character.  During its presentation in Hall H last Friday, however, Sony debuted first look footage from the remake for the crowd in San Diego Comic-Con's single biggest venue.

The RoboCop panel also found director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within) taking the stage to shed some light on his approach.  He was joined in front of a 6,000-strong crowd by actors Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers), Abbie Cornish (Limitless), and Michael Keaton (The Other Guys). 

Prior to the big show in Hall H, though, Padilha and company partook in a private press conference, fielding questions from a small group of entertainment journalists looking to shed light on RoboCopIAR was on hand for the press conference to hear the director and stars discuss how they became involved in the project, developing a more superhuman RoboCop, differences between the new movie and the original, shooting the remake, and the story's new thematic focus.

Kinnaman, a Swedish actor headlining his first American studio film, established his bona-fides with the original film, saying, "Before I got this part, I’d probably seen RoboCop like twenty-five or thirty times. I started rehearsing my RoboCop walk way before I even became an actor. So I was pretty well versed in the Robo walk. But the 1987 vision of where robotics would be is very different from 2013 vision of where robotics would be and how a robot would move fifteen years into the future. So when I got the suit on, I had some ideas. We went for more of a superhuman approach to his movement pattern, but then we added in some more robotic movement to it. But that was something that I was mostly playing around with, and then Jose would look at it and maybe give me a little note, and I’d either take that note or work on something else. Mostly I’d take his notes."

He also offered a sense of how his Alex Murphy will differ from the one played by Peter Weller twenty-six years ago. "I loved the first movie," the actor said. "I kind of checked out forty minutes into the second one and I didn’t see the third one. I missed the TV series. That part is still very much still in our story and we go a little further with Alex Murphy. We get to know him a little better than in [the original]. We spend more time with him when he’s at work as a cop, as an undercover cop, and as a family man. He’s got a beautiful little family. And then, that is very much the question. Is he now a property? Is he owned by OmniCorp? He’s very vulnerable because the system needs to be changed and it needs to be plugged in. So he is dependent on this corporation that has made him to survive, that has made him very powerful, but at the same time, very vulnerable. There are continuous interactions. They let him interact with his family. He gets to reconnect with his family after he has become RoboCop. That is of course something that’s not easy to come home and try to embrace your six-year-old son and your wife when you have just a big robotic body and you can’t really feel them."

While Kinnaman was well versed in the first film but not its myriad offspring, Michael Keaton arrived for RoboCop without many preconceptions. "I know very little about the original RoboCop. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it," he explained. "So, my decision was based on a script that I read that I felt was pretty smart and well written. At this point, I didn’t even know who the cast was. So then, when I heard who the cast was, that made it even more appealing. I’d become a fan of Jose’s and one conversation on the phone with him long distance with him saying, 'Well, you probably are not interested in my take on the character, but this is what I think.' And then, he saw it obviously exactly the same way. So I thought you’ve got to work with these kinds of guys. It was really not a big issue. The film was good and I’ve been into work a lot lately. It was a good gig."

Jackson, meanwhile, was more in the Kinnaman camp as a fan of the original.  The one and only Samuel L. Jackson shared his enthusiasm for a contemporary blockbuster that uses Verhoeven's film as an inspiration, saying, "I was excited about the prospect of a modern day RoboCop, thinking about it, and thinking about the possibilities of what could be done, and all the CGI things that can be done now, and the advancements in robotics, number one. I read a lot of comic books, so I see a lot of things, and the things that happen in my mind, as opposed to what happened on the page, as opposed to what Jose was going to do, I was very excited by that possibility and knowing that there are a lot of young people who may be aware of RoboCop, but not really the way we’re aware of RoboCop and what all it meant when we saw it. I’m excited for them to come into that world."

Another avowed fan of RoboCop was Abbie Cornish, who said, "It’s funny when people ask me about Robocop and the experience of shooting it, they say, 'How was it?' and I say, 'It was the easiest film I’ve ever made.' And it was. We have an incredibly talented director who just helmed this quite classic political-social story in such a wonderfully deep way. I worked with an incredible cast and worked on a film that is, for me, iconic and very nostalgic. I was five when it came out. My brother had it on VHS and we ran that VHS until it shredded itself up. And so, for me, it has a lot of importance in my life and in my childhood. So great cast, great crew and everyday was just easy and all the actors were A-grade, so prepared, and same with the crew, and directed by Jose. That was a dream gig."

Verhoeven's film is very much a product of its times, a scathing indictment of rapacious corporate greed and the dehumanizing effects of a consumer culture that is also shockingly funny and rewarding as a sci-fi actioner.  Though its themes have arguably grown more relevant in the decades since, this new RoboCop isn't treading exactly the same thematic ground.

"The original RoboCop tonally was very ironic and very violent, and it was a critique of fascism, at least the way I’ve seen it," said Padilha. "But it was also very smart and it dealt with some concepts that maybe not everybody caught on to, but they were there. The relationship between fascism and robotics, for instance, it’s very clear that it’s going to become way more important as time goes by. I’ll just give you an example. If you think about the war in Vietnam, or even the war in Iraq, the war in Vietnam ended because American soldiers were dying. It’s the same thing that’s happening in Iraq. We’ve got to get out of there. Now, if you picture the same war with autonomous robots instead of soldiers, then you don’t have the political pressure at home. And so, there is a relationship between being able to use robots for war and fascism. The issue has already been posed by the use of drones by the way. You open all major American newspapers nowadays and you hear opinions pro and against drones. This issue is already in the original RoboCop, and our movie is pretty much about that. That’s one part of it."

"And then, the other part of it is what it feels like to be a robot as opposed to what it feels like to be a human," he continued. "I’ll kind of explain to you why. Say you have footage of the Hiroshima bomb exploding and then you play the footage backwards. So, the bomb goes up into the plane and the plane flies backward. At the end of this, you’re going to end up at Harry Truman’s table and he makes the call to drop the bomb. Because Harry Truman is a man, he has free will and he can make choices, we can argue about whether he made the right choice or not. The same thing goes for a criminal. A criminal shoots someone in the streets. We say, 'This is a man. He knows what he’s doing. He’s taken someone’s life.' So we can argue about whether it’s right or wrong. Now, once you replace men with autonomous robots, accountability goes out of the window. So say you have a robot in the middle of the Amazon Forest hunting drug dealers, and the robot is there and nobody has seen what it’s doing, and it shoots the drug dealers and it kills a kid. Whose fault is that? This is a huge philosophical issue that’s going to be present more and more. It’s been debated in philosophy already, but it’s going to be in the media more and more as robots evolve, and our movie is also about that. There are some gunfights, too, by the way."

Check out IAR's coverage of the RoboCop Hall H panel by clicking right here.

RoboCop arrives in theaters nationwide on February 7, 2014.

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