If there's one thing Paul Verhoeven's Robocop isn't, it's subtle. From its obvious commentary on American culture (it seems almost sadly prophetic in predicting how bad things would eventually get economically in Detroit), religious symbolism, and over-the-top violence -- which initially earned the film an X-rating -- Robocop isn't really interested in exploring the finer nuances of deep issues. This isn't a slight to the film at all -- in fact, it's what makes it a perfect summer movie. It's fun, action-packed and paints its social commentary in the broadest brushstrokes possible so that audiences don't have to waste too much time thinking when they could be watching Peter Weller shoot bad guys instead.
With that in mind, I decided to do a Summer Scenes We Love piece celebrating one of Robocop's finest moments. I usually try to find a scene that's entertaining, but not too obvious when it comes to these articles -- but with Robocop that seems like missing the point. So, I decided to go in a different direction and pick one of the film's most memorable sequences to talk about instead: The ED-209 boardroom malfunction scene.
I love this particular part of Robocop for a lot of reasons: it's unrepentantly violent, it has a current of pitch-black humor running through it, it features some foreshadowing and subtextual commentary and best of all, it has a great last line. Whenever people talk about Robocop this is one of the first scenes that springs to mind -- and with good reason, because it's classic.
While the scene doesn't feature the title character, it does feature the ED-209, a robotic law enforcement unit dreamed up by the film's Omni Consumer Products -- a corporation who's been tasked with running the city's police force. The ED-209 is a gigantic metal behemoth with enough firepower to make an Abrams tanks feel inadequate and seems like the perfect antidote to Detroit's out of control crime problem. The brainchild of OCP's Senior Vice President, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox, taking a break from playing his usual nice guy roles), the ED-209 could be patrolling the streets if the demonstration in this scene goes well. Unfortunately for Jones, it doesn't.
As the demonstration begins, Jones taps another executive to play the role of the "arrest subject". After arming the man with a gun, Jones tells him to point the weapon at the ED-209, and the robot immediately springs into action. With its loud mechanical voice, the machine tells the would-be gunman to "Please put down your weapon" and then informs him he has twenty seconds to comply. The executive tosses the gun aside, and the ED-209 moves forward in a menacing way before saying "You now have 15 seconds to comply." At this point, everyone freaks out -- the designers are trying to get the mechanical monstrosity back under control and Mr. Kinney, the doomed executive, is running around begging for help -- and everyone is trying to get as far away from him as possible. The ED-209 finishes its countdown and the blasts the crap out of Mr. Kinney -- blood and bullets fly everywhere in a gleefully excessive way that serves as a fine example of why everyone loves this film.
There's a priceless shot right before the end of the scene with the head of OCP buries his head in his hands and then tells Jones "Dick, I'm very disappointed." This sets up the segment's best line, where Jones responds casually with "I'm sure it's only a glitch."
Aside from the obviously awesome elements to this scene -- a guy having 60 or so exploding blood squibs pop out of his chest and back in the span of a few seconds -- there are some other cool things happening in the ED-209 malfunction. This part of the film is great at foreshadowing what's to come later. Robocop is more than capable of dealing with common human criminals, but the ED-209 makes for a very worthy adversary and you know these two going to square off eventually -- as an audience, we're already wondering how our hero is going to beat this enemy.
There's also some interesting subtext running throughout. The ED-209 is a pure machine, created by man to be whatever man wants it to be. It should be almost infallible, yet Verhoeven shows us that machines fail and since they have no conscience or capability for autonomous thought, those failings can be catastrophic. Robocop, on the other hand, still retains some of his humanity. It would seem that this would be a weakness for the character, but instead it winds up being a positive. Robocop's ability to actually think for himself proves vital later in the film when the two machines face off. Again, Robocop isn't exactly subtle in presenting these ideas, but it gets points for the effort.
Whether you care about those things or not is basically irrelevant -- they're in the film, but when you get right down to it, Robocop works primarily as a violent, sci-fi action movie that perfectly captures everything I loved about '80s action cinema. Check out the clip below to relive this classic moment.