The original "RoboCop" movie made some bold predictions about future advances in law enforcement.
Photo credit: Orion Pictures Corporation
After 27 years, it seems as though the titanium-suited half-man, half-machine beau ideal of Detroit law enforcement — RoboCop — looked rusty in the eyes in Hollywood.
Hence, this week a “RoboCop” reboot hits theaters starring Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy, a wounded police officer who’s given a prototype robotic body by an unscrupulous corporate tycoon (Michael Keaton). The metal cop fights crime and struggles mightily with his sense of identity.
The 1987 original, which starred Peter Weller as the cyborg-man hybrid, presented a vision of the future not quite as bleak as a “Blade Runner” and not quite as aquatic as “Waterworld.” It was set in some vague time a decade or two away (the late 1990s or early 2000s — they never quite say). But like every movie that takes place in the future, it took a gamble on the shape of things.
Some forecasts in both the first “RoboCop” and its 1990 sequel were highly specific, others were more general — but the predictions were made in a gleeful, kitschy and hilarious way: Every once in a while, the movie would check in on the local news. After, say, reports of military activity in Acapulco, we would see commercials for the luxury automobile 6000 SUX.
Among the changes prophesied? The financial bottoming-out of Detroit, a landscape-wiping nuclear meltdown, and a world where facial-recogntion techonology is used daily (hello, Facebook!).
As for the new movie, it doesn’t really venture out on any limbs, beyond predicting war with Iran — which is pretty lame as far as wild prognostications go. And there’s a good reason for that: “The fictional premise of the original movie is real now,” says José Padilha, director of the 2014 version. “Every country will have to decide how to deal with robots. It’s a real issue that’s going to be big for the future of mankind.”
For now, let’s take a momentary break from debating the merits and dangers of Amazon’s drone delivery system — and gaze back upon the bold predictions “Robocop” made about our brave new world.
Prediction #1: Computers for the cops
As Bob Morton, the fictional creator of RoboCop, is touting the bells and whistles of his new invention, including super strength and reflexes, one of the virtues mentioned is “onboard computer-assisted memory.” Could the RoboCop creators have, dare we ask, been envisioning Google Glass? If so, they were really on to something. On Friday The Post reported that the NYPD is toying with the idea of outfitting cops with the new gadget (above), which would allow the wearer to instantly call up a perp’s mug shot and arrest record. The glasses could also videotape interactions with the police — precisely what RoboCop does when villain Clarence Boddiker is spilling his guts in a cocaine factory. ????
Prediction #2: Detroit would be crime-ridden and bankrupt
The movie positively nailed this one: “RoboCop” imagined a city ravaged by crime, and last year, it was reported that the average wait for a police car in Detroit on a high-priority crime was a whopping 58 minutes. (Nationwide, response time is 11 minutes.)
And in the 1990 sequel “RoboCop 2,” the filmmakers went so far as to spell out Motor City’s future bankruptcy, making it a major plot point. They were right: On Dec. 3, judge Steven Rhodes looked at Detroit’s $18.5 billion debt and deemed the city bankrupt — making it the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. ????
Prediction #3: Robot police would enforce the law
Toward the beginning of “RoboCop,” the movie’s prime villain (Ronny Cox) presents the executive board of OCP with his enforcement droid, ED-209, whose mission is to patrol the streets. During a demonstration, a haywire ED-209 proceeds to reduce a hapless exec to ashes. (The new version of “RoboCop” keeps alive the idea of fighting robots, too.) While this might sound like fantasy, just remember that a good deal of America’s enemies are hunted via the infamous unmanned aerial drone — and it’s been well documented that those drones have made their share of mistakes. ????
Prediction #4: South Africa would still be under apartheid
It was a simple, throwaway line on the evening news in a scene from the movie, but less than three years after the release of “RoboCop,” Nelson Mandela walked out of prison a free man — and in 1994, he was elected South Africa’s first black president. ?
Prediction #5: Lee Iacocca would have an elementary school named for him
During a photo op, RoboCop visits children at a school named for the former president of Ford and chairman of Chrysler, Lee Iacocca. Sadly, no public school bears his name — yet. We’re giving the movie a point in the belief that it could still happen. ?
Prediction #6: Artificial hearts would be plentiful, and Yamaha would be churning them out.
One of the fake commercials in the film is for a Yamaha-made artificial heart. Back in the 1980s, patients couldn’t survive for long on artificial hearts, but last December, Carmat announced the development of the first bioprosthetic artificial heart that can beat up to five years. The first procedure was done in Paris on Dec. 18, so we have to wait and see how it shakes out. Note: Yamaha hasn’t said anything about getting in on the action. ???
Prediction #7: Facial-recognition technology would become commonplace.
After a confrontation with a vicious baddie, RoboCop plugs into the police computer, inputs an image of the villain and waits as the computer matches his face to one in the database. Within seconds, he’s got the guy’s rap sheet. Audiences oohed and ahhed. Although computers have been tinkering with facial recognition since the 1960s, the technology didn’t really take off until the 1990s — and now, anybody who’s had a tag suggested to them while posting photos on Facebook will yawn. ????
Prediction #8: Nuclear meltdowns were inevitable
This one is in 1990’s “RoboCop 2,” not the original. And it took place in the Amazon, which has yet to endure any large fission surpluses — as far as we know. But when the Fukushima Daiichi plant failed in 2011, it brought to mind the movie scene in which the nightly anchor dryly noted: “Environmentalists called it a disaster.”
His female co-anchor’s reply? “But don’t they always.” ??
Republished with permission of The New York Post