Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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And then there was 12. The Oscar camp has announced the dozen second-round qualifiers for the Best Documentary prize. And judging by the lineup, it doesn't look like the deciding committee is experiencing its usual "forgetfulness" when it comes to potential nominees.
The list is a virtual hit parade, including some of the year's most talked-about films -- from the absurd ("Mr. Death" ) to the sublime ("Buena Vista Social Club") and the farcical ("American Movie") to the serious "On The Ropes."
The following is the complete list:
"Amargosa" "American Movie" "Beyond the Mat" "Buena Vista Social Club" "Genghis Blues" "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr." "On the Ropes" "One Day in September" "Pop & Me" "Smoke and Mirrors: A History of Denial" "The Source" "Speaking in Strings"
A committee of Academy members selected the docs. Final voting is currently taking place in Beverly Hills, New York and San Francisco where voters will screen the flicks before voting for five that'll earn official nominations. Overall, 55 feature-length docs were eligible for the 1999 competition.
Nominees for all 22 Academy Award categories - including Best Documentary -- will be announced Feb. 15 at 5:30 a.m. PST.
ALL HAIL NERDS: The unsung heroes of the movie business - tech heads, hardware geniuses, overworked engineers, etc. -- are getting their moment in the so-called limelight, too.
The Academy Awards folks are set to honor the behind-the-sceners for outstanding scientific and technical achievement in ceremonies March 4 in Beverly Hills. (Of course, unlike the movie-star types, the nerds will receive plaques and certificates, not shiny statues.)
Also, unlike the movie-star types, the nerds won't have to wait to find out if they've won. The Academy released its list of 12 techie awards Tuesday.
The following is a list of the recipients and their achievements.
Scientific and Engineering Awards:
Nick Phillips, for the design and development of the three-axis Libra III remote control camera head.
Fritz Gabriel Bauer, for the concept, design and engineering of the Moviecam Superlight 35mm Motion Picture Camera.
Iain Neil, Rick Gelbard and Panavision Inc., respectively, for the optical design, mechanical design and development of the Millennium Camera System viewfinder.
Huw Gwilym, Karl Lynch and Mark Crabtree, for the design and development of the AMS/Neve-Logic Digital Film Film Console for motion picture sound mixing.
James Moultrie, Mike Salter and Mark Craig Gerchman, for the mechanical design of the Cooke S4 Range of Fixed Focal Length Lenses for 35mm motion picture photography.
Marlowe A. Pichel, for development of the process for manufacturing Electro-Formed Metal Reflectors.
L. Ron Schmidt, for the concept, design and engineering of the Linear Loop Film Projectors.
Nat Tiffen of Tiffen Manufacturing Corporation, for the production of high-quality, durable, laminated color filters for motion picture photography.
Technical Achievement Awards:
Vivienne Dyer and Chris Woolf, for the design and development of the Rycote Microphone Windshield Modular System.
Leslie Drever, for the design and development of the Light Wave microphone windscreens and isolation mounts from Light Wave Systems.
Richard C. Sehlin, Dr. Mitchell J. Bogdanowicz and Mary L. Schmoeger of the Eastman Kodak Co., respectively for the concept, design and development of the Eastman Lamphouse Modification Filters.
Hoyt H. Yeatman Jr. of Dream Quest Images and John C. Brewer of the Eastman Kodak Company, for the identification and diagnosis leading to the elimination of the "red fringe" artifact in traveling matte composite photography.
NEW LOOK: The official poster for this year's Oscars has been unveiled -- and its so-called "exciting new look for the year 2000" is not as forward-thinking as one might expect.
The millennium-themed poster, designed by filmmaker/graphic artist Arnold Schwartzman for the fourth consecutive year, is based on the 1926 Fritz Lang classic "Metropolis," a flick set in the dystopian future (translation: bad days) of the 2000.
The inspiration for the poster (the encircling numerals, to be exact) can apparently be traced back to a sequence in the silent classic where a robot is brought to life by circles of electricity. No word from Schwartzman if the anti-authoritarian values of the Lang's film also informed his design.
Audiences can judge for themselves when 50,000 posters hit theaters and video retailers this week.