Saturday, February 15, 2014

RoboCop Vs RoboCop: An Issue of Tone

RoboCop Vs RoboCop: An Issue of Tone

In screenwriting, a difficult issue for new writers to deal with is tone. A problem in many first scripts is a shift in tone that undercuts the impact of a story. A script with a comedic tone turns to slap stick humor at the climax. A dramatic story (realistic) becomes melodramatic (unrealistic).

The current reboot of RoboCop shows how two movies can have the same basic story and plot (man who becomes mostly robot struggles to retain his humanity) and, because of different tones, turn out to be very different movies.

The original RoboCop, directed by Paul Verhoeven, was both an action film and a satire about the media and corporate greed. We were asked to care about the main character and his struggle to hold on to his humanity but also to enjoy the visceral thrill as his actions to solve his own murder led him to take on both hard core criminals and his corporate masters.

The current RoboCop starts on a satiric note about American, robotic peace-keeping in Tehran, but then shifts to a realistic account (for a movie) of how a near-dead detective is rebuilt in a mostly robotic body, and the complications involved from both a standpoint of science, morality, and corporation machinations. It felt like this took about half the running time of the movie, and the drama was low-key.

The main character, deep into the movie, does sets about to solve his own murder, which makes the plot finally feel like it's getting into gear.

Unfortunately for the movie, since it's taken on a realistic tone, and it takes so long for the plot to hit a higher gear, the movie invites a realistic assessment on what's happening. The problem is, it's tough to sell the idea that Americans would be against robots enforcing laws, when so much has already been set up via computers (cameras scanning crowds and using facial recognition software, scanners automatically recording the license plate of every car that enters a community). Also, a central issue in the movie about congress refusing to allow robots in law enforcement comes across as artificial, because it feels like the issue has already been resolved.

Another problem for realism, when it comes out that a .50 caliber machine gun will take RoboCop apart, no one shoots him with that (or if they do, he survives); and none of the several thousand bullets expended in his direction hit him in the mouth.

The original RoboCop was fresh and bracing and true to itself as a story, the current RoboCop comes across as struggling to be realistic and failing to be true to itself.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.