CLASH OF THE ROBOTITANS
Article By: Jody Duncan
Interviews by: Paul M. Sammon
For the second chapter in the RoboCop saga, producer Jon Davison managed to assemble almost all of his original effects team.
Rob Bottin produced a new robosuit, an animatronic cyborg torso, and Phil Tippett directed a massive stop motion effort.
OUT OF IDEAS AND MOVING ON:
The first RoboCop movie, directed by Paul Verhoeven, proved to be so popular with audiences -grossing more than $50 million domestically- it was inevitable that the Orion Pictures release would soon become a candidate for sequeldom. Orion approached RoboCop producer Jon Davison with the idea soon after the film's release, but unwilling to be involved in a sequel without a fresh and exciting approach to the RoboCop story, Davison declined. "Initially, "said 'no.'" recalled Davison. "Ijust didn't have any ideas for a new RoboCop at the time, and I was already involved with "Dick Tracy" so I told them to do it without me." Planning to go ahead with the sequel in spite of Davison's absence from the project, the studio hired Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner -who had written the original screenplay- to begin work on a new story. Months later, when Neumeier and Miner turned in a first draft that was unenthusiastically received by Orion executives, the studio again solicited Davison's participation.
This time, he accepted. "By that time, Dick Tracy had gone to Disney and it was Warren Beatty's movie all the way. I'm sure I would have been able to contribute, but RoboCop 2 was an opportunity to do my movie, to have a lot more input than I would have had on Dick Tracy. So I left that project and RoboCop began to interest me again."
NEW SCREENPLAY AND FRANK MILLER:
That interest led to a four-month stint working closely with Neumeier and Miner on a completely new screenplay. The revised story was developing nicely when, suddenly, Neumeier and Miner left the project to write another film. It was a serious blow to the effort since a Writer's Guild strike which was in full swing at the time precluded Orion from hiring new writers. Fortunately, Davison's production company, Tobor Pictures, was able to sign an interim agreement with the guild which allowed the producer to bring a new screenwriter onto the project. A fan of The Dark Knight -the gothic 'comic novel' which explored the Batman legend and served as inspiration for Tim Burton's 1989 film phenomenon -Davison approached its author, Frank Miller. "felt that The Dark Knight had the same sort of edge that was required for RoboCop 2, " Davison commented. "I liked its humor, the politics, that dark edge, the inventive action. Frank seemed like the ideal choice: and, luckily, he wanted to do it."
Miller -who had been fascinated with the character of RoboCop in the original film -embarked on a screenplay that would further explore the complexities of that character.
DEADLINE CLOSING IN:
He had just begun to draft the script. however, when Orion mandated a summer of 1990 release date for the film. Davison was left with less than a year to complete a film that had not yet been written. Undaunted, Davison began recruiting key personnel for the production, assembling virtually all of the effects veterans from the original film. When it was learned that Paul Verhoeven was unavailable, Davison hired director Tim Hunter, who had recently completed "The Rivers Edge" a quirky chiller that had been critically well received. "I thought Rivers Edge was terrific: said Davison. "Tim is a very realistic, naturalistic director, and that is what makes fantasy pictures work. I thought he would bring a lot to the material. Tim began working with Frank -and, in fact, he was the one that came up with the
story point of the foreclosure of Detroit. which I really liked: During this period, Walon Green -a veteran action writer with credits on "The Wild Bunch" and "Sorcerer" was enlisted to join Miller in shaping the script. The project was progressing nicely -then disaster struck once more. A few short weeks before the slated beginning of principal photography, Tim Hunter bowed out of the project. "I think what scared Tim off was the fact that the picture had to start shooting, because of our locked-in release date, and yet the story hadn't completely been licked yet. This release date was staring us in the face and Tim was worried that there just wasn't enough time to get the script the way he wanted it" With Hunters departure, Davison was left with the unenviable task of finding a director who would be'willing to step in at virtually the last minute. "It was a tough situation, because anyone I approached would have to go into the project knowing there was not a hell of a lot of time for his input.
I was thrilled when Irvin Kershner said he would do it- especially since he has turned down a lot of pictures in recent years. I thought his "Empire Strikes Back" was the best of the 'Star Wars' movies. I met with him on a Friday, gave him the script. and said, 'If you want to do it. you're going to have to let me know right away, because we start on Monday.. Luckily, he called me right back and said he would do it.
By the time Kershner stepped in to helm the project, RoboCop alumpi had already begun designing and implementing the various effects suggested by the still unfinished screenplay. Rob Bottin was hired to recreate RoboCop's armored bodysuit: Phil Tippett ( who had worked with Kershner previously on the 'snow walkers' sequence in "The Empire Strikes Back" returned to spearhead the monumental stop-motion assignment: art director Craig Davies was assigned the task of designing RoboCop 2; Peter Kuran of Visual Concept engineering was brought in to execute, once again, the 'robovision effects. Having already secured commitments from Peter Weller and Nancy Allen to reprise their respective roles as RoboCop and his
partner, Ann Lewis, Kershner and Davison spent their few remaining weeks filling the other key roles. Tom Noonan was cast as Cain -a drugged-out- but charismatic leader of the violent drug cult. Daniel O'Herlihy returned as The Old Man- the chairman of the board of Omni Consumer Products. Belinda Bauer as misguided psychologist Doctor Juliette Faxx, Willard Pugh as beleaguered Detroit mayor Kuzak and Gabriel Damon as the adolescent drug dealer Hob completed the cast. With cast and crew assembled, principal photography comenced against the glass and steel skyline of Houston -a change of venue from the Dallas location that had served as the futuristic Detroit in the first film. The location change was precipitated by a general lack of cooperation from Dallas city officials. "We found that they were very reticent to close down streets for us:' Davison recalled, "or let us do our pyrotechnics. They werejust not helpful when it came to our action sequences.
Houston promised us a lot of assistance, and they came through. They were enormously cooperative, letting us do things that would have been very difficult to do elsewhere.
Despite the fact that RoboCop 2 failed to meet the boxoffice success of its predecessor, a third installment in the RoboCop saga was already being planned. The lackluster showing was a disappointment for producer Jon Davison, "I'm sorry that more people didn't like the picture. By the time you are finished with the whole moviemaking process, it is impossible to be objective. Maybe twenty years from now I will be able to run the film and analyze it objectively. You work so hard on these things and you just hope that people like them -and when they don't, it's really depressing. The whole thing was ass-backwards, because the studio came up with a release date before they even had a story, It was like, 'We're opening in two thousand theaters, kid, and you better put something out on the screen on such and such a date.' As soon as that happens, the whole thing has gone to hell in a handbasket.
Maybe I'd do another but I don't know. I steered clear of the third one. Sometimes Neumeier and Verhoeven kick around ideas for one."