Corporate Wars/The Future Of Law Enforcement - The Film Sequel That Could Have Been? A Retrospective Thought
By: S. Matthew Guy
20 years after the release of RoboCop's first sequel, RoboCop 2 - A sequel that is praised by some but bashed and ridiculed by many others - Where is RoboCop now? Well, we have a movie trilogy that ended with a weakened and watered-down RoboCop 3, which has been continually looked down upon. We've received a season-long TV Series and TV Mini-Series, both of which have made their own respective canon and both of which have been slammed and dismissed. We've seen several other 'official' products from comic-book series to cartoons to keychain figures to video games, some of which were fair or even good but many of which were questionable at best. And now RoboCop presently awaits a new film, a 'reinvention' that as of this writing has its production still in limbo and if done, may connect to the original film's world and material very little if at all.
After all that time, and after all those things we've seen, and considering how RoboCop as a franchise started to go downhill after R2 - That is the question - Could Corporate Wars, the original sequel idea, have been worked into the true RoboCop sequel for us? Could it have been made into the honest, solid continuation of that ultra-graphic, dark-humored, action-filled, emotionally-strong and overall wonderfully made sci-fi social-satire resurrection-revenge story? Could it have been a respectable piece that did the original justice and helped make RoboCop a film universe that gave us a character and world that would bring satisfaction rather than irritation or disappointment?
Considering some of the base story's elements, considering the aspects it explored, considering the collective genius of those behind it and most of all, considering how well most of that same story was utilized in the 1994 Series pilot episode, 'The Future Of Law Enforcement', it very much could have been. Not only could it have been a great film and continuation, but it very well could have been the best continuation of RoboCop anyone has ever seen in print or on screen.
Now as we have read, Ed Neumeier and Micheal Miner, the writers of the original RoboCop, were initially tagged to write the sequel for RoboCop. They wrote a rough draft for the sequel, which they called 'Corporate Wars'. This original draft's story starts with RoboCop being blown to bits and then resurfacing in a new and radically different world. Despite the intriguing elements and potential of the Corporate Wars draft, it still showed a story that was so unique and so different that it was seen as simply far too radical to be shot. As a result, the studio, Orion Pictures/MGM, rejected it, and eventually dropped the writers. That made Paul Verhoeven, the director of the original film, leave the project and essentially ceased all effort to continue with the original story. Orion, wanting a sequel nonetheless, carried on, brought in a new crew and eventually made the RoboCop 2 we all know now - A fair film and decent sequel certainly, and not far off from the original's atmosphere, but still in some ways not quite as good as the original.
Despite that, RoboCop 2 can be considered an alright film, and better in the sense that from the beginning it was a sequel that was intended to carry over much more from the original film than the Corporate Wars story (Or at least it's initial draft) did. For all it's narrative issues and story problems, it remains to many one of the best, if not the best on-screen continuations of the original RoboCop thus far. But it also still remains, in many ways, considerably sub-par from the original.
Paul Verhoeven On RoboCop 2 : |
Originally, after the first one, the studio immediately wanted a sequel and the writers, the producer and myself all felt we needed more time to find something innovative again instead of cashing in on what was there. But the studio were so impatient, they dropped the writers and so i decided to abandon the project. So they proceeded anyhow, and the results basically were never at the level of the first one. I saw them just for the sake of knowing what was happening, but i was not even disappointed because i thought that the studio completely underestimated the talent and the art that we used to make the first one. I still feel that the ideas we had for the second one were highly superior to what was done afterwards. |
Enter the RoboCop Television Series. Coming right off of RoboCop 3, it seems that they wanted to do something with RoboCop while there was still a bit of life left in it. Michael Miner and Ed Neumeier, the writers of the original RoboCop, had contractual rights of first refusal to reject this 'Series'. Instead, however, they used the opportunity to script the pilot for the proposed RoboCop series. Utilizing their rough script for RoboCop 2/Corporate Wars as a basis, they used and incorporated several major aspects of the story, the main parts being RoboCop eventually being caught in the middle of a corporate coup, and most prominently the whole aspect of the city having a central control system, merged with a human mind, and having a 'ghost' form to it - which we know in the Series as Diana/'NeuroBrain'.
Now, after reading the other articles regarding Corporate Wars, one can understand and agree with Glenn Orr's assessment that their sequel, at least in it's rough draft form, would have indeed 'Thrown out the baby with the bathwater' - That it was just so damn different and wacky it probably would have indeed been un-filmable. However, Neumeier and Miner and Verhoeven could most likely still have come up with something that related much more to the original if they were given more leeway by Orion/MGM. Not that Neumeier and Miner are blameless - They obviously seemed to be real hard-headed with their ideas and didn't want to throw the studio a bone about a re-write. Though they had something fairly interesting, it's still quite apparent that they needed to seriously revise some of their ideas, because some of them were kinda out there and if they were stuck with, they very well would have had a film that might have ended up as something that wasn't quite that recognizable as 'RoboCop'.
However, some aspects of it were, and still are, pretty darn interesting. And the base story itself had plenty of potential. If it was re-vamped or re-worked somewhat, it could have been something that would have been quite intriguing to see on film.
Which leads us to the Series Pilot episode, simply called 'The Future Of Law Enforcement'. Through the entire Series, it can be easily concluded that it is the best episode most so because, out of all the episodes in the series, it feels the most relevant. It shows us something that is still quite recognizably 'RoboCop', despite the lack of graphic violence, language and some of the other silly, watered-down, made-for-TV things spread about. It had a good stand-alone story to it for the most part, and had several similar elements that linked to the original RoboCop. Something must be good about it - It is seen quite often as a stand-alone piece or 'movie' in broadcasts and even on some DVDs.
Which returns us to the original question. Could a revamped Corporate Wars story made into a movie - In this particular case, a more graphic, more powerful, film-version of the Series pilot - With more action, more 'darkness', and with some minor changes, enhancements and additions work, and not only work, but work well? Could such a film have worked so well it became an excellent sequel, and flat-out a better continuation for RoboCop than ANYTHING we've seen thus far?
There was a great possibility it could. After all, the studio said that Corporate Wars was pretty much un-filmable, but a moderate re-do of it (The Future Of Law Enforcement) actually worked pretty well.
And as a feature-length film? Think about it. Far from how the franchise has been watered down and 'kiddied', do the opposite. Make a strong, hard, graphic film, with adult content and themes. That is probably the main thing that has weakened RoboCop on-screen - The removal of graphic content. Not just the violence, but also the very dark and adult humor and satire that was a strong yet partially subtle trademark of the original film. Including those elements again would be half the battle right there for a RoboCop sequel. One of the big things going for the RoboCop 2 we have now is that, for the most part, it retains same atmosphere from the original, keeping mostly the same cold, dark and harsh world. And in a proper sequel, some of these elements can be enhanced or even taken to another level entirely.
So, return all those elements again, and even take some of them further.
Return to the gory, 'hyper-realistic' violence of the original. Show a RoboCop that not only shot people, but blew people away with impunity and without delay, in gruesome, almost grotesque detail - A RoboCop that delivered justice just as he used to, hard and graphic, with a solid burst of fire from that ever-awesome machine-pistol. No need for a bunch of fancy gadgets or 'Use-Of-Force Alternatives'.
Return a stout RoboCop, one that wasn't a bumbling tin can that some schmuck perp could always get the drop on with some uber-gun-of-pwn. Go back to a RoboCop that could take just about anything you threw at him. In the Series pilot, he's taken out by ONE shot from a 'Cobra Cannon'. One. Reverse back to R1 where he took out more than a dozen machine-gun toting assholes in a warehouse without so much as getting a scratch, who was able to walk away (albeit damaged) from a full blown ED-209 encounter and THEN a heavy-weapon assault from the police and STILL kept fighting. What should be seen on screen is a RoboCop that, as the saying goes, Keeps a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. What should be seen is a badass RoboCop, not a broke-dick RoboCop.
Return the original characters. In Glenn's review, one of the negatives he touched on regarding the original Corporate Wars story was the removal of the original film's characters. Anne Lewis and even Sgt. Reed were both important characters to the original story, and as Glenn stated, a true sequel, a good sequel, should have them return. Both Lewis and Reed could easily be included where Lisa Madigan and Sgt. Parks were. Indeed, Madigan and Parks pretty much played Lewis and Reed's characters with simply different names. As well, return other details from the original, namely RoboCop's creator, the mega-corporation known as Omni Consumer Products and it's head, The Old Man.
As for some new, fresh details and aspects, there are several -
He could have some new gadgets, but these can't be something to make him a flashy superhero. These new 'toys' must serve some practical purpose in the film. For instance, the Ford Mustang 'Interceptor'. It was neat and cool, and was a lot more practical (And far less silly and cheesy) than some fuggen jetpack. Maybe re-work his 'Tac Charges' to make them more like a 'Smart Grenade' type of weapon system - It could be a straight explosive for taking down buildings, a frag grenade of sorts to eliminate multiple armed perps, a flash-bang type of thing to incapacitate criminals, etc etc. And not have to make him actually 'shoot' them.
New characters? Sure. And the pilot also did these alright, with Chip Chayken and Dr. Cray Mallardo, as well as Diana Powers/'NeuroBrain' and 'Pudface' Morgan. However, these characters could all be made a lot stronger in a real R-rated film.
Chip Chayken could be a nasty combination of Bob Morton and Dick Jones - Someone that, like Bob, was on the surface a seemingly 'nice guy', but like Dick Jones, was truly a downright dark-spirited criminal who's only real goal was power and dominion. A character that typically wasn't (but when circumstances dictate, was not entirely above) getting his hands dirty.
Mallardo? He could be made a real freak, someone about as sick as Boddicker or even Cain but possibly more refined with a hint of Dick Jones. He wants power too, but unlike the more 'on-high' executive, he was a sociopath with full-on cold, disconnected, emotionless professionalism - Someone who did whatever it took, but never minded getting his hands dirty and only cared about getting ahead, regardless of cost.
Pudface was a half-decent bad-guy, but still seemed like a dumbed-down and uninspired Joker ripoff that was put in to the fill the gap and have a bit of a homage to the eternal 'Melting-Man', toxic-waste-Emil. In a film, however, he could be something much more original, and be something far more gratuitous and sick. Perhaps a insane, megalomaniac sadist and all around horrific personality. Perhaps we could have seen him in his regular human form, and then he is defeated by Robo, and then comes back later, diseased-and-scarred looking, but also stronger than before, and much more menacing. Possibly with some mechanical-assistance so he can be better than RoboCop, akin to the Terminator or Wolverine from X-Men, so that he still looks 'human' mostly on the outside but has the power and strength of a machine, in contrast to Robo who is clearly considered a machine above anything else. This would give RoboCop a good adversary without moving into a bunch of massive destructive machine enemies with no real depth to them.
The whole Diana/NeuroBrain deal was also fine, but was soft and light and not developed too well. Not surprising given the fact it had to have content only acceptable for a washed-down early-mid 90s TV show. But, in a film, without such choking content restrictions, the whole deal regarding Diana / NeuroBrain could be made into something deeper and darker, even possibly made into something much more pervasive - Rather than just be RoboCop/Murphy's friend, the NeuroBrain 'ghost' Diana could also have been something that could have been used in a much more emotional and even potentially romantic context, as was alluded to in the original Corporate Wars draft. A disturbing, yet interesting direction to go indeed. But it is an aspect which has always been a fascinating one to go on in a RoboCop story, and one which we've only seen bits of in some very few isolated instances. At the very least, it would be a re-introduction of the base story of RoboCop - Someone who was once alive and is now dead and trapped in a machine, and as such would make an additional emotional aspect to the story.
Essentially, that is something many of us long for, a return that kind of device, to that aspect of the character - That there is something that can be used to toy with or even assault RoboCop/Murphy on a whole other level than we have seen or would typically think of. Something that would steer away from his physical self and would take his personal fight, his mental and emotional struggle to carry on, to a whole other plateau and provide us with a different angle to take the character altogether, and by doing so, provide us with something satisfyingly different.
That is the basic point here, seeing different things done with the character of RoboCop, seeing something more different and unique than what we have seen. That quite obviously seems to have been the paramount thing that Neumeier and Miner had in mind writing their R2 script - Making something different, something unique. Granted, they may have been going a bit overboard about it, and as such, it could have been a disaster. But they had the right idea about going for something different, and the fact that the original creators, rather than just going on what they already had, wanted to take the character and the world in such different directions gives their thoughts a kind of strength that none of the other RoboCop stories have ever had and makes their ideas quite powerful in a way. Many would have loved to at least have seen something closer to this kind of film, something more like Corporate Wars. Maybe not in it's original form, mind, but in a more refined and more ironed-out finished product? Absolutely.
Realistically though, as it's been stated, their original draft does show a story that does simply seem too far-gone. But perhaps an alternative take, a modification of the original story would be plenty enough if done well enough. The re-work that we have seen - the Series pilot story - was very good for what it was, and if it is an indication, a re-work that went a few steps further in some parts could very well be enough.
And with that, the answer is 'yes'. We could have had a wonderful sequel, one that does what very few movie sequels do - Be something that is as good or even better than the original. We could have had a great sequel, especially from the original writers and Verhoeven, the creative collective that brought us the original RoboCop. A film that, as they said, was unique and original, rather than just some typical sequel going on what was already there. Again, yes. We could have had a great first film, an equally intriguing and awesome second film, and then could have progressed into Frank Miller for the third movie, which would have been made properly with R2 and R3 combined and reworked into a single movie, and then we could have a great trilogy with films that were all certainly 'RoboCop', yet each in their own way different. The original, the re-worked Corporate Wars, and then a re-worked Frank Miller movie would have given us a great trilogy, instead of just an 'ok' trilogy with a great film (R1), an ok film (R2), and a crap film (R3).
Alas, that was not to be of course. But with 'The Future Of Law Enforcement', at least we got to see a fairly well-done modified version of that story, if only in a somewhat weakened form, and some are happy enough for that.
Even with that, for the longest time, a partial belief has held that, even today, the original Corporate Wars story, wacky as it is/was, wouldn't be a bad base to go on for a sequel film or even mini-series intended to be more a 'Resurrection' story, like what Verhoeven talks about below. A 'later' future RoboCop story that, as the original Corporate Wars goes, involves Robo coming back into a radically different world. It would be an excellent way to return the RoboCop we know in this day and age, and make what could still be very interesting and unique movie that keeps some of the original's feel yet involves dealing with what is a radically different world than when the original was made.
Paul Verhoeven: |
He would have to be resurrected, like he was asleep for so many years and they didn't use him anymore and now in this time of terrorism or whatever they would say ok, he can be resurrected again. He would be laying like a mummy in a warehouse basically and.. something like that. I think if you were to do it now you would have to reflect the world we live in now. I would start from scratch and find an innovative story that would satisfy all the people that are basically longing, like me, for a good sequel (chuckles). |
Looking back at the time when there was a petition for a 'RoboCop 4', a story like that could have worked, especially after all that time from the original films, and perhaps something like that could still work today. Maybe even especially today. While that hope has diminished quite a lot with the new 'reboot' film, among other things, some still have hope that a story like that, with all the aspects and points as described might show up somewhere, or that at least the bigger aspects or elements from it might take hold in another new RoboCop story, be it in a film, show or even in a comic. Not likely of course, but anything's possible, right?