FRED DEKKER VERSUS ROBOCOP
Many years after RoboCop3, director Fred Dekker reveals his thoughts about the movie and what he could have done differently. And the answers are surprisingly honest.
SOURCE: horroryearbook & 411mania
You are the director who finished out the "Robocop" franchise. What is it like to take on that kind of franchise?
I was a big fan of the Verhoeven film, I would have been stupid to turn the job down. Obviously the challenge of a franchise is to fulfill the audience's expectations while at the same time providing something new. Unfortunately, the saga of Alex Murphy, aka RoboCop, was pretty neatly wrapped up in the first movie: a cop is murdered, resurrected as a cyborg, then avenges his own murder. Case closed. The end. Even though there was a waiting audience for more adventures, there was really nowhere to go except to have Robo clank around and shoot more bad guys (the second movie and subsequent TV sequels have proven this point). In other words, the character's arc was complete, which meant I was pretty much boned from the get-go. Nonetheless, RoboCop 3 was the most enjoyable movie-making experience I've had and, for me, the most accomplished work I've done as a director. In other words, if the movie blows, there's nobody to blame but me.
But allow me to make some excuses, anyway: For one thing, my enthusiasm for Frank Miller's story blinded me to the fact that the basic idea (Robo sides with the homeless against the big, bad corporation) was very left wing at a time when the country was very right wing. Like now. Secondly, I was a huge fan of Hong Kong actions films (Tsui Hark, Jackie Chan, John Woo, etc.) and I wanted to emulate them with the Otomo character. Unfortunately, I lacked the budget and the tenacity to get a Hong Kong stunt team to bring that style to an American film the way The Matrix did years later. I was under orders to make a kid-friendly RoboCop, but I admit that much of the humor in the film doesn't work and the finale is lame. Still, I honestly believe that if it were more over-the-top -- funnier, more cynical, more violent, and had Hong Kong style action -- it would have been a huge success (as it was, it was number #1 at the box office in Japan for over a month).
You shared writing credits with comic book god Frank Miller. Did the two of you work together on that?
DEKKER: Yeah, we did a little bit. I was a huge fan, and still am, of Frank’s work in comics and he had written “RoboCop 2? for Orion and Irvin Kershner. When they brought me aboard, they had a script Frank had written for “RoboCop 3? that they really, frankly, weren’t all that interested in making and I said, “Guys, there’s so much wonderful stuff in this. Let me sort of dust it off and make it what you want it to be, which is a little bit more kid friendly,” which, in retrospect, was a fatal choice because I realized that the character and the tone of RoboCop is really action and cynicism first and heart second. And the mistake that I think I made was, let’s put the heart first and the action second and try to keep the cynicism to a minimum. While that is a wise move if you wanted to make a movie for a younger audience, the fact is the character wasn’t intended for a younger audience. So I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot on that one.
Was the studio pushing for a younger audience because they were doing toy tie-ins and cartoons and stuff?
DEKKER: Exactly, yeah. It was a cartoon series to them and said, hey, this is “Transformers,” you know, this is “Ghostbusters,” and I was so enamored with the character and to be able to play in this toy box and work with Rob Bottin, all these great technicians, cast and crew. I think we had a great cast in that movie, a lot of actors who have gone on to great stardom, so I was thrilled. I had a great time making the movie. I just made a few key mistakes and one of them was I don’t think I made it special enough from an action standpoint. I really wanted it to be a Hong Kong or Wachowski Brothers action movie, but I just didn’t have the money or the temerity to do it.
If you were given a chance to go back and redo “RoboCop 3,” what would you change?
DEKKER: Good question. And I have to tell you, when you do something in life that you kind of wish you hadn’t or you made a mistake, you have recurring dreams about getting a chance to do it over. One of those dreams in my life is making this movie again. What I would have done is told the studio that I need enough money and resources from the Hong Kong action community, the Jackie Chan stunt team, or whoever it is, to make this something that American audiences have never seen before. I also would have probably not written the script myself but would have hired another writer, even besides Frank, to make it really sort of dark and cynical and have it be as wickedly funny as the first movie. Because I think that’s really what’s missing from it, it’s not funny enough and the action isn’t good enough. So I would have made it funnier and had better action and I think it would have been a big hit if we would have done that.
It would be about eight years after “RoboCop 3? before you return as a writer/producer on the “Star Trek Enterprise” series. What were you doing to fill the void between those years?
DEKKER: I was lying in a corner in the fetal position licking my wounds with all the “RoboCop 3? reviews nailed with bloody handprints on the wall next to me. No. I mean, show business is very unforgiving. If you made a piece of shit movie that does hundreds of millions of dollars, you’re guaranteed a career. If you make a movie that’s not well regarded or doesn’t make its money back, you know, people are a lot less willing to go to bat for you.
Yeah, You screw up on a big-budget film, 30 million people know.
DEKKER: Yeah, exactly, and so that’s very hard to come out from under. I spent the years after that movie came out kind of trying to reinvent myself and say I need to make movies that nobody else would make. Many directors are picking a product and they’re turning out something that any handful of guys could pull off. I realized that the directors that I respond to and my heroes are the ones whose work is very unique. From Steven Spielberg, to Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann, the Cohen Brothers, Martin Scorsese; all of these directors, if you look at their movies, you can tell who made them and I realize that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something that has a unique stamp. It doesn’t have to be the same stamp as my other movies. Like I say, I’m a little bit over horror films. To do something that’s special I would rather make a special low-budget movie than a kind of bland hundred-million-dollar movie. So that’s what I was doing and trying to figure out what I’m going to do next and writing screenplays and doing acting and directing workshops. Kind of preparing myself, like in the “Rocky” movies, for the next time I go into the ring to beat the holy hell out of the other guy.
What did working on RoboCop 3 do for your career?
FRED DEKKER: Killed it. Dead. Dogs barking. Tumbleweeds. "Fred who?" The movie was not well regarded. I also think it was a no-win situation. The character that Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner created is a really interesting character. The first movie, the Paul Verhoeven movie, is a great movie. But his personal journey is really over at the end of that first movie, and he isn't the type of character like James Bond that's going to necessarily benefit from repeated adventures. In retrospect, we were screwed from the get-go. The company that I made the movie for was really adamant that we skew to a slighter younger audience. I don't think that was a mistake per-say, except that the character is very dark and his world is very violent and cynical. I think it was an uneasy alliance there. We had a lot of strikes against us, but I'm actually very pleased with a lot of that movie.