‘RoboDoc’ Is the Best Making-Of Documentary in Years

As a general rule, I am a fan of any documentary about the making-of a movie that is longer than the movie it is about. Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop runs a lean and mean 102 minutes. RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop, which is now streaming on Screambox, is a 298-minute epic spread out across four episodes. It features interviews with dozens of filmmakers and actors who worked on the original RoboCop. It includes material on basically every single scene in the movie. It is about as in-depth a doc about the making of RoboCop as could conceivably be made.

It should be; RoboDoc’s creators originally raised the money for it Kickstarter all the way back in 2016 and it is only now coming out. I didn’t contribute to that campaign, so it’s not my place to say whether the film was “worth the wait” for its backers — but the finished product manages to be a thorough and informative tribute to RoboCop done in the style and spirit of its subjectIt even has some playfully over-the-top gore.

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The series progresses more or less linearly, from the earliest conception of the character by writer Ed Neumeier to the bizarre merchandising detritus left in the wake of RoboCop’s surprise success. (The sequels are briefly addressed but not dwelled upon, and as far as this documentary is concerned, the 2014 reboot doesn’t even exist.) RoboDoc is less about RoboCop’s impact than the nuts and bolts of assembling this robotic hero. Directors Eastwood Allen and Christopher Griffiths apply a painstaking approach that echoes RoboCop’s methodical gait as he marches step by step through the movie. Nearly every facet of production is considered and examined, from the writing to the casting to the designing of the special effects and costumes, to the brutal shoot in Dallas, to the process of cutting the movie down from an X to an R rating for release.

Although there are a handful of notable names absent — special effects whiz Rob Bottin only appears in archival footage, for example — almost every major contributor to RoboCop is on hand, including Neumeier and co-writer Michael Miner, director Paul Verhoeven, producer Jon Davison, and stars Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, and RoboCop himself, Peter Weller, who talks candidly about his difficulties playing the role — and his difficulties dealing with his colleagues on set, resulting in his reputation as being “difficult” to work with. (Once he was in the suit, Weller answered only to the name “Robo,” a choice that Weller continues to defend to this day.) The filmmakers also tracked down many of the film’s supporting players, some of whom share big stories about their small roles. (My favorite was S.D. Nemeth, the guy who recited RoboCop’s famous line “I’d buy that for a dollar!”)

A documentary this detailed runs the risk of getting too granular and therefore too dry. It’s to RoboDoc’s credit that it justifies its length over and over, with interesting and amusing anecdotes about the production and the quirky cast of characters who made it. (I was particularly gob-smacked by the stories involving the scene where the late Miguel Ferrer does coke with two, ahem, “models,” along with the somewhat infelicitous way Verhoeven directed the actresses.) Slick animation, graphics, and pulsing electronic music keep the series’ relentless pace. When I reached the end, I wouldn’t have minded another episode that went deeper into the sequels and cartoons and even that baffling reboot.

RoboDoc harkens back to the glory days of physical media and special features, when it almost became expected that any movie of significant budget or cultural importance would arrive on DVD with hours of special features about its making. In the streaming era, you are lucky if you get more than a YouTube featurette or two included on a new release. The last home video special feature I recall that could even hold a candle to RoboDoc was The Director and the Jedi, which was included on the Star Wars: The Last Jedi Blu-ray back in 2018.

As fascinating as that documentary was, it still didn’t feel like the “whole” story of the making of that film in the way RoboDoc does. It really is definitive, and a hell of a lot of fun.

RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop is currently streaming on Screambox. I’d buy this film for way more than a dollar, but if you’re hesitant to do so yourself, you can also sign up for a free trial of Screambox on Prime Video.

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