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RoboCop - Basil Poledouris - Soundtrack Review

After a longer break, another classic score and another one of my all-time favourite movies: “RoboCop” (1987). Especially when watching the remake, you can see how sophisticated and visionary the original oneis. Directors such as Paul Verhoeven are highly missed these days. That might be one of the reasons that going to the movies is not so exciting any more like a few years ago. Or is this feeling more the result of me getting old and glorifying my childhood?

The movie

“RoboCop” is a 1987 American action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. The film stars Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox. Set in a crime-ridden Detroit, Michigan, in the near future, the movie features police officer Alex Murphy (Weller) who is murdered by a gang of criminals and subsequently revived by the megacorporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) as a cyborg police officer RoboCop.

Neumeier explained that he first got the idea of RoboCop when he walked with a friend past a poster for “Blade Runner”. He asked about the plot and was told: "It's about a cop hunting robots". In 1981, Neumeier wrote the first treatment, about a robot police officer who was not a cyborg but in the development of the story, his computer mind became more similar to human. Three years later, Neumeier met music video director Michael Miner, who worked on a similar idea: a police officer who has been seriously injured and becomes a donor for an experiment to create a cybernetic police officer.

For director Verhoeven, “RoboCop” marked the first major Hollywood production. He first threw the script into the bin, but his wife picked it up, read it more thoroughly and convinced her husband that the plot had more substance than he had originally assumed. The character of RoboCop was inspired by British comic book hero Judge Dredd (which played Sylvester Stallone later) as well as the Japanese toku series Space Sheriff Gavan and Marvel’s superhero Rom. I found an interview with Verhoeven about the movie:

When I first saw the movie as a teenager, I was shocked about the violence. The murder of Murphy and the malfunction of the ED-209 were two of the most shocking scenes I watched so far. Extreme violence is a constant topic of Verhoeven's movies, perhaps a result of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Verhoeven explained that he wanted the violence to be "over the top" in an almost comical fashion. For me, this is not convincing. Even in the uncut director’s cut, the violence is not shown in a comical approach such as in “Tom & Jerry”. The scenes are just shocking, really disturbing and will stay in your mind forever after you saw them.

Here is not the place to talk about the various aspects of the movie, the problems during the shooting, Verhoeven’s clever idea to postpone the shooting of Murphy’s death further and further, so he had more time for the shooting in general, and the controversy among the critics about this movie. I also do not care if critics are considering “RoboCop” as a fascist movie.

When watching the movie for the first time, I remembered that the way how the news and commercials are moderated was even more shocking for me: With an always smiling attitude, perfectly tuned up and without any emotions, these people are the real robots and compare to them, you can see how human Murphy is! Here you can see a clip with them:

Two final aspects I want to mention: Paul Verhoeven who is also a member of the Jesus Seminar and the only member who does not have a degree in biblical studies is known for his heavy use of Christian symbolism. In “RoboCop”, you can see various aspects that portraits Murphy as a Christ figure, for example, his horrific death and return (resurrection) and the showdown with Clarence Boddicker when RoboCop is walking through ankle-deep water and creates the illusion of him walking on water.

The second interesting aspect is that Verhoeven chose to cast Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox against type by making them the bad guys. Cox was known for "nice-guy" or fatherly roles, and Smith had been cast as more intellectual characters. Smith’s outfit with the rimless glasses created a similarity to the picture of Heinrich Himmler, one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and the architect of the Holocaust.

The music

After “Flesh & Blood” (1985), a title that summarizes the main aspects in Verhoeven movies, composer Basil Poledouris worked the second time together with the Dutch director. They also do “Starship Troopers” in 1997 together. Interesting is that also Jerry Goldsmith worked on three films by Verhoeven, and if Jerry would not have died, they would have done more movies together.

The soundtrack used both synthesized and orchestral music as a mirror to the man-versus-machine theme. The score alternates brass-heavy material, including the RoboCop theme and the ED-209's theme, with more lyrical pieces for strings, such as during RoboCop's homecoming scene. The electronics - many of which were designed and performed by British keyboard player Derek Austin - are working quite well within the orchestral score (performed by the Sinfonia of London Orchestra).

Overall and because of the specific use of the electronics, the score seems now to be a little bit old-fashioned when you are listening to the soundtrack these days. Jerry Goldsmith’s scores are more timeless in their approach.

I still just have the original Varese album from 1987 with 15 tracks but to really enjoy the score, you should buy the expanded Varese 2004 album or the complete Intrada Album from 2010 which is unfortunately out of print. The tracks I will mention are from the Varese album. Interesting for the score is that the main theme is not played during the Main Title. We will hear the main theme for RoboCop first when Murphy is dead and returns as RoboCop which makes sense. Therefore, the first time, we can hear the theme is in track 4 “Rock Shop”. The main theme, you can hear here:

The RoboCop Theme and the “Terminator” theme are often compared, perhaps because on the theatrical trailer, the theme of “Terminator” was used. Brad Fiedel’s theme is stronger because it is simpler, Poledouris theme is more heroic and offers the better music.

I also found a live performance of the theme here:

The second track is the first action track of the score which underscores Murphy’s first patrol in the violent Metro West district. Murphy gets confronted with the notorious gang of Clarence Boddicker after they have committed an armed robbery and gets killed by them, reanimation failed, all underscored by Track 3 “Murphy’s Death”.

After this action, we have with track 5 “Home”, the first quieter part of the score, a powerful scene when RoboCop visits his former home, one of the best tracks of the whole score. Listen especially to the beautiful part from 2.35”, this is really touching if hear this music in combination with the scene. Another track where this theme is played is track 7 “The Dream”, and then later combined with the RoboCop theme in the second part of the track. Further use of the theme is in Track 11 “Drive to Jones' Office” and in Track 15 “Robo Tips His Hat”. Here a clip to track 5:

Track 6 unterscores the famous scene when RoboCop gets confronted with ED-209 who tries to kill him after Ronny Cox admitted his culpability in Morton's death and the reason for the Directive IV. The theme for ED-209 is a great musical expression of the fearful robot. Another track I want to mention is track “Betrayal” when RoboCop is confronted by the police after the just escaped ED-209. This is another scene where you can find Christian symbolism: When Murphy weakens after the constant fire on him, he lays down and crawls in a similar position like Jesus when he broke down carrying his cross. I really admire how Verhoeven was shooting this scene with the effect of lightening, like a big nightmare that came finally true.

The last track is “Showdown” for the final confrontation with Boddicker and his gang. Overall good action music, I was disappointed that this track marks the closing of the album because I was missing some kind of End Credits with another use of the heroic RoboCop theme. Another reason to get a better and longer soundtrack album of this score.

After his soundtrack for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Conan”, Basil Poledouris was able to create with “RoboCop” another outstanding score for a genre classic with a remarkable theme. This shows the qualities of this already forgotten composer. Time to discover Poledouris and his music again!

If you compare Jerry Goldsmith’s score and Basil Poledouris’ scores to Paul Verhoeven’s movies, I prefer Jerry’s because of the better themes, the more dynamic action music and the overall better musical approach. Despite that, “RoboCop” is a classic and the theme timeless. Compare this theme to the themes the actual generation of composers are creating, and you clearly got an idea of the lack of quality of film music these days, but again, perhaps I am just glorifying my childhood…

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2019, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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