Do androids dream of electric sheep? Who gives a s**t if they’re kicking the crap out of each other? Like these two heavyweights of robot moviedom are about to do. So who’s the tin can and who’s the tin opener? Read the arguments and decide. Your move, creep…
Ross McG: The Terminator
Come with me if you want to live…
When I was nine years old, my babysitter thought it would be a good idea to let me watch The Terminator. Previously, the scariest thing I had ever seen was Old Yeller, the horrors of which were inexplicably unleashed on our entire year early in primary school. But a rabid dog taking a bullet off screen could not prepare me for the terror of watching a relentless robotic killer on the loose.
As it turns out, my babysitter did me a favour, because The Terminator retains its power to frighten me 25 years after its release. It is simply one of the best horror movies ever made. Ask Michael Myers (ask him very politely, mind) to swap his mask for a pair of sunglasses and you’re pretty much there.
Its acting is clunky, its dialogue ridiculous and its star a combination of both, but The Terminator ultimately works because it poses the quintessential question of the late 20th century: what would you do if a gun-toting, spiky-haired, monosyllabic, leather-clad killer cyborg from the future travelled back in time to murder you?
While Terminator is a pants-crapping slasher flick with one rather big idea (the future will suck), Robocop is weighed down by too many, unsure of exactly what type of movie it wants to be. It has designs on being an ultra-violent thriller, a satire on big business and a revenge caper. While often entertaining, the end product is a cartoonish mess. In hindsight, the film was a necessary dry run for its director, Paul Verhoeven, who later melded these ideas together in startlingly fun fashion in the shape of Starship Troopers.
As Alex Murphy, the officer who becomes Robocop after being gunned down in a scene of shockingly bad porn violence, actor Peter Weller is a likeable presence, yet once he dons the blue metal of the titular hero all empathy is lost, as Verhoeven lurches from one empty action sequence to another.
Truly great action films have great action sequences, and The Terminator kicks ass with some of sci-fi’s most memorable movie moments. The T-800’s procuring of some much-needed clothing, his first attempt to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) at a nightclub and his obliteration of a police precinct are all brilliantly staged by James Cameron.
Without its bad guy, however, Terminator may well have been consigned to the 80s scrapheap. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s range here makes an earlier performance appear practically Oscar-worthy, but lucky for him he only had to move his head and spout the odd line of dialogue. And yet who else could you imagine as the Terminator? Certainly not OJ Simpson, who was at one point considered for the role. It is a piece of perfect casting – an obvious piece of casting, but genius nonetheless.
Terminator has real pedigree. It was made by the man who out-Aliened Ridley Scott and its effects were created by the legendary Stan Winston. Robocop was made by the man responsible for Showgirls and its effects were done on a Commodore Amiga. Terminator‘s soundtrack was so good it was used in Robocop‘s (yes, Robocop‘s) trailer.
When it comes to the pantheon of sci-fi characters, who do you want to make room for: the lean, mean, killing machine or the police officer who is so heavy he is unable to run? Robocop, you’re terminated, f**ker…
Ross McD: Robocop
Four… three… two… one… I am now authorised to use physical force
When you hear the word ‘Terminator’ what do you think of? ‘Hasta la Vista baby’? ‘Come with me if you want to live’? ‘I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle’? Do you think of the jaw-dropping special effects that have yet to age decades on? The gape-inducing motorbike-to-helicopter stunt? Robert Patrick’s scariest thermometer filling ever? I’ll stop you right there – what you are thinking of is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Terminators, like most Ts (twins, Twirls, tits, testicles) come better in 2s. If you skip over to my Top 100, you’ll find this far superior sequel at a respectable 31. What you won’t find is its precursor. Because it’s meh.
The Terminator (and that ‘The’ is simply awful) is not without its charms. The design of the Terminator machine is pretty feckin’ awesome. But it is just that: a machine. While Arnie looks the part, as a baddie he’s just another slasher/zombie/monster who stomps around after the protagonist. Robocop’s nemesis Clarence Boddicker (can you believe it’s Red from That 70s Show?!) may not have the biceps, triceps and cool red eyes-ceps, but he has one thing the Governator doesn’t: he’s an absolute prick.
Do you remember that scene when he and his cronies unload their weapons into poor Murphy (including one callously-aimed shotgun blast which pretty much insures there’ll be no little Robocops running around in the sequel)? Their absolute disregard for the authority of the law is far more terrifying than megalomaniac machines.Dammit Lewis, I asked you not to press that button…
Remember how heart-wrenching it was to watch Murphy slowly come to terms with what he was? One of these films had characters we care about. Did you give a s**t when Reese died? Nope. Did you care when the T-800 was destroyed? Not really. Did you want Sarah Connor to join them? Yes. But don’t say you didn’t almost shed a tear watching poor Robocop struggling to shoot that jar of baby food. The only tears Terminator inspires is those you’ll cry laughing at the worst sex scene in cinema history (go to 4m00). Who owns those hands?
Terminator also makes the schoolboy error of dabbling in time travel. Just like in real life, you can’t mess with time travel.
If astrophysicists can’t figure it out, action film directors sure as hell won’t. Bear with me for a sec: if the Terminators decide in the present to travel back in time, that means they have altered the past and yet will still be losing the battle against the humans in the future, so why bother? If they had successfully erased John Connor from the past, they wouldn’t be in this predicament, making a desperate jump back in time. So they should know they are wasting their time. A robot with a bit of logic would be able to figure this out.
And why try stop John Connor being born? Why not just nip back to when he was a slave and kill him then? And why the f*** would robots (ie. things that aren’t made out of living tissue) build a time machine that can only transport things covered in living tissue? What the f*** use is that? This of course is a useful plot device to explain why they can’t send back futuristic weapons. ‘Cause covering a gun in a blob of living tissue would be much harder than sculpting an Austrian Oak around a fully articulated metal exoskeleton. Just how clever are these robots that were able to take over the world?
Let’s not forget Robocop would pwn Terminator in a fight. Hell, the ED-209 would pwn Terminator in a fight (provided there are no stairs involved). Can Terminator keep his hands free by hiding his gun inside his thigh? Eh, no. Even John Connor can kick Terminator’s ass, and John Connor was very nearly defeated by a guy who puts up lights, for God’s sake.
But don’t take my word for it – see for yourself.
You’ll find Ross & Ross pitting many more films against each other over at their website….