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Genre Theory – Robocop Essay

Genre theory is essentially a structuralised method of categorising films by common traits or conventions. The basis for genre theory comes from humans need to categorise things into neat sections and is one of the few film theories actually implemented more by the audience of films rather than film theorists and academics. ’ As intelligent entities, human beings have a natural proclivity towards organizing the components of the world around them into ordered filing systems. ’ (lumiere revolution 2004).

However most films in a genre actually share conventions with films from other genres and borrow styles from other genres to make hybrid genres such as action comedies, science fiction/horror etc. The genre of a film depends on many features that make up the film text itself, from narrative to settings and themes in the story which the film has in common with other films (conventions). A collection of films with similar conventions which are grouped together make up a genre category such as horror, romance etc.

The theory of semiotics also comes into genre as semiotics is essentially the language of signs such as red usually means danger, relating to genre signs are used to show the audience what type of film they are watching, visual cues such as the place setting or main characters which create the conventions of that genre. For example if someone goes to see a film in the action film genre they can expect to see a fast paced film with lots of spectacle possibly with special effects overshadowing the narrative, with the narrative usually based around conflict resolution.

To look into how genre theory applies to Paul Verhoven’s Robocop (1987) it is useful to look at the science fiction genre and exactly what conventions go into putting a film into the science fiction genre. The main convention in a science fiction film is in the setting, often set in a futuristic utopia or dystopia on Earth or in space where technology plays a large part in people’s lives. A major theme seen in science fiction is technology, again it hinges on the premise of what the future holds, and is usually either man against machine or a commentary on mans over reliance on machines.

Science fiction films also often feature a social commentary on past events or present political or social issues which are paralleled in the film text. Refer to films like Paul Verhoven’s Starship Troopers 1997, which is essentially world war two in space and the theme of the Terminator films which features machines becoming so intelligent they nearly wipe out mankind, reflection on the increasing reliance on computers to do pretty much everything.

The reason I have chosen Robocop to apply genre theory to is simply because it is a very clear example of all the conventions which place a film in the science fiction genre. The setting makes it an obvious example of a science fiction film, set in a futuristic dystopia (not ideal future) where the city of Detroit is run by big companies who have privatised the police force (social commentary on privatisation in America at the time, health care etc.)

The future setting is a standard science fiction convention which clues the audience into what genre this film fits into as soon as they see the setting. The main story arc is centred on a project to create a robotic super police officer, future technology being another major convention of the genre. To bring the robots to life on screen require some very impressive special effects which again is something that the science fiction audience has come to expect in order to make the setting and subject matter of the genre believable.

As I mentioned earlier science fiction films also tend to have subliminal commentaries on social issues and Robocop is no exception. The transformation of America into a consumerist nation is a big theme that runs clearly through this film, everything is about selling products, even the police force has been privatised and is treated as a product. Robocop is even directly referred to as a product when the subject of his name comes up Bob Morten simply states ‘He doesn’t have a name, he has a programme, he’s a product’ (Robocop .

P. Verhoven 1987). Verhoven also stages commercials throughout the film advertising fictional futuristic products again suggesting consumerism as a theme, even the main company in the film is called Omni Consumer Products. Replacing old with new is also a major part of the film, not only in the sense of Murphey being rebuilt into Robocop but also OCP’s plans to demolish old Detroit in favour of building Delta city, a city they can have total control over much like they have control over Robocop by programming him.

‘Omni consumer products or OCP, a company that functions as the unseen and seemingly irresistible casual principle, as it sets about redesigning the human environment – replacing old Detroit with the gleaming modern planned community of Delta City, complete as we learn , even to an element of planned crime and corruption. ’ (J. P. Telotte Science Fiction Film pg 166) The main plot is about OCP creating a super cop robot that doesn’t have the frailties of a human being, there are two projects seen in the film the first to be tried out is the Ed 2009 project which is totally made of mechanical parts and is run by a computer.

The Ed 2009 project ultimately fails suggesting that with no human element to control the machines cannot function properly, rather than the other way round. The Robocop project is a combination of human and machine, with the brain programmed to take orders from OCP, with the human brain and mechanical body the project is a success which is perhaps a reference the ability of humans to think for themselves rather than blindly following orders that may not be applicable in the context of the situation.

Robocop is in my opinion a shining example of what makes a science fiction film fit into its genre, this is supported by the very conventions of the science fiction genre, it has a distinct future setting which raises questions on what the future might hold, technology is also a major theme which is so often the case in the science fiction genre and also raises questions about morality and socialist issues. So just by looking at this film in particular you can use it as an example to show exactly what the typical conventions of a science fiction film should be.

Film Theory Explication. Bibliography. Web Sites: * http://www. main-vision. com/richard/genre. shtml * http://lumierevolution. blogspot. com/2004/10/genre-theory-science-fiction. html Internet source: An introduction to genre theory – Daniel Chandler. Texts: An Introduction to genre theory – Daniel Chandler. Science Fiction Film – J. P. Telotte. The Science Fiction Film as an uncanny text – pg 161 – 178 – J. P. Telotte. Filmography. Robocop – P. Verhoven 1987. Starship Troopers – P. Verhoven 1997 The Terminator- J. Cameron 1984 Terminator 2 – J. Cameron 1991.


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