RoboDoc (2023).

I’ve been a writer on the subject of film since 2015 and the producer of a successful, independent film history podcast that, if you’re reading this, needs no introduction. The first film I ever wrote about was a trial run as to my ability to write from an objective viewpoint, and to put that to the test, I chose my then, and still current, all-time favourite film as the focus of that fairly short retrospective review. That film was acclaimed Dutch director, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film, RoboCop. I’ll confess that I’ve since accepted my inability to remain objective when discussing RoboCop, but I also feel that the status it’s now achieved, which I feel extends beyond that often belittling title of ‘cult classic’, is well deserved for reasons I shan’t repeat here for want of avoiding repetition. 

It was therefore, to my absolute joy, that in 2016 I became aware of a Kickstarter campaign by Cult Screenings U.K. Ltd to fund and subsequently produce RoboDoc, the definitive making-of documentary on the subject of my favourite film. I immediately backed the project and wrote an article promoting the campaign for a film website I was writing for at the time, and at the conclusion of the Kickstarter campaign, Cult Screenings had raised quite a bit more than their goal of £20,000. 

Fast-forward to September 2018 and whilst awaiting the production of the documentary, I invited it’s producer Gary Smart onto our podcast to discuss the status of what had by then become a quite mammoth project. Gary proved a truly great guest. Passionate, driven and extremely knowledgeable, from our discussion it was apparent that he and his colleagues/friends, director Christopher Griffiths and creative producer/editor Eastwood Allen were involved in a project that could, if all went to plan, become the definitive document of the making of not just RoboCop, but of any film. The only downer at that point was the persistent lack of involvement from the film’s star, Peter Weller, and that wasn’t from lack of Gary trying to get Dr. Weller on board.

That episode of The Film ‘89 Podcast was, unbelievably, five years ago. In that time, Gary, Chris, Eastwood and the rest of the Cult Screenings team had to ward off disgruntled backers, frustrated at the time it was taking, but these fans, understandably eager to see the finished product, were assured that the wait would be worth it and were asked to be patient. This was after all, a project that Gary, Chris and Eastwood were working on in their own spare time, outside of their regular jobs, and also, unpaid. This was a true labour of love.

From my own personal perspective, the wait was long, and at times I allowed my expectations of what the final product would be like to become unreasonably lofty. By the time of the eventual announcement that RoboDoc had been completed, I’d waited nearly 7 years and by this point, nothing short of the greatest documentary on the making of any film would adequately satisfy me. Those lofty expectations weren’t because I’d been made to wait, I really do ascribe to the notion that the best things come… you know the saying I’m sure. But my anticipation had built in a positive way, driven on by my knowledge that these guys had already produced some phenomenal and very much definitive documentaries on some of my favourite films. The other factor that had driven my anticipation up was the fact that in 2021, Dr. Weller had finally agreed to participate and it was suggested, by way of a bit of inside information – thank you Gary! – that his involvement would be significant. 

Well now I’ve finally seen the first season of RoboDoc. And that seasonal structure needs some explanation. The project became so big that it allowed the guys to not only produce a huge document on the first film, but also of its somewhat beleaguered sequel, RoboCop 2, and it’s much maligned second sequel, RoboCop 3. These are to form the second and third “seasons” of RoboDoc and are yet to be released. But as a review of the main crux of what the RoboDoc project is, a document of the production of and enduring legacy of Verhoeven’s 1987 film, I have to refer back to those quite unreasonable expectations. I wanted the definitive making-of documentary. I wanted no stone left unturned. I wanted to learn a wealth of new things, new facts, about the film I felt I knew everything about. I wanted candid recollections of the film, the machinations of the studio heads, the gory details of behind the scenes dramas and fallings out. I wanted something a studio produced piece would likely never allow. I knew that not all of these wants would be sated. Life just isn’t that good right?

At well over four and a half hours, almost every person involved in the making of the film is interviewed. There are very few exceptions. Legendary effects wizard Rob Bottin has all but disappeared from Hollywood and refuses to give interviews anymore. Then Orion Pictures boss Mike Medavoy would have been a fine addition but he’s at least referred to by other interviewees. What’s left is as definitive a gathering of participants as I could have ever hoped for and after holding out for so long, Dr. Weller gives his all. Any reservations he may have once had about talking yet again about the film for which he’d be best known have gone, replaced by a fervour and great respect for the film, giving candid, often animated accounts the hardships he went through and also a humble reflection upon his sometimes prickly persona on set. 

There are, from all participants, great anecdotes, gushing praise to the film’s huge creative team and detailed explanations of the technical wizardry employed in the film’s amazing effects sequences, including much from the brilliant Phil Tippett, who we were lucky enough to interview on Episode 39 of The Film ‘89 Podcast. Broken down into 4 episodes, this first part of RoboDoc can be seen in isolation. You don’t need to know what came after the first film, but personally, given the quality and candid nature of what I’ve seen here, I can’t wait to see more, documenting where things started to go wrong for the RoboCop franchise. But until those later seasons are released, the focus is this first part, and I defy, nay I challenge, anyone to come up with a more in-depth and concise documentary as this. 

Special mention must go to Eastwood Allen and the others involved in the editing of RoboDoc. Paring down the hundreds of hours of interview footage into a cogent and engaging narrative must have been a truly mammoth feat, but at no point does RoboDoc ever drag, there’s no repetition and my attention was never anything other than fully engaged. This is a textbook example of the art of editing perfected, and was the aspect of this colossal undertaking that I was most consciously in awe of. 

This finished product, the culmination of 7 years of incredibly hard work, truly is a remarkable feat, and as someone whose love for RoboCop is possibly only eclipsed by that of RoboDoc director Chris Griffiths (I’ll happily concede to second place in the league table of hardcore RoboCop fans), I’m happy to report that those unreasonable, almost absurdly lofty expectations have somehow not only been met, but have been exceeded in a way I never thought possible. I’m not one to happily concede to the use of hyperbole, and this is the opinion of someone who’s spent nigh on thousands of hours of his life devouring DVD and Blu-Ray extra features, audio commentaries, extensive making of documentaries and the like, but RoboDoc is without a doubt, the most definitive and in-depth document of the production of a film that I’ve ever seen. Thank you for your cooperation. 

Film ‘89 Verdict – 10/10.

RoboDoc is currently available to stream via ScreamboxTV on Apple TV, Prime Video, Roku, YouTube TV and other on demand services in the US. Distribution in other regions as well as physical media release details are currently being finalised.