I remember a photograph from an issue of the long-defunct sci-fi magazine Starlog of Verhoeven standing in front of the full-size ED-209 model on the set of RoboCop, his hands raised above his head, his features contorted into a mask of rage. To this day this is the picture of Verhoeven that comes to mind when I think of him. His next four American films—Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), Showgirls (1995) and Starship Troopers (1997)—all bolstered his reputation as a European artist who relished picking at America’s puritanical scabs, and this photo seemed to capture that. But he was probably just miming what he wanted the model to do in the scene, a precursor to the way actor Andy Serkis would be motion-captured for his roles in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings pictures (and his way-underrated remake of King Kong) a generation later).

The 2014 model
Columbia Pictures
The 2014 model

Serkis’s performances in those films have an emotional sophistication that actor-unassisted computer animation hasn't yet managed to replicate. But Tippett achieved something close to it when he transformed ED-209 from a scary-looking statue into character. Watching RoboCop these days, you can see it was a penny-pinching production even its in time, which was, least we forget, back when people bought their music on cassette tapes. When ED-209 trundles onscreen to menace our tin-plated hero, it doesn’t look realistic. It just looks alive.

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