Peter Weller: Modern movies can’t replicate morality of ‘RoboCop’

May 20, 2012 | 10:35 a.m.

"[RoboCop] makes you laugh and cry and moves you, and it’s hysterical and horrible and all those unbelievable things at once," said Peter Weller during a talk at the 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival on Saturday. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

Peter Weller addresses the audience Saturday afternoon at the 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival alongside moderator Geoff Boucher. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

A PhD candidate, Peter Weller's talk at the Hero Complex Festival ranged from Italian Renaissance art to gay rights. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

Peter Weller quizzes the audience throughout his talk at the 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

Movies today lack the “morality” found in 1987′s “RoboCop,” the film’s star Peter Weller told the audience at the Hero Complex Film Festival on Saturday afternoon.

The Q&A — at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles — followed a screening of the director’s cut of Paul Verhoeven’s film, in which Weller plays a police officer who is transformed into a cyborg to patrol the streets of a dystopic Detroit. “RoboCop” topped the box office when it opened, eventually earning more than $53 million domestically.

Hero Complex writer Geoff Boucher, who moderated the chat, asked Weller, 64, his thoughts on a possible remake of the film.

“I could give a …,” Weller said. “I say God bless ‘em, man, go make another ‘RoboCop.’ … I don’t know, you can throw a lot of CGI at it and so forth. The morality that’s endemic to the movie that you just watched is hard to replicate. It makes you laugh and cry and moves you, and it’s hysterical and horrible and all those unbelievable things at once.”

Weller would not reveal much about his role in J.J. Abrams’ upcoming “Star Trek” sequel, but he did talk about directing an upcoming A&E series “Longmire,” a modern-day Western about a widowed Wyoming sheriff, played by Robert Taylor (“The Matrix”). Weller has enjoyed a robust directing career in recent years, including episodes of “House M.D.,” “Monk” and “Sons of Anarchy.”

“A lot of things I don’t do well; I don’t do warm and fuzzy well,” Weller said. “But you know, motorcycles and guns and horses and car wrecks and bar fights and hookers, that’s my thing.”

Despite the self-deprecating assessment, Weller has become known for his more high-brow pursuits. He is a PhD candidate in Italian Renaissance art history, and a professor at Syracuse University. During the Q&A, Weller slipped into a professorial role, lecturing festival-goers on topics ranging from the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and the art of Giotto di Bondone, to slavery and gay rights, and quizzing the audience throughout the lecture.

“Art has absolutely changed my life,” he said. “All of art, even movies, especially movies, is just a continuum of images that tell stories, all the way back to the freaking caves of Lascaux. … So you can’t help but learn movies by looking at art.”

Weller said he has never been a fan of science-fiction, except for the works of Philip K. Dick, who had “a vision of social suppression and social history,” he said. He also talked about “RoboCop” in the context of social history.

“I’d forgotten how profound these writers are,” Weller said. “They’re not only funny, but there’s extraordinarily acerbic social obsessions, like board games called Nukem! … The movie starts off with a last-bastion holdout of apartheid against black South Africa. That’s the first damn thing you see in ‘RoboCop,’ is essentially white suppression about to go down the toilet. And the film is laced with that stuff, not to mention the themes of redemption and resurrection.”

Weller recently saw the film during a 25th-anniversary screening in Dallas.

“I had the first time, I had to say, that I got past the hoopla of the film and was genuinely proud to be a part of it, really proud to be part of this film, and could see how anthropological it is,” he said. “I mean, I think you could watch it in 100 years, and it would resonate.”

Weller’s goals as an actor and a director have changed over the years, partly because of the generational turnover in Hollywood. He shared a story about teaching a film class at Syracuse University, and none of his students had seen Paul Newman or Marlon Brando’s films.

“So I’m thinking well, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m just gonna be real grateful to be on any freaking movie set for the rest of my life,” he said. “The goals are not about the sweet smell of success as much as it’s about enjoying a damn day on the movie set. … I live in a complete state of grace.”

The festival continues Sunday with screenings of the Pixar robot love story “Wall-E” and Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western “Serenity,” as well as Q&A’s with Andrew Stanton and Nathan Fillion.

– Noelene Clark


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2 Responses to Peter Weller: Modern movies can’t replicate morality of ‘RoboCop’

  1. alekesam says:

    Weller is right. My biggest fear is that the new filmakers are going to go with the violence and heap it on but not delve deep into the character and the world around him.

    For me, that’s what made Robocop work so well. It had a heart and mood to it that’s been lacking in every single sequel since. Not to mention it feels a lot longer than it’s hour and forty minute running time because so much happens in it. It’s really packed, not a wasted moment, and nothing about it feels padded like a lot of movies nowadays.

    • minhajarifin says:

      I agree, nothing in that film felt extra. Its character driven, where the ambitions of the greedy and powerful are moving the story forward. The whole police station and their social, economic problems, their dangerous lives, it all felt like it was actually happening.

      Minhaj Arifin
      Author of
      How Desis Became The Greatest Nation On Earth

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