PD index

Questions asked by fans and answered by PD Co-writers Joseph OŽBrien and Brad Abraham.


QUESTION: How much resistance did you get when proposing this project? Looking from the suits' point of view you were asking to shoot 8 hours for a fairly old property that hasn't been a HUGE success in recent years (compares to "Men in Black" or whatever), you were going to up the violence so kids who're digging the "Alpha Commando" cartoon can't watch and buy Robocop toys and Happy Meals, etc. How did you manage to get this greenlighted?

ANSWER BY JOSEPH: We didn't propose this project, actually. It was brought to us by Julian Grant, the producer-director. He'd been brought in by Fireworks Entertainment to resurrect the franchise, and Julian wanted us to write them. So, from our perspective, it was greenlit before we'd written a single word. We actually received very little resistance to our collective vision for PRIME DIRECTIVES. Julian, Brad and myself were very much of one mind in wanting to return to the dark, adult roots of the original film, and with Julian as both producer and director, that creative intent was essentially assured.

ANSWER BY BRAD: Well, thank one man - Julian Grant - for this new incarnation of Robo. He was approached by the powers that be to do this series, and it was his intention from the very beginning that Prime Directives be an adult show, like the original movie was - mean, lean and juicy. But you know what was really great? Everyone agreed that his approach was the way to go! RoboCop still has lots of great friends in high places.
- -

QUESTION: A cliche question, but what do you think is the key to writing a good story?

ANSWER BY JOSEPH: Respect the characters, try to stay truthful to them, and try to kill off at least seventy people per hour ; )

ANSWER BY BRAD: Character, character and more character. If you have nothing invested in the characters you're watching - be they hero or villain - why would you care what happens to them? We care about Alex Murphy in the original because he's had his life destroyed, lost his family, and lost his humanity too. That's why his return (turning to the Old Man, saying "Murphy" and smiling) was a "stand up on your seat and cheer" moment. We packed stunts and action and the whole nine yards into Prime Directives, but were also sure to make sure the characters carried some weight to them. Alex Murphy deserves no less.
- -

QUESTION: Robocop vs. Terminator. Would you ever consider crossing Robo over with some other character onscreen?

ANSWER BY BRAD: Personally, no.  Crossovers in general rarely work out (unless you count House of Frankenstein or House of Dracula), largely because they raise too many questions about which universe this is taking place in.  At their worst, they're bad gimicks designed to get people to spend more money.  RoboCop is a unique character and he loses his impact if there are Aliens or Terminators or whatever populating that world.  At least that's the way I see it.

ANSWER BY JOSEPH: Most crossovers suck because they're marketing concepts dressed up like stories.  RoboCop sits very comfortably in his own little universe, and it doesn't serve other characters very well at all. 
- -

QUESTION: In your stories, what does the general public think Robocop is? Do they think he's a pure robot, or a guy wearing a suit of armor (like Iron Man)?

ANSWER BY JOSEPH: The public awareness of RoboCop is the same as it was in all the films - that he is a law-enforcement robot. There is no discussion of the fact that he has a human side - remember, OCP only wanted Murphy's law enforcement experience when they created Robo - not his personality. So it isn't something they go around publicising.

ANSWER BY BRAD: Agreed. One of the things about subsequent incarnations of the RoboCop mythos that never made sense was the blase, almost cavalier attitute people took towards Murphy being a resurrected cop. I'd like to think that if people knew what OCP was doing to its fallen in duty police officers, there'd be a big stink raised about it - particularly from the police themselves!!
- -

QUESTION: Has Paul Verhoeven contacted you in any way regarding this project? Or have you made any effort to contact him for input/inspiration/etc?

ANSWER BY JOSEPH: I love Paul Verhoeven, but we haven't had any contact with him thus far. I hope he likes them. Apparently both Jon Davison (the producer of the first two films) and Ed Neumeier read the scripts and dug them, which was nice to hear. Rob Bottin said he thought they were the best scripts since the first - a helluva compliment to get, I'll tell you. Made my whole week.

ANSWER BY BRAD: Verhoeven's incredible body of work has been an inspiration to Team Robo for years, and to us, Starship Troopers remains one of the most criminally underrated films of the past decade. To hear that Neumeier and Davison and Bottin liked what we're doing made my year, let alone a week.
- -

QUESTION: How come you had to "kill" Murphys wife Ellen?

ANSWER BY JOSEPH: We weren't crazy about killing her off, but when we looked at the larger needs of the story, we realized that it had to be done. Sometimes, as a writer, you'll find that your story makes demands of you - and you must concede to the story every time, whether you want to or not. Ellen Murphy was one of those concessions.
- -

QUESTION: In your opinion, how did Alex's wife (Ellen) die, and why didn't Robocop ever console with his son James after her death? Is this something you ever thought about?

ANSWER BY JOSEPH: We thought long and hard about Murphy and James' past - it's all in PD, although it isn't referenced in obvious ways - you have to infer certain things based on what various characters say at different points and put the backstory together for yourself.

Our take on the James/Murphy relationship took a cue from what, in my opinion, is the only truly great scene in ROBOCOP 2, in which Murphy confronts Ellen and lies to her, convincing her that her husband is dead ("They made this to honour him...") so that she can properly grieve and move on with her life. he knows he can never be the husband and father he once was, and thinks its better for his family to have a chance to move on and not experience the emotional torment that he must deal with each and every day. If they think he's dead, they can get over him. If they know he's alive, it will never be over.

The benefits of this course of action are questionable, but from Murphy's perspective it's the best thing he can do for his family (though he's not actually right, in the long run). This is, for me, the core tragedy of the character, and the thing I find most interesting about him - he will sacrifice greatly so that others can have a better life. Also consider that Murphy, who has been robbed of every human dignity - even the dignity of dying - isn't looking to be reminded of what he's lost. It's hard enough being what he is without having a wife and kid to serve as a reminder of all the things he isn't anymore. Many people seem to be under the impression that being RoboCop is a good thing; it's not. It sucks being RoboCop, but he keeps going despite that, which is what makes him a heroic character.

As for Ellen's death: for the record, we weren't gunning to kill her off - it was, in fact, one of the most difficult decisions we had to make, creatively. But the Murphy/Ellen relationship had been explored by others (with only moderate success), and the way PD's story was shaping up, we soon realized that there was more dramatic potential if she wasn't around - it forced changes in the development of both Murphy and his son, and made their relationship much more complex. Believe me, we tried a version where James was more of a "good guy" through much of the story, and it blew. It was boring and had no life to it at all. By giving both of them the pain and loss of a loved one, both characters suddenly had an emotional obstacle to overcome - one that drove them apart, but one that also fundamentally connected them. It also gave more juice to the "reconnect to humanity" theme that drives much of PD, something Murphy experiences on many levels, and ultimately emerged as the central transformative moment for Murphy's character.

Largely isolated from human contact - both by choice and circumstance - with the exception of Colleen Frost, he first tries to connect with Cable, albeit subtly, and perhaps not even consciously ("Who is your opponent?" and other clues that eventually lead Cable to uncover his identity), which of course goes disastrously wrong in DARK JUSTICE. He then spirals back into more machinelike behaviour in MELTDOWN, even going so far as to say things like "I don't have one" when asked his name. A lot of his journey towards restoring Cable's humanity also involves restoring his own ("You're a man, not a machine! You're a cop! I'm a cop! My name... is Alex Murphy!"). This leads to his reconfiguring at the hands of Ann, Abby and Lexx, who restore portions of organic system, leading to more subtly humanlike behaviour, something Page picked up on and ran with - his performance as Murphy after those events is slightly different - he's more emotional and more alive. He cracks jokes, he swears ("Damn good."), he talks shop with Lexx about her car, he gets horny watching Ann work out (who wouldn't?), he's just more human (which ultimately concludes with the deletion of his prime directives, the death of RoboCop and the rebirth of Alex Murphy, v1.1 at the end of CRASH & BURN).

His biggest transformation - his (hopefully) heart-wrenching confrontation with James, is as much about Murphy taking James back into his life as it is about James forgiving Murphy -- and both of them forgiving themselves for Ellen's death.

Ah yes, Ellen's death. We were originally going to be a bit more explicit about it, but decided to make the details of her death more ambiguous - partially because the fact of her death was more important to the story than the cause of her death, but also because, as I've said elsewhere, I hate continuity. I wanted to let it be a blank that someone else could fill someday - maybe it'll be us, maybe it'll be someone else. But if you look at RoboHistory, as well as how the characters react in PD, it's not hard to puzzle it out.

Ellen was aware of what had happened to Murphy, even if she thought that he was spiritually/mentally dead. She obviously didn't share that information with James (again, to spare him the pain the knowledge would cause - incidentally the same reason Murphy doesn't reveal himself to James later), but it was obviously deeply troubling to her. She died not long after, because James wound up in an OCP corporate orphanage, which wouldn't have happened if he were an adult. That rules out natural causes.

An accident? Probably not, because why James' hated of his father as a result? Really, there are only a handful of logical possibilities, none of them particularly pleasant. She may have fallen into a deep depression, a not-unexpected consequence of losing one's spouse, especially one as great as Alex Murphy, a pretty moral and upstanding guy. Depression sometimes leads to suicide - although I'm not crazy about that explanation, because it implies that she abandoned James as well. More likely she was the victim of some sort of violence - a home invasion that, had Murphy not been killed, he would have been there to prevent. Again, not one I'm particularly prepared to embrace, because I think the poor woman suffered greatly in her life, and I don't like to think of her going out that way.

The fact of the matter is, that even though we didn't technically write for the Ellen Murphy character, she haunts PRIME DIRECTIVES. And I liked her a lot. James loved her more than the world, and her loss made him cold and machinelike (ironic, no?) - perfect OCP material. But I have no desire to dwell on the pathology of her demise. Hence, I prefer to think in poetic terms - as far as I'm concerned, Ellen Murphy died of grief. From James' perspective, she died because Murphy died, and Murphy died because he was protecting others and not his family - hence the anger (check out Anthony Lemke's face when he places flowers on Ellen's grave and then looks to his dad's - he's just seething). That's why I like the end of RESURRECTION so much - she's there in spirit. Both of these men cease their conflict to honor the memory of the woman they both loved.

Bear in mind that we thought long and hard about all the choices we made on PD. We agonized over some of them (I could barely bring myself to type the words "Ann dies" when it came time to write her final scene - my hands literally froze over the keyboard and I couldn't make them move for a minute or so). But ultimately it was about telling the best possible story. That means strong drama. Strong drama means conflict. And that means that sometimes bad things happen to good people. But the world of RoboCop's not a fair place. That's why it needs Alex Murphy - to force the world to make sense.