Score Analysis by Dirk Wickenden
Originally published in Legend: Issue 28, 1999
The Official Jerry Goldsmith Film Music Society Journal
Text reproduced by kind permission of the author, Dirk Wickenden
Revised expressly for runmovies © 2014
As often happens with successful films, in terms of box office receipts (particularly those of the science fiction and action variety), ROBOCOP returned to duty for a sequel in 1990. The title refers both to its status as a follow-up and the name of the second law enforcement cyborg in the film and it should have turned out better than it did. It had a tried-and-tested director in the form of Irvin Kershner (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE) and a potentially stylish writer in the form of veteran comic book scribe/artist Frank Miller, from which this would be his debut screenplay. He shared credit with Walon Green (THE WILD BUNCH) for the script and one had high hopes, based on his work on the Marvel and DC Comics superheroes Daredevil and Batman.
Original Robo Producer Jon Davison was working on DICK TRACY when Orion Pictures began developing the sequel. They jettisoned the screenplay by the original writers Michael Miner and Ed Neumeier and when Davison returned to the fold, Tim Hunter (RIVER’S EDGE) was tapped to direct. He decided to depart the project and Kershner stepped in, whilst Davison hired Miller, on the basis of his dark portrayal of the Batman character in the ‘graphic novel’ “The Dark Knight Returns”. Since the first film, ROBOCOP had become something of a franchise, with comic books, toys and an animated series. However, the film would receive the same certificate as the first, despite the less graphic bloodshed.
This time, Houston doubled as futuristic Detroit, in a story set one year on and unfortunately this second movie misfired, unlike Robo’s gun. It lacked the saving grace of genuine black humour amidst the carnage and, despite an early scene, glossed over the coming-to-terms of the cyborg with the remnants of Murphy, his memories and soul – the ‘ghost in the machine’, if you will. A filmed scene of the cyborg imagining visiting the grave of Murphy was cut from the film – this was a mistake. Robo’s fellow officers call him ‘Murphy’ throughout the film, which suggests the reconciliation of his two halves has taken place. To lend a deeper level to the film, beyond its action/adventure aspect, the narrative should have been injected with a greater dose of the ongoing conflict between the cyborg’s two halves. Most of the cast returned alongside original cybernetic cop Peter Weller: Nancy Allen as Lewis, Dan O’Herlihy as the Old Man (the OCP chairman) and Felton Perry as Johnson, whilst chief villain Cain was played by Tom Noonan (WOLFEN) and the role of Dr. Faxx was taken by Belinda Bauer (FLASHDANCE).
Leonard Rosenman received a high level of criticism in the film music press over his music for this ‘Robo Without A Cause’ and this analysis [written and published in 1999 – author’s note, 2014] goes someway to help answer those negative observations. The liner notes for the soundtrack album by the composer himself (a rarity on new releases) are worth considering and I shall quote from these where appropriate.
Leonard Rosenman thought deeply about the musical fabric for his RoboScore. He states that ‘How does music show human feelings of a mechanical and electronic entity?’ He solved the problems by ‘a combination of live and acoustic instruments, mixed with the sounds of electronic instruments’. He used four soprano voices with the orchestra for the memories of Robo’s human side. These ‘gave the score an edge of feeling that… nothing else could do’. His ultimate intention was to add to the action of the film the ‘plight of a robot who remembers that he was once a human being and that memory serves to provide the internal conflicts of the film’. In other words, I feel the composer attempted to musically illustrate what the actual execution of the movie ultimately lacked.
The score was orchestrated for standard symphony orchestra, with an electric bass guitar, extra percussion (including an anvil, which, as you may recall, was substituted with a fire extinguisher in the first RoboScore) and the aforementioned synthesisers and sopranos.
1. RoboCop Theme: A brassy fanfare theme usually supported by a hammered anvil that is subjected to many variations during the score and is at once melancholic and at the same time automaton-like and triumphant. Its first six notes are used as a motif throughout the score, which I will refer to as the ‘RoboCop Motif’.
2. RoboCop 2 Motif. A four-note dark fanfare primarily on horns, again subjected to variations.
The following analysis does not include all cues and scenes. For a complete list of cues, utilising album track titles and those of my own devising, see the cue sheet following this article.
As with the first film, a title sequence is dispensed with, to the extent that in this instance, the title of the film is not even presented (author’s 2014 note – this has become the norm with latter cinema). Unlike the original, the film does not start with a Media Break bulletin but does start with a spoof advertisement, for ‘Magnavolt’, a car security system. We, the audience do not immediately recognise it as an advert as it does not have the strobing common to a video transfer to film, meaning it was shot on film stock. Only when a smartly dressed man (John Glover) starts his sales pitch and the Magnavolt logo appears do we realise the footage for what it is and a synth and brass cell accompanies it. When remembering this scene, one feels that it is flawed, in that it should have been scored as a separate entity from the storyline. It is only upon another viewing when one may appreciate that this appears to be the intention of the film makers, with Rosenman scoring the scene as if it were a part of the narrative, with percussive suspense music. Interestingly, the shot of a locked car door being picked was trimmed for the home video release, as it was deemed too detailed in showing how it’s done!
The real narrative begins with a Media Break segment as in the first film. It details various news items, including the malfunctioning ED-209 droid (from the first film) and the focal point of the story, the drug ‘Nuke’, which is described as ‘the most addictive narcotic in history’. This is followed by footage of the Nuke cult leader, Cain, our main baddie. It is also revealed that the police are on strike because of pay and conditions set by OCP, the corporation which is a thorn in the side of the police force. As per the first film, the news breaks are treated realistically and music is not heard, except the tail end of cue 39.
The first piece of dramatic underscoring, orchestrated for celli, flutes and brass is eerie and non-melodic and plays under chaotic scenes of the lawless Detroit streets at night, with villains running riot. As Rosenman states, ‘This piece depicts the violence and hopelessness of the night life of the city… Even the small trace of a humorous jazzy treatment of the two prostitutes is dark’. The prostitutes receive accompaniment from clarinet, trombone, muted trumpet and cymbal.
The music continues as in the opening with a gun shop being raided and the owner shot with one of his own wares, to which Rosenman scores a crescendo in the brass. A police car arrives, lights blazing and siren wailing, which the robbers find strange as the police are on strike. They use their newly-acquired heavy firepower, including a rocket launcher, to blast the car to pieces.
All is silent as the driver’s door creaks open and RoboCop steps out and the music returns with the first rendition of Rosenman’s RoboCop theme. The cyborg dispatches all but one of the criminals and picks up a box of Nuke from the robber’s car seat and enquires ‘Where is it made?’. The music continues in the automaton-like way, which is different from Basil Poledouris’ RoboCop March but is suitable nonetheless. Of this cue, Rosenman says ‘In the thematic material for RoboCop, I tried to play not only to the robotic and mechanical aspect of the character but the nobility’.
A later scene shows Robo in his patrol car, watching his wife Ellen and their son Jimmy. His wife appears disturbed and goes into her house. He has a memory of his former life with her and the music is ethereal with harp, female voices and violins. As he drives off, celli offer a slow version of the RoboCop motifs six notes.
The film cuts to Metro West police headquarters and Robo with his helmet off being berated by an OCP representative, in the presence of his wife’s lawyer and Robo’s maintenance technician. This scene is exceptional and represents how successfully the narrative could have been pulled off if the rest had been modelled in the same way. It is the sort of ideal we would not see again until the few elements in the later television series. A brief detailing of the scene is useful to allow proper analysis of the underscoring of the poignant scene between Robo and Ellen Murphy. RoboCop has apparently been driving past Ellen Murphy’s house every day and he is asked how he can offer her anything now he is a machine and is forced to record a statement for a video tape record: ‘Are you Alex Murphy?’. ‘No’ ‘Are you human?’ ‘No’. ‘You are simply a machine’. ‘I am a machine… nothing more’. This last is barely above a whisper and there has been an absence of music.
Ellen Murphy is brought in and the two are left alone, separated by a wire mesh gate, as much as they are separated by what Alex has become. The music enters poignantly on celli with the RoboCop motif and woodwind and flute enter as he walks to Ellen, who says ‘Alex – don’t you know me? Don’t you remember me? Alex, it doesn’t matter what they’ve done to you’. Robo moves closer to the barrier between them and says ‘Touch me’. She touches his lips and whispers ‘It’s cold’, to which he answers quietly ‘They made this to honour him… your husband is dead.’ He turns around and walks away, saying ‘I don’t know you’. The music has continued in the same vein, also featuring wordless female voices. She is distraught and runs outside. Robo looks out the station window and sees her crying and arguing with her lawyer. The music has been mysterious and sad at the same time and ends with a restatement of the
RoboCop motif; a perfectly devised piece for the most effective scene in the film.
A subsequent unscored scene shows the city’s mayor entering the OCP headquarters building, to see the Old Man, which is devoid of scoring. The city owes OCP thirty-seven million dollars and cannot pay, so the Old Man says ‘We’re taking Detroit private’. The young mayor is understandably upset at the OCP men present. The film cuts to Dr. Juliette Faxx joining Johnson, Dr. Shank (an OCP scientist) and the Old Man as they walk through the building. The chairman is furious over a project spending ninety million dollars in five months. We then see them watching a video of the unveiling of two different cybernetic constructs, both named ‘RoboCop 2’. The blacky humorous footage is accompanied by two different sourced fanfares and the cyborgs both malfunction. The chairman covers his eyes despairingly. It is explained that all the police officers made into cyborgs go crazy and become suicidal. Dr. Faxx volunteers that a policeman may not be the best candidate, despite Alex Murphy surviving as the original RoboCop. Faxx, a psychologist, is charged with heading the project to find a new candidate.
The film cuts to Robo and Lewis driving through a picket line of their fellow officers and an Officer Duffy receives a celli and woodwind motif as he surreptitiously takes some Nuke. Then the film jumps to the young Hob entering a games arcade, with Lewis and Robo monitoring the building, from which emanates loud source music. They see and hear Duffy giving information of police patrols to the boy. Robo enters the arcade and Hob and his henchmen leave quickly, only to be intercepted by Lewis and she has her hands full with them and Hob gets away, as Robo is inside and beats Duffy, asking him where Cain is.
The film cuts to Robo driving to Cain’s hideout, an old industrial site called ‘River Rouge’. Rosenman scores the scene with a driving brass motif and percussion, featuring a RoboCop theme variation. As he arrives at the gates, celli and clarinets sound eerie and brass and strings score Cain’s men looking on as Robo’s car moves over a mine and blows up, when the music stops. They go to investigate and we see that Robo wasn’t in the car and he enters the building to electric bass guitar, woodwind and ethereal voices as the gunfire starts, with the music continuing through much of it. Of the drive to River Rouge, Rosenman states ‘A fast and violent orchestral idea that both RoboCop and the machine he is driving are now basically related by electrical and mechanical similarities’.
At the hideout, Cain’s people overpower Robo and his struggles are scored with a string-based utilisation of his six-note motif. In a parallel to the first film, his right hand is blown off, as Murphy’s was in the original movie. He is then cut into pieces, without even Leonard Rosenman’s music to comfort him. This is seen mostly through the cyborg’s visor, his point of view; his construction in the first film was viewed this way and now his deconstruction is shown in a similar fashion.
The film cuts to a stretch limo pulling up outside the police station and Robo’s separated parts are thrown in a pile at the feet of the protesting on strike police officers, whilst violins are featured. Rob Bottin’s special effects team excel themselves with a superb animatronic likeness of actor Peter Weller’s head, as the head and upper torso writhe about in distress on the ground. Horns play through the cut to Robo hooked up to a life support machine in the station, with strings playing quietly in the background.
The next two cues (19 and 20) underscore the fate of Officer Duffy and are interesting in that the switch from lighter, almost humorous music to a darker texture does not clash as one might think it would. A bandaged and intoxicated Duffy is driven to a building and climbs out with Hob and cohort. The bent cop receives a comical-sounding cue on French horns and woodwinds, which turns sinister on trumpets as Hob’s accomplice knocks Duffy out. He is pushed on a stretcher into an operating theatre with Cain and company present. The sinister music returns on brass, rumbling timpani and quiet strings as the strapped-down Duffy thinks they’re joking with him. The doctor reveals a tray of surgical tools, selects a scalpel, sharpens it and showing they are serious, proceeds to slice into the fully conscious man. Black blood spurts from his chest, accompanied by a crescendo in the brass and timpani. The screams of Duffy echo and die away across the cut to doctors Faxx and Shank, selecting a suitable candidate for ‘RoboCop 2’. On reflection, perhaps this jump cut and the ‘scoring’ of the edit with the dying screams were meant to falsely suggest to the first-time viewer that Duffy was going to become the new cyborg.
A later scene shows the installation of a reconstructed Robo’s new program, which won’t upload as Faxx says ‘He’s resisting’. She uses her psycho-analytical techniques and a computer wired into Robo’s brain to make him submit. ‘What do you think you are?. ‘I am Alex Murphy’, the weak cyborg replies. The music enters on quiet trumpets and as she finally gets him to utter ‘I am RoboCop’; the music continues in a spooky manner, playing the subtext of the scene and the upload starts to work.
The film cuts to Robo back at the station house, behaving atypically, causing concern to his supervising technician. Rosenman omits underscoring this scene. The following scene shows a junior league baseball team and their coach robbing an electrical store. Robo and Lewis arrive and the RoboCop theme is presented as dramatically and brassy as usual. However, with Robo acting strangely, one may say humorously, I feel the music actually works against the scene. Despite the shooting of the baseball coach by Lewis, the semi-comical aspect could have been played up by a performance of the theme by a clarinet or perhaps a flute-like synth.
Later, back at the station, the root of Robo’s problem is revealed that OCP has installed literally hundreds of new directives, interfering with his operation. No music is scored until Robo, acting upon a suggestion of ‘running a few thousand volts through him’ to wipe the programming, marches off to the RoboCop theme, which presents a decisive feel. He electrocutes himself at an electricity substation and the shock clears his memory of all the extraneous data and he is helped up from the ground by his fellow cops, as the camera lingers over the picket signs dropped on the ground.
The music is uplifting on strings, then flute and other woodwinds as Robo is shown as back to his old self. He sets off with the now off-strike police to find Cain. The music as the patrol cars screech along to tackle the crimelord is driving and forward-moving and then turns suspenseful at the hideout. It ends as Robo takes aim and shoots an armed villain through the eye in graphic detail (shades of Verhoeven!). The following shoot-out between the two sides is played out without music.
Music returns as Angie (Cain’s girl) and Hob arm themselves to brass arpeggiated chords (a Rosenman staple) and they pin the cops down. Rosenman ends the cue on a brass crescendo as Hob fires his powerful machine gun. Rumbling timpani and celli score a later scene of cops entering a booby-trapped drugs lab and they evacuate just before it explodes, the music beforehand offering an anticipatory aspect.
After the explosion, Cain tears off in a van and Robo emerges from the smoke with his motif and fires at the oncoming vehicle. Cain rams the cyborg, who clings onto the front and as the villain tries to dislodge him to a furious musical accompaniment, Robo is knocked away as he collides with a telegraph pole. Note here that the music decrescendos on strings for the loud ‘clang’ of the impact, then a flute motif plays as he lays on the ground. This was obviously planned, as opposed to the music’s volume just being reduced at the dubbing stage. The sound effect of the collision is actually rather funny.
The cue continues in the same manner as before, with brass and strings atop a bed of percussion, including snares and a xylophone as Robo ‘borrows’ a motorcycle to speed off after Cain. The two then play ‘chicken’ and drive at speed towards each other, with Rosenman in tow. As Cain’s van collides with Robo’s bike, the cyborg leaps up and smashes through the windscreen and grabs Cain, resulting in the van flipping onto its side. The cue tails out on strings on the jump cut to a Media Break report of the arrest of the critically-injured Cain.
Before the narrative continues, there is an ‘advertisement’ for a sun block cream and Rosenman’s source music features harp, flutes and violins. The cue is stylistically similar to the narrative Cue 8, and if the scene receiving the source music was related to the plot, this would be correct usage of thematic material derived from the underscore. As it stands, the advert is unrelated to the story, so there is no logic evident in the relationship between Cues 8 and 29.
Later, Faxx decides that the hospitalised Cain is going to become RoboCop 2. She stands over the criminal’s bedside and phones a doctor, stating ‘We just lost our patient’, to which the conscious Cain is understandably worried. Music starts on low brass as she turns off his life support and celli join in and the brass crescendos as he expires. The film cuts to an operating theatre and flutes, synth, strings and brass score the graphic operation to remove Cain’s brain (Frankenstein’s monster also had the brain of a criminal but that is where the comparison ends). The sound effects, skirted by the music of spiky brass, are loud and stomach-churning as rotary saws and drills are used to remove the top of the body’s head (which we see inside of). As the brain is removed, there are the requisite squelchy sounds. Unsettling strings reveal the brain and spinal column floating in a life support tube, as the camera tracks up to reveal that the eyes are still attached and at this point the music reaches a crescendo. The point of view switches to Cain’s brain and he (and us) can see his detached crownless head as the surgeon holds it to show Faxx. Of the cue (No. 31), Rosenman observes the music is ‘eerie and strange, depicting the complex and bloody operation’.
We later see the new RoboCop 2, a massive, powerful construct at a dark warehouse, the plot specifics of which are that he has been sent to keep track of the city’s mayor, who has been summoned by Hob, now in charge of Cain’s Nuke empire. The cyborg enters the warehouse and opens fire on the criminals. The music is occasionally drowned out by the firepower but the brass and celli-led cue also has ‘holes’ in it for the sound effects – it would have been pointless having music scored that was unable to penetrate the sound effects. Note that the cue incorporates the first usage of the four-note RoboCop 2 motif on horns, a dark and forbidding sound.
Later, Robo arrives on the scene with his motif, amid brass and celli suspense music. He finds a mortally wounded Hob and bass clarinet, horns, flute and oboe offer a tender cue as Robo comforts the dying boy. Even at this point, the viewer may be unable to feel anything for the character, as throughout the film he has been a vicious, foul-mouthed child. The scene may have been helped by another flashback to Murphy’s son but this did not happen.
As Hob dies, the soprano voices are featured, along with the oboe and the music continues through the cut to a Media Break segment. The music continues for about fourteen seconds into the ‘broadcast’. Music is often used in a film across cuts and dissolves to tie scenes together but if one recalls the first film, never did a Media Break scene receive underscoring. Perhaps in this instance, the idea was to musically attempt to make the viewer feel the impact of Hob’s demise but it still doesn’t succeed for the reasons outlined above.
Towards the end of the film, the Old Man presents a press conference announcing that his long-cherished Delta City project is now proceeding. He presents a large model of the city, rising from the floor of the room to a sourced trumpet-led fanfare, then presents RoboCop 2 to another sourced fanfare on horns and trumpets (this doesn’t utilize the four-note motif for the cyborg as heard in the underscore). Robo arrives and RoboCop 2 fires at him, killing people in the crossfire.
The ensuing battle between both RoboCops is a stop-start affair and the music reflects this, with a group of short cues ranging from eight seconds to a little over two minutes in length. Cue 46 expertly melds both Robo themes and Rosenman says these were ‘interlocked and played in various harmonic and polyphonic styles’. In this instance, the entire orchestra is utilised, particularly brass, woodwind and percussion. A very late scene towards the end of the final battle (Cue 49, running just over four minutes) shows Lewis giving the drug-addicted
Cain/RoboCop 2 a tube of Nuke. As he is distracted, Robo leaps onto the large automaton’s back and forces open some armour plating, ripping the brain and spinal column from inside and smashes it onto the ground. The large RoboCop 2 short circuits and falls to the ground. Notably, the battle scenes have all seen extensive use of Phil Tippett’s stop motion animation, mainly for RoboCop 2 and also for Robo on the second cyborg’s back.
The end titles cue starts on a final shot of Robo unscrewing his helmet and is specially composed, combining major elements from the score. The composer states that ‘Not only is the RoboCop theme used but there is an entire middle section based on a more lyrical treatment of the theme, evoking memories of humanity in the mind of this cyborg’. The piece incorporates the sopranos singing the lyric ‘RoboCop’ (shades of the Batman television series theme?), which some have found ridiculous. I like to think that the composer put this in for humorous intent.
In the Goldsmith Film Music Society’s publication Movie Music issue 1, Jack Carter stated that Rosenman’s score was ‘out of date’ and I presume many would agree with the sentiment. However, it had its moments and it does bear some resemblance to other scores by the same composer, such as Star Trek IV. This is not necessarily the sign of a poor composer but recognisable harmonic and stylistic hallmarks which most, if not all, creative people have.
RoboCop 2 was nowhere near as well done as the first film. Interestingly, the same critics who attacked Paul Verhoeven’s effort for its violence and sick humour now praised it, as a model of what the sequel should have aspired to be. Undoubtedly, the film’s highlights were the stop motion animation (a natural progression from the famed Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen) and the animatronic Peter Weller head, both technical successes for the production.
Perhaps one reason why the film did not succeed was that the script consisted of a group of unrelated ‘episodes’ with a weak main storyline, the implementation of which failed to improve matters. Perhaps if the studio had gone with the original’s writers’ script, things would have been a different matter. However, I don’t think any film maker intentionally sets out to make a bad movie but the reasons are many as to why the final production can fail.
Cue Sheet – RoboCop 2
Composed and Conducted by Leonard Rosenman, Orchestrated By Ralph Ferraro
N.B. All cues timed at 25 frames per second.
Cue No. Cue Title Running Time
1. Orion Pictures Logo 0:17
2. Magnavolt Advertisement (source) 0:25
3. Magnavolt Logo (source) 0:05
4. City Mayhem 3:16
5. Robo And Nuke 2:15
6. RoboSalsa (source) 1:03
7. Cain’s Getaway/Lewis Arrives 1:08
8. Happier Days 1:24
9. Robo And Ellen Murphy 2:00
10. OCP Communications Advertisement (source) 0:04
11. RoboCop 2 Fanfare Take 1 (source) 0:12
12. RoboCop 2 Fanfare Take 2 (source) 0:11
13. Duffy Injects Nuke 0:27
14. The Kid Goes Wild (source) 4:19
15. RoboCruiser (River Rouge Part 1) 1:31
16. RiverRouge Part 2 2:53
17. Robo’s Pieces 0:43
18. He’s In Hell 0:09
19. You Guys Are The Greatest 0:33
20. Surgery 1:28
21. System Failure 0:31
22. RoboPsychology 1:52
23. Crime Scene 0:54
24. Don’t Try This At Home 1:52
25. No Picket Signs 0:49
26. Pinned Down 0:12
27. Booby Trap 0:24
28. Robo And Cain Chase 2:29
29. Sun Block 5000 Advertisement (source) 0:42
30. We Lost Our Patient 0:29
31. Creating The Monster 2:04
32. Born To Be Wild (source) 0:36
33. Pledges So Far (source) 0:02
34. Another Option 0:32
35. Fifty Million Dollars 0:53
36. RoboCop 2 Approaches 0:07
37. What The Hell Is That?! 0:18
38. RoboCop 2 Shootout 4:47
39. Robo Arrives On The Scene 3:03
40. Delta City Fanfare (source:) 0:16
41. RoboCop 2 Fanare (source) 0:29
42. RoboD rug 0:26
43. It’s A Killer And I Saw It 0:08
44. Behave Yourselves! 0:27
45. There’s A War Going On In There 0:20
46. The Lift Shaft 2:14
47. Robo Emerges 0:26
48. Robo Gets Nuke 0:14
49. RoboRampage/Braindead 4:01
50. We’re Only Human/End Credits 5:57
Total running time 61:51