Robocop is a great concept movie, and one of Paul Verhoeven's first major movies in Hollywood after moving from The Netherlands. The director went on to direct several science fiction movies, and many of these have common themes of dystopian futures and corporate corruption and Robocop is no exception. It is set in a crime-ridden near future where different tech companies are competing to solve the crime problem. One of the possible solutions is a powerful robot, the Enforcement Droid ED-209 machine created by Omni Consumer Products or OCP, although its weakness is the limitations of its software programming. The other competing solution is a cyborg creation called RoboCop which is a robot controlled by a human brain which is hoped will give it a greater flexibility. And that in a nutshell is the setting for the story, although Robocop still needs a human donor...
Verhoeven worked with a number of different composers on his movies with two particularly stand-out composers to whom the director returned on multiple occasions. One of those composers was Jerry Goldsmtih with whom the director would work on Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Hollow Man. The other favoured composer was Basil Poledouris. Poledouris would work again with Verhoeven on Starship Troopers, and he had already scored an earlier movie for the director called Flesh+Blood so it was on the strength of this that Verhoeven asked him to score Robocop. In some ways Poledouris' approach was similar to some of Goldsmith's films in that he used a combination of electronics and traditional orchestra to create the movie's soundscape, which seems wholly appropriate for a movie about a cyborg with human and machine parts. Basil Poledouris is also well known for creating quite unique soundscapes, as though he develops a completely new palette of sounds and techniques for each film he scores. Two notable examples are the sword and sandals fantasy epic Conan the Barbarian and The Hunt for Red October with its Red Army style choir, which are both distinctive in different ways.
The music of Robocop also has its distinctive qualities which makes the score stand out. The electronics are reserved for particular flourishes (associated with the movie's technology) and it is the orchestra which dominates with the brass providing the melodic backbone for the heroic and action parts of the score. However the score as a whole is notable for the breadth of simple thematic material, each part of which is associated with a particular mood or dramatic idea from the film, and these musical fragments are juxtaposed and integrated beautifully into a coherent whole. In this sense the score has the thematic richness of Richard Strauss. The stand-out feature of the score is its main theme, a simple heroic melody for Robocop himself, but Poledouris wisely chooses to use it sparingly to save it getting repetitive. However the melody is associated with other layered elements, and these elements plus adaptations of the main theme frequently hint at the main melody without stating it in full. One of the layered elements is a version of the theme's chord progression and another is the string runs and flourishes which sometimes embellish the theme. In fact the composer gets considerable mileage from building up those layers to keep his audience in suspenseful anticipation leading up to a full and exciting statement of the main theme.
That theme is march-like and heroic in nature and together with the darker elements gives the score the simplicity of a Western score with a clear demarcation between the good guys and the bad guys. However the score as a whole is often far from heroic with its depictions of crime and corruption, and Poledouris waits until track 8 before he first uses the main theme for the initial reveal of Robocop so the first 7 tracks are essentially exposition which paints the movie's backdrop. The film sometimes takes a pseudo-documentary approach with frequent media updates including news broadcasts describing key events, interspersed by commercial breaks which provide some satirical comment and humourous relief. The composer adopts the repeated staccato chords frequently heard on new programmes, and even joins the fun on the commercial interludes. The "Main Title" sets out the news broadcast style, and some of the earlier tracks are quite short in duration until "Van Chase" where the composer sets out his full range of action and suspense music as the cops attempt to track down a group of criminals with a focus on the cop team of officers Alex Murphy and Anne Lewis (played by Peter Weller and Nancy Allen). Among these short exposition tracks is the quiet "Twirl" which establishes Murphy's characteristic gun twirl as he holsters the weapon.
The action-oriented "Van Chase" is then followed by the consecutive tracks "Murphy Dies" and electronic "Robo Lives" which establish the main plot device, when the cop called Murphy dies heroically in action and thus becomes the donor required for the Robocop project. Even then Poledouris saves his first brief statement of the main theme until we see Robocop in action in "Drive Montage" since its only then that we fully start to trust this cyborg with Murphy's face beneath the helmet. Then "Helpless Woman" fully nails Robocop's credentials with a further short statement of the main theme and we are in no doubt that Robocop is the good guy. After the comic interlude of "Nukem", "Murphy's Dream" introduces some new electronic and atmospheric material with hints of the main theme as Murphy's memories start to surface in Robocop's brain. After "Gas Station Blow-Up" this dreamy and sometimes disturbing thread continues in "Murphy Goes Home". "Rock Shop" gives us the powerful chordal statement of the main theme and "Robo Drives To Jones" brings further elements of the main theme into play as the tension of the plot heightens.
Robot and Cyborg battle it out in the forceful "Robo & Ed 209 Fight" while dreamy electronics and downbeat orchestra return in "Force Shoots Robo" before the major climax. After a further comic musak interlude in "Big Is Better", "Care Package" is sad and low key. "Looking for Me" then gives us the full gamut of the main theme battling the criminal elements as RoboCop makes a recovery and gets to the bottom of the corporate corruption. Then "Across The Board (End Credits)" has the final confrontation and restates much of the thematic material and the original repeated percussion and electronics lead into a final heroic conclusion related to but not using the main theme. At times you feel as though the score needs to milk the main theme more, but of course the score has to fit the film and it is better to use it too little than too much. The real beauty of the score though is the wealth of subsidiary thematic material and the way Poledouris combines and recombines this in a myriad of ways giving the score absolute unity despite the occasional interlude. The Robocop film score is another stand-out classic from a master composer: Basil Poledouris.
The original film score was recorded in London and conducted by Howard Blake (composer of "The Snowman"). It was first released back in 1987 and has been re-released several times since. Its enduring popularity has seen the score again re-released last month (Sept 2015) in the UK and the soundtrack album can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.