The cause of the decline of science-fiction cinema over the past decade can be found in the fact that corporate power is longer recognized as dangerous. In Gattaca, one of the three most important science- fiction pictures of the present period, 1997 to 2007 (the other two are The Matrix and Children of Men), the space corporation, Gattaca, is not manipulative or sinister but has simply adapted to an evil social order. (This situation is something like Hannah Arendt's "rule of nobody," bureaucratic rule.) In The Matrix, evil power is purely police power. There are no corporations and no military industrial complex, only sleeping humans who are exploited and controlled by the absolute force of the police (or men who look like federal agents). In Children of Men, we have no idea who is ruling the society of its future. The power struggle has been reduced to armed force and its counterpart, armed resistance.
The science fiction of the '80s clearly knew its enemy: the corporation. Corporate power operated without opposition from the nation-state, and increased its control of society by the privatization of the human body (Blade Runner), of military technology (Aliens), and police force (Robocop). This understanding of evil and its location was the genius of the age.
Robocop, which has just been rereleased by MGM in a 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD, imagines an American city, Detroit, that is ruled not only by street gangs, but also, and more ominously, by a corporation called OCP that has privatized law enforcement and urban management. Because it is the nature of a corporation to make a fast buck, what OCP first considers is not the public's interests but its own. The crime-fighting machines it produces must make money. And this is precisely Robocop's dilemma. Played by Peter Weller, Robocop is part human and mostly machine, but the will of its human (and emotional) side is blocked by the relentless machine side. Why? Because, as Bob Marley once put it, "it's only a machine that make money."
The one disappointment in this edition is that the extras do not fully explore the source of the dread and darkness that permeate Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece.
New DVDs this week: The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (TLA, $19.99), Xperimental Eros compilation (Other Cinema, $24.95), Heroes: Season One (Universal, $59.98), Who the Hell Is Juliette? (Facets, $29.95).