Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wandering the streets of Old Detroit (locations featured in the movie RoboCop)

"Excuse me, I have to go. Somewhere there is a crime happening."

In scouting the ideal metropolis for the decayed urban landscape of Old Detroit, Dutch import Paul Verhoeven eventually chose the city of Dallas, Texas. Detroit, while it had the seedy underbelly, lacked the futuristic skyline of Dallas. Detroit does make one appearance in the film's opening shot. But aside from the title screen, filming took place almost exclusively in and around Dallas.

And as there was very minimal shooting inside a studio, most of the movie is made up of location filming. As is expected with a 20-year-old movie, some of the buildings are no longer standing. But there are more than a few that you can still drive to.

The bad news is, I've never been to Texas. And it'll be a long while before I do get there. So this entry is kept to mere online sightseeing.

Following the opening Media Break sequence, our first location seen in the film is the Detroit Police Department, which is actually the Old Dallas High School, at. Though no longer used in an educational capacity, the building still stands at 2214 Bryan St. What we see in the film is actually the rear of the school (in Google street view™, look NW from Live Oak St.).

According to Verhoeven in the DVD commentary, the basement of the Police Dept (where the lockers are located) was the real basement of the Old Dallas High School. The main office (where we meet Alex Murphy), was built in an unspecified building.

The film cuts to Bob Morton and fellow OCP execs Johnson and Kinney as they board the elevator to ascend the interior of OCP Headquarters. When the executives step into the elevator, they are actually on the ground floor of the Plaza of the Americas building at 700 N Pearl St. (you can see the interior here). The real building is nowhere near as tall as depicted in the movie. That was done using a matte painting, making the interior of the building appear to be 100 stories tall.

After the brief elevator ride, the executives enter the OCP boardroom, which was a set built on the top floor of the Renaissance Tower, located at 1201 Elm Street. The space is now used as a law library for Winstead Attorneys - but it's notable because, in keeping with the filmmakers' use of practical locations, it's not everyday you see a set built inside a working skyscraper.

We cut to Murphy and his partner while on a coffee break. In reality, the actors are sitting in a parking lot just SW of the KDFW Channel 4 building. The coffee shop (as seen in the film) is a brick building, and there is indeed a brick building at the corner of San Jacinto and Lamar, but other than that, the images from Google Maps™ and Maps Live™ aren't precise enough to pinpoint any closer than that. You can see the Channel 4 building behind Murphy, and judging from the placement of the broadcast tower, they're filming the scene in the block just west of the Channel 4 building (you can see another image here).

The officers' break is interrupted when they get an "all units" call in pursuit of Clarence Boddicker's gang, after an apparent bank robbery. It's been said that this pursuit was filmed on a street running parallel to I-35E (as you can see the Reunion Tower in the background), possibly Houston St. As near as I can place it (judging from the buildings' placement in the scene), they filmed the pursuit on Reunion Blvd E (which becomes Hotel St). Unfortunately, it appears the Dallas Convention Center has been built over that street, and street view doesn't help. And since you see Boddicker's truck both heading towards and fleeing from the Reunion Tower, they filmed the length of the pursuit driving back and forth on Reunion.

Officers Murphy and Lewis trail Boddicker's gang to an abandoned steel mill on the outskirts of town. This location marks the only time production was moved out of Texas for filming. The exteriors of the steel mill (and the officers' entrance therein) were filmed at the (abandoned) Wheeling-Pittsburgh mill, in Monessen, PA. The actual room in which Murphy finds Emil, and where he meets his violent end was filmed at an unspecified building in Long Beach, CA, after production wrapped (according to writer Ed Neumeier).

The Wheeling-Pittsburgh mill was razed in 1989.

While on street patrol, (after Murphy's death and subsequent resurrection as the film's titular character), RoboCop responds to a '415 in progress'. We cut to a woman fleeing her attackers through a parking lot. This lot is located at the corner of S Central Expy & Main St. The building behind her when the chase begins (with the red strip of neon) is the Dallas Public Safety Supply Building. She rounds a corner in front of a brick building (Brajay Salon at 2222 Elm St), and turns screen left to stop in another parking lot with a billboard. This is the SW corner of S Central and Main. This scene features one of the most stark, yet interesting set designs in the movie (the billboard for Delta City). The good news is, the billboard is still standing.

After (violently) dispatching the two would-be rapists, RoboCop proceeds to a hostage situation at City Hall. That building still stands, and was the Old Dallas City Courthouse, located at 2014 Main St. As it was seen in the movie, RoboCop enters through the door on N. Harwood St. (the camera is looking N from the corner of S. Harwood St. and Commerce St.

One of the unfortunate casualties of the last twenty odd years is the Shell Station Emil blows up during his altercation with RoboCop. As of this date, you can still see the gas station standing on Maps Live™ - but Google Maps™ has a barren lot, which means the building was razed in the last two or so years. At any rate, the station stood at the N corner of Ross Ave and Boll St, adjacent to the Dallas Black Dance Theater.

Following the police strike, Boddicker's gang is seen blowing up an electronics store front. This building is still standing and is located at 2548 Elm St, in the Deep Ellum arts district. The dark brick building on the left was used for both 'Smith Electronics', and the strip club.

During the final scene, RoboCop drives to the OCP headquarters for one last confrontation. The exterior of this building is the Dallas City Hall, located at 1500 Marilla Dr. In reality, the actual building isn't a skyscraper (like the interior, the skyscraper appearance was pulled off using a matte painting), but stands at only 7 stories. City Hall was designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, and completed in 1978. The inverted pyramid design, while unique in and of itself, also protects the city employees from the harsh Texas sun.

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