Robocop: Special Edition Review
Paul Verhoeven's US film debut was a sharp, satirical look at the 'Regan's' America - and more specifically things such as the privatisation of many public-sector services. In the not-so-distant future, the Detroit police force is run by Omni Consumer Products (OCP) as a profit making venture. The police are threatening strike action and crime is spiralling out of control.
New to the Metro West precinct, Officer Murphy and his new partner Lewis find themselves attempting to apprehend a group of criminals, led by 'Cop Killer' Clarence Boddicker as they flee an armed burglary. Arriving at a disused industrial site, Murphy and Lewis attempt to locate and arrest the gang with disasterous results and the apparent murder of Murphy.
However, it's not quite so clear cut - OCP have been looking to build a cyborg police replacement and after their first option ED-209 malfunctions and kills an OCP board member their next option is to attempt to launch the 'Robocop' programme. Murphy, having just met a particularly bloody end is used as the basis for this new 'super cop'.
Robocop does not pull any punches - there is no lack of gore with plenty of gruesome deaths and shootings to keep those who like their violent action films happy. However, what really puts this film ahead of the rest of the pack (including the two inferior sequels) is the underlying streak of satirical dark comedy. As Vehoeven mentions in the commentary, the violent scenes are so over-the-top that they actually become mildly amusing. The boardroom sequence towards the start of the film in particular demonstrates this perfectly - the ED-209 malfunction is put down to a 'glitch' and little more is said.
Peter Weller performs extremely well as Murphy/Robocop. His monotone voice in the latter role and complete lack of reaction to events around him just serve to strengthen the 'character' of Robocop.
As Verhoeven's first major US film, Robocop is surprisingly sharp. It's success on many levels is as a result of this, and as with his later films (especially Starship Troopers) a significant number of the people who don't like it probably don't understand it.
This DVD features both the original theatrical release (with all cuts waived) and the newer, added gore, director's cut which reinstates a lot of the extra blood and mayhem that the MPAA required removing prior to the film hitting the US cinema. In some ways, this extra footage only enhances the comedic aspect of the film, making the violence even more OTT, but in reality does little to further the actual story of the film.
Robocop is being released in the UK as part of a three-disc boxset featuring the other two films. We will be reviewing each film separately as they get to us. It is my intention in this review to compare this disc with the Region 0 Criterion release which is now out of print.
The first general comment on the Region 2 disc is the seamless branching, which surprisingly isn't at all seamless. Unlike other discs featuring branching, there is a noticeable pause on my player when branching to the additional scenes in the director's cut. This is unfortunate and quite distracting - from what I can tell the 'branches' move between layers which means that you're looking at layer-change like pauses at these moments.
The Criterion disc was presented at Verhoeven's 'preferred' aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It was non-anamorphic and of course NTSC. In terms of quality it wasn't too bad - quite sharp but did feature a lot of grain and the lack of resolution due to it being non-anamorphic was pretty noticeable.
The new Region 2 disc from MGM has a reframed 1.85:1 transfer. This one is anamorphic and does benefit from the increased resolution with the unfortunately cost being the loss of some picture information at the top and/or bottom. There is print damage present on both discs - neither really is any better than the other, but the colours on the Region 2 disc do look a little more natural and 'lively'.
I have taken a couple of grabs from both discs to illustrate the differences in composition and picture quality. I personally prefer the Region 2 disc overall although I did notice that the picture was a little cramped at times.
The Criterion disc features a Dolby Digital 2.0 pro-logic soundtrack - on it's own it stands up quite well with as much activity as possible moving between speakers. The inherent limitations in the pro-logic format don't really cause too many problems and there is plenty of activity in the rear speakers, even if it is mono.
For the Region 2 disc, MGM have given us the full 5.1 channel remix treatment. As with their release of The Terminator, this one is nice and active with excellent use made of all five speakers to position sounds around the listener. Both the front and rear sound stages are nice and wide and really create a good atmosphere. Unfortunately, the praise isn't universal and while for the most part the soundtrack is excellent there are times when you're left wanting - there is a distinct lack of punch from some of the gunfire and you can't help wanting to get a little more 'meat' from some of the explosions.
The extras again see the Region 2 disc edging ahead - both in terms of quantity (and slightly less) quality. We'll look at this one first...
First up is the new 'Flesh and Steel' documentary which is a pretty good, in-depth look at the making of the first film in the trilogy. Introduced by 'Robocop' expert, Paul Sammon the documentary features, amongst others, director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriters Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner. The interviews are remarkably candid - there has been no attempt to make the filming seem like it was fun.
Interspersed with clips from the film, the documentary gives a good insight into the making of the film. The running time for this one is around 35 minutes.
There are two featurettes which were around at the time of the film's theatrical release in 1987. 'Shooting Robocop' starts off with an 'interview' with Robocop himself followed by more traditional interviews with the cast and crew. The second, 'Making Robocop', is much the same with further interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. The total running time of both featurettes is just over 18 minutes.
There are four deleted scenes running to around four minutes, these include and 'OCP Press Conference', 'Nun in the street interview', 'Topless Pizza' and another 'Media Break' clip. In addition we also have a few trailers covering all three films.
There is a section which deconstructs the 'boardroom' ED-209 scene. Basically it's a comparison between the storyboard and the final scene with a commentary by visual effects supervisor, Phil Tippett.
Finally, the commentary by Paul Verhoeven, Ed Neumeier and Jon Davison is very good. Unlike the Criterion commentary, this one actuall sticks all of the contributor's in the same room so they can fire comments and questions off of each other. It's quite a revealing commentary track in terms of the thinking behind the film and the actual difficulties faced when filming. It doesn't let up for a minute. There are some subtle differences depending on which version of the film you watch - mainly the comments focussing only on the 'theatrical' version are quietly snipped from the director's cut. There no difference in real terms as you get the same amount of information from either commentary.
Other than the above, the Criterion disc only really adds an illustrated making of essay. This is largely text based, but unlike other text-based features this one does hold a lot of value and is probably the only reason to consider the purchase of this disc over the Region 2 one. The commentary on the commentary features Verhoeven, Neumeier, Davison and self-styled Robocop expert Peter Sammon - however in this one the contributors were all recorded separately with everything brought together and mashed into one commentary. It's very good but a little more disjointed than the Region 2 disc and doesn't have the benefit of interaction between the contributors.
MGM have done an excellent job for this disc. It really does beat the Criterion release in several key areas and makes the purchase of the latter seem pretty pointless now. The only drawback is that you are not going to be able to buy the disc separately and you'll have to shell out for all three films - some will argue that you won't be paying much more for three films than the single disc Criterion release cost, but it must be said that the two sequels aren't particularly good and some people may resent having to pay out their hard earned money for something they don't want.
Last updated: 14/05/2018 11:26:40