Robocop (Director Edition) Review
It's an easy trap to fall into and one that many films do. The choice of director on the basis of a safe pair of hands can suck the life out of a novel project - please witness Gore Verbinski's dull career of promising ideas. Even films which are clearly B-pictures or not blessed with great scripts can fall into this trap when directors are hired that can hold a project together rather than ones who can take it to a much better place. This could have been the case with Robocop as all the usual names passed on a cheesy script with a corny title but the producer ended up offering the project to Dutch arthouse director Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven, after the same doubts as others, seized the chance to make this bubblegum movie outrageous and intelligent, and in the process of doing so he issued his calling card to Hollywood.
For a film that was largely greenlighted as a cash-in on Terminator, Robocop could have been a throwaway venture but it out-strips any blockbuster film from the 1980's in terms of quality and impact. Verhoeven would rival his achievements here in the similarly witty Total Recall, but the quality of the acting as well as the intelligence of the work make Robocop his finest American movie.
This R3 release is similar to the recent R1 20th anniversary edition containing the same new extras and a transfer that is largely the same. The packaging is less grand with a robust cardboard dustsleeve and gatefold enclosure instead of the metal box of the R1 release. Transfer wise, the discs look similar to the previous Criterion release with some extra clean up taking place. The unrated version of the film is basically the same transfer as the theatrical cut with the restored scenes looking faded and less impressive - the image below is an example of the change in quality.
Skin tones are quite warm and the image has a high contrast look to it, but the transfer is sharp, clean and detailed overall, and given the plethora of releases of this film any further improvements in quality are marginal with this edition. The film is in original aspect ratio, although I understand the director prefers the 1.66:1 ratio. The two English surround tracks are well constructed and the new DTS track is especially welcome and preferable to the 5.1 mix. The sound is mixed well across the speakers, unsurprisingly as the film was recorded in surround, and there is a pleasing clean quality to the reproduction of effects and voices. The DTS has plenty of drive in the action sequences and the martial music, and it seems more powerful than the 5.1 mix whilst being just as imperfection free. There is no inclusion of the original 4.0 track like on the R1 set.
This collection brings together previous extras available with other releases and three new featurettes. The majority of the extras are the same as the R2 release that Colin reviewed here, and there is little to say that is new to his review about them other than the commentary is very interesting with Verhoeven adding some nuggets about the film's politics and his Christ metaphors - "Robocop is an American Christ" who won't "arrest you but kill you". There are in fact six photo galleries concentrating on the film's design, the special effects, the director, behind the scenes, the cast and the ED209 robot. The new featurettes are Villains of old Detroit, Special effects and Robocop:Creating a Legend. The Villains featurette joins most of the cast in interviews with the atmosphere on this film being described as like a "summer camp". Ronny Cox talks about enjoying being a baddie for a change, and Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer discuss being cast in the film and Verhoeven discusses how Smith's character was modelled on Heinrich Himmler. The Special Effects featurette looks at the use of matte painting to create the setting of the film with locations in Dallas modified to become Detroit. We also have the model effects explained and the use of stop motion animation in Robocop detailed. Finally, Robocop: Creating a Legend spends time on how Peter Weller came to the film and how he prepared for the film with a mime coach and his very method way of acting - cast and crew had to call him Murphy when the film started.
All in all, a tremendous haul of extras and my only suggestion for more would have been an interview with the director about some of the deeper ideas he had for the film. My only real beef with this release is the irritating anti-piracy messages and MGM intros which delay getting to the main menu for ages - I know illegal downloading is a bad thing but if there is one thing that would encourage people to stop making their own discs then I think it is removing long intros to the main feature.
These days, it's hard to see Robocop getting made by a more cautious and unironic Hollywood. It is the gem of Verhoeven's American films and a witty and acerbic take on a society where the profit motive dehumanises all. This R3 set is nearly identical to the R1 release but marginally cheaper.