- Jul 6, 2003
- Reaction score
Year: 1987, 1990, and 1993
Rated: NR, R, and PG-13
Film Length: 103, 117, and 105 minutes, respectively
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1) – All Films
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; French & Spanish – Stereo (Spanish audio on the original film only)
June 8th, 2004
“Part Man. Part Machine. All Cop.”
The cheesy tag line I just quoted, and its title, made many moviegoers expect the worst when they plunked down their hard-earned cash to see Robocop. Hell, the title alone made many of the directors that were approached to helm this picture shy away. Initially, even Paul Verhoeven, who ended up directing, was inclined to turn the project down. Fortunately, fate intervened, and when audiences got a look at the finished film, they were undoubtedly shocked to find that Verhoeven had given them an extremely well crafted science fiction thriller/black comedy that also managed to poke some fun at America’s fascination with capitalism. Indeed, an amalgamation of action oriented B-movies, satire, and ultra-violence, Robocop hit moviegoers on many more levels, and with a little more subtlety, than the title and advertising suggested.
In terms of specifics, Robocop is set in Detroit, Michigan, at an unspecified time in the future. By this time, Detroit, once a centerpiece of America’s manufacturing capability, has become a seedy exhibition of the negative consequences of capitalism. As we join the story, it is revealed that the citizens are living in fear, since gangs of organized criminals are almost in complete control of the city. The situation is exacerbated when a spate of cop killings makes the motor city’s police officers wary to protect and serve. To combat this problem, Detroit is forced to look to a private corporation, Omni Consumer Products (hereafter referred to as OCP), for help in managing the police department.
Interestingly, OCP, run by a mysterious person known as “The Old Man” (Dan O' Herlihy), is enduring conflicts of its own. More specifically, a heated power struggle is developing between the experienced Senior VP of the company, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and an up-and-coming executive named Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), who wants to push Jones aside so that he can steer the company in a bold new direction. With this aspect of the story, Paul Verhoeven, who can look at America through the objective eyes of a non-resident, takes several swipes at America’s corporate culture and the “Reaganomics” of the 1980s.
In comparing their divergent philosophies, we see that Mr. Jones’ approach to solving Detroit’s major crime problems is a massive, well-armed robot dubbed ED-209. Apparently, this machine must be successfully deployed before OCP will begin its reconstruction of Detroit. Unfortunately for Dick Jones, ED-209 gets out of control during a demonstration, and riddles an OCP executive with an obscene number of high caliber rounds. Jumping at the chance to capitalize on Jones’ misfortune, Richard Morton, offers his new “Robocop” program up as a contingency, and confidently claims that he can have a working prototype ready within three months.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Morton gets his prototype in the form of a nice-guy policeman named Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who gets tangled up with some influential local criminals. Specifically, he and his partner, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), attempt to foil a robbery masterminded by crime boss/cop killer Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). Officers Murphy and Lewis follow Boddicker and his crew to an abandoned factory, and although Anne is able to escape with her life, Murphy is captured and later killed in a very gruesome and graphic manner by Boddicker and his gang of hoods.
In the supplemental materials, Verhoeven said he intended to make Murphy's death extremely brutal for two important reasons. To begin with, Verhoeven wanted viewers to sympathize with the character, because he is killed so savagely towards the beginning of the film. More importantly, Mr. Verhoeven was intent on having Murphy’s murder seem like the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, with his subsequent resurrection as Robocop. Personally, I don’t know that I buy into Paul Verhoeven’s second reason for making Alex Murphy check out in such a bloody way, but it does mark a significant shift in the tone of the picture, which had been somewhat humorous and light-hearted (the commercial spoofs are one example of this) up until this sequence.
Anyway, after Murhpy dies, the prototype “Robocop” is created by combining his remains (what few there are) and a highly specialized robotic chassis; the product being a machine that is endowed with both the logic of a computer and the human ability to be spontaneous and creative as situations call for it. These resources, and Robocop’s ability to deflect bullets, prove effective in combating crime, and soon the citizens are starting to feel safe again.
As luck would have it though, Officer Lewis runs into the super-cop, and she senses something strangely familiar about the officer of the future. Eventually, she concludes that he is her old partner, and around the same time, the Murphy part of Robocop begins to resurface. More specifically, OCP failed to erase Murphy’s memory completely during his transformation into Robocop, so he is left with fragmented memories of his former life and family. Additionally, he has vivid dreams about the moments before his previous life was so cruelly taken away, which sets the wheels of revenge in motion. I guess that is where I will stop – if you want to find out if the mechanical marvel gets even, you’ll have to buy, rent, or borrow!
Granted, from what I have described so far, the plot treads along a path similar to that taken by many other science fiction thrillers involving revenge. That being said, RoboCop is different and noteworthy because of the excellence of its execution, and because Verhoeven and company were bold enough to make what could have been a fairly typical shoot-‘em-up into an amalgamation of so different genres and ideas.
It goes without saying that the film is intensely violent, and some footage even had to be trimmed out for the theatrical release for the MPAA to grant the film an “R” rating. However, some of the violence is contrasted effectively with humor, which is even more effective in the unrated version of the film. For example, when ED-209 guns down the “volunteer criminal” in the OCP boardroom, and someone suggests that the paramedics be called when it is obvious the poor sap is D-E-A-D, it is hard not to laugh! This line is even more effective in the untrimmed version, when the volunteer takes many, many more hits, so it is really obvious he is a goner. My wife thinks I am disturbed for laughing at this, but come on now, it can’t just be me who thinks this type of thing is funny, can it???
Moving on to the caliber of the acting, Robocop features some very fine performances, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of the genre. Indeed, the film is greatly enhanced by the professionalism of almost every actor, villains and heroes alike (except maybe the “I’ll buy that for a dollar guy!”
Like any other good crime thriller (science fiction included), RoboCop also needed a good heavy, and Kurtwood Smith fit the bill perfectly. I think he was simply fantastic as the wicked, ruthless Clarence Boddicker, and that he steals almost every scene he appears in by infusing his character with psychotic glee. Furthermore, Kurtwood improvised a good portion of his lines, which give the sequences he appears in a really organic, spontaneous feel.
The third “star” of the film, director Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Basic Instinct) took care of business off-screen, even though he had never done a sci-fi action picture before. Maybe I am easily impressed, but I really liked the way that Verhoeven was able to switch gears between humor, science fiction adventure, and graphic violence, all without overwhelming the audience in any one of these areas. And, despite these drastically varying elements, Verhoeven manages to keep the story moving forward in a very cohesive and efficient manner, and does a very good job of showing how humanity trumps technology by the film’s end.
Considering that this was Verhoeven’s first entry into sci-fi action, and his first big-budget American film, I have to say I am impressed with this comic book come to life, especially with how well it still holds up. Of course, at the heart of the film is Murphy’s resurrection, specifically his rediscovery of his humanity, which some viewers will appreciate. Verhoeven geared this film for a wider audience though, as he has also given action junkies an opportunity to look past Robocop’s philosophical aspects, and just enjoy the fast pace, solid effects (for the time), and the oodles of violence. If you have yet to see this movie, and you like action films, I urge you to give it a spin.
Grossing over $53.4 million, Robocop proved to be financially successful, making a follow-up just about inevitable. Unfortunately, what followed a few years later was RoboCop 2, which was probably doomed the instant director Paul Verhoeven and writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner declined to participate in the project. Instead, Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) hopped into the director’s chair for this vastly inferior sequel, and the writers were replaced as well, although many of the principal cast, including Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O'Herlihy, and Felton Perry returned for a second tour of duty. But what really crippled the project was the weakness of the script, which did not handle the dark humor that worked so well in the first film as adeptly, or sufficiently suspend disbelief.
As Robocop 2 begins, we see that Old Detroit has continued its slide into chaos, and Murphy (Peter Weller) returns as everyone’s favorite crime-fighting cyborg, to help clean up the streets. In this installment, he is pitted against a powerful drug kingpin and sociopath named Cain (Tom Noonan). It seems that Cain is responsible for the distribution of a vicious narcotic known as “Nuke”, and the spike in violence that has resulted from its use and distribution has Detroit’s citizens hoping that Murphy can get things under control.
Checking back in with Murphy, we find him dealing with his confusion as to whether he is still human in some way, or just a machine. Early on, Murphy seeks out his wife and son, who are still mourning his loss, and begins to watch them, albeit from a distance. Needless to say, this intrusion upsets Murphy’s former wife, and she slaps a harassment suit on the police force. After some deliberation, it is concluded that Murphy is now a machine, despite whatever longing he may have to be human, so he vows to cease looking in on his family.
On the surface, this subplot suggests the same poignancy that Robocop exhibited, in terms of the struggle between humanity and technology. Unfortunately, however, the entire subplot is dropped as quickly as Robocop can squeeze off three rounds, and the movie’s heart is taken along with it. Indeed, although there are some brief allusions to the human side of Robocop later, this aspect of the character is effectively abandoned to make way for an absurd amount of carnage.
Speaking of carnage, the situation worsens for Robocop when is abducted and reprogrammed by the aforementioned drug dealers. With their backs against the wall, and Robocop struggling, OCP moves forward on a second-generation cyborg, dubbed “Robocop 2” (wow, how creative
Now, this is where the film begins to go into a nosedive. You see, OCP's Chairman of the Board (Dan O'Herlihy) is so desperate to curtail crime in Detroit so that his Delta City project can proceed that he gives a little too much latitude to an ambitious but unscrupulous researcher. And what, pray tell, is this scientist’s answer to the dilemma facing OCP? Well, if a good cop’s brain won’t work, let’s use that of a psychotic killer biding his time on death row! Now as luck would have it, this foolish plan works, but Murphy soon begins to suspect that all is not as it should be with his successor.
As you can probably infer from this last paragraph, Robocop is mired by horrible writing and imbecilic plot devices, not to mention poor character development. This time around, the amount of violence reaches an almost mind-boggling level as well, and that is without Paul Verhoeven in the director’s chair
For example, one of the film’s main foils is an adolescent boy (Gabriel Damon), who murders without remorse and swears like a drunken sailor. In another instance, Little League baseball players mercilessly club the proprietor of an electronics store with ball bats as they loot his shop. In this regard, Robocop 2 goes so far down the wrong road that nothing can save it, not even the familiar faces that return from the first film. Really, most of the supporting characters have precious little screen time, especially Officer Anne Lewis, who appears and disappears so frequently that it is easy to overlook her role in the film.
I have read (forgive me, for I do not remember where) that Robocop 2 originally had a different script, and if that is true, I wish they had used it. The film is full of so many plot holes and unresolved events that it rarely makes a lick of sense, the depiction of children is deplorable, and the story is very, very weak. Further, while there are some attempts to use humor to lighten the proceedings a bit, they are nowhere near as effective as the black comedy elements of Robocop. Bottom line, this is a pretty wretched film.
This just in from the “I guess they’ll never learn” desk: In Robocop 3, OCP is still hoping against hope to get the Delta City project off the ground, but is in financial trouble, and sells out to a Japanese corporation. Unfortunately for the new company, the homeowners of Detroit don’t want to roll over, and OCP, now run by “The CEO” (Rip Torn) is forced to hire a band of mercenaries to forcibly remove them from their residences.
Initially, Robocop is involved in this eviction plan, but his orders to help the mercenaries are in contrast to his program directives, so he turns traitor and decides to help the residents who are resisting. As the story goes forward, and his old partner Anne Lewis is killed
Robocop becomes even more committed to righting the wrongs done by OCP.
As a glance at its rating indicates, Robocop 3 differs in some respects from its predecessors. The biggest example is how in comparison to the first two films’ high body counts and hyper-violent action sequences, the violence in this third installment is dialed way back, with the final cut carrying a PG-13 rating. However, in addition to the toned down violence, Murphy’s struggle between his human and robotic sides is eliminated, as are the satirical critiques of American business practices. Tragically, Peter Weller also decided to pass on the film, and his replacement, Robert John Burke, just cannot breathe life into the Robocop character in the same way Weller did.
On the whole, it was quite disappointing how far off-track the Robocop franchise got with this third film! What began with a witty social satire/pulse-pounding action film, a poignant commentary on humanity’s reliance on technology, and even a subtle warning against reanimating the dead, became a lackluster, kid-friendly mess by the end of the trilogy.
Probably the worst offense of all, to those of us hoping the series would return to glory, is that Robocop is barely in this film at all!!! I can only venture to guess that Peter Weller’s departure made the filmmakers reluctant to give the Robocop character a lot of screen time, because he doesn’t appear at all until a quarter of an hour into the film. Further, when he finally does make his long awaited entry, he gets injured in a car chase, and disappears again until the latter stages of the film. I can’t say it would have helped to have Robocop around more, given the inferiority of just about every aspect of this film, but it certainly couldn’t have made it any worse.
Wrapping it up, as a result of everything I have just mentioned, Robocop 3, plays like a tame action adventure film with only the most minimal character development. Not surprisingly, the dialogue is also very poorly though out, several of the actors deliver performances that can best be described as terrible, and Robocop seems weaker than he was in the previous films. To me, it was fairly obvious that the filmmakers were trying to get a little more mileage (and $$$) out of the franchise by aiming this installment at a younger, and presumably larger, audience. This is, without a doubt, the weakest link in the trilogy, so I am glad their attempt to keep the franchise going failed.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
This special edition of Robocop is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen displays. In comparing this disc to the Criterion release, I find that the image quality of this new “special edition” is better, but not significantly so. To begin with, since this new release is anamorphic, detail is a little better, but there are still a number of instances where compression artifacts are visible to a degree.
Edge enhancement is also visible throughout Robocop, and although most of the time the resulting halos are not a major distraction, the ringing around characters during an early sequence in the OCP boardroom is noticeable enough to be distracting. Some film grain and print damage is also evident, but neither proved to be anything more than a minor distraction.
On the other hand, black level appeared to be consistently above average, leading to good shadow detail. Color rendering also seems to be a little more accurate on the new release, with brighter colors appearing bold and vibrant, without any noticeable dot crawl or chroma noise. Honestly, Robocop has probably never looked better on home video, but the visual improvements from the Criterion disc are subtle, and overall I have to say I was expecting more from this release’s visuals.
Another point that must be treated with is the difference in how the film is framed between the new MGM special edition and the Criterion disc. The Criterion edition features different framing (1.66:1 is the aspect ratio apparently preferred by Paul Verhoeven) that offers more visual content at the top and bottom of the display. Now, I know this has been a topic of discussion in the past, and despite the film being shown theatrically in 1.85:1, some fans are upset by MGM’s decision to release Robocop in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Ultimately, I don’t think either transfer is superb, so you will have to decide if the new disc’s anamorphic enhancement and slightly better color reproduction is worth your money (and accepting the 1.85:1 framing) or not.
Just like its predecessor, Robocop 2 is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), for the first time. There are a few specks and dirt visible on the print, and the image is a touch on the soft side, but things still look quite good overall, as blacks are deep and well defined, and colors are reproduced in a fairly accurate fashion, without bleeding or banding. Just like the other two entries into the franchise, flesh tones have a warm, natural appearance.
In comparison to the first film, print damage and debris are less evident, and the application of edge enhancement is also much less noticeable. Fine detail is also very good, and coupled with the solid black level, this gives the image a sense of three-dimensionality and a tangible sense of texture.
Just like Robocop and Robocop 2, the third film is given an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer for the very first time. Basically, visual quality is pretty much the same as it is on Robocop 2, solid overall with only a few minor image problems.
More specifically, although edge enhancement halos are all but invisible in Robocop 3, the image exhibits a noticeable softness, so detail is a little bit worse than in Robocop 2.
Final Thought On Image Quality
Overall, all three films look fairly good, with both of the sequels being somewhat more pleasant in appearance than the original. To be sure, none of the discs in this set are going take anyone’s breath away with their image quality, but they still do the best job of presenting these films visually of any DVD to date, especially where the sequels are concerned.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The original Robocop has been given a full-blown Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, which turns out to have both positive and negative aspects. The most glaring weakness, to me, is that the dialogue gets drowned out during some of the action sequences, although for most of the film it is not a chore to hear what the characters are saying. Interestingly, bits of also dialogue come from different points of the listening space in a few sequences, and the characters’ speaking voices are rendered in a natural fashion, unaffected by distortion, sibilance, or other distracting abnormalities. Similarly, Basil Poledouris’ rousing score is presented more richly than it has been in the past.
In terms of surround channel usage, Robocop[/i] is mixed quite aggressively, although some perfect opportunities for the rears to come into play (the many gunplay sequences) are not taken full advantage of. The mention of gunplay also brings me to another criticism, namely that the majority of the gunfire in this film sounds anemic, and some explosions lack punch as well. I found myself asking how this could be, when other sequences, particularly those involving the ED-209 robot, contain wall-shaking LFE!
Overall, I would characterize this new 5.1 mix as a significant improvement on previous offerings, but I was still slightly disappointed nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong, MGM has done a pretty good job here, but I just can’t help feeling this material should have resulted in an excellent re-mix.
ROBOCOP 2 and ROBOCOP 3
Both of Robocop’s sequels are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by MGM, and the results are fairly impressive. First of all, dialogue is easily discernable and clearly reproduced, and frequency response is smooth and even throughout the audible spectrum.
The fabulous score by Basil Poledouris (for Robocop and Robocop 3) makes good use of the spacious soundstage’s front channels in the third film. Personally, I don’t think the score for Robocop 2, composed by Leonard Rosenman, is quite as good, in terms of structure, melodies, and themes, but it boasts the same fidelity as Poledouris’ scores.
There is also a fair amount of surround channel action to be found in these sequels, particularly in the action sequences, although I think the first film has the most aggressive mix. Nevertheless, gunshots and ricochets seem to envelop the listener during most of these sequences, which heightens their tension somewhat. Better still, bass response is good in both films, so your subwoofer(s) should provide some added punch to Officer Murphy’s attempts to bring justice to the streets of Detroit!
Audio Commentary - Robocop
For this vamped-up edition of Robocop, Paul Verhoeven, Ed Neumeier and Jon Davison deliver a new commentary track (for the original film only). In my opinion, this new commentary is a better listen than the track available on the Criterion disc, and it must be pointed out that the speakers also seem to have been watching the film together, as opposed to separately, as with the Criterion commentary.
Though their comments can be a bit screen-specific, all three men are quite chatty, and provide a great deal of insight into Robocop’s characters, story arc, and the production process. In addition, the guys talk quite a bit about the film’s special effects, the satirical elements of the story, and the philosophical concepts Paul Verhoeven infused into the film. If memory serves, some of this information is also covered in the Criterion track, but again, in addition to being extremely informative, I found this new commentary to be more amusing than the Criterion commentary, and thus an easier listen.
All in all, this is a very thorough discussion of all things Robocop, and one of the finer commentary tracks I have heard in a while. Fans of the film should find it both worthwhile and revealing.
There are a total of four deleted scenes included, all of which are fairly brief. It should be noted that they may be viewed individually or as one continuous reel. They are:
--- “OCP Press Conference”
The OCP brass conducting an interview about Robocop, and fielding questions about what his personality is like.
--- “Nun in the Street Interview”
A newsman conducts a quick interview with a nun, who talks about the positive aspects of crisis.
--- “Topless Pizza”
Basically, the title describes this commercial from the “It’s Not My Problem” show more than adequately. Would you buy a slice for a dollar?
--- “Final Media Break”
In this brief scene, the news anchors talk about the end to the police strike, and interview a battered Officer Lewis.
Flesh and Steel: The Making of Robocop
Clocking in at nearly 37 minutes, “Flesh and Steel” is a delightful journey through the development and production of the first Robocop film. The bulk of the stories are told from the mouths of Paul Verhoeven (director), Jon Davison (producer), Ed Neumeier (writer), and Michael Miner (writer), who cover subjects including: the story’s conception, the casting process, and the difficulty they had in getting a director to sign on. As I mentioned above in the Robocop film write-up, Verhoeven even reveals that he did not want to helm this picture when it was first offered to him.
Another unexpected revelation was how inhospitable the set seemed to be. Indeed, Jon Davison describes the production as a "terrible experience”, with people acting in “aggressive and unpleasant” ways toward each other, or not talking at all. He also reveals that the shoot went past schedule, and over budget. Additionally, there is a lot of discussion about both the nature of the title character, and of director Paul Verhoeven’s intentions, including his idea of making Alex Murphy a Jesus-like figure, who is crucified and then resurrected.
All in all, this is a very interesting, enjoyable, and informative featurette. Being a big fan of the first film, I certainly found it worth a look!
This vintage (1987) 8-minute long featurette starts off as a mockumentary of sorts, with Peter Weller and Miguel Ferrer doing an interview in character. Moving on from there, the cast and crew take a brief look at the story, some of the effects sequences, and Paul Verhoeven’s directorial style. Basically, this is a promotional piece, so there is not too much in the way of substance here.
The 8-minute “Making Robocop” featurette, also vintage, is a little more straight-laced than its companion featurette, “Shooting Robocop”. In this extra, director Paul Verhoeven talks about the duality of the picture, which is both an action film and a story about the enduring nature of the human soul. There is also additional archival footage, interviews with the crew, and more analysis of the more elaborate effects sequences.
In my opinion, this is a more insightful short than “Shooting Robocop”, but given its length, I did find it odd that producer Jon Davison’s comments were recycled for this featurette.
There are a total of 6 photo galleries, which contain stills that have been grouped by subject (i.e. “Special Effects” or “Behind the Scenes”). These galleries contain 101 still production photos, which are both black-and-white and color.
Storyboard with Commentary by Animator Phil Tippett
This fascinating, extremely detailed featurette consists of a storyboard to final product comparison, narrated over by animator Phil Tippett. Throughout his commentary, Mr. Tippett provides a great deal of insight into the choreography and filming of the sequences involving ED-209, and about the tricks used to execute stop-motion sequences in general.
Very technical at some points, but also very interesting if you appreciate stop-motion animation the way I do!
A six page booklet, which briefly discusses several aspects of the Robocop films, is included.
Theatrical Trailers and Promotional Material
Two theatrical trailers for Robocop are available, as is a television spot promoting the film. The trailers for Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 reside on discs two and three, respectively. These are offered in the Full Frame (1.33:1) format.
Other Great MGM Releases
The is a trailer for Escape From New York: Collector’s Edition, an “MGM Means Great Movies” promo, and the cover art for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Collector’s Edition DVD, The Great Escape: Special Edition DVD, Mad Max: Special Edition DVDand The Terminator: Special Edition DVD.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Despite the passage of time, I am still affected by Robocop the same way I was when I saw it as a youth. I love the premise, the villains, how Peter Weller played the character, Paul Verhoeven’s direction, and the awesome special effects (for the time, of course)! Sadly, Robocop made enough money to be revisited in two dreadful sequels Robocop 2 and Robocop 3. Of course, I would not dare to presume that my opinion of these films is yours, and if you are a fan of these films you should certainly find this collection worth the coin.
In terms of presentation, the films themselves have not been treated badly at all by MGM, and despite a few minor image problems, having an anamorphic transfer of the uncut version of Robocop on hand is a nice treat! The supplements for the original film are also worthwhile, and while not perfect, the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks seem to be quite a step up from previous releases as well. It would be remiss of me notto point out that I appreciate the fact that the sequels are anamorphically enhanced for the first time, even though I don’t care for those two films.
What I do not appreciate or approve of, however, is the fact that you are essentially being “forced” to buy Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 if you want the new version of the original. This is unfortunate, since I imagine many people (like me) will only be interested in the original film. I guess they have got people like myself, who are nuts about the first film, over a barrel, but I suspect some will be hesitant to shell out $40 to pick this package up just for the first film. Even so, I will “recommend” this set, as these films have arguably never looked or sounded better on DVD. If you like all of the films, you may want to give it even more consideration than that.