• Robocop Collector’s Edition (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: November 29th, 2019.
    Director: Paul Verhoeven
    Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Daniel O'Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Ray Wise
    Year: 1987
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    Robocop (Collector’s Edition) – Movie Review:
    By Horace Cordier

    Libertarian nightmare.

    Once in a while a film comes along that somehow manages to be both a complete product of its era AND a brilliant predictor of the future. These are the films that we may have regarded as outlandish or over the top at the time of their initial release. Sometimes they are high profile films with strong mainstream artistic pedigrees like Sydney Lumet's NETWORK (1976). Sometimes they come in the form of scrappy exploitation films like Mark L. Lester's CLASS OF 1984. Occasionally they are films like DR. STRANGELOVE which elicited audience chuckles upon its initial release that turned to a dead horrified silence at the height of the "we could die at any moment" nuclear nightmare 1980s. But whether it was the prescient look at the future dominance of if-it-bleeds-it-leads sensationalist news of NETWORK or the foreshadowing of prison-esque lockdown schools studded with metal detectors of CLASS OF 1984 these films weren't necessarily designed for intended future shock. They were designed as either satire, or base but entertaining, exploitation fare. But what happens when the exaggeration inches into reality?

    ROBOCOP is one of those films that saw the future.

    ROBOCOP has a silly title. A title so goofy that when director Paul Verhoeven first saw the script he promptly tossed it in the circular file. But, much like what happened with Stephen King's first draft of his novel "Carrie" a good woman saved the day. Verhoeven's wife ended up taking a look and zeroed in on a key emotional scene in the film. Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner hadn't written a dumb kids movie about a robot cop or a brainless action flick. They had written a scathing indictment of corporate American greed, deregulation run wild and the militarization of law enforcement. And that's only part of the picture. This is also a film that has an emotional core thanks to the sympathetic and nuanced performance of Peter Weller. ROBOCOP is about loss - of loved ones and memories. It even has something to say about what makes us human.

    Old Detroit sometime in the future has descended into a dystopian nightmare. OCP - a huge corporation run by ruthless corporate profiteers have reaped the benefits of deregulation run wild. They now control the police as a for-profit entity and seek to replace human officers with machines as much as possible. Outmanned and outgunned, the Old Detroit police force is being murdered at a brisk clip out in the field. OCP's real plan is to raze crime-riddled Old Detroit and put up Delta City - a glitzy new settlement. Before they can do that though they need to eradicate the criminal element in Old Detroit. Call it gentrification by fire.

    Into this mess rides Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller). He's just been reassigned from what we gather was a safer precinct into this ring of Hades. He's partnered up with Nancy Allen's officer Anne Lewis. Allen was a spectacularly lovely woman but here we see her first in full body armor and short hair beating a rambunctious suspect into submission. Right away we see Verhoeven is playing around with audience expectations. Weller, with his normal build, sensitive eyes and gentle demeanor is also a far cry from the typical onscreen cop of the era. Murphy is a devoted family man with a preteen son and beautiful wife. His relationship with Officer Lewis is warm and cordial but devoid of sexual tension.

    One of the many great strengths of ROBOCOP is its embarrassment of riches in the character actor department. While most films are lucky to have one great villain ROBOCOP has three. Ronny Cox was a familiar face from films like DELIVERANCE, TAPS and THE CAR as a kindly and thoroughly decent figure. Here he plays Dick Jones - a corporate Great White fending off Miguel Ferrer's up and coming piranha Bob Morton. Jones has his own little private army as well. Representing the top of the street level criminal food chain who handle his dirty work is Kurtwood Smith's Clarence Boddicker. Jones has a pet project and its name is ED 209 - a massive armed robot designed for "urban pacification" that resembles some hideous mating of the mounted arms of a helicopter gunship grafted onto a metal biped. Massively armed with huge twin machine guns ED 209 is deadly but lumbering. When the unit spectacularly and hilariously bloodily malfunctions at a board meeting demonstration, young buck Morton swoops in. He's been working on a rival program that utilizes a mix of flesh and steel - the Robocop program. In short, it involves using the brain of a deceased police officer as a motherboard for a mechanical policeman. Human sized and resembling in some ways a creation from Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS this unit is far more practical and useful than ED 209. Horrified at the incompetence of Jones, CEO "The Old Man" (Dan O'Herlihy) decides to give the Morton program a shot. And one of the film's great conflicts has been set up. Rival businessmen often like to talk about being metaphorical killers and reading "The Art Of War" but guys like Jones are willing to take it to the next level.

    When Verhoeven was mapping out ROBOCOP he had some very specific ideas about how certain characters should look and behave. Boddicker was conceived as a figure from Verhoeven's childhood nightmares living under Nazi occupation in Holland. One of the great ironies of Boddicker is that the "Eichmann in glasses" meant to symbolize the banality of evil in Verhoeven's original conception becomes something entirely different in the performance. Smith delivers one of the most insanely charismatic bad guys in film history. First seen tossing a useless and wounded criminal compadre out of a moving van ("Can you fly Bobby?") Boddicker is a dangerous creation. He's funny and smart - and sadistic down to the bone.

    When Murphy and Lewis run afoul of the Boddicker gang while on a routine patrol Murphy ends up being brutally murdered. The violence in this scene is almost unbearable. On the supplements on this stellar disc Verhoeven talks frankly about his conception of this scene as being influenced by the killing of Jesus. Many may find that deeply offensive. I find it brilliantly subversive. The element of sadistic humor present is also quite unsettling but this isn't an amoral geek show where you side with cool bad guys. Weller is so resolutely decent that it adds real emotional content to the scene.

    The unrated cut present on this disc represents Verhoeven's true vision for the film. Cut to get an R rating for its theatrical run, ROBOCOP loses much of the satirical bite when trimmed. The blood and guts in this movie is there in such copious amounts for a reason. In some cases it adds an element of intentional humor. A man calling for a paramedic after someone has been hamburgered into a bloody pulp by industrial machine guns best suited for shooting tanks is not without comedic value. In other cases it adds emotional power. Watching a beloved character die in excruciating agony heightens our sympathetic response. Coupled with the satirical newscasts sprinkled throughout the film (which target everything from the American gusto for crap gas guzzling autos and mindlessly violent entertainment to military mishaps) it isn't too difficult to suss out what Verhoeven and screenwriters Neumeier and Miner are driving at. And these guys have other satiric zingers to shoot. When Boddicker sits down for a criminal powwow with cocaine kingpin Sal (Lee DeBroux) that goes horribly wrong and everybody ends up whipping out their gun we get a classic line. "Guns guns guns!" Boddicker ends up gleefully shouting. And with bad guys tooling around with actual rocket launchers provided by OCP the Wild West metaphor is fully in effect. It might be the NRA's ultimate wet dream. An arms race ending with everybody packed to the teeth.

    The narrative drive is straightforward however. Murphy wants to bring to justice the people responsible for his murder. That those killers are a protected class aligned with the very organization that created him presents a serious problem. There is also the matter of some hidden code written into his operating system. We have a pretty good idea how this is going to end up. The journey is the joy.

    While ROBOCOP has a truly stunning supporting cast in place the heart of the film is Weller. It is a meticulously plotted and choreographed piece of work but also infused with real humanity. Weller worked like a dog to get the distinctive gait and quick birdlike movements down and it shows. Early on he resembles a newborn foal just learning how to walk. Later he gets faster and more efficient but always maintains a tiny shred of the hesitant quality of a human. Later still when the helmet comes off he becomes a tragically wounded hero. This is where Weller gets to use his marvelously emotive eyes to full advantage. The scenes where Murphy has vivid recollections of his lost family achieve a poignancy rarely reached in mainstream dramas let alone action films.

    ROBOCOP is Paul Verhoeven's true masterpiece. While BASIC INSTINCT is good sleazy fun and STARSHIP TROOPERS a brilliant parody of gung-ho militarism this is the film where the Dutch director fires on all cylinders. ROBOCOP is a startlingly prescient view of avaricious corporatism and deregulation run wild as well as a blood and thunder action film with a humanistic streak. Once cleverly dubbed "fascism for liberals" it nevertheless remains a dramatic work open to many political interpretations. Much like Don Siegel's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or John Carpenter's THEY LIVE.

    But whatever one's takeaway is in that respect ROBOCOP is a truly great film by any measure.

    Robocop (Collector’s Edition) – Blu-ray Review:
    By Ian Jane

    Robocop arrives on atwo50GB Blu-ray discs from Arrow video using the same 4k remastered 1.85.1 widescreen source that was created for MGM's release in 2014, albeit with different encoding and slightly better grain structure. Since the negative reflects the theatrical cut, there are scenes in the unrated director's cut version of the film that use footage spliced in from lesser elements, but the drop in quality isn't so drastic that it should effect anyone's enjoyment of the film (and they do appear to have been cleaned up a bit compared to the MGM release). Approved by Verhoeven, the picture quality is quite nice here. Arrow's transfer does seem to be a tad brighter than MGM's but otherwise there aren't really any noticeable differences between this version and the previous MGM disc. Detail is quite strong, slightly improved in spots, and there's good depth to the image. The picture is free of any noticeable print damage, dirt or debris. Colors look really good, skin tones are nice and natural and black levels spot on. There isn't any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement and the disc is free of noticeable compression artifacts. The optical effects look a bit rough in some spots but this is not a flaw in Arrow's transfer, it's simply how the movie should look. It can be quite grainy at times, but never to the point of distraction. Would a new scan have yielded better results? Maybe, but the transfer here is still excellent.

    Audio options include the original lossless stereo and four-channel mixes in DTS-HD format plus a DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound option for both cuts. English SDH subtitles are also provided for both cuts of the movie. The surround sound tracks aren't quite as enveloping as you might expect but they do bring some of the action scenes to life with a bit more ‘oomph' than the 2.0 Stereo track offers. Regardless of which option you go for, the audio here is clean, clear and nicely balanced. Dialogue is always easy to follow and to understand, the low end has some nice kick to it (particularly when gun shots are involved) and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note.

    Extras, which are a mix of old and new, are spread out across the two discs in the set as follows:

    Disc One: Director's Cut:

    Carried over from various older releases is the archival commentary track featuring director Paul Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier (originally recorded for the Theatrical Cut and re-edited in 2014 for the Director's Cut). If you haven't heard this before, it's excellent, with Verhoeven and the others offering a lot of interesting stories about the production. New to this release from Arrow are two new commentary tracks, the first from film historian Paul M. Sammon. It covers the history of the film in a lot of detail, offering up all the facts and trivia you could hope for alongside some very intelligent analysis of the film. The second new commentary features fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart and Eastwood Allen and while it isn't as fact-heavy or scholarly in spots, it's definitely enthusiastic and akin to watching the film with a group of friends. They offer plenty of opinions on things as the movie plays out and seem to be having a really good time here.

    As to the new featurettes, we start with The Future Of Law Enforcement: Creating Robocop, which is a seventeen-minute interview with co-writer Michael Miner where he speaks about writing the picture, his thoughts on how it turned out and more. RoboTalk is a thirty-two-minute conversation between co-writer Ed Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke (writer of Elle) and Nick McCarthy (director of The Prodigy) about the evolution of the film and what makes it unique and so effective. Truth Of Character is an eighteen-minute interview with star Nancy Allen on her role as Lewis that covers landing the part, working with Weller and Verhoeven and her thoughts on the film overall. Casting Old Detroit gets casting director Julie Selzer in front of the camera to talk for eight-minutes about putting the cast together for the film and why some of the specific cast members were chosen for their respective roles. Connecting the Shots is an eleven-minute interview with second unit director Mark Goldblatt about his work not just on Robocop but a few other Verhoeven projects as well, covering not just their work together but their relationship as well. Analogue is a thirteen-minute segment with Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaver, who do a great job of breaking down the film's ambitious special effects, all of which were done in camera with practical methods. Composing Robocop is a twelve-minute tribute to composer Basil Poledouris, who passed away in 2006, that features input from film music experts Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, Daniel Schweiger and Robert Townson. It's a nice look back at his career and the importance of his contributions to the film. RoboProps is an interesting tour of Robocop super-fan Julien Dumont's collection of original props and memorabilia. Over the span of thirteen-minutes we get a nice look at Dumont's insanely comprehensive and equally impressive collection.

    Carried over from past releases is a whole lot more material. 2012 Q&A With The Filmmakers is a forty-two-minute panel discussion conducted at UCLA featuring Verhoeven, Davison, Neumeier, Miner, Allen, Peter Weller and animator Phil Tippett. We also get three archival featurettes from 2007 included here: the twenty-one-minute Robocop: Creating A Legend (which focuses heavily on the construction of the Robocop suit), the seventeen-minute Villains Of Old Detroit (featuring interviews with Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ronny Cox and Ray Wise) and the eighteen-minute Special Effects: Then & Now (which covers how the effects industry has changed over the years and how Robocop's effects work still holds up).

    Want more? Look out for four deleted scenes (just under three-minutes' worth of material in total), a six-minute storyboard version of The Boardroom scene with commentary by Phil Tippett, a twelve-minute collection of Director's Cut Production Footage (these are raw dailies from the filming of the unrated gore scenes and quite awesome to see), a pair of theatrical trailers, three TV spots, and still galleries dedicated to Behind The Scenes action, Production Stills and Poster And Video Art.

    Disc Two: Theatrical Cut:

    Disc two contains that same archival commentary with Verhoeven, Davison and Neumeier that is included on the first disc. Additionally we get two Isolated Score Tracks in the form of The Composer's Original Mix and The Final Theatrical Mix both offered up in lossless stereo format.

    Arrow has also included the Edited-For-TV version of the film, which features alternate dubs, takes and edits of several scenes. This runs ninety-five-minutes and is presented in 1080i from a pretty analogue looking source in 1.33.1 open matte, but for those of us who remember seeing this on network TV back in the nineties, it's a pretty great (and frequently rather amusing) nostalgia rush. Complimenting this is Robocop: Edited For Television, a nineteen-minute compilation of alternate scenes taken from two different edited-for-television versions. This material is newly transferred in high definition from ‘recently-unearthed 35mm elements' and it looks quite nice. Those who are fascinating by alternate versions and TV edits will definitely enjoy this.

    Disc two also holds a Split Screen Comparison Of The Theatrical And Director's Cuts of the film, which runs four-minutes, and another Split Screen Comparison Of The Theatrical And TV Cuts which runs just over twenty-minutes. Again, it's amazing to see how much was changed between the different versions of the film and this is a nice way to do just that.

    As to the packaging, Arrow has done a very nice job here as well. Alongside the two discs, we get six collector's postcards, a double-sided fold-out poster and some reversible cover sleeve artwork. More importantly than that, we also get a very nice limited-edition collector's booklet that holds new writing on the film by Omar Ahmed, Christopher Griffiths and Henry Blyth, as well as a 1987 Fangoria interview with Rob Bottin and a host of archival publicity materials. There's also an ‘This property protected by Robocop' sticker included in here too. It all fits inside a nice, sturdy cardboard slipcover and it's quite an impressive package.

    As much material as there is here, however, it's worth noting that Arrow did not port over the following featurettes from the MGM Blu-ray release: Flesh And Steel, The Making Of RoboCop and Shooting RoboCop.

    Robocop (Collector’s Edition) – The Final Word:

    Robocop was, is and ever shall be a masterpiece of fantastic cinema, simultaneously a brilliant satire and an amazingly entertaining sci-fi/action hybrid. It's smart, it's funny and it's intense, highlighted by some great performances and excellent special effects work. Arrow has done an excellent job bringing this to Blu-ray, with a slightly improved transfer over the 2014 MGM release and a host of extras old and new. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Robocop (Collector’s Edition) Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Fanfriggintastic review.