Release Date(s)1987 (January 21, 2014)
Studio(s)Orion Pictures/MGM (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
Long before Joss Whedon came along and decided that characters and situations in a sci-fi action movie or TV series should be on the satirical side (that is, before it became somewhat the “norm”), Paul Verhoeven managed to squeeze into the proceedings with his masterpiece RoboCop. It’s a movie that’s a commentary on the 1980’s, the future, and the genres themselves, while also delivering a top-notch entry as well. Highly imitated for years, and even remade into a mediocre carbon copy, RoboCop still stands tall as a silly idea that turned out far better than its title suggested.
These days Paul Verhoeven is more or less laughed at because of his involvement with Showgirls, but there was a time when he was considered a terrific visualist with a penchant for over-the-top violence. Between RoboCop and Total Recall (as well as Starship Troopers much later), he more or less nailed the science fiction/action extravaganza over the head, while at the same time putting his own personal and very deliberate stamp on the films he directed. RoboCop was his first swing for the fences, and while it might seem a little crude technically at times, there’s no denying the amount of power that it sustains.
If you somehow missed this one, here’s the rundown: the Detroit of the future is portrayed as a complete cesspool, one that a development company, OCP, wants to build on top of to make a more stable society. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to combat the crime in the streets before putting time, money, and manpower into the endeavor. At the same time, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is new in town, a tough cop with a strong moral barometer. After he is gunned down by a group of vicious thugs lead by Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), he is brought back to life by scientists at OCP. Reborn as RoboCop, a virtually unstoppable cybernetic police officer, he takes to the streets to clean them up, along the way discovering a bit of his humanity. Unfortunately, not all is well at OCP. A competing executive in the company (Ronny Cox) wants his robot prototype to be the one to succeed, and he will stop at nothing in order to make that happen. To cut things short without too many spoilers, things go bad, shit blows up, and people die.
Rounding out the terrific main cast is Nancy Allen, Ray Wise, Miguel Ferrer, and Dan O’Herlihy. It was a movie that was apparently hell to make due to the working conditions and obsessive nature of the director, but it ended up being a near-perfect movie that was cloned to death throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Two sequels were made, but none could hold a candle to the quality and simplicity of the original. It requires little to no backstory in order to analyze Murphy’s (RoboCop’s) humanity and doesn’t waste time on meaningless side characters. Besides being endlessly quotable, it’s also one of the most engaging action movies of the era. It holds up enormously well, and became very much prophesy about the decades to come. Well, we still don’t have RoboCops roaming the streets, but give it time...
20th Century Fox’s Blu-ray release of RoboCop features an excellent presentation with little to complain about. This presentation was sourced from a recent 4K high definition transfer of the film, and the results speak for themselves. There’s a high amount of film grain on display, but an abundance of visual information as a result. Fine detail, especially concerning backgrounds, facial textures, and the RoboCop suit itself, is abundant. The color palette is quite strong, especially skin tones which are very accurate. Black levels are quite deep, and there’s some great shadow details on display thanks to excellent contrast levels. Being previously familiar with the director’s cut, the brief additions (which are only about a minute total) still stand out to me, and the newscasts still have their intended standard definition look. Also, some of the special effects are a little more translucent than before, meaning that the wires coming from ED-209’s rockets are more visible. It’s not a detraction so much as an observation though. There’s also extremely minimal leftover print damage on display. This release also comes with a multitude of different audio options in different languages, including English 5.1 DTS-HD. It’s a track that may not be that impressive next to modern mixes of action movies, but for its time and place, it’s appropriate. Dialogue is always prioritized well, and both the Oscar-nominated sound effects and terrific score from Basil Poledouris are given plenty of room to breathe in the surrounding speakers. Directionality and atmospherics are decent enough without being overly aggressive, as are low-end moments. It’s worth noting that a complete remix of this material from scratch could be effective in the right hands. I remember RoboCop’s footsteps being much more heavy and penetrating when I was a kid, but now, they don’t seem to have as much power as they once did, and a remix of the soundtrack might fix things like that. Regardless, it’s still an excellent soundtrack that does the visual presentation plenty of justice. Subtitles are also available in a variety of different languages for those who might need them, including English SDH.
There’s also good news in the extras department, as well. Nearly all of the previous extras from the movie’s various DVD releases have been carried over. They include an audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeier, producer Jon Davison, and author Paul Sammon; a newly-included Q&A with the Filmmakers (2012); the Flesh and Steel: The Making of RoboCop documentary; two 1987 making-of featurettes: Shooting RoboCop and Making RoboCop; The Boardroom: Storyboard Sequence with Audio Commentary by Animator Phil Tippett; deleted scenes (four in all); the Villains of Old Detroit featurette; the Special Effects: Then and Now featurette; the RoboCop: Creating a Legend documentary; the Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg segment (in which the director explains his accidental cameo in the film); the original theatrical trailer; and a TV spot. There’s also a MGM 90th Anniversary trailer that opens the disc. Missing from previous releases of the film on DVD are additional trailers and TV spots, a stills gallery, and the theatrical version of the film. The latter may not be all that necessary as the director’s cut is considered the definitive version, but still having it as an option, at least for comparison’s sake, would have made it a more complete package. After all, most people have seen the theatrical version more than the director’s cut, I would venture to guess. Still, this is nearly-perfect set of extras worth your time digging into if you hadn’t previously done so.
The bottom line is that this new Blu-ray release of RoboCop is the definitive version of the movie to own. While I didn’t bother boycotting or even caring about the recent remake of the movie, I knew that a new release of the original film was sure to pop up on the horizon. Thankfully, it wasn’t just a quick cash-grab, but an excellent release that all fans of the film should own.
- Tim Salmons