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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 25.28)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Hebrew, Czech, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Turkish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  Extras
  • Additional footage
  • Deleted scenes
  • 4 Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • 2 Featurette
  • 6 Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • TV spot
  • Awards/Nominations
  • Storyboards
  • Outtakes

Robocop: SE

Orion/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 99 mins . R . PAL

  Feature
Contract

If you didn’t already know it was an unexpected hit (and, for some, an instant classic of modern filmmaking) you would probably not be in any rush to see a film called Robocop. For it is an utterly crap title. Orion Pictures thought so, the movie’s producers thought so - hell, the guys who came up with the name thought so. But hey, what’s in a name? In the 1980s everyone was making high-concept sci-fi action flicks with dumb titles, and once James Cameron struck paydirt with The Terminator in 1984, every studio wanted their very own bone-crunching futuristic hit. Orion Pictures, meanwhile, had already profited from Terminator and were all too keen to snap up the spec script for Robocop that had landed in front of them. Finding a director, though, was always going to be hard. A low-budget genre sci-fi action flick with cheesy dialogue and bad jokes didn’t exactly spell O-S-C-A-R to those who were approached, and the title sealed it. Nobody in the US would touch the film. Neither, for that matter, would Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, who had thrown the script away in disgust until his wife talked him into doing the picture.

Already notorious for his penchant for on-screen flamboyance, Verhoeven took to Robocop with ever-increasing enthusiasm, seeing the film as a way of making some keen observations about the state of things in the USA from an outsider’s perspective. He brought with him a solid sense of pace and economy (something that would desert him in a couple of his later American films) and a few hundred gallons of red goo that would serve as fake blood.

Writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner had come up with a very simple concept for a futuristic action movie - essentially, a police officer saved from death by the wonders of robotics (robotic tech which appears to run on MS-DOS, going by the on-screen graphics - which were actually generated by a Commodore Amiga and its then-groundbreaking Video Toaster card!) enforcing the law in an era where the '80s economy is still king. Which is kind of amusing, in its own way; fifteen years ago, when Robocop was released, it seemed like cutting-edge satire of the current idealised way of Western life. The fast cars, power-suits, powdered drugs, big-talking, big brand-name yuppie excesses of that decade have been well chronicled in both film and print fiction, but here the whole thing was being picked apart in deadpan style, ironically coming across as slick and so very ‘80s itself. Which was, of course, precisely the point. Verhoeven took to all of this like a Dutch duck to water, gleefully poking merciless fun at the United States Of Reagan and extravagantly working the violent bits into orgies of blood and sinew until the whole thing became a parody of itself.

Considered by many - especially back in 1987 - to be an ultra-violent film, Robocop doesn’t look especially shocking these days. Sure, there’s red stuff splattering all over the place and sure, the camera casts a frantic but loving eye over all of it - but does anyone really take any of this seriously? The “violence” on show in Robocop is straight out of a Monty Python movie - literally, in the case of the blood-spurting veins and the hilarious arm-being-shot-off scene. By the time the man-turned-to-goo-by-toxic-waste scene arrives we’re in fits of laughter. That’s not always helped by the script, which has the hero delivering lines like “I think you’re slime”! Maybe it’s satire. Maybe it’s just seriously bad writing.

Violence in Hollywood has actually gone a lot further since - but largely steering away from the buckets-of-blood gorefest approach and instead exploring something darker. The psychological and implied violence in some modern movies makes Robocop seem like the teddy bears’ picnic by comparison.

It’s a minority viewpoint, admittedly, but we’re going to go out on a limb here and bravely state that Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, made a decade later and also scripted by Neumeier, was a much better film in this po-faced satirical sub-genre that Verhoeven has become somewhat legendary for. It had better production values, much better dialogue, better effects, and was more fun overall. But nothing’s ever going to displace Robocop from its place near the top of the sci-fi classics pile. Because Robocop did it first and did it well, was loaded with quotable quotes and snappy one-liners, and was the whoa-look-at-all-that-carnage rental flick of choice for an entire generation. If you’ve never seen the film before, you’ll understand its cultural impact when you finally do - you’ll have heard lot of the dialogue from this oft-sampled film before. Although you may be thinking of the Dirty Harry films; our Robo pal and Clint Eastwood’s sarcastic cop have more in common than you’d expect.

  Video
Contract

We won’t be accepting any excuses about the age of the film, for starters. Sure, it’s 15 years old and the studio that made it has long since gone bust, but other films of similar vintage from Orion Pictures have turned up on DVD looking like they were made yesterday. Robocop, even with this new transfer, looks like it was made in the ‘80s.

It’s hard to say whether it’s the film transfer or the compression stage that’s lacking - we’d suspect the latter - but MGM’s PAL offerings have often looked a little bit less than perfect in some way or other. This is no exception, though it’s important to point out that this is by no means a bad transfer - in fact, fans of the film will be thrilled at seeing it with this clarity for the first time. But compared to some other films of its vintage there is a lot of film grain here, and that has a tendency on this disc to play havoc with the video compression, muddying up background detail. In general the transfer seems somewhat less than optimally balanced in the colour and contrast departments, the latter shown up by a tell-tale lack of shadow detail. All of that said, though, we doubt that anyone will be majorly disappointed.

The “director’s cut” version on this disc uses non-seamless branching (more on this later) to access sections of the film, and these “directors cut” sections look ever so slightly inferior to their normal-version counterparts - more grain, and slightly less colour-saturated.

The layer change arrives early, at the 25 minute mark, and is superbly placed during a fade-out to black and silence.

The transfer is matted to 1.85:1 (the theatrical ratio, though apparently Verhoeven prefers 1.66:1) and is 16:9 enhanced.

One question for MGM’s disc authors, wherever you are - what on earth were you thinking when you plonked two dozen copyright screens in as many languages at the end of the film, and then disabled ALL player controls - not only the menu button, but the stop button as well - so the viewer has to wait a few minutes before being allowed back into the menu to look at the extras? It’s idiocy, and we’d like to take this opportunity to say a big “nyah” to all the companies that force us to watch their copyright screens, their company trailers, and other unnecessary advertising.

One on-screen location title is replaced by a player-generated subtitle, something MGM seems inordinately fond of doing, annoyingly.

  Audio
Contract

Freshly remixed for Dolby Digital 5.1, this audio track nevertheless shows its age in the “tinny” sound of the location and looped dialogue, something that was done deliberately - it was “the style at the time”, as Grandpa Simpson might have said, and with the original mix having been an early Dolby SR effort, the temptation to exploit the extended high-frequency response seems to have been irresistible. No attempt seems to have been made to tone down the dialogue’s brittle qualities, but the remixers have sourced a high-quality master of the music score (by Basil Poledouris, who was cheerfully scoring crappy b-movies until Robocop came along) and worked from the original effects stems.

Very front-directed - as you’d expect from a Dolby Stereo mix with its modest atmosphere-creating surround track - this soundtrack does benefit from the full-range surrounds of Dolby Digital at some key moments, though don’t expect anything that’s going to astonish you.

  Extras
Contract

Very popular in its previous special-edition incarnation on the US Criterion label, Robocop now scores the Special Edition treatment from MGM, who’ve come to the party with a good solid set of special features, accessed via some really nifty full-animated menus. First and foremost amongst the bonuses is the ability to choose which version of the film you want to see.

Director’s Cut: Verhoeven’s original cut of the movie raised eyebrows at the MPAA, and to get an American R rating he had to cut or tone down some of the more graphic scenes of violence. For years, this cut version has been the one usually seen on home video. Now on this disc you can select the Director’s Cut as the disc starts up, and you’ll get Verhoeven’s full version - which is actually only 27 seconds longer. The restored sequences are flown back into the film via branching on the DVD - but it’s not seamless, and that’s just plain silly. Surely MGM, a giant international company, could have found a DVD authoring house capable of mastering a disc with seamless branching. The end result is that if you select the Director’s Cut version, you’ll get three very abrupt layer-change-like interruptions to the film as the player searches for the next section to play (ironically, the layer change, excellently hidden, is not one of these obvious pauses!) As for the Director’s Cut itself, well, it’s the definitive version of the film and the one you should watch first, crappy authoring or not. It’s a shame that this longer cut wasn’t the default version on this disc.

Flesh And Steel - The Making Of Robocop: An often amusing, generally well-done 37-minute look back at the creation of the film, featuring modern interviews with many of the key participants - along with one Paul Sammon, who’s credited as a “Robocop Expert” (he’s a professional sci-fi fan and Making-Of-book author, it seems) and who credits Verhoeven with nothing less than absolute genius (okay, go see Showgirls and get back to us, Paul!) While comparisons are made to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (!) and screenwriter Ed Neumeier defensively claims that he avoided watching The Terminator until he’d finished his Robocop script, Verhoeven himself takes a trip into the bizarre here, revealing that he’ll happily read way too much into a very simple screenplay. According to the director, the film is all about “Satan killing Jesus,” that Robocop is “an American Jesus that uses his gun,” that Jesus was just like Che Guevara and would have “actively promoted weapons” and that a scene late in the film has Robocop "walking on water". And here we were thinking it was just a clever action flick - we should have realised all along that it was actually a contemporary allegory of the nascent salvation of mankind prompted by the existential ramifications of technology and really big guns. Silly us.

Audio Commentary: Verhoeven is joined by producer Jon Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier for a blow-by-blow, scene-by-scene commentary on the movie (or rather, moofie), with Verhoeven his usual effervescent self and writer Ed happily joining in the fun. Meanwhile, Davison seems quite amused by it all; “With Paul,” he says, “lots of things tend to become Christ metaphors.” This of course sets Verhoeven off on yet another crucifixion/Jesus/resurrection tangent while his co-commentators continue to bait him. Overall, this is a fun commentary to listen to, though if giant egos offend you then be sure to wear the appropriate protection.

1987 Featurettes: A pair of eight-minute promo featurettes produced back in 1987, these are of curiosity value only, being bogged down in the usual mire of studio hype and hyperbole.

Deleted Scenes: Four very short and completely inconsequential deleted scenes are accompanied here by an 11-minute reel of raw camera footage, mostly shot during the more feisty blood-fuelled sequences. It’s of some interest from an historical point of view, but rather repetitive (just like the process of shooting a movie, of course!) and unrevealing.

Trailers: Two theatrical trailers (one of which shamelessly uses the theme from The Terminator as its background music!) and a TV commercial for Robocop are accompanied here by one trailer each for Robocop 2 (which passes up the chance to say “from the director of The Empire Strikes Back"!) and the laughable Robocop 3.

Storyboard Comparison with Phil Tippett commentary: The man behind the stop-motion animation and front-projection photography of the ED-209 robots in the film, Phil Tippett, demonstrates just how incredibly closely he sticks to his storyboards during a sequence comparison using a large film frame and a smaller inset storyboard image.

Still Galleries: Half a dozen collections of photographs presented as timed sequences (they’re encoded as normal video) with the photos actually of a somewhat decent size for once.

  Overall  
Contract

It’s an enduring entry in the sci-fi canon, that’s undeniable, but perhaps isn’t quite the deconstruction of Western societal and religious values that its director seems to want it to be. But who cares, anyway? Robocop is stonkingly good fun entertainment that still packs a punch fifteen years later.

MGM’s new Special Edition DVD gives fans the best video transfer yet of the film (though it’s still not perfect) and decent surround sound, along with an extras package that should please a lot of people. The clunky implementation of the dual-version option on the disc, though, is disappointing - though it is, of course, great to see the uncensored version here at all.


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      And I quote...
    "Stonkingly good fun entertainment that still packs a punch fifteen years later..."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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