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MGM Home Entertainment / 1987 / 102 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: October 09, 2007
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Editor's Note: The "movie itself" portion of this review was originally published in our review of the canceled June 2006 Blu-ray edition of 'RoboCop'.
The road to Blu-ray has been rocky one for 'RoboCop'. MGM had originally planned a next-gen debut for the flick back in June 2006, via its parent company (and then-distribution partner) Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. However, only days before that version was due in stores, the release was unceremoniously canceled.
Although that version of 'RoboCop' never hit stores, Sony had already sent out early copies for review to several media outlets, including High-Def Digest. Reaction to the quality of the disc's transfer was swift, and almost unanimously negative (click here to read our original review).
Over a year later (in August of 2007), MGM finally returned to the scene of the crime, re-announcing 'RoboCop' for Blu-ray release via its new home video distributor, Fox Home Entertainment. With a freshly-minted, newly-remastered transfer, expectations are high that MGM will finally deliver the Blu-ray version of 'RoboCop' that fans have wanted all along. Did the studio succeed? Read on...
What happened to Paul Verhoeven's career? Okay, 'Showgirls' is what happened. But before that 1995 camp classic forever tarnished his reputation in Hollywood, the Netherlands' greatest cinematic export had enjoyed quite a nice run at the top. After making a name for himself with such racy, controversial imports as 'The 4th Man' and 'Spetters,' Verhoeven directed the back-to-back international blockbusters 'Total Recall' and 'Basic Instinct,' turning him into an A-list, mainstream property. Though his post-'Showgirls' flops 'Starship Troopers' and 'Hollow Man' did little to help him regain career momentum, at least he can say he made a few truly memorable doozies in his time. Really, love 'em or hate 'em, could you ever forget such fabulously lurid trash like 'Basic Instinct' and 'Showgirls?'
Then there is 1987's 'RoboCop,' the sleeper hit that earned him the job on 'Total Recall' and just may be his best American movie. Though somewhat forgotten these days, this gleefully mean-spirited, delightfully subversive satire was the perfect match for Verhoeven's over-the-top, art school-meets-shlock sensibilities. Part comic book, part gritty crime drama, part no-holds-barred piss-take on American consumerist culture, 'RoboCop' bears the passion of a filmmaker just coming into his own. With 'RoboCop,' Verhoeven was finally experienced and confident enough to take chances with material that in lesser hands would have simply been mindlessly exploitative, yet still hungry enough to put himself out on a limb and, yes, fail occasionally. 'RoboCop' isn't perfect, but it has an intensity of focus that delivers one mean sucker punch to the gut.
The basic story of 'RoboCop' is fairly well known, so I'll skip the lengthy plot synopsis. But it is likely that in the character of Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), Verhoeven saw more than just a surprisingly poignant story of a murdered cop who, after being "reinvented" as a bio-mechanical killing machine, has his memories erased yet still dreams of electric sheep. It was also a rich vehicle through which to satirize the worst excesses of American consumerism, huckster journalism, police corruption and corporate greed. Though Murphy's human journey sometimes plays a supporting role to Verhoeven's pointed parodies (indeed, the hilarious fake news and advertising sequences in the film could fit snugly next to shows like 'Big Brother' on any of today's network reality TV schedules), he still slyly parallels Murphy's own spiritual quest to regain his humanity in a world in which the word has lost all meaning. Verhoeven is also masterful in balancing tone -- the film is so over-the-top that more often that not, its ridiculous amount of bloodshed seems funny, not gratuitous. Performance-wise, too, he is able to inspire his cast to deliver performances that are infused with the perfect sense of irony without lapsing into self-reflexive mockery.
Twenty years after its theatrical release, the effects may sometimes be mediocre, with old-school stop-motion animation and poor rotoscoping subbing for today's photo-realistic CGI, but thematically 'RoboCop' is eerily prescient. A government that will violate any and all personal liberties in the name of "preserving peace?" A national media that has erased the line between reality and entertainment for the sake of profit? A corrupt law enforcement system teetering on the brink of moral collapse? Sound familiar? 'RoboCop' just may be the best political-sci-fi-horror-crime-pulp genre flick ever made. And damn, it sure is funny.
(Note: Unlike the unreleased Sony Blu-ray version of 'RoboCop,' which presented the film in its original R-rated theatrical cut, this new Fox edition presents the film in its unrated form. There are no new scenes added, only a few seconds of extreme violence and gore. It may seem gratuitous to some, but this footage makes Paul Verhoeven's already over-the-top satire even more excessive, just as he intended. So kudos to MGM for offering the uncut version here.)
The original unreleased Blu-ray version of 'RoboCop' has taken on a somewhat fabled quality, if only due to the fact that few have seen it. Having reviewed it personally, however, I can assure you that it was dreadful -- a mess of a transfer that was clearly minted from the same dated master used for the old MGM DVD.
By comparison, this new version is a clear improvement, but I'm sorry to report that this newly minted master still isn't the massive upgrade fans have been hoping for.
Fox/MGM presents 'RoboCop' in 1080p/MPEG-2 video (at 1.85:1 widescreen). Though there are still some instances of speckles and dirt, the print is much cleaner than the previous version. Likewise, grain is still present (particularly in low-light scenes), but again it's improved. The wacky tint problems that marred the Sony disc are mostly corrected, while fleshtones are now largely accurate (alas, there is still a slight red cast at times), and hues are generally more vibrant.
That's not to say this new Blu-ray edition of 'RoboCop' looks like a million bucks. Far from it. Detail, while again superior to what's come before, still wobbles. Sharpness wavers throughout, making some shots look flat and lacking in depth (particularly any effects shots involving mattes, and just about all of the darker/nighttime scenes). There is also still some obvious noise in the shadows, and fine textures can turn into mush. Although compression artifacts are generally not a problem, edge enhancement is obvious, with ringing visible on the most highly-contrasted areas of the picture.
Overall, while this fresh master is clearly superior to the old canceled disc, unfortunately this is just not a remaster on par with something like Sony's 'Fifth Element.' Simply put, I'd hoped for alot better.
MGM presents 'RoboCop' in DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround, utilizing a 48kHz/16-bit source. Although my current hardware setup only allows me to extract the 1.5mbps DTS core of the DTS-HD MA mix, my initial impressions of this track are nearly identical to those I expressed after listening to the PCM 5.1 mix on the earlier Blu-ray version. (Note that I plan to revisit this review once I'm able extract DTS-HD MA in all its glory.)
For a film celebrating its 20th anniversary, 'RoboCop' sounds quite impressive, boosted by aggressive sound design that belies its age. The sense of envelopment is strong, with the surrounds frequently coming alive with gunfire, explosions and minor score bleed. For a mix that has been spruced up digitally for the home environment, directionality is sharp, with discrete effects not overtly localized and imaging between channels relatively seamless. I also really appreciated the fact that even during non-action scenes there was some effort made to place atmospheric sounds to the rears, giving 'RoboCop' a consistently active presence.
Having said all that, this mix shares the same limitations of the PCM track on the earlier Blu-ray disc. Fidelity and realism are lacking, and dynamic range just can't compare to today's modern mixes. High end in particular feels a bit constrained, and low bass is lacking in true heft and impact. There is also some really bad ADR in the movie, and the artificially processed quality of the original source stems only underscores the problem. Still, overall I found this to be an above-average remaster for a film of its period.
Sadly, MGM has decided not to offer any supplemental content with this second Blu-ray go-round for 'RoboCop.' It's a particularly puzzling move, considering the fact that MGM released a feature-packed two-disc special edition of the film on standard DVD in late August, and even the earlier canceled Blu-ray featured an audio commentary, a documentary and deleted scenes.
Note that though I missed it the first time around (and it's not even labeled on the back of the box), MGM has at least snuck the film's original Theatrical Trailer on the disc. It's hardly much of a consolation prize, though...
There are no Blu-ray exclusives, either.
No easter eggs reported for 'RoboCop' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
'RoboCop' is a prescient satire, and one that holds up as one of the better action-thriller flicks of the '80s. Unfortunately, this long-awaited Blu-ray release isn't much better than the earlier version that was canceled on the eve of its release over a year ago. To be sure, the video is certainly superior (if still far from stellar), but the total lack of supplements is real let down. This one's for die-hard 'RoboCop' fans only.
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