Blu-ray

RoboCop (Unreleased Sony Version)

Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
August 3rd, 2006
Movie Release Year:
1987
Studio:
MGM Home Entertainment
Length:
102 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

This is a review of an unreleased edition of 'RoboCop' which was cancelled only days before its planned release. Although it never hit store shelves, the disc had already been sent to reviewers, and we had already posted the review that follows.

Over a year later (in August of 2007), MGM announced that it would finally be releasing 'RoboCop' via its new home video distributor, Fox Home Entertainment. For more details about that release, click here.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

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' biggest cinematic export had quite a nice run at the top in the late '80s and '90s. 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,' both of which turned him into an A-list, mainstream property. Though his post-'Showgirls' flops 'Starship Troopers' and 'Hollow Man' did little to help him regain his career momentum (he's barely been heard from since), 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 which earned him the job on 'Total Recall' and just may be his best American movie. Though perhaps 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 just have 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.

I suppose the basic story of 'RoboCop' is pretty 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 in 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 Verhoeven's pointed parodies (indeed, his hilarious fake news and advertising broadcasts in the film could fit snugly next to 'Big Brother' or 'Unanimous' 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 its ridiculous amount of bloodshed seems funny, not gratuitous. Performance-wise, too, he is able to inspire his cast to deliver comic book-like mannerisms and slightly-arch dialogue, creating the correct the perfect sense of irony without lapsing into self-reflexive mockery.

'RoboCop' is also eerily prescient nearly twenty years after its theatrical release. Sure, the effects are sometimes mediocre, with old-school stop-motion animation and poor rotoscoping subbing for today's photo-realistic CGI. But it is amazing how timely the film's themes remain. A government that will violate any and all personal liberties in the name of "preserving peace?" A national media who 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.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

I was quite excited to see 'RoboCop' make its debut on a high-def format. Even the best of the myriad of previous DVD releases left me a bit disappointed, as all were minted from dated, dirty prints and just did not reflect the level of care and concern needed to craft a great remaster. Alas, this first-ever Blu-ray release continues 'RoboCop's losing streak, with a genuinely poor visual presentation whose flaws are only exacerbated by the high resolution of HD. And even more of a bummer, Sony doesn't even include the unrated director's cut of the film -- only the 102-minute R-rated version (not that the film isn't bloody enough).

The most recent DVD release of 'RoboCop' came from MGM, and this Blu-ray transfer looks as if it was sourced from the same master. Though I am more than content that a film from 1987 would look grainy, there is a fair amount of dirt and blemishes on the print as well. (Faring the worst are any effects shots involving mattes or stop-motion animation -- they look pretty dreadful.) Colors suffer from a dated and inconsistent appearance -- oversaturated and plugged up one moment, faded the next. Fleshtones are also often wildly inaccurate, with some scenes appearing so out-of-whack that the faces of actors looked like they were drawn with red crayon. Detail is also poor, with the image flat and two-dimensional throughout. Shadow delineation is even worse, with darker areas falling off into black and little fine detail visible. Some edge enhancement appears to have been liberally applied as well, with slight halos visible around sharply-contrasted objects.

Some might say that I'm being a bit too hard on 'RoboCop.' After all, it is nearly a twenty year-old film, right? However, I was watching HDNet Movies the other night, and a new remaster of '2001: A Space Odyssey' was on. Now, that's a film that is twice as old as 'RoboCop,' but it looked absolutely spectacular -- seriously drop-dead gorgeous. Okay, fair enough, 'RoboCop' isn't '2001.' But age really should not be a deterrent when it comes to creating a great high-def transfer. It just doesn't seem as if much effort was put into restoring the source materials for 'RoboCop,' and even a next-gen format like Blu-ray can't turn shit into gold.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Given the rather crap transfer, I wasn't expecting much from the audio, either. Thankfully, 'RoboCop' actually sounds quite good, boosted by an aggressive remix that belies the film's age. Sony/MGM also presents the film in uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround, which helps give the audio some added heft it didn't possess on past DVD releases.

Most noticeable about this updated mix is the sense of envelopment. The surrounds are frequently alive with gunfire, explosions and even bits of score. Directionality is rather aggressive, with some nice pans between channels and fairly seamless imaging. I also appreciated the fact that even during non-action scenes there was some effort made to place atmospheric sounds to the rears. However, the tonal quality of this mix is still somewhat dated. Dynamic range just can't compare to today's modern mixes -- high end in particular is tinny and sharp, with midrange slightly flat and compressed and low bass frequencies lacking heft and depth. 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, for a film of this vintage, this is an above-average remaster.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'RoboCop' has been released numerous times on DVD with various amounts of extras, most notably a packed Criterion edition back in the late '90s. For this Blu-ray release, however, Sony has cheery picked only a few of the supplements from past editions, though at least that's better than nothing.

A screen-specific audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven, producer Jon Davison and co-writer Edward Neumeier starts things off, and it really is one of the best tracks you're likely to hear. Though all three men were recorded separately and edited together, I actually prefer the technique because the flow of information is constant. Just about every aspect of the film is covered, from its difficult gestation project, though the long search for a director (even Verhoeven turned it down the first time), and on to casting, production and the intense post-production fight with the MPAA ratings board over the movie's violent content. This commentary is absolutely a must-listen if you're a fan of the film.

Up next is "Flesh and Steel: The Making of 'RoboCop,'" a 36-minute making of doc produced for the 2004 MGM 'Robocop Trilogy' box set. And it's pretty good, featuring then-new interviews with Verhoeven, Davison, Neumeier, director of photography Jost Vacano, production designer William Sandell, visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett and composer Basil Poledouris, amongst others. However, the lack of any of the film's cast -- where's Peter Weller and Nancy Allen!? -- is a big disappointment, as is the overtly technical focus of the doc. There is also a lot of cross-over with the commentary, though the clips and assorted making-of material helps to keep the perspective fresh. Despite the lack of any cast interviews, this one is still worth a watch.

Rounding out the extras are four Deleted Scenes, though they literally run about three minutes total. As you can guess by the short run time, these are almost more scene snippets. Though there is one funny fake-TV promo called “Topless Pizza" and, well... you probably get the idea.

Unfortunately, like all of Sony's Blu-ray releases, there are no theatrical trailers or other promo materials included.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Nope, nothing extra here.

Final Thoughts

'RoboCop' is a true sleeper of the '80s, a tough, satirical and bloody action film that holds up quite well. Unfortunately, little effort seems to have been expended to restore the film for Blu-ray, and the transfer is quite frankly crap. The sound mix is better, however, and Sony has included a nice commentary and documentary from previous DVD releases. This is far from the definitive version of 'RoboCop,' however, that I and undoubtedly fans would have liked. Sigh -- I'm sure someday Sony/MGM will double-dip this one and 'RoboCop'' will finally get the kick-ass next-gen edition it deserves.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-25 Single-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG-2
  • 480i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1 Letterbox

Audio Formats

  • English PCM 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • English Subtitles
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • Chinese Subtitles
  • Portuguese Subtitles
  • Korean Subtitles
  • Thai Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Documentary
  • Deleted Scenes

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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