In the near future, the city of Detroit is in financial ruin and the streets are overrun with violent crime. Criminals control neighborhoods, selling drugs, robbing stores, and violating innocent people walking home. And they do it without fear of the police since they're at the point of bankruptcy. In a desperate measure to save the city, the mayor signed a deal with major conglomerate Omni Consumer Products (OCP), allowing the corporation complete authority of the department. It's the first step in an effort by the company to transform a dystopia into an autonomous, utopic corporate city-state called "Delta City." But first, OCP must clean up the streets to attract other businesses and low-wage workers, which means designing some kind of super cop with the latest technological advancements.
It's funny looking back at something like Paul Verhoeven's 'RoboCop' and watching it in complete awe of the shockingly prophetic vision of the future being displayed. As is the common thread and theme in most of Verhoeven's movies, the sci-fi actioner was intended as a darkly subtle commentary on contemporary culture. A quarter of a century later, the story of business corruption and greed governing society while citizens wallow in oblivious passivity via mindlessly moronic TV programming has become an ominously surreal revelation. The city of Detroit filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, leaving doors open for conglomerates to buy, is now a frightening reality, a bleak libertarian fantasy turned into a sad, somber actuality.
Admittedly, that little tidbit on current events is really nothing more than an odd coincidence. On a deeper and more astute level, the plot amazingly touches on other, arguably more sinister observations about society and of the collective indifference of people. From an original script by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, the film takes a cynical view of the future right from the onset with the deliberately rocky opening of a newscast relating the day's terrible events with noticeable detachment and unconcerned smiling faces. While commercials sell debt-causing products, a witless comedy show with a thickly-mustached character (Bixby Snyder) displays voluptuous women like props and pointlessly yells, "I'd buy that for a dollar!" The filmmakers intentionally turn his catchphrase into a rather memorable motto while also serving as a clever reference to Cyril M. Kornbluth's sci-fi novella The Marching Morons, which also inspired Woody Allen's 'Sleeper' and Mike Judge's cult favorite 'Idiocracy.'
This is a future so deeply commercialized and desensitized to violence that the public has turned into submissive, obedient subjects of corporations slowly overreaching their function and power. In this world, they transform civil services, like the police department, into disposable products or into literal machines that follow orders without question. Essentially, everyone is forgetting that they are toying with people's lives, unconsciously ignoring the human factor when placing more importance on the "bottom line." This is where RoboCop comes in. Part machine and part man, the cyborg cop is the literal representation of the story's theme, where human workers become expendable and are easily replaced. It's to Peter Weller's amazing credit and talent, providing the needed emotional gravitas, that the character feels genuine and reminds us of the human element involved.
Amazing still, the real genius behind this 1987 box-office hit is Verhoeven's ability to sell the plot's satirical view of Regan-era American culture as a strait-laced, shoot-'em-up action spectacle. As he did years later with 'Starship Troopers,' the Dutch filmmaker wonderfully balances camp and vulgarity for the blackest of comedic effect with the excessive displays of ultra-violence. It could be said his approach is the product of 80s "more is better" mentality, but that would also ignore how his style is meant as commentary, not simple imitation. Besides, times have sadly not changed much. If anything, we indulge in the excess of consumer products more than ever, and with the advent of "Reality" television and the internet, we seem to be experiencing a dumbing down. Although crime rates are currently at the lowest in history, 'RoboCop' is a thoughtfully penetrating glimpse at the worst traits of modern society, making it an excellently enjoyable satire that remains as relevant today as ever before.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment bring 'RoboCop' to Blu-ray as newly remastered in 4K HD resolution and dubbed the "Unrated Director's Cut." The one-minute difference from the theatrical version (103 minutes versus 102 minutes) is simply more blood and gore — a few frames edited to appease the MPAA, which makes this cut slightly more violent but not by very much. The Region Free, BD50 disc is housed inside a blue, eco-cutout case. After a skippable promo from the distributor, viewers are taken to a menu screen with options along the bottom, full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Finally, 'RoboCop' transfers over to the Blu-ray police force with the 1080p/AVC MPEG4 encode loyal fans have been waiting for, especially after the last mediocre release and the last-minute recalled Sony version. Supposedly struck from the original unrated elements and remastered at 4K resolution, the picture quality is a massive improvement over previous home video editions, displaying sharp details in buildings, furniture, and clothing. Fine lines and objects are distinct and well-defined throughout, except for the few optical effects with the ED-209 droid and a couple of badly aged segments, which is all understandable and forgivable.
A very small number of scenes seem to show the result of mild noise reduction. Then again, those moments also reveal the heavy use of make-up, and since no one in the cast looks disturbingly waxy, it's safe to assume it's only an illusion caused by the thickly-applied make-up combined with the excellent high-def resolution. In fact, facial complexions, for the most part, appear natural and quite revealing, exposing the tiniest wrinkle and blemish during close-ups. A thin-layer of grain is also consistently visible, providing the image with an appreciable cinematic appeal.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the transfer shows a stable and well-balanced contrast with clean, crisp whites. Primaries, especially reds, are vibrant and energetic while secondary hues are boldly rendered, affording the video with warmth. Rich, deep black levels are most impressive with outstanding detailing within the darkest portions of the frame, giving the entire presentation some depth.
I'm not sure if MGM took the time to also remaster the audio, but for all intents and purposes, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack sounds nearly identical to its predecessor. However, that's not entirely a bad thing because the lossless mix is quite strong and pleasing, especially for an action film only a couple years shy of its 30th anniversary. Surrounds are occasionally employed for a variety of well-placed atmospherics that are generally quite satisfying and with surprisingly great directionality. Basil Poledouris's score also bleeds to a small degree into the rears, keeping viewers nicely engaged throughout.
In the front soundstage, dialogue is pristine and crystal-clear in the center, never overwhelmed by the loudest segments. Although clarity is strong with excellent balance and separation between the channels, dynamics and acoustics seem a bit restrained and limited with almost no movement into the upper ranges. Low-frequency effects are generally appropriate with some mild impact, but don't expect a heavy punch or a commanding presence. None of this, of course, is a detriment to the overall presentation since it's a great high-rez track for a 80s action favorite, but worth noting nonetheless for the most astute audiophile.
Subtitles in various languages are also included.
Adding to the wonderful package, MGM and Fox finally mend their previous bare-bones Blu-ray blunder by porting over bonus material from both the two-disc 20th Anniversary and Special Edition DVDs.
With a cynical, satirical eye on Reagan-era American culture, Paul Verhoeven's 'RoboCop' imagines a dystopian future where a corporation owns and controls a police department. With a memorable performance by Peter Weller as the titular character, the thoughtfully penetrating film remains a wildly entertaining actioner. Featuring a new 4K remaster, the Blu-ray arrives with the best possible video presentation of the 80s cult classic and strong lossless audio. Supplements are ported over from the previous DVDs, but the overall package is a massive improvement to 2007's disappointing release, making this video edition a recommended purchase and a must-own for hardened fans.