Blu-Ray Review: ROBOCOP (1987, Remastered Blu-Ray)
1987 was a hell of a year.
The biggest event was my graduation from high school that spring.
In regards to movies that were a lot of releases, which have now become either classics or cult classics nowadays—Predator, The Lost Boys, Creepshow 2, The Gate, The Princess Bride, Hellraiser, Lethal Weapon, Extreme Prejudice, Evil Dead II, The Monster Squad, The Running Man, Near Dark and the list goes on. Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is also one of those movies.
I first learned of the movie from a TV commercial and for some reason I remember really liking the instrumental music they used for that particular TV spot. Music that was not in the movie, I might add. I also remember reading the novelization of it, like I used to routinely do back then with whichever summer movies got their own books.
I remember seeing it more than once, too. Again something else I used to do when I was a teenager. Any big budget movie that struck the right chord my friends and me saw countless times. We saw Predator the most. I think I saw Robocop only twice, but I loved it just as much.
I believe Robocop was Paul Verhoeven’s first shot at the big time and his style for the movie’s violence is clearly a hard, violent, in your face R. Something he would be renowned for thereafter with Total Recall in 1990, Basic Instinct in 1992 and Starship Troopers in 1997. Incidentally Basic Instinct is the only one of those mentioned movies that has not gotten remade. As of this writing there is a PG-13 planned remake of Troopers on the horizon. Len Wiseman’s remake of Total Recall and the just released PG-13 rated Robocop remake are clearly not as violent as their originals, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Most really good science fiction, be it in film or in print, tends to make predictions of the future which inevitably end up coming true to some degree. Robocop is set in a future where Detroit has basically gone under. It’s gone bankrupt, it’s full of corruption and crime and normal law bidding citizens don’t want to live there any more.
The OCP (Omni Consumer Products) corporation thinks they have a damn good idea on how to rid “Old Detroit,” as it’s now called, of its scum. Oily, OCP employee, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), has invented a bipedal death machine dubbed ED 209. Problem is during it’s unveiling in a boardroom meeting the machine malfunctions and blows away a co-worker. This is when oily, OCP employee #2, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), steps in with an alternate plan that’s been stewing on the backburner for a while, all it needed was for a fuckup like this to happen to put it into action.
The Robocop program entails “moving around” candidates into key positions that will eventually turn one of them into a contender. Learning of this from a conversation between Morton and head of OCP played by Dan O’Herlihy (Halloween III) shows you how Detroit cop, Alex Murphy’s (Peter Weller) was fated to be that contender. When we first meet him it’s on his first day of being transferred into the trenches of Old Detroit’s worst police department (worst as in a department that loses more cops to death by crime than any other) by OCP who now owns the law enforcement of the entire city.
I reiterate this is Murphy’s first day in his new precinct and it’s going to be the worst day of his life. Before he’s assigned a partner and a car, we meet Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) as she metes out a serious case of kick ass to the perp she was bringing in who goes nuts and gets loose. Coincidentally, this is his new partner, and before you can say Clarence Boddicker they are out cruising around Old Detroit waiting for crime to slither there way.
As fated it eventually does and Murphy and Lewis find themselves chasing a non-descript panel truck and engaging in a fire fight with Clarence Boddicker and his group of cop killers. Ah, Clarence Boddicker, one of the most iconic bad guys ever to grace the cinema, played brilliantly by Kurtwood Smith. When I first saw the trailer I initially thought he was Jack Nicholson, for he kind of looks and talks a little bit like him. Can you believe he ended up playing a Dad on a TV series decades later? (That 70s Show—1998-2006)
There are a few other familiar faces in his band of psychos; the second most notable is Ray Wise playing Leon.
‘Hey, that’s the guy from Swamp Thing!’ I thought when I saw him.
You might also recognize Paul McCrane as Emil, the thug who terrorizes that poor kid at that convenience store before Murphy shows up to stop him. The only other flick I instantly equate him with his The Blob (1988). He’s the deputy who gets broken in half by the blob and dragged away as he and the rest of the town try to hole up in a church. He also did an episode of the X-Files titled “Leonard Betts.”
The only other face that’s familiar to me is Jesse D. Goins who plays Joe. I remember him from that series The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983).
Murphy and Lewis track Boddicker’s gang to a steel mill and this is where he shot to death, getting his hand and arm blown off in the process. OCP brings in his body and turns him into a hulking, silver plated cyborg. His face being his only human feature that was retained, but for most of the film it remains hidden behind his helmet, with only his lower jaw exposed.
From here Robocop is a mix of Frankenstein and a revenge flick as OCP’s newest creation bumps into Emil by sheer chance and through his interaction begins to realize he had another life as someone else. Memories of a wife and a son are reawakened as well as the memory of his murder and those who murdered him.
For the first time anywhere the Unrated version of Robocop hit DVD in 2001 through Criterion, it eventually entered the age of blu-ray in 2007. At some point there was, I believe, two other editions (DVD only?) with a ton of extra features that surpassed Criterion’s version.
From what I can gather that first blu-ray transfer left a lot to be desired. MGM became aware of this and reissued a new remastered one last month. I never bought anything other than Criteron’s DVD so I don’t know how bad MGM’s initial blu looked. All I know is the Criterion transfer was at a 1.66:1 ratio and this 2014 blu-ray is in it’s original ratio of 1.85:1. I don’t even have my Criterion one anymore to see how they compare because one day I felt like watching it, put it on and the DVD froze up in the middle of the movie and refused to play. Had to throw it out.
This new blu-ray is also the Unrated Cut, and for those who aren’t aware the death scene of that guy in the boardroom where ED-2009 blows him away and Murphy’s death at the hands of Boddicker and his thugs were both trimmed. Here we get to see how over the top that OCP employee’s death was and in the case of Murphy’s demise we get to see his arm actually blown off and a longer shot of the moment when Boddicker puts a bullet in his head. Personally, the restoration of the violence makes it a more potent flick.
The 1080p high definition transfer of this 2014 version is remarkably good looking and I have never seen this movie look any better. Audio seems to have every base covered (English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish: DTS 5.1, French: DTS 5.1, German: DTS 5.1, Italian: DTS 5.1, Russian: DTS 5.1, Polish: Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese: DTS-HD, Master Audio Mono, Japanese: DTS 2.0, Japanese: DTS 5.1, Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1, Thai: Dolby Digital 5.1, Czech: Dolby Digital 2.0, Hungarian: Dolby Digital 2.0) as does the subtitles (English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Cantonese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Slovenian, Swedish, Thai).
From what I can tell the extras on the Criterion version were ported over except for a memorable TV spot, the one I mentioned earlier with the catchy music. The rest are from the previous special editions:
First up is the 2001 commentary with Director Paul Verhoeven, Writer Ed Neumeier and Producer Jon Davison. From what I remember it’s a pretty good one. Most of the commentaries Verhoeven does are.
Q&A with the Filmmakers (2012) (42:36): This took place in 2012 at UCLA’s James Bridges with a portion of the crucial players lined up on stage and taking questions from the audience who just watched the movie. Apparently other actors from the movie were in the audience as well, only Peter Weller and Nancy Allen were on stage, along with Paul Verhoeven, Jon Davison, Ed Neumaier, Michael Miner and FX artist, Phil Tippett. Wow, has it really been that long? I was shocked to see how aged Allen looked.
Flesh and Steel: The Making of RoboCop (36:55): A nice retrospective on how the movie came about. Apparently it was stressful as all Hell making it. It seems everyone was at each other’s throats during production.
These two—1987 Featurette: Shooting RoboCop (7:59) and 1987 Featurette: Making RoboCop ( 8:01)—are period pieces, and I always enjoy these kind of featurette’s. Interviews with Weller, Ferrer, Verhoeven and writers and various others on the actual set.
The Boardroom: Storyboard with Commentary with Animator Phil Tippett (6:02): Tippet narrates as the scene in the boardroom with ED-2009 plays out in slow motion with the comparable storyboards playing in the corner.
Deleted Scenes (2:51): Scenes that had yet to reach post-production. None of them are really noteworthy.
Villains of Old Detroit (16:59): This was a nice featurette with Ray Wise, Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer waxing nostalgic on their roles.
Special Effects: Then and Now (18:22): A look at how the matte shots and stop motion FX were done and how antiquated they are now compared to CGI.
RoboCop: Creating a Legend (21:09): This is yet another modern day (2006) feature about key personalities reminiscing about it’s making.
Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg (:38): Until this moment I never knew Verhoeven had a cameo in the movie. A split second one in the club scene where Murphy nabs Leon.
And finally the Theatrical Trailer and a TV Spot.
It was interesting to learn they were initially thinking about casting Michael Ironside as Murphy but they said he was too big and the Robocop costume would have made him look even bigger. Also Stephanie Zimbalist (Remington Steele series) was already cast as Lewis but pulled out a week before it was to be filmed.
Not quite sure now where this movie falls, classic or cult classic. Originally I always thought cult classic, but after taking in all those extra features and hearing how successful it was at the box office, coupled with how iconic the Robocop character is, I think it’s more likely a cinema classic. Paul Verhoeven casually mentions in one of the extras he thinks this movie is the best American flick he’s ever done. He might be right. Though Starship Troopers comes in a photo finish second.