This is a classic film that finally looks the part and comes with a superb all-round package
Your move, creep!
The Messiah is reimagined as a cyborg copper in the lawless wasteland of a future Detroit in Paul Verhoeven’s most defining career statement … the utterly triumphant Robocop from 1987.Satirical side-swipes at a blindly gullible, corporate-beguiled, consumer-driven world of vice, corruption and urban terrorism are just part of an incredibly richly thematic and imagination-fuelled take on the superhero myth when dedicated police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is spectacularly shot to pieces and then patched into a metal body, reprogrammed and unleashed as a vote-winning, stocks-soaring warrior of inspirational law enforcement. Frankenstein meets The Man in the Iron Mask via Metropolis, Iron Man and The Bible in an eye-popping, jaw-dropping collision of uber-violence, comic-book mayhem and riotously colourful scumbaggery courtesy of the barnstorming Kurtwood Smith as the sadistic murderer and gang-leader Clarence Boddicker.Backed by a thunderously heraldic score by the late great Basil Poledouris, Murphy’s crime-fighting crusade of sacrifice and rebirth is often as moving as it is stomach-churning, and this combination of thrills and spills and visionary ideas is what makes critics adore its right-wing poke in the eye just as much as the fans. One of the grandest, most exhilarating cult gems that rampaged out of the 80’s, Robocop is a future-shock blitzkrieg that remains just as powerful and intelligent today.
That it is excessive, splattery and gleefully over-the-top may be the movie’s most memorable aspects, but this is damn fine and brave filmmaking that stands up to scrutiny and continually rewards its devotees.
The Future’s Bright... Red and Splattery
We’ve all had a good go at MGM’s previous lousy BD transfer for Robocop, and we all prayed that Verhoeven’s finest hour would be revisited with the proper care and attention it deserved. News that it was to be bestowed a 4K remaster of the OCN was obviously greeted with much hope that this would still translate well enough for all of us to see significant improvements on our systems.
And the good news is that this is undoubtedly the case … although if you know the film at all, you will also have to concede that it will never look positively radiant. And nor should it. So thank God that MGM haven’t gone down the 20th Century Fox route and DNR’d their cult 80’s gem to hell and back and given it a Robo-Wax.
The image is 1.85:1 and it’s encode comes courtesy of AVC. The grain that has always been there in the past remains marvellously and substantially gritty and textured. Occasional shots spike very obviously, and these tend to hail from the extended instances of violence and gore reinstated in the Director’s Cut. The film has tended to look dry and dirty in the past, but this transfer does seem cleaner and sharper without sacrificing any of that hallmark roughness.
Contrast has always been a bone of contention with this and Total Recall. The Verhoeven and DOP sanctioned remaster of the latter still courted some dispute from fans. Well, to me, this newly minted transfer looks much, much better than anything I’ve seen before on home video. However, just how accurate this is to how the film originally played theatrically, I have no idea. I saw it back then when it first hit the UK and can recall diddly-squat about how it looked – other than really grubby, that is. Flesh tones are now healthier and the overall palette is warmer which, to my mind, aids both the clinical sterility of the offices and labs of OCP and the hue of the humans we see scuttling about within them, boosting the effect of the contrast between the two. The grey austerity of the big OCP and police buildings also seems greater, with another appreciably more apparent contrast when juxtaposed against the sickly neon of the city streets and the rusty, earthy sludge of the factory battleground. Shadows are nice and deep, though they do not look clean and smooth, and they never have. I wouldn’t say that there is any lack of detail within them.
As you would hope, detail is better rendered now. Edges are smoother and more clearly delineated.
Blood is definitely brighter and gaudier than it was last time around, but not to any detrimental or overtly pronounced and fake degree. It looks terrific, folks. After the dark raspberry jam seen in You’re Next, it is a pleasure – an unhealthy one, I suppose – to enjoy proper old school claret being flung around the screen. Blood squibs certainly seem more energetic and lively than previously, with some of the bullet-hits in the drug factory are now much more cleanly visible. Even the splat of blood that Clarence spits onto the desk in the cop shop looks meaner and more vivid.
I love the lilac/purple sheen that sometimes becomes apparent on the back of Robo’s helmet and neck, and around certain joints in his armour – it so much more pleasing in this image. Orange fireballs and stark muzzle-flashes – Robo’s triple-flare is a doozy – have integrity and depth, really looking hot and incendiary as opposed to formerly anaemic blasts.
As you would hope, detail is better rendered now. Edges are smoother and more clearly delineated. Costumes reveal more texture, as do wounds. There is more depth to the image because it is sharper and less cluttered with artefacts. Robocop striding out of the inferno at the gas station and the entire sequence in the drug factory certainly seem to exhibit more dimensionality than before. Looking out across the main hall in the precinct house also shows a considerable gain in depth, and fine detail retained in the furthermost recesses of the image. And the fantastic Forbidden Planet-like views up and down the glass and chrome elevator shafts in the OCP building.
Close-ups can be very revealing, with faces, eyes and hair really gaining information. Texture on Weller’s face and the stretched latex appliances that join it to the metal and circuitry is, indeed, excellent. We can plainly see the wire that the ED-209’s missile travels along. There are still some reflections of the crew to be gleaned on Robo’s gleaming surface, and on the TV screens in the boardroom. Naturally, the many media breaks and commercials look appallingly soft and low-grade resolution. There was no chance of these ever getting spruced-up.
On the digital front, there is a smattering of noise, but absolutely nothing compared to the messy looking image we had last time around. I had no problem with edge enhancement – some may cite some slight ringing around the statue and the window-frames in the boardroom, but I would say this is down to the photography and the lighting. There was no smearing and no element of banding. Nor did I spot any aliasing.
Don’t expect miracles, folks. This is Robocop, after all. But it looks a helluva lot better than we’ve seen it before and that, alone, makes it worth buying. For much more than a dollar!
There’s a new guy in town… and his name is Robocop
Robocop boasts an impressive, though understandably rather vintage DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. There is nothing at all wrong with it, you understand. Dialogue is clean and clear, fully allowing for the vocal nuances that Peter Weller is able to provide Robocop with. The bellowing commands and the lion’s roar of the ED-209 is also presented with heavy zest. Bullets zip around the channels and thwack meatily into bodies. Harsh fully auto-fire thunders and belches with enjoyable vigour. Shattering glass has a nice scintillating crash. We can plainly hear the grinding crunch of Robocop’s feet. Vehicles swerve and wheels screech, and things are regularly blown up with rumbling gusto.
This is a film and a mix that relies heavily upon explosions and high velocity gunfire. They all come across with appreciable bombast and violence, though nobody could argue that they could compete with a modern designed hullabaloo. There is depth to the blasts but a distinct lack of detail within each rushing cacophony, leading to a certain muting, or restrictive quality to each one. The film was nominated for an Oscar for its inventive sound design and, fortunately, these elements still come over with some delightful finesse. The electronic buzzing and humming; the clicking gear sound of Robo’s thigh holster; the insertion of his download spike into a terminal jack; the winding-down of the ED-209 and the whistle-by of its rockets. These components and more make the film sound alive and vibrant and highly technological.
This is a film and a mix that relies heavily upon explosions and high velocity gunfire.The clasp and jingle of the car-keys when Robo catches them is nicely rendered. There is that hubcap that spins viciously off Clarence’s 6000 SUX as it races to outrun Lewis – and it clearly takes flight with a cool “sproing” that is keenly heard, reminding me of the same thing happening to Sheriff Teasle’s police cruiser in First Blood. Directionality isn’t particularly flexible and we shouldn’t really be expecting it to be. Movement around the speakers is not too clinical or transparent, but it gets the job done. Surrounds come into play, but with nothing especially memorable to deliver. Bass is heavy and thick, though not too well delineated. Again, this is down to the age of the mix and the style with which it was put together. Despite all of our expectations, Robocop cannot look or sound like a new film.
This said, however, there is one element that I wish was treated better by the mix – the original soundmix, that is – and this remains the epic score from Basil Poledouris. Although we all regard his score for Conan The Barbarian as being his most defining and glorious, his work on Robocop is just as brilliant, just as emotional, just as powerful. The main themes certainly arrive within the soundscape with some degree of hearty impact, and there is punch and clarity to the orchestration for much of the time. But there has always been one crucial passage when his score reaches a glistening, almost orgasmic crescendo, but the film’s mix of gunfire and tumbling bodies has always drowned it out. This comes when Robocop assaults the drug factory and takes on all-comers because it appears nobody is in the mood to “come quietly.” Robocop’s brassy march is at its most strident and euphoric, but the gorgeously shivery high strings that glisten and sear the senses are mostly lost in the full auto barrage. I find myself straining to hear them. This lossless mix doesn’t go any further in helping things, I’m afraid. Maybe I’m being picky, of course, but I wish they had taken the time to fine-tune and doctor this. “They fix everything,” remember?
However, beyond this, the score sounds, in the main, terrific. It grinds and sizzles and blasts and pummels as it should do, and it’s more emotional moments still sting.
There are no surprises with the audio track, but it still delivers plenty of bang for your buck. So, yeah, I guess I’d buy that for a dollar!
Show Me Some Extras, Or There Will Be Trouble
If I had one complaint about this extremely rewarding roster of supplements, it would be that there is nothing on Basil Poledouris’ phenomenal score! A passing mention here and there, perhaps, but this is quite a serious omission as far as I am concerned. You just cannot think of Verhoeven’s film without that theme pounding through your mind.
Anyway, that snipe aside, this is a terrific selection of the new and the old.
We have the familiar old Commentary from Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeier and producer Jon Davison that although irritating at times - Verhoeven’s excitable Dutch accent and Davison’s even more excitable American one – manages to impart a lot of information whilst remaining passionate, frank and often quite amusing. It is not the most repeatable of chat-tracks but this is still entertaining enough… even if they are actually viewing the R-rated cut of the film! Unlike us. Hurrah!
Q & A with the Filmmakers is nice and new, recorded (pretty badly) at the UCLA’s James Bridges Theater on May 31 2012. Lasting for over forty minutes, this reunites Paul Verhoeven, Peter Weller and Nancy Allen with producer Davison, screenwriters Neumeier and Michael Miner and visual effects dynamo Phil Tippett. Well, this is fine stuff, if a little awkward and gangly at times. And, speaking of awkward and gangly, it takes Peter Weller an excruciatingly long time to tell his stories, and there are some rather unfortunate moments of mutual fawning that we could have done without. But there are still plenty of anecdotes, admissions, confessions and insight into a film that they can now all agree was a work of brutal art that none of them really appreciated at the time they were making it.
Flesh and Steel: The Making of Robocop runs for 36 minutes and is a fabulously detailed and incisive retrospective documentary. Many people contribute and there is a wealth of trivia revealed. Refreshingly, the disputes and the hardships are not brushed aside and actually take up quite a fair and frank amount of the reminiscences on offer. Excellent stuff.
Two vintage companion pieces featuring on-set footage and interviews with cast and crew can be enjoyed from the time of the film’s production. Shooting Robocop and Making Robocop both last for around 8 minutes and attempt to lift the lid on what promised to be a bold and audacious SF epic.
this is a terrific selection of the new and the old
The Boardroom: Storyboard with Commentary from Animator Phil Tippett does what it says on the tin. We see the gory glitch of the ED-209 in slow motion with an inset of SBs whilst Tippett takes us through the techniques utilised to make it all happen.
To be honest, the Deleted Scenes aren’t too grand and would not have really added anything. We get four of them, which can be played in one go, or individually. Bob Morton gets extra airtime in a Robocop press conference, we meet a nun in the street for an interview, we get a final media break excerpt … but, best of all, we get the topless pizza commercial. I can’t help but agree – I’d certainly buy that for a dollar!
Villains of Old Detroit is a spacious 17-minute exposé of what makes Clarence, Bob Morton, Dick Jones and Nash tick. All the actors – Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ronny Cox and Ray Wise – enjoy their opportunity to reflect upon their characters’ dastardly deeds, and they do so with good humour. Wise loved Nash’s natty attire and even remarks that still possesses the costume that got shredded along with the Nash mannequin in a climactic explosion. Miguel Ferrer rues the fact that Kurtwood Smith has killed him twice now in movies and vows revenge.
In Special Effects: Then and Now the great Paul Sammon (author of the definitive exploration of what went into making Blade Runner) helps along this 18-minute look at how the visual effects were achieved. Stop-motion animation, matte-paintings, set and robot design are looked at in detail with some degree of regret as to how visual effects have been altered and modified over the last couple of decades with CG. There is great stuff here regarding the construction and animation of the ED-209. What I still don’t understand is why the hell they allowed Dick Jones to have those risible Mr. Tickle arms as his puppet takes his death plunge when they clearly had so much time and concentration to work on the effect.
In Robocop: Creating a Legend the main impetus is driven by the metal lawman himself, and how he came to be. We have heard some of this material elsewhere, but it is worth exploring a little deeper how Peter Weller embodied the character and both he, the suit and the FX technicians all combined to bring him to life. There is a great section on his gun, a special Beretta made to fire in three-shot bursts. All the usual suspects are here – Verhoeven, the writers, Weller, Smith, Ferrer and Wise.
When you see the title Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg you might suspect that MGM have dropped a clanger and forgotten to hide the snippet away, but this actually refers to the Dutch director’s crazy cameo as a wild disco dancer as the camera accidentally captures his madcap antics in the final film.
The disc is rounded-out with a Theatrical Trailer and a TV Spot.
You Have the Right to a Verdict
Robocop is a titanium bullet through the cranium of a genre that we all thought had been done to death. Its powerful themes of rebirth and resurrection, its satirical observations of cutthroat corporate corruption, urban terrorism and consumer gullibility have not aged one iota. For a film dealing with a big metal man delivering harsh justice to an overwhelmingly crime-ravaged metropolis, it is surprisingly emotional and moving. The suit still stands up, too, even if many of the visual effects now have the charming patina of vintage.
As a treatise on the superhero ethic, it could certainly teach many of the costumed capers we are regularly spoon-fed these days a lesson or two. As an arch and delightfully ironic right-wing smack in the teeth, it is second to none. And as a taut, streamlined SF thriller, it is one of the very best. Bold ideas and inspired visuals collide head-on with wince-inducing violence and eye-popping splatter to make a movie that is giddily gory and comic-book yet profoundly rich in texture and speculation.
This is a classic film that finally looks the part and comes with a superb all-round package
We have awaited a Blu-ray release that does Paul Verhoeven’s triumphant statement justice and it has finally arrived with this feature-packed remastered transfer. The problems of the previous BD have been eradicated and the image is now richly textured, finely detailed and boasting of a healthier contrast. The extras are plentiful and, for the most part, highly informative and entertaining.
This is a classic film that finally looks the part and comes with a superb all-round package. Definitely worth the upgrade. You have twenty seconds to comply.
Thank You for Your Co-operation.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.