Robocop

“Robocop” was Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s first American film. What a debut. Filled with ultra- violent images and a comic book sensibility, “Robocop” immediately caught America’s fancy. Released in 1987, “Robocop” is set in the not-so-distant future of the late 1990’s.


robocopThe city is New Detroit, and crime is on the increase. The police are now run by a company called OCP (OmniConsumer products), whose executive board makes decisions for the populace. OCP is looking to replace human cops with machines, and have developed a law enforcement robot called ED 209.

When ED 209 malfunctions during its test run (and kills an executive, like that’s a bad thing), corporate scum Morton (Miguel Ferrer) decides to proceed with his program to turn a human into a robot police office. Enter Murphy (Peter Weller), a new cop on the force who is just getting comfortable with his female partner Lewis (Nancy Allen) when he’s ambushed during a drug raid. Murphy is graphically gunned down by the bad guys, giving Morton the perfect candidate to complete his project.

Ladies and gentlemen, Murphy has left the building. Enter Robocop, a steel plated law enforcement machine who won’t take a bribe and won’t back down until the criminal is apprehended. “Robocop” is indeed the perfect law enforcement officer, until Murphy’s memory begins to resurface. Then the mechanized Murphy begins a campaign to bring down the bad guys that killed him. Verhoeven constantly goes over the top in terms of violence, and it’s this penchant for bloodletting that got him in to trouble with the Motion Picture Association of America, the group that rates the movies.

They threatened to slap “Robocop” with an “X” rating. Verhoeven chopped and trimmed various scenes until the MPAA was happy. Even with those trims, “Robocop” is filled with lots of crimson carnage. The DVD restores all of the trimmed footage, and now “Robocop” is complete. It’s funny, because the additional footage actually makes the violence more cartoon-like. It’s so excessive it’s funny.

“Robocop” is rife with great performances, high-octane action and edgy direction. There’s also a fair amount of humor delivered in the film’s “media breaks,” television news spots that poke fun at just about everything. The sequels failed to capture the spirit of the original.

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VISION: [ X ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

“Robocop” was a tricky film to shoot, and must have been equally tricky to transfer to DVD. The movie features a combination of film and video images, and video images are always a nightmare. The digital transfer is outstanding. Delivered in the film’s original 1.66:1 aspect ration, the color saturation is vivid, the flesh tones authentic, and the blacks and shadows solid as a rock. There was some Venetian blind strobing in two scenes, but they come and go so fast you have to really pay attention. The various lighting techniques create different textures on the film, and they are all sharply rendered on the RSDL disc.

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Prepare to duck when the character’s start shooting. The Dolby Digital Surround sound is excellent. Crisp, clear dialogue, sharp high ends and impressive basses. The soundtrack never overwhelms the rear speakers, while the musical score sounds pure.

ORAL: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ X ] D.O.A.

No closed-captions or subtitles.

COORDINATION: [ ] EXCELLENT [ x ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

As usual, this Criterion Collection edition of “Robocop” is armed with plenty of extras:

» The DVD contains the director’s cut of “Robocop,” which was trimmed for its theatrical release to receive an “R” rating. It’s tough to tell if the trimmed footage would have garnered an “NC-17” rating in this day and age. While it’s definitely excessive and crimson, it’s done in such comic book fashion that it’s not realistic.

» The alternate audio commentary track features director Verhoeven, co-writer Edward Neumeier, executive producer Jon Davison, hosted by “Robocop” expert (does this guy live in his mother’s basement?) Paul M. Sammon. Criterion scores high points for allowing Sammon to introduce everyone each time they speak. While there’s no problem distinguishing Verhoeven’s Dutch accent, sometimes the other players seem to bleed together. The introductions keep their identities separate. Each of the players were recorded separately, and their comments added where appropriate. While this doesn’t lend itself to a sense of comradery, all of the comments are clear and concise. Verhoeven seems more overwhelmed with theory rather than recollection, establishing deep meaning in every shot. Neumeier is the most fascinating to listen to. His conversation deals with the trials and tribulations of making the film, and those little juicy tidbits are what I want to hear. Davison laments about the lack of money and understanding from the studio.

» Once again, Criterion scores major points for their storyboard presentation. Like “Silence of the Lambs,” the DVD of “Robocop” features a film-to-storyboard comparison. The storyboard unfolds at the top of the frame, while the actual scene plays out on the bottom. I like this feature. It shows how much time and effort goes into mapping out scenes in a movie. There’s also static storyboards that detail the intricate and futuristic designs of the film.

» “Robocop” features an in-depth illustrated essay on the making of the film. While this information is interesting and detailed, it’s also incredibly long. Put on the reading glasses and sit a spell. Even though this presentation features clips and photos, all of this info should have been included as a filmed documentary. I don’t mind reading the info, and the DVD programmers do their best to keep it entertaining my using different wipes. Still, this is one film that just screams out for a behind-the-scenes documentary.

» The DVD also features the original theatrical and teaser trailers.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] EXCELLENT [ x ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

Well-oiled DVD isn’t as lethal as it could be (captions, subtitles and a filmed documentary would have made it a real killer), but it does pack quite a punch.

VITALS: $39.98/Unrated/103 Min./Color/27 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#23

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: ROBOCOP

BIRTH DATE: 1987

HMO: Criterion Collection



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