Robocop (1987)
By: Stuart Giesel on April 21, 2014 | Comments
20th Century Fox | Region A | 1.85:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 103 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Dan O'Herlihy
Screenplay: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Country: USA
In "honor" of the unnecessary and no doubt inferior remake that's just shown its pointless shiny metal head in cinemas, what better time to revisit one of the greatest films of the 80's, Robocop, the film that is as much a staple of 80's action cinema as is Die Hard and Predator. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven made his Hollywood mark with the grisly Flesh + Blood, which might have alluded to studio execs how much violence and gore Robocop might possess, but what that particularly humourless film wouldn't have telegraphed was how satirical and utterly enjoyable Robocop would turn out being. Though some of the visual effects are clunky, Robocop remains to this day an outstanding achievement that Verhoeven isn't likely to top, and one that Hollywood - despite obvious attempts to cash in on the franchise - probably won't better either.

In the near future, the city of Detroit is a crime-ridden hellhole, with the responsibility of law enforcement outsourced to mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) run by a CEO known only as "The Old Man" (Dan O'Herlihy). OCP has great plans for the creation of a new Detroit in the form of the utopian Delta City. However before work on Delta City can commence, the issue of crime in Old Detroit has to be addressed, and one particular ruthless crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) in particular. The CEO looks to his number two Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), who promises that his mech law enforcement series ED-209 is ready to clean up the Detroit streets. After a shocking boardroom malfunction, however, the ED series is put on the backburner in favour of hotshot executive Bob Morton's (Miguel Ferrer) 'Robocop' program. The Robocop program aims to put a recently deceased police officer into a cyborg endoskeleton, and conveniently for Morton, a police officer named Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) has recently bit the dust thanks to Boddicker and his gang. Murphy becomes the Robocop prototype, much to the shock of his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). Robocop proves more than capable of cleaning up crime, but, unfortunately for Morton (and Boddicker) he's also compelled to seek revenge for his death and rediscover his familial roots.

You might have been forgiven for rolling your eyes at seeing the Robocop poster when it was released, thinking something like "A robot that's also a cop? Jesus Christ, Hollywood is really desperate for ideas". Indeed, other than the Australian R18+ classification rating, the poster didn't really hint at the actual content of Robocop, other than suggest that our titular character's suit looked awesome. But when the film begins with a series of fake newsreels and that unforgettable first act of violence in the OCP boardroom, you can bet that almost everyone immediately shed those thoughts of "cheesy robot-cop action" and were simply stunned by the level of bloodletting on display. Verhoeven likes to liberally splash his movies red with gore, and Robocop is easily his most violent Hollywood film, particularly in the unrated cut, which thankfully is the version provided on this particular Blu-Ray release. Yes indeedy, all the spilled claret, dismemberments and other gory carnage is presented here intact, after being rudely excised by the MPAA to get a US R rating. The additional material may not add up to much more as a whole - the boardroom shooting and a death near the film's end have been extended, as well as Murphy's shockingly brutal murder - complete with a shot using a lovely Rob Bottin dummy that was excised from the theatrical release much to Bottin's chagrin - but it simply takes Robocop into the next level of absurdity, which is presumably what Verhoeven intended. Before, with the cuts intact, Robocop was a brutally violent and, at times, particularly nasty actioner. Now, with the reinstated violence, it is still extremely violent but cartoonishly so, nicely matching the black humour, the none-too-subtle digs at authority and corporations, and that macho-bullshit action film mentality. It's gone into the realms of absurdity. Case in point is the film's famous "car splatter death" which passed uncut in the theatrical version after the filmmakers fought the MPAA to keep it in because it was the audience's favourite scene. It's so over-the-top that surely no one could be really offended if they stopped to think about it for a moment - we're talking about farcical levels of violence here, people. Yet the cut version was the one we got to see in cinemas, unless you happened to see the notorious Australian M-rated version which I can only imagine was so neutered as to make it a completely different film.

I remember first seeing Robocop when I was fairly young, and seeing that boardroom scene for the first time was like a jolt to the brain. I had never seen violence that explosive or gratuitous before, and I loved it. That one scene, let alone the rest of the film, endeared itself to me in the way a puppy might endear itself to you by nibbling on your ear. You might say it sent me on a personal journey to discover more cinematic carnage from that point on, gleefully cataloguing in my diseased mind a cavalcade of filmic atrocities from which there was no return. But Robocop is far more than just a gleefully violent action film. It's satire masquerading as a gung-ho shooter. Verhoeven's devilish sense of humour, and a delicious, knowing script from writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, elevate Robocop far above the generic buddy-cop and numerous other braindead action films of the era, and certainly far far above the myriad clones and spin-offs that would follow in Robocop's metallic footsteps. The fake newsreel footage, cheesy advertisements for replacement hearts and dodgy luxury cars, that terrible sitcom and all the other bits and pieces that intrude on the main plot have served the film well. Whilst some of its effects haven't weathered the test of time, the film's tone has not aged one whit. Director Verhoeven also seems obsessed with drawing parallels between Robocop and Jesus with a bunch of religious symbolism for those who are a little eagle-eyed. What does this all mean? Well, you can take Robocop as a straight-up violent action film, and on these merits alone the film more than services. But dig beneath the surface and you'll appreciate the little knowing winks, the black humour and the satirical edge.

The actors are uniformly great, though special credit has to go to two men: Peter Weller and Kurtwood Smith. Weller has the thankless task of acting underneath Rob Bottin's iconic cyborg suit. Apparently it was a nightmare of a costume, heavy, oppressive and constrictive, apparently requiring around eleven hours of preparation. Despite the fact that Weller spends most of the film with his face obscured and his body buried under that suit, he lends the role an amazing amount of humanity, despite the fact that he's essentially forced to carry out the typical 'robotic' movements and mannerisms. Smith's despicable villain Clarence Boddicker is a true screen horror - a brutal crime boss bereft of all compassion, a truly nasty person worthy of being Robocop's foil, and the actor makes the most of this scene-chewing character. Not to say there's no one else worthy of mention: Ronny Cox is a terrifically sleazy bureaucrat, Allen gives her character commendable warmth despite a tough exterior, and it's a testament to Verhoeven and his crew's talent that every role down to the smallest appearance (like the "fuck me!" store robber and the "I'd buy that for a dollar!" guy) offers something memorable.

And it's fortunate that Verhoeven had such a skilled crew to back him up. Effects legend Rob Bottin and his crew gleefully spill much blood and gore, the editing is razor sharp for maximum impact (there's not a dull or wasted moment in Robocop's 103 minute running time) and Basil Poledouris's score is one of his best, with his Robocop March being the obvious highlight. The look and design of the film is still striking to this day: the scum and grime of old Detroit contrasts with the sleek, futuristic Robocop suit and the equally-iconic ED-209 design. Phil Tippett's stop-motion effects might come across to some as a little clunky in these days of seamless CGI, but Tippett's superb work lends ED-209 with a legitimate presence, character and weight compared with modern CGI that can tend to come across as floaty and lifeless.

So what more is there to say? Those who have already seen Robocop know what they're getting, and those who haven't seen it should simply take the time to do so, looking past the silly title and eye-rolling pitch to savour a delicious blend of hardcore action, black humour and satire. The sequel was decent (we don't speak of Robocop 3 in these parts), but felt like a rehash and lacked the spark that the original possessed, possibly because the idea was diluted by then, or maybe simply because Robocop was a case of the proverbial lightning in a bottle.

So, everyone, together now -- let's do the Robocop march: duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUUUH, duh-DUH-duh-DUUUH, duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH-DUUUUUUH....
The Disc
Finally, a decent Blu-Ray release for Robocop fans! This is the disc we've been waiting for, the one to finally replace that old Criterion DVD. Picture quality is striking and impressive, detail and grain have been retained - there's no excessive DNR here, folks. Colours are strong without being overly so, flesh tones look realistic, basically there's nothing here to complain about. The reinstated footage comprising the more violent bits that were excised for the theatrical release look a tad grainier and less well-defined than the rest of the film, but it's a small price to pay for a complete and uncut version of Robocop. Sound is bombastic when it needs to be, the channels nicely filled with the Oscar-winning sound design of Robocop's metallic footsteps, clicks and whirs and other slightly futuristic bits and pieces. Basil Poledouris's pumping, propelling score also comes through nicely when Verhoeven needs to underscore a particular scene. The 5.1 mix isn't the sort of monumental showcase that you'd use to sell a sound system, but for Robocop fans this is the best the film has ever sounded at home.

The Blu-Ray is packed with features, most of them worthwhile viewing - the majority of features have made appearances in previous DVD and Blu-Ray releases, but it's nice to have them all in one place. The audio commentary is one that's well worth a listen, featuring director Paul Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeier and executive producer Jon Davison talk about the difficult conditions of making Robocop, the issues with the MPAA, the technical problems including the notoriously difficult suit and more. This is a spirited and highly informative commentary.

Elsewhere, the Blu-Ray's other best feature is the 70+ minute Flesh and Steel: The Making of Robocop, which is a detailed and interesting look at the making of the film with some valuable behind the scenes footage and lots of insight. There are two older featurettes from 1987, Shooting Robocop and Making Robocop which are interesting if only from a historical perspective. Q&A with the Filmmakers was shot in 2012, a mostly interesting discussion with Verhoeven, writers Neumeier and Miner, actors Peter Weller and Nancy Allen, and stop-motion artist Phil Tippett, moderated by Robert Rosen.

Villains of Old Detroit features actors Kurtwood Smith and Ray Wise, who talk about their criminal roles in Robocop and their approach to the material. Special Effects: Then and Now is an interesting look at Robocop's VFX work. Robocop: Creating a Legend takes a look at the Robocop suit, with Peter Weller talking about the difficulty in filming in the suit. The Boardroom: Storyboard with Commentary by Animator Phil Tippett is for those who can't get enough of movie storyboards (all two of you!) with commentary provided by Tippett.

Rounding out the features are the prerequisite trailers and TV spots, almost 3 minutes of deleted scenes and a Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg in which we see the director's accidental cameo.

Finally, in case you've skipped everything written before, the front cover proclaims under the title that this is the "Unrated Director's Cut" just to avoid any confusion. So beyond all the features, this is the reason to get the Blu-Ray: a pristine, unrated cut of Robocop. Need there be any more reasons?
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Robocop is an explosive action film with a satirical edge and more smarts than it gets credit for, thanks to Dutch director Paul Verhoeven's sensibilities and a darkly humourous and knowing script. Even though Robocop is outrageously violent it doesn't feel exploitative, even when bad guys are being mowed down or splattered across the screen, and a superior cast and crew ensure that this is no mere by-the-numbers 80's actioner. Whether you watch it as a straightforward action/revenge film or as something more layered and cynical, Robocop delivers the goods regardless of whether you've seen it once or a dozen times. Finally fans have a high quality Blu-Ray that a film of this awesomeness deserves.
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