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Paul Verhoeven
Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O'Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Robert DoQui, Ray Wise, Felton Perry
Writing Credits:
Michael Miner, Edward Neumeier

Part man. Part machine. All cop. The future of law enforcement.

He's Robocop, the cyborg star of one of the most thrilling, action-packed film series of all time! Critics loved him. Criminals hated him. And audiences cheered him on in his relentless quest to serve, uphold and protect!

Set in the not-too-distant future, Robocop is the science-fiction phenomenon that has it all: "amazing stunts" (Variety), "compelling special effects" (The Village Voice), "solidly executed action sequences" (Entertainment Today). This is the unrated, extended version of the first film with exclusive bonus features that take you behind the scenes.

Box Office:
$13 million.
Opening Weekend
$8.008 million on 1580 screens.
Domestic Gross
$53.424 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.66:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 10/6/1998

• Audio Commentary with Director Paul Verhoeven, Producer Jon Davison, and Writer Ed Neumeier
• “Shooting Robocop” Multimedia Presentation
• Storyboards
• Trailers
• Booklet


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Robocop: Criterion Collection (1987)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 8, 2004)

Proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, 1987’s Robocop overcame its terrible and cheesy title to become something of a classic. Set in the then-future of 1997, Robocop takes us to “Old Detroit”, an insanely dilapidated and crime-ridden area. We learn that the police force has gone corporate, as the private interests of OCP (Omni Consumer Products) run crime enforcement.

As a method to help secure the territory they plan to use for a project called Delta City - which will go over Old Detroit - the powers at OCP attempt to find a mechanical cop. Senior President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) pushes ED-209, an “enforcement droid”, but his initial attempt to win over his superior fails miserably. Executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) intercepts his boss “The Old Man” (Dan O’Herlihy) and presents his plan for “Robocop”, a crime-fighting cyborg.

In the meantime, we meet Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), a cop who just transferred to Metro West, apparently the roughest area of the city. He gets partnered with Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) and the pair hit the streets. They run into a gang run by scummy Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and this encounter ends poorly. Boddicker and his men capture Murphy and then torture and shoot him.

After Murphy dies, OCP forces get a hold of him. They use him for their experiment and turn him into Robocop. He becomes a one-man police force and functions effectively. However, the Murphy in him starts to slowly emerge, a factor accentuated when Lewis sees her old partner’s personality and tries to get the machine in touch with the man.

The rest of the movie follows those movements toward humanity as well as visions of the corruption at OCP. We see the tensions between Morton and Jones, who still wants to push ED-209 and his career. Boddicker’s gang gets involved, and all points start to head toward each other at the movie’s climax.

17 years after its initial release, it’s hard to remember what an impact Robocop had. Many movies since then incorporated its cutting style, cynical humor and comic darkness and integration of different story-telling devices. These don’t seem quite as fresh now, but they still work really well for the movie.

Really, Robocop should have been nothing more than cheesy drive-in fodder. Clearly the title led us to see it as a tacky exploitation flick, but ala The Terminator a few years earlier, the movie overcame those obstacles. Not only did it offer a fun a lively experience, but also it proved to be influential and groundbreaking.

Director Paul Verhoeven never managed to live up to this level again, unfortunately. Robocop marked the Dutch director’s first American effort, and while future sci-fi action flicks Total Recall and Starship Troopers had their moments, they never remotely compared to the strengths of Robocop. (2000’s Hollow Man proved much less successful artistically, and the less said about Verhoeven’s non-sci-fi efforts like Basic Instinct and Showgirls the better.)

While Robocop may have signaled heights Verhoeven would never again reach, that doesn’t diminish the film’s effectiveness. A lot of the reason for the flick’s success deals with its sense of drama and heart. Despite the over-the-top bloodshed and violence and the black humor that infuses it, Robocop never loses sight of the tragedy inherent in it. The scene in which Boddicker’s gang tortures Murphy ranks as one of the most troubling caught on film, and the sense of loss and sadness connected to the tragic figure adds weight and depth to the story.

Not that one should interpret Robocop as one long downer. It has a lot of fun with its subject and rarely passes up on an opportunity for cynical laughs. Moments like the one in which Robo rescues a woman from potential rapists concludes with her weepy thanks and his amusingly cold reaction. The movie pulls off these moments well, and they help make it darkly hilarious.

Excellent performances all around help bolster Robocop as well. Stuck in the Frankenstein’s monster role, Weller proves wonderfully human and robotic at the same time. He presents the mechanical movements effortlessly, but he always reminds us of the machine’s past and his Murphy side. Among the villains, Smith deserves particular mention for his marvelously scummy turn as Clarence. Have we ever seen another baddie so gleefully horrible?

A flick that can be enjoyed on many levels, Robocop proved influential and remains a strong piece of work. Some elements seem dated - its Eighties roots often show - but the dark and subversive movie still works most of the time. It’s an action film with brains and a heart.

Note that this DVD presents an unrated cut of Robocop. This simply adds a few seconds of violence to the scene in which ED-209 malfunctions as well as the sequence in which the gang kills Murphy. Nothing substantial changes in these pieces, but the more graphic images alter their impact somewhat.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Robocop appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That latter factor caused many of the picture’s problems, but the movie usually looked pretty good.

Sharpness consistently appeared better than average. A few wider shots came across as slightly ill-defined, but those occurred infrequently. Instead, the movie mainly seemed concise and distinctive. While only a little edge enhancement popped up, the lack of anamorphic enhancement led to some fairly heavy instances of jagged edges and shimmering at times. Print flaws cropped up sporadically. I saw occasional instances of specks, marks, blotches and grit. These didn’t become overwhelming, but they seemed more prevalent than I’d like.

While Robocop didn’t present a lively palette, the colors looked well rendered throughout the movie. The tones consistently came across as nicely vivid and vibrant, and they showed no flaws like runniness or smearing. The hues were deep and rich. Black levels also appeared firm and dark, and shadows were appropriately rendered without any excessive opacity. With anamorphic enhancement and a clean-up, this could have been a very good transfer, but as it stood, it fell to “B-“ territory.

Back in the early Nineties, the audio of Robocop often earned plaudits as one of the top tracks available on laserdisc. That was a long time ago, and the Dolby Surround 2.0 audio no longer seems very exceptional. The soundfield appeared somewhat erratic. At times it presented a surprisingly vivid and lively sense of place, whereas other sequences felt much more limited and restricted. In general, though, the mix opened up the spectrum fairly well and gave us a reasonable amount of localized information. The rear speakers played a pretty active role during the action scenes, and consistently bolstered the forward spectrum.

As with the soundfield, the quality of the audio appeared inconsistent. Speech came across as somewhat tinny at times, but the lines lacked edginess and remained easily intelligible. Music was a little subdued and occasionally got lost in the mix, but the score demonstrated adequate breadth and range. Effects varied. Sometimes they were very robust and dynamic, as some scenes offered lively elements with good pop. Other times the effects felt limp and flat, and a few action sequences lost punch due to weak execution. Bass response mostly fared well, as elements like ED-209 and explosions mainly presented nice oomph and power. Overall, the audio of Robocop was too erratic to earn more than a “B”, but it was still a fairly good piece for its age.

When we check out the DVD’s extras, we start with an audio commentary from director Paul Verhoeven, producer Jon Davison, and writer Ed Neumeier. All of them sit separately for this edited compilation. The track provides a briskly paced and very informative affair.

We get many good notes about the movie. We hear about the travails finding both a director and a lead actor, various metaphors, themes and allusions, shooting in Dallas and the reasons for that choice, the origins of the story and Vietnam references, information about the effects and the Robosuit, the original ending, and plenty of other issues. The participants share space fairly equally and all add a great deal to the discussion. It’s a terrific and involving commentary.

Footnote: although the DVD’s case claims that the commentary also involves Robocop expert Paul M. Sammon, that’s a mistake.

Next we find a “multimedia presentation” called Shooting Robocop. Adapted from Paul M. Sammon’s essay in Cinefex magazine, it combines text with movie snippets and photos to illustrate points. The detailed production covers virtually all of the film’s visual elements; from the opening credit to the media breaks to locations to matte paintings to many other topics, we learn a lot about those areas. It’s a fine piece.

In the Storyboards area, we find three subsections. “Film-to-Storyboard Comparison” gives us a look at the sequence in which we first meet ED-209 and lasts 83 seconds. More interesting are two unshot scenes. We see “Chase” and “Cemetery”. The former presents an action sequence that proved too expensive to shoot, and while the latter offers a dramatic piece in which Robocop visits Murphy’s grave.

Finally, the DVD ends with both a teaser and a theatrical trailer. The package’s booklet seems weak by Criterion standards. It includes a very short and perfunctory essay from Carrie Rickey and that’s it.

Audiences found a very pleasant surprise with Robocop in 1987, and the movie remains a winner. It combines cynical comedy with violent action and emotional depth to present a solid piece of work. The DVD presents erratic but generally fine picture with fairly good audio and a small package of extras highlighted by an excellent audio commentary. This DVD isn’t definitive, but it’s a nice package nonetheless.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.475 Stars Number of Votes: 40
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