Robocop appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The third Robocop DVD I’ve owned, this one probably looked the best, but not by much.
Sharpness varied. Most of the film seemed acceptably concise and well-defined, but exceptions occurred. Some shots looked a soft and without great definition. Except for the “Robo-vision” shots with their intentional scan lines, no issues with jagged edges or shimmering showed up, and edge enhancement seemed absent. The movie came across as grainier than usual, but otherwise the film looked clean.
Not exactly a flick with a bright palette, the colors of Robocop seemed acceptable and that was about it. The tones seemed somewhat flat but they were reasonably accurate much of the time. Blacks seemed somewhat inky, and low-light shots came across as a bit dense on occasion. Robocop still looked good enough for a “B”, but the image never excelled.
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 audio no longer seems very exceptional, even with the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 remixes. No substantial differences marked the pair. The DTS track was louder but once I adjusted for volume, I thought the pair seemed identical.
The soundfields appeared somewhat erratic. At times they presented a surprisingly vivid and lively sense of place, whereas other sequences felt much more limited and restricted. In general, though, the mixes 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 they even offered occasional examples of split-surround material; for instance, we get nicely placed voices at the police station, and cars move from one spot to another well.
As with the soundfields, 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 those elements still were fairly good for their age.
How did the picture and audio of this “20th Anniversary” edition of Robocop compare with the 2004 Trilogy version and the old Criterion DVD? The audio was a wash, as all three DVDs sounded pretty similar; I had no preference for one over the another. However, the visuals changed from disc to disc.
Without question, the 2004 version looked the worst. It was similar to this 20th Anniversary set except it suffered from more source flaws and was a little darker. Otherwise I thought these two were a lot alike.
As for comparisons between the 20th Anniversary release and the Criterion DVD, the latter displayed moderate source flaws, and without anamorphic enhancement, it showed more prevalent jaggies and shimmering. However, it offered bolder colors, a slightly sharper image, darker blacks and better balanced shadows. For the most part, this 20th Anniversary disc is the most satisfying Robocop, but it’s still not as good as it could/should be.
The 20th Anniversary package includes almost all of the same extras found on the 2004 DVD. Oddly, we lose one trailer, but otherwise everything else reappears. We also discover new supplements. Everything on DVD One shows up on the 2004 disc, but all the DVD Two elements are exclusive to this set.
On DVD One, we start with an audio commentary from director Paul Verhoeven, producer Jon Davison, and writer Ed Neumeier. All of them sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. Though not as strong as the commentary on the old Criterion DVD, the trio nonetheless offer a pretty solid chat.
Caveat: I listened to the Criterion commentary right before I screened this one. As such, I found it tough not to compare the two, especially since they covered so many of the same topics. When I looked at redundant material, I heard about the travails finding both a director and a lead actor, various metaphors, themes and allusions, locations, the origins of the story and Vietnam references, information about the effects and the Robosuit, the original ending, and plenty of other issues.
Some new issues do pop up in the MGM commentary. These include an alternate, unshot opening, other casting possibilities, scheduling problems, MPAA concerns, and a few anecdotes. The trio talk most of the time and may this discussion brisk - maybe a little too brisk at times, since Neumeier comes across as pretty hyper; he began to get on my nerves after a while. Nonetheless, the program seems informative and engaging. I prefer the old Criterion piece, but this commentary works well too.
Next we find three featurettes. We get “Flesh and Steel” (36 minutes, 53 seconds), “Shooting Robocop” (7:59), and “Making Robocop” (8:01). We can watch them on their own or together via the “Play All” option. For the recently-made “Flesh”, we get movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. The latter include comments from Verhoeven, Neumeier, Davison, Robocop expert Paul Sammon, director of photography Jost Vacano, screenwriter Michael Miner, production designer William Sandell, visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett, ED-209 creator Craig Hayes, and composer Basil Poledouris.
“Flesh” looks at movie robots through the ages and influences on Robocop, origins of the film and its path to the screen, Verhoeven’s approach to the subject, casting, the development of the Robocop suit and its look, locations, problems with the suit, tensions on the set and problems during the shoot, the design of ED-209, various visual effects, the film’s satirical bent and its characters, story themes and allusions, the score, the film’s use of violence, and the ways society has come to echo the movie’s predictions.
“Shooting” offers a period program, and it starts with in-character bits from Miguel Ferrer and Peter Weller. We then get the regular mix of components and hear from Verhoeven, Weller, Ferrer, Davison, Neumeier, Tippett, actor Kurtwood Smith, special effects coordinator Dale Martin, They get into basic topics but mostly just explain the movie and some general elements like shooting the bloodier scenes and the effects.
Another period piece, “Making” works the same as the prior two. We find notes from Verhoeven, Weller, Davison, Neumeier, Martin, stunt coordinator Gary Combs, and actor Nancy Allen. They chat about the story, working with each other, visual elements and the film’s approach to the material. Oddly, Weller gets Murphy’s first name wrong, as he calls him “John”. Perhaps they changed his name as the shoot progressed.
Without question, “Flesh” presents the strongest of the three programs. Unfortunately, a lot of the material seems redundant after the audio commentary. You’ll hear a lot of the same subjects covered in “Flesh”, though the show broadens some of the pieces. The absence of any actors seems like a weakness, though. In any case, “Flesh” offers a pretty solid general examination of the flick.
As for the other two, they work mostly due to the footage from the set. Neither includes much in the way of new information, as they mainly go over elements already covered in the commentary or “Flesh”. However, the behind the scenes bits add usefulness to the programs and make them worth a look.
After this we locate a Storyboard section that comes with commentary from animator Phil Tippett. It runs for six minutes and one second as we look at comparisons between the drawings and the execution of the ED-209 sequences. Don’t expect to get a very good look at the drawings, though; they occupy a small corner at the bottom of the screen. Tippett’s commentary proves quite useful, though, as he goes through how they approached ED-209 and made the creature work.
Four deleted scenes appear after this. We find “OCP Press Conference” (77 seconds), “Nun In the Street Interview” (16 seconds), “Topless Pizza” (29 seconds), and “Final Media Break” (51 seconds). As one can probably glean from the shortness of the clips, nothing revelatory shows up here, but it’s interesting to see some cut footage. The “Final Media Break” is the most interesting, as it shows the shots of Lewis in the hospital we hear about in the commentary. “Topless Pizza” also offers a fun promo for the lame It’s Not My Problem sitcom.
Within the Photo Gallery, we get six subdomains. These include “Design” (13 stills), “Special Effects” (16), “Director Paul Verhoeven” (23), “Behind the Scenes” (20), “Cast” (11), and “ED 209” (18). It’s a nice collection of pictures.
We also get a trailer, a TV spot, and promos for a couple of other MGM DVDs. We locate ads for The Great Escape and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
As we shift to DVD Two, we find three new featurettes. Villains of Old Detroit goes for 16 minutes, 59 seconds and presents remarks from Smith, Ferrer, Verhoeven, Neumeier, Miner, and actors Ronny Cox and Ray Wise. They discuss the movie’s weapons and scenes of destruction, working with Verhoeven, relationships on the set, characters and performances, the film’s impact on their careers, and general memories of the shoot.
At no point does “Villains” become a tight piece of work, but you won’t care. The featurette offers so many fun stories and valuable insights that it easily overcomes any potential negatives. The “bitches” story is worth the price of admission alone.
Special Effects: Then and Now lasts 18 minutes, 21 seconds and features Sammon, Sandell, Hayes, Verhoeven, Tippett, and matte painter Rocco Gioffre. We learn about the film’s matte paintings, stop-motion animation, ED-209 design and execution, a few other effects elements and how the industry has changed over the last 20 years. We hear a little of this info elsewhere, but “Effects” digs into the topics with much greater depth. We get a particularly great view of ED-209. “Effects” isn’t as much fun as “Villains”, but it’s informative.
Finally, Robocop: Creating a Legend runs 21 minutes, nine seconds and includes comments from Davison, Weller, Neumeier, Verhoeven, Miner, Smith, Sammon, Ferrer, and Wise. “Legend” looks at Weller’s lead performance, the design and creation of the Robocop suit, and makeup, prosthetics, and weapons.
“Legend” is another terrific program, partially because we finally find a piece with modern cooperation from Weller. It’s good to hear him discuss the flick after so many years, and he helps us understand various performance decisions. Even without him, though, we’d still learn a lot about the flick’s lead character and all the various challenges involved. It’s an entertaining program that offers lots of information as well.
The “Robocop Trilogy” package also presents an four-page booklet with information about the movie. It’s not particularly deep, but it includes some quirky and fun notes such as unusual publicity stunts.
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 pretty good picture and audio along with a very positive roster of extras. Robocop fans will find a lot to like from this release.
As the fourth DVD release of Robocop - and the third one I’ve reviewed – the important question becomes how it compares to the others. This 20th Anniversary package is a definite step up from the 2004 DVD. It improves on that one’s picture quality and adds new extras as well. There’s no reason not to give the 2004 edition the boot if you get this one.
I think the 20th Anniversary release also betters the Criterion disc, though fans will still want to keep it, and not just because it’s fairly valuable. Even though the Criterion is non-anamorphic, its visuals compare favorably to this one’s picture. It also includes some extras we don’t find elsewhere. Overall, however, this 20th Anniversary package is the best Robocop to date. It’s not the absolute slam-dunk I’d like, but it’s a good set.
To rate this film, visit the original review of ROBOCOP