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MGM

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Paul Verhoeven
Cast:
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

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

Synopsis:
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:
Budget
$13 million.
Opening Weekend
$8.008 million on 1580 screens.
Domestic Gross
$53.424 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
Spanish Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $39.96
Release Date: 6/8/2004

Available only as part of “Robocop Trilogy”.

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Paul Verhoeven, Producer Jon Davison, and Writer Ed Neumeier
• “Flesh and Steel” Featurette
• “Shooting Robocop” Featurette
• “Making Robocop” Featurette
• Storyboard with Commentary by Animator Phil Tippett
• Deleted Scenes
• Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
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.

RELATED REVIEWS


Robocop: The Robocop Trilogy (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 C+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

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. A somewhat erratic picture, the movie generally looked fine, but some distractions popped up along the way.

Sharpness varied. Most of the film seemed acceptably concise and well-defined, but exceptions occurred. Some shots looked a soft and without great definition. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering showed up, but I noticed moderate edge enhancement through much of the film. The movie also came across as grainier than usual, and I noticed occasional examples of grit, marks, specks and blotches. The print flaws weren’t enormous, but they popped up more often than I’d like.

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 “C+”, 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 new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. 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 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 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.

How did the picture and audio of this new MGM Robocop compare with the old Criterion DVD? The audio was a wash, as both soundtracks sounded pretty similar; I had no preference for one over the other. However, the Criterion DVD offered the superior picture. Both showed similar levels of print flaws, and the Criterion one demonstrated much more prevalent jaggies and shimmering.

However, it offered bolder colors, a generally sharper image, darker blacks and better balanced shadows. For example, check out the scene in the executive washroom when one guy wets his pants. This seemed easily visible - as it should be - in the Criterion image, but we can’t make out the stain in the MGM one. The differences between the two transfers didn’t seem enormous, and the anamorphic nature of the MGM version definitely added some positives. Nonetheless, I thought the old Criterion transfer appeared strongest.

This DVD’s supplements 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 newly-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 Michaal Miner, production designer William Sandell, visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett, ED-209 creator Craig Hayes, composer Basil Poledouris, 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 program, “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 two trailesr, a TV spot, and a collection of ads entitled Other Great MGM Releases. This gives us a promo for Escape from New York plus a general ad called “MGM Means Great Movies”.

The “Robocop Trilogy” package also presents an eight-page booklet with information about all three movies, though. It offers some production notes plus trivia and cast listings for the three flicks.

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 decent picture with fairly good audio and a pretty positive roster of extras. Robocop fans will find a lot to like from this release.

Should owners of the out-of-print Criterion DVD pick up the new one? Yes, if they want to check out the new extras, or if they own anamorphic TVs. I thought the Criterion release’s audio quality seemed virtually the same as this one’s, but I preferred the older DVD’s picture. However, those with widescreen TVs will likely feel differently; my WEGA takes advantage of anamorphic transfers but it doesn’t make non-anamorphic images look as bad as they would on 16X9 sets.

Otherwise, Criterion owners will probably remain happy with it. I like the extras on the MGM Robocop, though the Criterion’s audio commentary remains the best of the bunch. If you don’t care to upgrade for the MGM DVD’s supplements, the Criterion one should satisfy you, as 4X3 TV owners will get the superior visual transfer.

To rate this film visit the original review of ROBOCOP