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