RoboCop

   Director Paul Verhoeven's 1987 masterpiece RoboCop has, despite it's controversial debut, inspired numerous sequels, two television series, an animated cartoon and dozens of action figures. The original film depicts a slightly futuristic Detroit rampant with violent crime and political corruption. When all around good guy cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is savagely executed during a showdown with a sadistic gang, his body gets used as part of an experimental law enforcement project. RoboCop follows his programmed prime directives to uphold the law while punishing criminals with force. Things get messy when memories of Murphy's old home life and family start seeping through the circuitry. As RoboCop struggles to reconcile the two parts of his genetic make-up, he goes after the gang and it's leader (a deliciously evil performance by Kurtwood Smith) who murdered his human persona. Verhoeven's bleak scenes of a run down, crime riddled city of the near future also includes intermittent TV commercials (or "media breaks") further illustrating the moral decay of Detroit's superficial culture. When originally released, RoboCop had a few scenes of heavy violence trimmed to ensure the film would not receive a dreaded "X" rating which would have severely limited it's theatrical box office potential. But doing this effectively castrated the film's power much to Verhoeven's disappointment.

  In 1998 RoboCop received a much deserved DVD release from high end home video company Criterion. This DVD had the complete 103 minute unrated version of the film with all the extreme violent shots included plus a revealing commentary track by Verhoeven, co-writer Edward Neumeier, executive producer Jon Davison and RoboCop expert Paul M. Sammon, storyboards for two un-shot sequences, a storyboards to film comparison plus best of all a fascinating text essay "Shooting RoboCop" illustrated with footage from the final film. This educational portion gives extremely detailed text descriptions of the various special effects shots in the movie including the excellant stop-motion animation scenes. Finally there's also a 1 minute 38 second theatrical trailer and a 1 minute 27 second teaser trailer.

  The Criterion DVD would be the last time the original RoboCop logo wpuld be used on a home video release.

  A June 2004 DVD release from MGM presented only the "R" rated version of RoboCop losing the most violent footage plus one original theatrical trailer. MGM also released a three DVD set of the RoboCop trilogy in June 2004 which had, frustratingly, already been made available to U.K. fans in the first quarter of 2002. The single disc and trilogy set utilize a new, simplified version of the classic RoboCop logo that rounds off the sharp edges of the original.

  The success of RoboCop led to a 1988 animated series of the same name from Marvel Entertainment that lasted for twelve episodes. This series features the established Alex Murphy and Ann Lewis characters. The intro to the show is an animated retelling of Murphy's assassination and re-construction as seen in the first live-action film. The animated RoboCop series has not been released on any home-video format.

  In 2007 MGM released a sharp looking 2 DVD steelbook "20th Anniversary Collector's Edition" loaded with new bonus features. These include "Flesh And Steel: The Making Of RoboCop" a great 37 minute documentary with many of the film's creators discussing the creation of the movie including director Verhoeven explaining how the film is a Christ allegory (birth-death-rebirth) simply transposed to the future Detroit setting. He also talks about the cuts that were made to the violent scenes in the movie. Two featurettes from 1987, "Shooting RoboCop" (not the same piece of that name from the Criterion DVD), an 8 minute behind-the-scenes special and "Making RoboCop" a different 8 minute segment that is notable for including vintage interview clips with stars Peter Weller and Nancy Allen. There's also storyboard comparisons, deleted scenes, a photo gallery plus the original theatrical trailer and a brief TV spot. The second disc has a terrific featurette "The Villains Of Old Detroit" presenting new interviews with the actors who portrayed the film's evil culprits : Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox, Miguel Ferrer and Ray Wise as well as Paul Verhoeven and the writers. There's also "Special Effects: Then And Now" an interesting 18 minute segment looking at the matte painting and stop motion animation effects used in RoboCop. Finally "RoboCop: Creating A Legend" is a 21 minute piece about the final film. It also includes new interview footage with Peter Weller. What the packaging of the 2007 "20th Anniversary Collector's Edition" does not mention is that the edited "R" rated version and the unrated cut are both included allowing for easy comparison between the two.

  This edition uses a new version of the RoboCop logo, this time retaining the sharp corners but also compacting the text to a wider and shorter size. 

   Slightly better was the official 1990 sequel that reunited Peter Weller and Nancy Allen fighting crime in an even more corrupt and crime riddled Old Detroit than before. They battle a different gang responsible for getting the inner city population hooked on a new synthetic drug called nuke. The film's R rating keeps it from being quite as violent as it's groundbreaking predecessor. It's good, but there's no escaping the feeling that we've seen this all before. Robo's conflicted sense of lost humanity, the corporate greed amongst crippling poverty, even the TV commercial "media breaks" reappear although they miss the sharp wit displayed in the original. One minor difference, for some reason RoboCop's armor is now a friendly light sky-blue colour instead of the more metallic looking silver-grey seen in the first film. Robocop 2 is still worthwhile if only to revisit Weller and Allen's unique on-screen chemistry, not the easiest task when one of the leads is wrapped in a tin can. Another sequel, 1993's Robocop 3 saw Weller replaced by Robert Burke with Nancy Allen's Lewis as well as a few secondary characters reappearing to assist with continuity (there's also actual footage from the first film used for flashbacks). A PG rating means that the violence is toned down even more and the addition of a young homeless girl as "Robocop's friend" further degrades the franchise.

 

  A year after RoboCop 3, a television series RoboCop premiered  (sometimes referred to as RoboCop:The Series ), rebooting the story with twenty-two 45 minute episodes that retell the slightly changed origin story and follow standard TV episode story arcs. In this, RoboCop (played by Richard Eden) is less likely to pump a crook full of lead than he is to throw the scumbag into a nearby stack of empty cardboard boxes (who keeps leaving these things around town, anyway?). It's also cool to see that in the future, despite all the crime and corruption, Detroit will have their own CN Tower!

   The show borrows the ill-advised eight year old girl device from RoboCop 3 and features an oatmeal-faced looking reoccurring villain Pudface Morgan that clearly was not thought out fully. Perhaps even worse than that is the character Diana who is the glowing physical manifestation of the main frame computer system RoboCop is interfaced with. She regularly appears in hologram form to give advice to the main characters and explain what's going on to the viewers who surely do not need the additional exposition. One of the good things about the series is that it actually plays up the feelings of loss that Alex Murphy has from being separated from his family.

 For the six disc DVD set, the show has been renamed RoboCop: The Beginning .

 

  In 1998 a new animated series RoboCop: Alpha Commando premiered. Running for 41 episodes, this version includes "NewsBite" interuptions like the media breaks from the original film, except these are used purely as plot explanations, not social commentary. Blu Mankund from the TV series does voice work as does legendary U.K. blues musician Long John Baldry! 

The cartoon RoboCop has over exaggerated shoulders and worse of all, often speaks in puns. This series has not been released on any home video format.

  In 2000 a new, also Canadian, television reboot starring Page Fletcher was launched. RoboCop: Prime Directives was a series of four 90 minute made-for-TV movies presenting yet another new beginning for the character. The first film in the series, Dark Justice introduces a cartoonish villain Bone Machine and Murphy's "old" partner John Cable. A new twist is having Murphy's now grown son turn out to be part of the corrupt corporate structure that is controlling Delta City. In the second film Meltdown, his ex-partner resurfaces as "RoboCable" looking striking in an all black version of the established RoboCop armor. The third installment Resurrection has flashbacks to Murphy's killing using actual footage from Paul Verhoeven's original 1987 work. Oddly, RoboCop: Prime Directives also recycles some footage from the 1994 TV series showing Richard Eden in the armor.

   A bit of casting trivia: Richard Eden from RoboCop: The Series was originally offered to return as the character in Prime Directives but passed on it which led to Page Fletcher getting the role which he had been offered and turned down in The Series !

   While there's definitely more violence than we've seen in a RoboCop movie in awhile, the whole thing winds up as a footnote for completists, not a true new beginning that can attract new fans. The makers also recycle many of the catch phrases from the original film,although I'm not convinced that they aren't just taking good ideas as opposed to any sort of homage.

   RoboCop: Prime Directives is available in North America on four separate DVD releases and previously in the U.K. in a unique four DVD boxed set.

   Early 2014 brought a newly remastered blu-ray RoboCop from MGM to coincide with the recent theatrical remake. Given a modern 4K scanning treatment, this is a huge improvement over the existing 2007 blu-ray release which was just a straightforward transfer of the material. Without any additional work done, the picture quality had way too much grain in it for the format. This is satisfyingly corrected with the new release which is simply the best this decades old film has ever looked (the "media breaks" remain appropriately low definition).

   The 2014 edition includes much of the bonus material from the 2007 DVD release and a couple of features from 1987. The all new supplement is a forty-three minute Q&A with the filmmakers filmed at UCLA on May 31 in 2012. Director Paul Verhoeven, associate producer Phil Tippett, screenwriters Ed Neumeir & Michael Miner and actors Peter Weller & Nancy Allen talk about the film and take questions from an audience of film students. Weller in particular has a very interesting and impassioned rant regarding the Murphy character's loss and regaining of his soul.

   One area where the new blu-ray loses points is with the amateurish Photoshoped front cover image of the lead character, which not only has a poorly added right arm that doesn't make sense anatomically but the pic is in fact from RoboCop 2 ,not this film. This artwork introduces yet another revised RoboCop logo unfortunately. 

  But that's a pretty small issue for a disc that finally gives RoboCop the proper release it deserves.

  The 2014 4K edition also had a U.K. release in a vibrant steelbook packaging. Unfortunately, the image used on the front of the steelbook for some unknown reason shows a 50 foot tall RoboCop standing still through the streets like a metallic King Kong.

  

  

 

 

 

  In March 2014, a deluxe Japanese blu-ray was released featuring the same 4K remaster and bonus features from the North American disc. 

Packaging wise, this set towers above the North American and U.K. releases as it is the only one to use the original iconic theatrical poster art for the   cover (even if they do re-use the modified logo from the old North American MGM DVD release). This set comes with a thick booklet and the film itself is in a great looking black amaray case.

  But regardless of packaging issues between the North American, U.K. and Japanese releases, the 4K remaster is the best this film has ever looked and any of these three releases are highly recommended to get the best possible RoboCop out there.

 

Robert Lawson 2014.

Posters courtesy of Anthony N and Michael Schwartz.