Unfortunately, Judge Erich Asperschlager is only half man.
Ooooh. Guns, guns, guns!
Back in 1987 I was 10 years old, and there was no way in heck my parents were going to let me see an R-rated movie like Robocop. Growing up, I remember other kids talking about it, and by the time I got to college, Robocop was so firmly a part of pop culture—the robo-suit; jokes about ED-209 falling down the stairs; the police car; lines like "Your move, creep"—I felt like I'd seen it, even though I hadn't. All of it underscored the fact that, somehow, I was missing a piece of my childhood that I could never get back.
Robocop is among a class of movies so embedded in the popular psyche, it seems that if you haven't seen them by a certain age you might as well not bother. Sure, I could have broken down and watched it in its edited-for-TV format, but that's no way to enjoy an R-rated movie; and with so many new movies calling out to be rented, it was going to take something significant to help me reclaim my lost youth—something like an anniversary.
Thanks to the Robocop: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition, I finally got to see this classic. It took two decades, but I'm glad I waited. Nostalgia covers a multitude of sins, and I was afraid not having seen Robocop when I was younger would hurt the experience. It didn't. I loved it.
Facts of the Case
This MGM/Fox anniversary edition (following just about three years after The Robocop Trilogy set) brings together the theatrical release, the slightly more violent unrated cut, and a slew of extras old and new.
Assuming there are others unfamiliar with Paul Verhoeven's futuristic Frankenstein story,Robocop tells the story of Detriot cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller, 24: Season Five), who, after being brutally murdered by crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, A Time to Kill) and his gang, is resurrected by multinational corporation OCP as the ultimate cop, a cyborg who cleans up the streets while he tracks down his killers.
There's something impressive about a movie so committed to a no-nonsense style it's got an unapologetically silly title like "Robocop." From the very beginning you know exactly what you're going to get. You say you want a movie about a robot who's a cop? Well, here you freakin' go!
Robocop is a stylish film, brimming with machismo: Dialogue that would be cheesy in almost any other movie works, somehow, by the sheer force of Paul Verhoeven's bold direction, while the over-the-top action and brutal violence—presented on disc two in all its unrated glory—gleefully push past the point of absurdity (toxic waste scene, anyone?). On the surface, its fairly simple story barrels along, moving quickly from Murphy's murder to the inevitable villain showdowns. Along the way, though, Verhoeven and writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner make every scene count, creating a believable dystopian future (despite the fact it looks like a dirtier version of the 80s) with surprisingly limited details.
While I expected the big explosions and bloody mayhem, I didn't expect the layer of clever social satire. Reminiscent of Verhoeven's later work on Starship Troopers, the newsbreaks and advertisements—for "Nukem," the nuclear family board game, and the gas-guzzling 6000 SUX sportscar ("SUX," get it?)—skewer American consumer culture, while the corporate world is portrayed as a place where people literally kill to get ahead. The satire is both funny and frighteningly plausible in ways that are, unfortunately, just as relevant in 2007 as they were twenty years ago.
The documentary-style handheld shots and low camera angles give this film a gritty feel that sets it apart from the generally slick action genre, and the booming score mixes orchestra and synthesizer, capturing the duality of our man/machine hero. The video quality on this set is generally good for a film made so long ago. My only complaint is that the black levels aren't as deep as I'd like. Still, the picture is mostly clean, as is the audio.
This new set is a great value, considering how all over the place the previous releases have been: There's the Criterion set which, until recently, was the only place to get the unrated cut, despite its being presented in non-anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen. Then there was The Robocop Trilogy set, which forced fans to buy all three movies if they wanted to get the unrated first film in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen with a Dolby 5.1 mix.
For anyone who's managed to hold out this long, though, the 20th Anniversary set has a lot to offer: it's got a brand new transfer of the unrated cut, and features from the first disc of the MGM-released Trilogy set. Plus, the extra space afforded by a second DVD let them include not only the theatrical version of the film, but some new extras as well.
Though the theatrical release commentary track (featuring Director Paul Verhoeven, Writer Ed Neumeier, and Executive Producer Jon Davison) appears to be the same one that accompanied the unrated cut on the Trilogy set, it makes more sense now that the MPAA-excised scenes they talk about having to remove are actually missing. In all, it's pretty interesting—covering everything from Verhoeven's idea of Robocop as "an American Jesus" (watch him walk on water near the end of the film) to the revelation it was so difficult for Peter Weller to get out of his police car while wearing the robo-suit he had to do it sans pants.
The extras are of varying quality, though fans will likely enjoy most of them. The best of the lot is the "Flesh and Steel" making-of featurette (previously available on the Trilogy set). The thirty-plus minute retrospective features interviews with the director, writers, producer, and crew, none of whom are afraid to give an honest assessment of the filmmaking difficulties and personal conflicts on set. There are two much shorter featurettes, both made in 1987, that have some interesting technical info, but they feel a bit dated.
There are three brand new features: "The Villains of Old Detroit," a look at the movie bad guys; "Special Effects: Then and Now," a fairly detailed examination of some of the film's major special effects (matte painting, stop motion, models, and an extensive look at the design, construction, and animation of ED-209); "Robocop: Creating a Legend," all about our shiny metal hero: the suit design, Peter Weller's creation of the character, and the technical issues that had to be overcome to bring Robocop to life; and a thirty-second Paul Verhoeven "dancing in the nightclub" easter egg. Despite the occasional information overlap, these are substantial extras that add to this "Collector's Edition."
Given the Robocop DVD options out there, I recommend this set with the following caveat: If you really want all three movies, and you don't care about the missing extras, you're better off buying the Trilogy set.
It's nice having the option to watch the theatrical version, though I can't think of any reason I'd choose it over the unrated cut (unless maybe I invited the MPAA over for movie night). For giving you just about everything you could want in a single package, though—unless you just have to have the Criterion transfer and commentary—the MGM 20th Anniversary set is a great buy.
Even though I missed out on the Robocop phenomenon in 1987, after watching this 20th Anniversary set I finally understand what everyone was talking about for all those years. Man, I can't wait 'til my next High School reunion!
I'm pretty sure after twenty years the statute of limitations is up. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Paul Verhoeven, Writer Ed Neumeier and Executive Producer Jon Davison
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