The danger of the past was that men become slaves.
Robocop is an excellent character that has valiantly tried to survive beyond the apparent deathblow dealt to it by Robocop 3. With Verhoeven's original movie in 1987, a hero was born and people loved the idea, and a new classic came to be. Though viciously maligned, Robocop triumphantly returned in Robocop 2 to teach everyone that drugs are a bad thing…and to get nasty with a new Robocop. And then there was that awful excuse for a film, the third and final attempt at a big screen picture. Forgetting everything that the franchise was based on, the last movie traded satire for cheese, and it failed on every count.
But not wanting to die, Robocop came to TV in 1994 for a very short-lived series. Again, the character was changed from what audiences fell in love with in the first film, and this series failed. Still, six years later, Robocop made yet another attempt to bring life back to the franchise: Robocop Prime Directives. This 2000 miniseries tried to revive the dark tone of the original film and thus appease many a disillusioned fan. This review centers on the first episode in the series, "Dark Justice," an entirely inappropriate bad pun title if there ever was one. The remaining three episodes are "Resurrection," "Meltdown," and "Crash and Burn," all on separate discs. I recall watching "Dark Justice" during its original broadcast, and after seeing it again this week, I still hold the same opinion. As much as I love Robocop and his violent and excessive ways, I think it's time to move on and give up the fight.
Facts of the Case
Ten years after the films, Delta City is a jewel in Omni Consumer Products' (OCP) crown. It has been dubbed "the safest place in America" thanks to the passage of the Zero Fatality Act. This act, which prohibits police officers from carrying guns, has led to no Detroit policemen being killed. Sounds great, except for the fact that dozens of neighboring policemen have been murdered. Delta City is, in actuality, still a very dangerous place. Just ask Officer John Cable (Maurice Dean Wint, Cube) for his opinion. Oh, I'm sorry, you can't; he was killed by the supervillian Bone Machine…or was he actually killed by Robocop during a confrontation among the three? At this point, it's hard to know what really happened.
OCP is still pulling the strings in the city, and Security Concepts is forever looking for another successful product. While Damian Lowe works on a new artificial intelligence called SAINT, Sara Cable (Officer Cable's widow) and James Murphy (Robocop Alex Murphy's son) are working on the next version of Robocop. As is the case with most OCP executives, Damian and Sara are quite mad and hungry for power. Sara has used her dead husband as the meat for her upgraded Robo, and she has also determined that the original Robocop is standing in the way of the rollout of the new "RoboCable." To make way for her creation, she secretly sends RoboCable, which uses the same robo-design as and is indistinguishable from Robocop at night, out to cause wanton acts of violence throughout Delta City. After being attacked by what she believes to be Robocop, the CEO of OCP agrees to send out RoboCable to hunt down and destroy Robocop.
But Robocop is still a revered figure in Delta City, and the police will protect him and citizens will help him. As Robocop makes his way into Old Detroit, he finds himself confronted by "System Support," a secret and elite squad created by the late Dick Jones as a last resort to destroy Robocop. With the support of RoboCable, the System Support team launches an all-out assault on Robocop, and they have every intention of destroying him.
Universally agreed, at least by those who care, "Dark Justice" is the worst episode of the series. I wholeheartedly agree. I remember watching this back in 2000 and hating it, so much so that I'm pretty sure I never even gave the subsequent episodes a chance. Though it starts off promisingly enough—with a raid at OCP—the story quickly falls flat and fails to lay an enticing foundation for the next three installments. If the story wasn't bad enough, then the acting of our Robocops is even worse. Nothing in this story works, and it's another notch of embarrassment to a once great character. Here's a brief laundry list of problems:
• The core of Robocop is in its satire. Always poking fun at
society, the first two films made us realize how silly we are at times. In this
installment, the attempt at satire is a complete miss, and it comes across as
forced and hammy. The only bit of satire in this movie is the movie itself. It's
all just too sarcastic and smarmy.
And, if that really wasn't enough, if I hadn't given enough fodder to the lame cannon (or canon, take your pick), let me simply say that this episode is just boring. There's nothing to make you care about the return of Robocop. You don't root for him because there isn't a clear objective. Maybe that gets fleshed out later, but here, it's absent and it makes the whole affair just plain dull. Hence, the big question that comes to light is why is Lions Gate releasing this four-episode miniseries in four separate discs? Wouldn't it have been a wiser idea to let the fans get it all in one piece so they could see how everything ties together? In an effort to perhaps cull a few more bucks from this dog, Lions Gate has failed and cheated its few fans.
Finally, I have two points of confusion with the disc. First, I know this is a TV movie and it aired on the Sci-Fi Channel a few years back, so why then did my little eyes obviously spot two pairs of breasts during one of the final scenes? Not that I don't appreciate them, but it was totally unexpected. How and/or why did they get in there?
My second point of confusion comes from the video transfer. Much to my surprise, this episode is presented in widescreen, not full frame. I never would have thought the producers to be so progressive back in 2000, seeing as it was aired in full frame here in the States. Was it reframed for our European friends and we're just getting a bonus here on this release? Regardless, the transfer itself isn't well done. While you get solid, realistic colors with adequate detail, there is far too much grain, aliasing, and artifacting in the transfer. It seems to get progressively worse through the episode. On a positive note, the 2.0 Dolby Digital audio mix is far better, with clear dialogue, distinct separation between the two channels, and some solid power from the bass. It's surprisingly good. Unfortunately, if my video hypothesis is correct, then why weren't we also treated to the 5.1 mix that's available in Region 2?
Aside from a somewhat hidden trailer for Robocop Prime Directives, this is a bare bones disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's always—well I hope always—a silver lining to be found, and there is one for this dreadful episode. It comes during the "X-ploitationNet" segment with Vaughn Krass. It's during a tiny segment in which a tabloid-TV reporter sneaks into Robocop's "recharge-area" in police headquarters in hopes of finding a great story; instead, he finds nothing. He's awkwardly trying to fill time in the "live" segment and rambling on about nothing, and it's the one and only funny and perfectly satirical moment in the episode. If they could have consistently conveyed this insight throughout, this series may have had a chance at success.
Robocop Prime Directive: Dark Justice continues the downward spiral of the Robocop name. Though I cannot comment on the remaining episodes, was there any hope they could succeed after yet another failed start? The entire concept of Robocop is utterly simple and should pose little to no complication for those who want to create movies or TV shows on the idea. But obviously that is not the case, and Verhoeven is one of the few who knew how to treat the material. If you want to see Robocop in top form, then rent or buy Robocop and/or Robocop 2. Simply ignore anything beyond those incarnations, for they are a tremendous letdown and an insult to the character.
Robocop Prime Directives: Dark Justice is hereby found guilty of identity theft. It is ordered to make full restitution to the Robocop character and to apologize to all fans for its torturous treatment. Case adjourned.
July 20, 2004—After this review was posted, I received feedback from a reader notifying me of an error in my review. I no longer have the disc to ascertain how this happened, but I believe it was a case of a mislabeled screener from the studio. Throughout this review, I state that I have just watched the first episode of Prime Directives: "Dark Justice." In actuality, the episode I watched was the second in the miniseries, "Meltdown." This explains the many continuity errors, notably the birth of Robo-Cable. Regardless of the title of the episode, the verdict still stands, and this is a DVD that you should avoid.
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Scales of Justice
• Trailer for Robocop Prime Directives
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