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In 1987, during the height of eighties hysteria, the now defunct Orion Pictures unleashed a new hero of sorts emerged onto screens across the continent. Part man, part machine, but all cop, Robocop met with huge success and spawned two theatrical sequels, a television series, a toy line, a video game, and a comic book series.
Set in the Detroit of the not too distant future (which was actually Dallas – but don't tell anyone!), crime is rampant. The city is run by a huge corporation called OCP (which stands for Omni Consumer Products) and nothing gets done without its say so. To combat the rising crime statistics, OCP develops a completely automated super cop robot entitled the ED-209. They've pumped tons of money into this project and hope to sell it across the country to other large cities. Unfortunately, the test model has a serious malfunction and tends to open fire on innocent people.
When an honest cop named Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is killed in the line of duty, OCP sees a great way provide a quick fix to their crime problem when they meld his body with that of a robot to create Robocop. The project works out great and Robocop does a fast and efficient job of cleaning up the streets. Unfortunately for him and his partner, Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), they do such a good job of it that Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith in his finest performance ever), a local criminal, aims to take them down no matter what the cost.
The first and best of the three films is also the most violent. Particularly in its uncut form (which is how it is presented here), the gore and bloodshed on display in this film is pretty intense. It's also very over the top and satirical, much like the script itself is. Part sci-fi b-movie and part social satire, Robocop totally hit in the right place at the right time. In the decade that gave us Rambo – First Blood Part 2 and Invasion U.S.A., Robocop stands out because of its darkly humorous script and the terrific deadpan performance from Weller in the title role. Director Paul Verhoeven (who can be seen dancing in the seen where Leon is arrested!), making his North American debut with this film, shows his bizarre sense of humor and penchant for bizarre violence (the body count hits at least thirty by the time the end credits role) can meld together seamlessly with this effort, and the movie still stands up as an immensely entertaining and over the top comic book come to life.
Helmed this second time out by director Irvin Kershner (of The Empire Strikes Back), Robocop 2 finds Murphy back in action on the streets of Detroit (which is actually Dallas, TX once again), one year after the events of the first film. Crime is back on the rise again, and OCP plans to totally demolish the city as it stands today, kick out the riff raff, and build an entirely new city in its place called Delta City.
There's also a new drug problem plaguing Detroit in the form of Nuke, a highly addictive and highly dangerous narcotic being peddled faster than the cops can take the dealers down. OCP needs to get this problem under control and fast, so they investigate the possibilities of building a few more automated police units that can outdo Robocop. Cain, one of the Nuke drug lords, has his men capture Robocop and disassemble him. He's put back together by OCP when he's found later, but he's been reprogrammed to be less violent and more talkative. Meanwhile, OCP has been experimenting with test subjects for their new combat police unit. When the test subject, a former drug addict, goes rogue, it's up to Robocop and to take him down and save the day.
Robocop 2 gets most of it right and is a pretty solid sequel in its own right. Verhoeven's sense of satire is missed but Weller is great once again as the lead and it's nice to see Nancy Allen in action alongside him. There's still a lot of great black humor in the film to keep things interesting and they didn't tone down the violence from the first film much at all and the effects are just as good if not better than those onscreen in the first film. Comic book writer/artist Frank Miller, who wrote the screenplay, can be seen in a quick cameo as the chemist making the Nuke for Cain. Too bad he wasn't talked into a commentary track for this release as his screenplay was changed drastically – and recently released in comic book form as Frank Miller's Robocop by Avatar Press.
Sadly, Peter Weller didn't resume the title role for this third film in the series, which once again finds OCP meddling with their idea of destroying old Detroit and replacing it with Delta City. Unfortunately for OCP, the many denizens of Detroit don't like the idea of having to give up their homes ad being bought out by a faceless corporation.
When this problem starts to become a serious thorn in their side, OCP hires a merciless gang of soldiers for hire to drive the populace out so that they can tear down the old city. When an underground rebellions starts up to stop OCP, Robocop is called in and he his human side begins to wrestle with his robot side as he is forced to figure out where his allegiances lie.
Fred Decker, who had previously directed the excellent Night Of The Creeps turns in the weakest of the series. To his credit, there are some interesting ideas in the film and it is hard to carry on the franchise when you don't have Peter Weller in the suit (he was replaced for this film by Robert John Burke of Richard Stanley's Dust Devil). But this PG rated film has most of the over the top carnage that made the first two films so much fun washed out of it in a much kid friendlier manner. Maybe the producers hoped that by toning down the film they could get a younger (and therefore larger) audience into theaters, but sadly it worked against them and the weakest of the three films from an entertainment-oriented perspective was also the weakest of the three films at the box office.
All three films are presented in solid anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfers. The first Robocop shows slightly more print damage than the two sequels but still looks quite nice. Colors are very robust and black levels are solid. There is some edge enhancement present in a few scenes but it's only mildly distracting at its worst. The colors on this release do look better than the earlier releases from Image and Criterion (neither of which were anamorphic and lacked some of the detail present on this transfer). Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 look a little cleaner than their parent film and have less print damage. All three films look pretty solid overall.
All three films have very active Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks with optional subtitles available in English, French and Spanish. Subwoofer response is rock solid and the rear channels are used quite effectively most notably during the high action scenes where bullets whiz around the room and cars squeal across the front soundstage. Dialogue is consistently clean and clear and always easy to follow.
Almost all of the extra features are located underneath the nicely designed menus of the first Robocop disc. The first bonus feature is the commentary track with Paul Verhoeven, writer Edward Neumeir, and executive producer Jon Davison. This is a different track than the one supplied on the Criterion DVD. It's an interesting track that keeps moving along at a quick pace with lots of information in it. Davison and Verhoeven seem to have a really good relationship together and to have enjoyed working together on this film. Verhoeven curses and swears his way through the track, much like he does in some of the featurettes, and it makes for an interesting and sometimes humorous listen.
The biggest and best of the supplements is a thirty-seven minute documentary entitled Flesh And Steel – The Making Of Robocop. This is a pretty comprehensive look at what went into making the first film work and some of the obstacles that they creative team had to overcome even to find a director! Apparently the film was shopped around to quite a few different directors, none of who were interested. Even Verhoeven was pretty apprehensive to touch it the first time he read it. Verhoeven, as well as producer Jim Davison, screenwriters Ed Neumeir and Michael Miner are interview quite a bit and there's some excellent behind the scenes footage contained within. It's an interesting piece that compliments the commentary track quite nicely, even if it does touch on some of the same points. Highlights of this piece include some great footage of Peter Weller (who is sadly not interviewed here) learning to move like a robot underneath the heavy suit that he had to wear and which took him eleven hours to put on the first time.
Next up are two vintage featurettes from 1987. The first one, Shooting Robocop runs about nine minutes and covers a lot of the effects and stop motion animation that was used in the film. There are interviews with some of the technicians who worked on the film as well as some rough footage included in this piece. The second one is Making Robocop and this piece, running about eight minutes, has a nice little interview with Nancy Allen in it and takes another behind the scenes look at the making of the film. While there is a little bit of overlap between these two old pieces and the newer, longer featurette, there's a lot of archival footage in these two pieces that doesn't appear in Flesh And Steel and it's nice to see them included.
There are also five deleted scenes included: OCP Press Conference, Nun In The Street, Interview, Topless Plaza and Final Media Break. Combined they have a running time of two minutes and fifty-four seconds and while non of them add much of anything to the already uncut film, it's nice to see them included for completions sake and some of them are quite amusing in their own right.
The trailers and still gallery sections round out the supplements – here's what we get: two theatrical trailers, one television spot, and six still gallery slideshows (with a play all feature) entitled Design, Special Effects, Director Paul Verhoeven, Behind The Scenes, Cast and ED-209.
The discs for Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 only have their respective films theatrical trailers as extras.
The impressive gatefold slipcase packaging also contains some interesting liner notes that detail the genesis of the film and some of the interesting facts that arose out of it's creation.
If you're a fan of the series, The Robocop Trilogy is a no-brainer. The films look better than ever and sound great to boot. MGM's assortment of extras both vintage and new, combined with the sheer entertainment value these films provide makes this set come Highly Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.