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, director Paul Verhoven's Robocop met with huge success and spawned two theatrical sequels, a television series, a toy line, a video game, and a comic book series. In 2014 there was even a remake, but it's the original, the one that started it all, that remains the most beloved of the franchise… and rightly so, because it holds up incredibly well more than a few decades after it originally hit theaters.
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 brutally 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 Robocop 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 the cost. While this is going on, Robocop struggles with the very real memories that still exist in Murphy's brain and enforcing the law he's been programmed to uphold.
The first and best of the three original Robocop films is also the most violent. Particularly in its uncut form (Arrow presents the uncut director's cut of the film on disc one and the theatrical cut on disc two of this set), 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. A strong supporting cast also adds to the film's success, with both Nancy Allen and especially Kurtwood Smith really turning in great work here. Add to this some impressive special effects work and some production design work that still feels fresh even by today's standards, and it's easy to see how and why this became the hit that it was.
Director Paul Verhoeven (who can be seen dancing in the scene 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.
Robocop arrives on atwo50GB Blu-ray discs from Arrow video using the same 4k remastered 1.85.1 widescreen source that was created for MGM's release in 2014, albeit with different encoding and slightly better grain structure. Since the negative reflects the theatrical cut, there are scenes in the unrated director's cut version of the film that use footage spliced in from lesser elements, but the drop in quality isn't so drastic that it should effect anyone's enjoyment of the film (and they do appear to have been cleaned up a bit compared to the MGM release). Approved by Verhoeven, the picture quality is quite nice here. Arrow's transfer does seem to be a tad brighter than MGM's but otherwise there aren't really any noticeable differences between this version and the previous MGM disc. Detail is quite strong, slightly improved in spots, and there's good depth to the image. The picture is free of any noticeable print damage, dirt or debris. Colors look really good, skin tones are nice and natural and black levels spot on. There isn't any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement and the disc is free of noticeable compression artifacts. The optical effects look a bit rough in some spots but this is not a flaw in Arrow's transfer, it's simply how the movie should look. It can be quite grainy at times, but never to the point of distraction. Would a new scan have yielded better results? Maybe, but the transfer here is still excellent.
Audio options include the original lossless stereo and four-channel mixes in DTS-HD format plus a DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound option for both cuts. English SDH subtitles are also provided for both cuts of the movie. The surround sound tracks aren't quite as enveloping as you might expect but they do bring some of the action scenes to life with a bit more ‘oomph' than the 2.0 Stereo track offers. Regardless of which option you go for, the audio here is clean, clear and nicely balanced. Dialogue is always easy to follow and to understand, the low end has some nice kick to it (particularly when gun shots are involved) and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note.
Extras, which are a mix of old and new, are spread out across the two discs in the set as follows:
Disc One: Director's Cut:
Carried over from various older releases is the archival commentary track featuring director Paul Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier (originally recorded for the Theatrical Cut and re-edited in 2014 for the Director's Cut). If you haven't heard this before, it's excellent, with Verhoeven and the others offering a lot of interesting stories about the production. New to this release from Arrow are two new commentary tracks, the first from film historian Paul M. Sammon. It covers the history of the film in a lot of detail, offering up all the facts and trivia you could hope for alongside some very intelligent analysis of the film. The second new commentary features fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart and Eastwood Allen and while it isn't as fact-heavy or scholarly in spots, it's definitely enthusiastic and akin to watching the film with a group of friends. They offer plenty of opinions on things as the movie plays out and seem to be having a really good time here.
As to the new featurettes, we start with The Future Of Law Enforcement: Creating Robocop, which is a seventeen-minute interview with co-writer Michael Miner where he speaks about writing the picture, his thoughts on how it turned out and more. RoboTalk is a thirty-two-minute conversation between co-writer Ed Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke (writer of Elle) and Nick McCarthy (director of The Prodigy) about the evolution of the film and what makes it unique and so effective. Truth Of Character is an eighteen-minute interview with star Nancy Allen on her role as Lewis that covers landing the part, working with Weller and Verhoeven and her thoughts on the film overall. Casting Old Detroit gets casting director Julie Selzer in front of the camera to talk for eight-minutes about putting the cast together for the film and why some of the specific cast members were chosen for their respective roles. Connecting the Shots is an eleven-minute interview with second unit director Mark Goldblatt about his work not just on Robocop but a few other Verhoeven projects as well, covering not just their work together but their relationship as well. Analogue is a thirteen-minute segment with Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaver, who do a great job of breaking down the film's ambitious special effects, all of which were done in camera with practical methods. Composing Robocop is a twelve-minute tribute to composer Basil Poledouris, who passed away in 2006, that features input from film music experts Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, Daniel Schweiger and Robert Townson. It's a nice look back at his career and the importance of his contributions to the film. RoboProps is an interesting tour of Robocop super-fan Julien Dumont's collection of original props and memorabilia. Over the span of thirteen-minutes we get a nice look at Dumont's insanely comprehensive and equally impressive collection.
Carried over from past releases is a whole lot more material. 2012 Q&A With The Filmmakers is a forty-two-minute panel discussion conducted at UCLA featuring Verhoeven, Davison, Neumeier, Miner, Allen, Peter Weller and animator Phil Tippett. We also get three archival featurettes from 2007 included here: the twenty-one-minute Robocop: Creating A Legend (which focuses heavily on the construction of the Robocop suit), the seventeen-minute Villains Of Old Detroit (featuring interviews with Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ronny Cox and Ray Wise) and the eighteen-minute Special Effects: Then & Now (which covers how the effects industry has changed over the years and how Robocop's effects work still holds up).
Want more? Look out for four deleted scenes (just under three-minutes' worth of material in total), a six-minute storyboard version of The Boardroom scene with commentary by Phil Tippett, a twelve-minute collection of Director's Cut Production Footage (these are raw dailies from the filming of the unrated gore scenes and quite awesome to see), a pair of theatrical trailers, three TV spots, and still galleries dedicated to Behind The Scenes action, Production Stills and Poster And Video Art.
DISC TWO: Theatrical Cut:
Disc two contains that same archival commentary with Verhoeven, Davison and Neumeier that is included on the first disc. Additionally we get two Isolated Score Tracks in the form of The Composer's Original Mix and The Final Theatrical Mix both offered up in lossless stereo format.
Arrow has also included the Edited-For-TV version of the film, which features alternate dubs, takes and edits of several scenes. This runs ninety-five-minutes and is presented in 1080i from a pretty analogue looking source in 1.33.1 open matte, but for those of us who remember seeing this on network TV back in the nineties, it's a pretty great (and frequently rather amusing) nostalgia rush. Complimenting this is Robocop: Edited For Television, a nineteen-minute compilation of alternate scenes taken from two different edited-for-television versions. This material is newly transferred in high definition from ‘recently-unearthed 35mm elements' and it looks quite nice. Those who are fascinating by alternate versions and TV edits will definitely enjoy this.
Disc two also holds a Split Screen Comparison Of The Theatrical And Director's Cuts of the film, which runs four-minutes, and another Split Screen Comparison Of The Theatrical And TV Cuts which runs just over twenty-minutes. Again, it's amazing to see how much was changed between the different versions of the film and this is a nice way to do just that.
As to the packaging, Arrow has done a very nice job here as well. Alongside the two discs, we get six collector's postcards, a double-sided fold-out poster and some reversible cover sleeve artwork. More importantly than that, we also get a very nice limited-edition collector's booklet that holds new writing on the film by Omar Ahmed, Christopher Griffiths and Henry Blyth, as well as a 1987 Fangoria interview with Rob Bottin and a host of archival publicity materials. There's also an ‘This property protected by Robocop' sticker included in here too. It all fits inside a nice, sturdy cardboard slipcover and it's quite an impressive package.
As much material as there is here, however, it's worth noting that Arrow did not port over the following featurettes from the MGM Blu-ray release: Flesh And Steel, The Making Of RoboCop and Shooting RoboCop.
Robocop was, is and ever shall be a masterpiece of fantastic cinema, simultaneously a brilliant satire and an amazingly entertaining sci-fi/action hybrid. It's smart, it's funny and it's intense, highlighted by some great performances and excellent special effects work. Arrow has done an excellent job bringing this to Blu-ray, with a slightly improved transfer over the 2014 MGM release and a host of extras old and new. Highly recommended.