Robocop 2 & 3: Collector's Editions (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits the continuing adventures of the part man/part machine/all cop...
When Detroit's descent into chaos is further compounded by a police department strike and a new designer drug called "Nuke," only RoboCop can stop the mayhem. But in his way are an evil corporation that profits from Motor City crime and a bigger and tougher cyborg with a deadly directive: Take out RoboCop. Containing the latest gadgetry and weaponry as well as the mind of the madman who designed "Nuke," this new cyborg isn't just more sophisticated than his predecessor... he's psychotic and out of control! And it's going to take everything RoboCop has – maybe even his life – to save Detroit from complete and utter anarchy. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Paul Verhoven’s Robocop (1987) is among the greatest science fiction satires ever made, even though the concept its outlandish corporate-ruled future seems less and less funny with each passing year. Its long-term critical and financial success was the result of carefully-measured cinematic alchemy and a dash of old-fashioned good luck, so it’s little surprise that its 1990 sequel, the aptly named Robocop 2, was scorned by critics (many of whom clearly didn’t understand the appeal of the original), drew disappointing box office receipts, and enraged parent groups. In retrospect, it is actually pretty cool, in that stuff like drug-addicted super robots played by Tom Noonan are just objectively good cinematic ideas. Robocop 2 was directed by Irvin Kershner, who, despite directing literally one of the most beloved, popular, and quoted movies of all time ( The Empire Strikes Back, 1980), never managed to catch on as a big-name film director (his career included other sequels to popular work, like the non-canon Bond remake Never Say Never Again  and The Return of a Man Called Horse ). Kershner disappears into Verhoven’s established style, but does a great job of balancing tone (this film is more outwardly funny than the first) and integrating the stop-motion special effects, which are among the best ever put to film in the pre-digital era. Pacing, however, proves a substantial problem.
Robocop 2 was Hollywood’s first attempt to exploit the talents of famed comic book writer Frank Miller, who had helped changed the trajectory of the industry with his run on Marvel’s Daredevil and his subversive reimagining of Batman, The Dark Knight Returns (1986). While there is plenty of Miller’s personality in the final product (such as his use of language, affection for violent prostitutes, and dark sense of humour), most of it was reportedly cut and the script re-written by Walon Green ( The Wild Bunch, 1969, and Sorcerer, 1977) before filming. The final product shrunk the scope and more closely resembled the original film. Many sequels from the era tended to do the same thing and this one was moulded to type to its detriment. The time spent on Robocop’s continuing efforts to reconnect with his old life are bland and get in the way of the much more amusing super-drug/second Robocop plot. The industry clearly wasn’t ready for the writer’s ‘unique vision’ at the time and they wouldn’t be until the brief period between 2005 and 2007, when Sin City (co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez) and 300 (directed by Zack Snyder) took the movie world by storm. Shortly after, the status quo was reinstated as Miller’s own The Spirit (2008), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), and Noam Murro’s 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) all fizzled ( Rise of an Empire did make a pretty penny at the international box office, however).
Due in part to rights issues that followed Orion Pictures’ demise, Robocop 2’s first DVD releases were non-anamorphic discs put out by Image Entertainment. Later, MGM rectified the situation with barebones anamorphic discs, followed by the first Blu-ray releases from Twentieth Century Fox (who had acquired most of MGM’s home video property). Despite early Robocop HD transfers being disappointments, there weren’t major issues with the sequels, but that hasn’t stopped Scream Factory from making a brand new 1.85:1 HD transfer from a 2K scan of the original interpositives. While I don’t have the Fox disc on hand for a direct comparison, I can verify that the upgrade is notable, especially in terms of overall detail. Grain levels are tight and consistent, offering nice, even texture throughout the light and dark sequences. I see very few signs of the digital noise that has plagued some of Scream/Shout Factory’s lesser releases or any notable compression artefacts at all, aside from the ones that accompany Robo’s digitized P.O.V. Kershner and cinematographer Mark Irwin do their best impression of Verhoven and cinematographer Jost Vacano’s work on the first film, all with a significantly higher budget that affords them the chance for a slicker overall look. They also pump up the neon highlights, giving the nighttime sequences and dark interiors a blue, red, and lavender glow that is notably brighter than the earlier Blu-ray release.
This Blu-ray features both the original 2.0 stereo/surround and 5.1 DVD remixes in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio sound. The difference between the tracks is pretty negligible with the remix coming up slightly ahead with its discreet center track and the extra bump offered by the LFE channel. The entire movie hums with the vague sounds of ‘industry’ and the echos of corporate hallways, ensuring that even the dialogue-heavy sequences are teeming with aural atmosphere. The action scenes are then more aggressive and widely spread to convey the greater impact. Composer Leonard Rosenman recycles some of Basil Poledouris’ original themes, while also expanding the symphonic qualities with cartoonish woodwinds and brassy, um, brass. And let’s not forget that end title theme, in which a soprano chorus shots “Robocop!” over and over again. If I recall correctly, the music track was set a little too low on the previous Blu-rays, but, here, it matches the effects and dialogue quite well.
Scream Factory has really gone all out with exclusive extras – perhaps even more than this mediocre movie deserves. These include:
- Commentary with author/publicist/CG supervisor Paul M. Sammon – Sammon, who supplied the archival footage for this Blu-ray’s video extras and who wrote Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner in 1996, takes a very professional approach to his commentary, covering the production process quickly and thoroughly. He’s also quick to criticize the things he doesn’t like about the film and not afraid to compare it to modern conservative politics. If the track has any problem, it is that Sammon sometimes strains himself trying to keep everything screen-specific, which means some of the more interesting anecdotes are covered too briefly.
- Commentary with Gary Smart, Chris Griffiths, and Eastwood Allen, the makers of RoboDoc: The Creation Of RoboCop documentary – This nostalgic track features three superfans, who wedge plenty of objective factoids between gleeful memories. It is often screen-specific, but would actually work just fine as a podcast.
- Corporate Wars: The Making of Robocop 2 (32:04, HD) – A fantastic retrospective featurette that mixes new interviews with old video footage from Sammon’s collection to tell a near definitive behind-the-scenes story of the sequel. Interviewees include Kershner, producers Jon Davidson and Patrick Crowley, cinematographer Mark Irwin, special effects supervisor/associate producer Phil Tippett, and actors Tom Noonan, Nancy Allen, Galyn Görg, and Peter Weller (archive footage only).
- Machine Parts: The FX of Robocop 2 (31:36, HD) – A follow-up featurette that focuses on the film’s extensive stop-motion and physical effects work (as well as its very early digital pieces) with Tippet and other technicians/artists.
- Robo-Fabricator (8:47, HD) – An interview with RoboCop armor fabricator James Belohovek.
- OCP Declassified (45:50, HD) – More of Sammon’s raw archival footage including the complete cast & crew interviews and a very rough look behind-the-scenes of some deleted scenes.
- Adapting Frank Miller's Robocop 2 (5:55, HD) – Writer Steven Grant briefly describes the themes of the franchise and the process of turning Miller’s original script into a limited comic run.
- Trailer, teaser, and TV spots
- Deleted scenes still gallery (2:34, HD)
- Behind-the-scenes photos, stills, posters, and lobby card galleries
When the ruthless corporation that runs Motor City begins kicking families out of their homes to clear space for a profitable new real estate project, RoboCop (Robert John Burke) joins with a renegade band of freedom fighters to save them. But RoboCop must face some deadly foes, including a lethally efficient android and a dangerous gang of thugs. RoboCop's latest arsenal of high-tech weaponry only somewhat evens the battlefield, as this lone superhero takes on the entire army of corporate militia in an all-out war to control Detroit! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
For years, I’ve resented Robocop 3’s stifling PG-13 rating, but, the older I get, the more I have to admit that censoring the franchise’s trademark over-the-top violence wasn’t the worst idea. Sure, I would prefer more melting men, exposed brains, and severed limbs, but Robocop’s most fervent fanbase was under 17 at the time and I can’t fault the studio for wanting to sell more toys (note that the short-lived animated series had already run its course before the second movie was released in 1988). Besides, it would’ve taken more than gore to save Robocop 3 from its other problems – namely, its lacklustre execution and lack of cohesive themes. Every time director Fred Dekker (best known for his cult horror comedies Night of the Creeps  and Monster Squad ) comes close to doing something genuinely clever, funny, or dramatic with the material, he trips over another awkward attempt at pleasing the child-friendly audience with a bland kid sidekick, Robogun and Robowing attachments, and an ill-defined samurai/ninja robot rival (there is a nugget of smart social commentary here when you consider fears of corporate Japan taking over American interests at the time). Despite most of his ideas being scrubbed from the first sequel, Frank Miller was again hired to initially write Robocop 3. I’ve read some claims that the Robocop 2 script in question was too broad in scope and cut in half to make the two sequels, which were filmed almost back-to-back ( Robocop 3 sat on the shelf for two years), but there doesn’t seem to be any proof verifying this theory. He did, however, recycle some unused ideas from the first draft. In the end, all of Miller’s unused Robocop ideas were turned into a limited comic book series entitled Frank Miller’s Robocop, released between 2003 and 2006 by Avatar Press.
Revisiting these sequels every six or seven years, I realize that they’re aging better than expected and are a more coherent trilogy than they’re given credit for. Yes, neither could live up to the transcendent quality of Verhoven’s film, but they match much of its cartoonish glee, purposefully heavy-handed emotional beats, and harsh political satire. In fact, it's arguable that Robocop 3 marks a logical end to the title character’s heroic arc – he’s employed and betrayed by the corporation in the first film, he cleans up their mess in the second film, and, in the third, he finally leads the resistance against them. Perhaps if Dekker and Miller would’ve had the budget and studio backing they needed (the third film’s budget was about 2/3rds of the second’s and distributor Orion Pictures had started to implode by the time of its release, so they weren’t giving it much attention), the scope and emotional impact of Alex Murphy’s final battle might have matched fan expectations. The brief sequence where he is torn between his second prime directive (protect the innocent) and his third prime directive (uphold the law) is a glimpse of the kind of pathos that could’ve been achieved under better circumstances. It also doesn’t help that Robert John Burke – a good actor in his own right – doesn’t do a great impression of Peter Weller when he took over the role. Both films are missed opportunities that can either be easily ignored in favour of Verhoven’s original or taken into consideration for their meek, yet charming attempts at recapturing the magic.
Scream Factory has not given Robocop 3 a 2K make-over, but the results are still pretty solid – exactly as they appeared when they appeared on the original Blu-ray trilogy set. The 1.85:1, 1080p image isn’t overtly weak, but is definitely softer and more artefacty than its Robocop 2 counterpart. Textures, including film grain, are tighter than a DVD could manage, but still a bit fuzzy, especially during the wide-angle shots, where the otherwise trimmed edges tend to smear. Gradations match the problematic details with a slightly posterised quality. Colour quality is more neutral than the first two movies – mostly on purpose, since Dekker and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe were more interested in the dingy depths of the Detroit underground than the city’s neon exteriors (aside from that hypercolor opening sequence). Dynamic range could use a boost, assuming anyone ever chooses to do a remaster, but it’s not exactly necessary.
Robocop 3 was released in a time after digital audio had made its debut in theaters, but hadn’t yet become the norm. It was mixed for the pre-digital Dolby Spectral Recording, which offers up to 4.0 channels. This Blu-ray includes a 2.0 downmix of the DSR track and the 5.1 DVD remix, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. This time, the difference is even more negligible, because the 5.1 track’s center dialogue channel isn’t always completely discrete, though the remix does have the advantage in terms of overall volume. Dialogue-heavy songs tend to be less lively, but the action sequences are quite aggressive and include a number of fancy directional cues. Basil Poledouris returned as composer after being shut out of part 2, returning the franchise to its more industrial roots and original themes.
The almost entirely brand-new, Scream Factory-exclusive extras include:
- Commentary with director Fred Dekker – Dekker recalls the ins and outs of this particularly problematic production with the help of moderator Michael R. Felsher or Red Shirt Pictures. The two have a fun rapport, likely due to the fact that this is their second commentary pairing, following the Night of the Creeps Blu-ray. Felsher keeps the discussion on track by asking pertinent questions – some screen-specific, some concerning the movie on the whole – and Dekker’s memory is sharp.
- Commentary with Gary Smart, Chris Griffiths, and Eastwood Allen, the makers of RoboDoc: The Creation Of RoboCop documentary – Another charming, though sometimes overwhelming, podcast-like nostalgia-fest.
- Delta City Shuffle: The Making Of Robocop 3 (38:27, HD) – Another well-constructed, info-packed retrospective featurette that traces the second sequel’s history, from opting for a PG-13 rating very early in production, to adapting Miller’s script, replacing Peter Weller, production design/set decoration/art direction, cinematography, and the political themes, which remain relevant today. Interviewees include Dekker, Crowley, Kibbe, production designer Hilda Stark, and actors Allen and Bruce Locke.
- Robo-Vision: The FX of Robocop 3 (12:03, HD) – Tippet returns with more artists, including Robocop 3 FX supervisor Craig Hayes, for a look at the second sequel’s special effects work. Much of the raw materials were recycled from Robocop 2 and set alongside some of the franchise’s first ever CG work.
- The Corporate Ladder (10:48, HD) – Actor Felton Perry, who is one of the few performers to make appearances in all three movies, talks about his character and working in the franchise.
- Training Otomo (8:37, HD) – A look at Bruce Locke’s training with martial arts master and veteran stuntman Bill Ryusaki.
- War Machine (9:17, HD) – Gun fabricator James Belohovek discusses his work creating prop weapons for the third movie.
- Still gallery
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 21st March 2017
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 English
Extras: See Individual Releases
Easter Egg: No
Director: Irvin Kershner, Fred Dekker
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Tom Noonan, Gabriel Damon, Robert John Burke, CCH Pounder, Daniel von Bargen, Mako, Rip Torn
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 222 minutes
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