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Being a huge fan of RoboCop, and also one of the few who can tolerate the sequels, I practically begged for the chance to review an early copy of this box set. Luckily, Tom took pity on my pathetic whining, and here I am. The box set presents all three films uncut for the first time in the UK, including the ‘excessively’ violent director’s cut of RoboCop. MGM have impressed with some of their recent releases, but does this follow suit?

Does my bum look big in this?
RoboCop needs no introduction, so I’ll dispense with the lengthy review. If you want to read a more detailed outline of the plot, simply click here to check out my review of the Criterion edition of the film. It is worth noting that there are two versions of the movie on this new R2 disc – the original theatrical edition, and the director’s cut as found on the aforementioned Criterion DVD. Both have their merits, but I prefer the extended director’s version overall. It pretty much goes without saying that this is by far the best of the movies in the set.

RoboCop 2 sees the return of Murphy as the crime-fighting cyborg, and this time he must do battle against a powerful drug lord named Cain (the brilliant Tom Noonan). To make matters worse, Robo has undergone some serious behavioural reprogramming at the hands of OCP in an attempt to make him more ‘user friendly’. When OCP unleashes its prototype second-generation cyborg (imaginatively called RoboCop 2) upon an unsuspecting public, Murphy suspects that all is not as it should be with his successor…

The film keeps elements of the black comedy that made the first movie such a hit, whilst upping the amount of violence to almost absurd levels. The body count in RoboCop 2 puts its predecessor to shame; it really is quite silly at times! This sequel is the closest to the original, at least in terms of the overall ‘feel’ of the movie, and isn’t a bad film in its own right.

RoboCop 3 centres on OCP’s continuing attempts to build Delta City, effectively replacing the old city of Detroit. Obviously the home-owners aren’t going without a fight, and so OCP enlists the help of an army of ruthless mercenaries to forcibly evict them. All of this goes against RoboCop’s programming, so when is he ordered to help the mercenaries in their duties, he rebels and switches sides.

This is, without a doubt, the weakest of the three movies. Gone is the black humour and tongue in cheek ultra-violence of the first two films, only to be replaced by a sanitised version of our favourite crime fighting cyborg. It’s also fairly obvious that there is a different guy in the Robo suit, and he’s not up to the standard that Peter Weller set. The problem with this instalment is that it tries to pander to a younger audience, which isn’t what RoboCop is about.

RoboCop is also too easily defeated in this film. The RoboCop of the first two movies would have made short work of the various villains in this instalment, but our Robo gets his butt kicked with alarming regularity. The dialogue is also poorly written, and some of the actors deliver inadequate performances. Overall this is a severe letdown, but one that you should at watch at least once, if only so as to appreciate the other two films more.

The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, complete with anamorphic enhancement. The special effects look a little dated now, but this isn’t surprising considering the age of the film. There has been some concern over the decision to release the movie in the 1.85:1 ratio, as opposed to the 1.66:1 ratio preferred by Verhoeven, but it is worth remembering that it was theatrically released at 1.85:1. It is true that the Criterion edition contains more picture information at the top and bottom of the screen, but at the expense of anamorphic enhancement. At the end of the day, you pay your money and you take your choice…

The image itself is slightly better than the Criterion disc in some respects, but noticeably inferior in others. Obviously anamorphic enhancement is the greatest advantage, but the image suffers from an over saturated colour palette. There are also a number of film artefacts to contend with, not to mention a significant amount of aliasing in evidence throughout (more so than the Criterion edition). Overall though, the transfers are fairly evenly matched, with neither being particularly impressive. You might expect the MGM disc to edge in front of the Criterion by virtue of anamorphic enhancement, but the annoying image problems largely negate this benefit. For the technically minded among you, the theatrical cut of the film has an average bit rate of 4.79Mb/sec, with the director’s cut coming in slightly lower at 4.77Mb/sec.

RoboCop 2
Once again we are presented with an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Image quality is actually pretty good throughout, although there is some dirt on the print, and the image isn’t as sharp as it could be. Don’t get me wrong, the image is fine for the most part, with nice deep blacks and good colour reproduction, but it could possibly have been better. The effects in RoboCop 2 are slightly more advanced than in the original, and the movie looks fairly modern for its age, but obviously it can’t hold a candle to recent films in this respect. The video has a high average bit rate of 8.32Mb/sec.

RoboCop 3
As with the first two films, we get an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Picture quality is pretty much the same as RoboCop 2, with only minor image problems to report. The special effects are more ambitious again in this film (with RoboCop flying around in a jetpack among other things), but they lack realism. As with the other sequel, this title features a high average bit rate of 8.58Mb/sec.

While these transfers are not at the cutting edge, they are relatively free from defects and do the source material justice. The sequels look considerably better than the original, although given the age of RoboCop that can be understood, but none of the discs in the box set are going to win any awards for best video.

It's not the size of your gun, it's what you do with it...
RoboCop has undergone the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix treatment, which is both a blessing and a curse. The mix isn’t balanced as well as it could be, and dialogue occasionally gets lost amidst the gunfire and other effects. The rears are used fairly aggressively, but also inappropriately at times. Strangely, some great opportunities for surround action are missed, most noticeably during the many gunfights in the film. These sequences also lack punch. In fact, much of the gunfire and in the movie sounds very weak, and the explosions aren’t what they could be either. In stark contrast to this, certain sequences elicit huge rumbles from the subwoofer. The footsteps of the menacing ED209 are an excellent example, with the bass threatening to shake your living room apart at times. This mix had the potential to be outstanding, but unfortunately the finished article left me slightly disappointed. Having said this, I prefer the MGM 5.1 track to the Dolby Surround track found on the Criterion disc, purely because there’s more going on.

Both RoboCop 2 and 3 are presented in Dolby Surround. My amp didn’t detect them as such, so I can only assume that the necessary flags have not been encoded. Hopefully this will be corrected for the retail release. Manually switching my amp into Pro-Logic mode made a considerable difference to the sound, with some reasonable surround effects in attendance. Dialogue is nice and clear in this mode, and there’s plenty of bass in the action scenes. For all those who question my assertion that the discs have surround mixes, the information comes from the distributor, who confirmed the specs when I queried them.

It’s also worth mentioning the fantastic music that is to be found in RoboCop. The score, written by Basil Poledouris, manages to perfectly capture both the human and the machine elements of the central character. RoboCop 2 ditches the Poledouris score in favour of one from Leonard Rosenman, which is still pretty good. Basil’s music returns for part three, and sounds almost as wonderful as it did in the original.

When it comes to additional material this set is a great improvement over previous versions. The RoboCop disc even has some very nice animated menus. Still, let’s get on to the real features:

Paul Verhoeven, Ed Neumeier and Jon Davison have recorded a new, scene specific commentary track for the RoboCop disc. This is a marked improvement over the Criterion release, simply by virtue of the fact that the commentators are in the same room as one another. As usual, Verhoeven gets very animated while recounting facts about the shooting of the picture, and both Neumeier and Davison are talkative and informative. The structure of the commentary actually follows that of the Criterion release fairly closely, and there is some overlapping between the two. Overall though, this is an excellent and amusing track.

Next up we have the documentary ‘Flesh and Steel: The Making of RoboCop’, which is reasonably self-explanatory. This featurette has interviews with the producer, director, writer and visual effects team among others, as well as some interesting glimpses behind the scenes. At just over thirty-five minutes in length, it is actually quite thorough.

Moving on we come to the original featurettes from 1987 (yes, it was that long ago). The first, entitled ‘Shooting RoboCop’, is introduced as a kind of ‘mockumentary’, with Peter Weller and Miguel Ferrer reprising their roles as RoboCop and Bob Morton respectively. The segment contains interviews interspersed with clips from the movie. The second featurette, entitled ‘Making RoboCop’, is you more typical ‘making of’ documentary, and follows the same suite as the other featurette in this section. Both featurettes have an approximate runtime of eight minutes.

The deleted scenes come next, although they aren’t the lost gems that I had been hoping for. Four scenes are included; the first scene is set in the OCP boardroom, and shows Morton and Johnson being interviewed by the press. This is actually not a bad scene, just a little short. The next deleted scene is even shorter, and features Media Break’s roving reporter interviewing a nun on the street. It’s highly forgettable stuff… Next up we have ‘Topless Pizza’, which doesn’t leave too much to the imagination. It’s basically a television advert for the show ‘It’s Not My Problem’ (otherwise known as the ‘I’d buy that for a dollar’ show). The final deleted scene is the last Media Break, featuring Lewis in the hospital recovering from the injuries she sustains at the end of the movie. The reasons behind this scene’s omission are discussed on the commentary track. Also in this section is some rough-cut footage of the director’s cut scenes, such as production footage of Murphy’s death. It’s nothing that you can’t watch in the completed movie though. There you have it. Not the best bunch of deleted scenes I’ve encountered, but not the worst.

If you’re a fan of trailers, then you’re well catered for here. Included are both theatrical trailers (including the original trailer that used the theme music from The Terminator), trailers for RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3, and a TV spot. There’s really nothing more to say about these.

The penultimate feature is a storyboard comparison, with commentary by visual effects maestro, Phil Tippett. Phil takes a look at how the ED-209 sequence was achieved, using storyboards and footage from the movie.

Finally we come to the extensive stills galleries. These contain pictures from just about every phase of the production, set to music from the score, and are an excellent addition if you like that sort of thing. Personally, stills galleries leave me cold…

Unfortunately the extras on the second and third discs are very poor. Basically we’re given the theatrical trailers for each film, which is hardly going set the world alight is it? However, the extensive extras on the first disc do good job of clawing back respectability.

Look out, it's Robopimp!!
So, would I I’d buy it for a dollar? Well, on balance the RoboCop Trilogy is a success. The three movies are very different, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. RoboCop is an intelligent, satirical black comedy, the second film is a violent action piece, with the third film being aimed squarely at a younger audience – something for everybody you might say.

The box set is almost, but not quite, a RoboCop fan’s dream. Some great additional material accompanies the original film, but it’s a real shame that the sequels have been severely neglected in that department. If they had received the same treatment as RoboCop, this box set would have become an essential purchase. Still, the visual and aural elements of the discs are mostly good, and the presentation fine. If however you’re only after the first film, then you could be left feeling a little cheated by the bare-bones sequels. Hopefully MGM will see their way clear to releasing RoboCop separately so as to give people a choice. That said, the out of print Criterion disc is almost as expensive as this box set. If MGM could have ironed out some of the bugs, and included more bonus material for the sequels, then this would have been something very special. As it is, the box set is still a worthy purchase for those who do not yet own the films. However, if you own the Criterion disc and you’re not interested in the sequels, you’re probably best sticking with that.

Note: There is a noticeable problem with the branching employed on the RoboCop disc. Rather than being the seamless affair you would expect, the branching elicits a short pause (akin to a layer change) each time the disc switches from theatrical to director’s cut footage. This varies in duration from player to player, and there are four pauses during the director’s cut of the film. It can be a little distracting, and should have been avoided.