Robocop Trilogy (US - BD)
Gabe Powers revisits all three of the Robocop films in high definition video...
Robocop is one of my top ten favourite movies of any type. It’s a brilliant dark comedy, and biting satire of the Regan era, wrapped up as a high octane, ultra violet action flick. Robocop is also one of those films that sticks with you thanks to outrageously violet imagery, a witty script, teeth gnashing performances, even very specified sound effects. Who can forget the melting man, Murphy’s one-liners, Kurtwood Smith’s career best (Ooo, guns, guns, guns), or the sound of ED-209 roaring like a lion as it attacks? Good movies are memorable, but great movies crawl under your skin and become a part of you, and Robocop is a pretty big part of me. More critically speaking, Edward Neumeier’s script is one of tightest of any ‘80’s blockbuster, and it works on multiple levels. Sadly the political satire is just as pertinent as it was in 1988 (privatized hospitals, armies, and police forces, impossible!). Paul Verhoeven’s direction is a fluid mix of steady cams and comic book inspired lighting.
The first sequel to the coolest robot police officer movie ever isn’t good, but it’s better than its original reputation suggests. Frank Miller’s script, which was reportedly cut in half, is written in the spirit and style of the first film, and his comic sensibilities work well for the more over-the-top stuff (only four minutes in and prostitutes are already beating a dude up). There are two major problems though: too much plot and too many threads dropped. Murphy’s obsession with his old life is really forgotten after being set up as a major dramatic issue, and we get precious little time with the evil Robocop II. Director Irvin Kershner (yeah, the Empire Strikes Back guy) really embraces this comic book flare with colourful photography and amped up action. The continuation of the story works well too, though the film can veer into the bleak, and the film was very controversial when released, mostly for the use of a child as one of the chief villains. I’d argue that overall part two is more violent than even the unrated version of the original film (which features four super graphic scenes). In the end, Robocop 2 isn’t much, but it features some great cinematic violence, some colourful photography, and some of the last stop motion effects in major motion picture history.
Not a lot was expected from the third trip to future Detroit, but everyone was still extremely disappointed with Robocop 3. First things first: the dreaded PG-13 rating. It's a very shallow criticism, but the first two films revel in their raunchy violence like too few other American films at the time. One could make a pretty convincing argument that the only good thing about the second film was the fact that it was so blatantly offensive. When a film series that wears its ultra-violence with a smile is so suddenly tamed one can't help but feel a bit ripped off. There’re hardly even any of the great tongue-in-cheek commercials found in the previous two instalments. There's a lot to be said for Frank Miller's script, which was apparently originally part of his mammoth Robocop 2 script, and there are some great looking missed opportunities every which way. Like X-Men: The Last Stand, Robocop 3 gets so very close to taking the whole Robocop story to a satisfying conclusion. Alex Murphy ends up joining an underground resistance against the corporate run city of Detroit. He even takes on a genius kid as a sort of side-kick in a nice contrast to the bad-guy kid in part two, but none of this works because the filmmakers don't know how to treat the material. Robocop 3 attempts levity, and has the potential for some real drama, but in the face of its neutered violence and lack of adult aspirations, not to mention the wrong kind of humour, the film fails again and again. In the end we have a Saturday morning cartoon version of the original film, complete with various attachments to Robocop's cyborg frame, enabling the film to sell more toys.
For some reason the first and best film in this collection has been released as a 25GB single layer disc, while the two sequels are 50GB dual layer discs. I’m not sure if extra space would make any difference based on the lack of extras, but it does point to a lack of effort on MGM’s part. The original film has a pretty bad reputation on digital video. The Criterion release was non-anamorphic, while other DVDs were grainy, and the first Blu-ray looks pretty much exactly like the anamorphic DVDs. This transfer isn’t particularly impressive, close to what I’ve seen from the other disc on other sites, but I was unable to do a direct comparison because I don’t own the old release. The DNR gremlins have been kept at bay, which means the print is pretty grainy, and in darkness things get a little muddy. Verhoeven and his cinematographers aim for a pretty cold look, with lots of fluorescent lighting. There’s not a lot of high contrast or room for super sharp details. Colours aren’t very poppy, but are clean, and I only noticed a little bleeding on some of the edges. The framing is incorrect, at 1.85 instead of 1.66, and there is a slight headspace problem, but nothing maddening.
Robocop 2 is a more colourful film, with a bigger budget, and has been treated with more care here. The details are extra crisp and the neon colours are extremely vibrant without bleeding. Irvin Kershner really embraces the comic book style not only with these colours, but with higher contrast lighting, and more pin lights. Robocop himself is also quite a bit shinier. There is, however, still plenty of grain over the print, and the grain levels change from scene to scene. Robocop 3 is more of the same, though I’d say details are a tiny bit sharper, and there’s less grain overall. Director Fred Dekker surprisingly doesn’t go for quite as neon and comic booky look as Kershner, but it’s still a pretty colourful flick, which is as much as we can expect from the director of Night of the Creeps. Black levels are especially deep this round, which leads to some minor edge enhancement.
This is my first listen to Robocop remixed into 5.1, and I’m pretty happy about it. All three films are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Robocop features the weakest of the tracks, and there’s not all that much in the way of surround structure, but it’s more boisterous than the 2.0 tracks, mostly thanks to the LFE. Any ED-209 moment is worth the upgrade for all the whirring gears, heavy stomping, and animal noises. Pretty much any gunshot or robot stomp benefits from the discreet bass channel, and the uncompressed nature of the track makes for a nice, theatrical experience. Also listen for some nice spatial representation on the shooting range, and in the last battle warehouse.
Robocop 2 is a bigger movie, and has bigger soundscape. The action scenes are spectacular, loud, and utilize the stereo and surround speakers effectively. It’s not an eternally aggressive track, but it has the stuff where it counts, including a realistic representation of sound change due to camera movement. The climax is a blast of sound design, including all manner of explosives and guns, differing robot servos, cartoony highlights, and breaking concrete. Only the musical score suffers some rather low volume levels. Robocop 3 was released in digital 5.1, so it sounds the strongest of all mixes. The scene where Lewis and a few no name cops are stalked by ‘Splatter Punks’ features a great round of directional effects, and even quiet scenes feature ambient work. The gunplay and explosions are equally loud.
The only extras are trailers for each film. Guess you gotta hang on to that Criterion disc after all.
This new set is only for people that like all three movies, it’s not a replacement for the original Blu-ray release unfortunately. Robocop still doesn’t look much better than a DVD, and there are no extras to speak of except some trailers. The good news is that it’s the uncut version of the film, and parts two and three look and sound pretty great, they just still aren’t very good movies. The price is pretty good though, so I’m not one to judge if you’re a fan of PG-13 Robocop.
*Note: The images on this page are taken from the UK Blu-ray release of RoboCop.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 5th October 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul Verhoven, Irvin Kershner, Fred Dekker
Cast: Peter Weller, Ronny Cox, Robert Burke
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama and Sci-Fi
Length: 325 minutes
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