RoboCop (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes an early look at the Blu-ray release of the recent RoboCop remake
I didn’t begin this review with the intention of comparing this remake to the original RoboCop, but the 1987 feature is such an iconic piece of work comparisons were inevitable. With that said, despite being firmly in the camp of those who wondered why we even needed a remake to begin with, I tried to go in with an open mind. Long story short, I didn’t hate it, but beyond the flashy special effects - pretty much de rigour for a film these days - I struggled to see exactly what this version brought to the table.
The core elements of the original are here - hero cop critically injured in the line of duty, resurrected as a crime-fighting cyborg, faces off against a corrupt corporation while trying to bring those responsible for his ‘accident’ to justice - but there are significant differences in the execution. The original was a darkly satirical commentary on corporate greed, and while elements of that are retained for the remake the primary target here appears to be America’s foreign policy (and it’s not subtle). The characters also undergo some radical changes, not least Murphy himself, who is given significantly more pre-transformation screen-time with a greater emphasis on his family life (something only seen in flashbacks in the original film). Others are re-imagined (different genders, races, or both), distilled into multiple characters, or eliminated entirely.
This distillation of traits from some of the original’s most memorable characters is perhaps the film’s biggest weakness (alongside the lackadaisical pacing), because those characters served as the primary antagonists in the first film. Anyone who’s watched the original RoboCop can attest to the sadistically twisted nature of villains Clarence Boddicker and Dick Jones, who must rank as two of the most despicable ‘bad guys’ in cinematic history. Boddicker was pure evil; a conscienceless psychopath who made the perfect adversary for the machine with a soul. If anything Jones was even worse, representing everything that was wrong with corporate greed. While outwardly respectable he was just as sick and twisted as Boddicker; the devil in a three-piece suit, if you will. Unfortunately the remake lacks villains of their calibre, replacing them with three (or is it four?) antagonists who are neither as evil nor memorable (Antoine Vallon, anyone?). As well all know, a hero is only as good as his villain(s)...
Curiously for a film trying to distance itself from the original, there are numerous explicit references to scenes from the earlier film. I’m sure they were thrown in as a playful nod to the fans, but serve only to remind of superior moments from Verhoeven’s film (the ‘I’d buy that for a dollar’ riff is a painfully forced throwaway). The action is also a pale imitation of the ’87 film, no doubt hindered by its family-friendly rating, but also surprisingly boring when compared even to other ‘PG-13’ type movies. Murphy’s death is impersonal, lacking the visceral violence that made the original so memorable, and action set-pieces such as the warehouse raid and the storming of the Omnicorp building are also remarkably dull CGI-fests, with much of the action cloaked in darkness. It’s also a decidedly humourless affair, with only Sam Jackson’s lampooning of A-hole political commentators of Bill O’Reilly's ilk raising a hint of a smile.
On the positive side the principal cast deliver decent performances across the board, with Joel Kinnaman rising above the material to emerge relatively unscathed. As you’d expect, there are reliable turns from the likes of Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Jackie Earle Haley, and the aforementioned Jackson steals every scene he’s in. The effects are also pretty decent on the whole (although the CGI does occasionally lack weight), and the decision to have Murphy be aware of his transformation from the beginning does at least differentiate the remake from the original (if not entirely successfully). As I said at the beginning of the review, there’s nothing particularly offensive about this remake, but neither is there anything particularly memorable. It's the cinematic equivalent of beige.
From what I've been able to ascertain, RoboCop was predominantly shot digitally using a mixture of Arri Alexa and Red Epic cameras, the results of which make for an extremely impressive transfer to Blu-ray. Of course a pristine transfer from a digital source makes for fairly boring criticism, because there's really not much to criticise. I generally find it far more satisfying to write about poor transfers, or even newly-minted transfers of old films, where there's actually something to discuss about beyond 'it looks like it was shot last week'. In this case there isn't much else to say; it looks like it was shot recently, because it was. The move to Blu-ray is nigh-on flawless, with razor sharp detail, particularly in close-ups, spot-on brightness and contrast, and no obvious artefacts to report beyond a couple of instances of minor banding. To be honest I think it's easier to let the accompanying screen captures speak to the quality of the visuals, which actually look even better in motion, but I will say that this is one of the best looking discs I've seen this year.
The impressive visuals are supported by an (almost) equally impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that delivers strong action sequences, without compromising the subtleties of the quieter moments. Of course, said action sequences make for the most enjoyable moments, affording the track ample opportunity to flex its aural muscles by enveloping the listener in a three-hundred-and-sixty degree sound-field. Fidelity is superb throughout, and there are some very effective transitions between the various channels during the livelier moments. Bass is robust - Robo's footsteps elicit a very satisfying thud from the sub, as do the numerous explosions peppered throughout the film - and dialogue is always intelligible. For me the only weak element is the score, not because it's poorly mixed, but rather because it's utterly generic. It fails to establish its own identity, instead cribbing its best moments from the original film in the form of a reworked version of Basil Polidouris' iconic theme. A couple of the action sequences also utilise source music that is incongruous with the main score, to jarring effect. It's still a great soundtrack though, if not quite up there with the likes of Gravity and Pacific Rim.
On paper the disc would appear to include a fairly healthy collection of bonus material, but the reality is that much of what's on offer is pretty weak. This is immediately apparent from the insipid clutch of deleted scenes, none of which brings anything remotely interesting to the table. The trend continues with a bunch of faux commercials for Omnicorp products, such as ED-209 and RoboCop himself, which provide little insight into the various machines beyond some basic tech specs delivered by a female voice-over.
Things take a bit of an upturn when we get to the featurettes, of which there are three in total. 'The Illusion of Free Will' comes first and explores the genesis and making of the project, but at just seven-minutes it struggles to to do so with any real depth. Still, I like to think whoever named it was having a pop at director José Padilha's naivety with regards to studio politics... 'To Serve and Protect' is another seven-minuter that focuses on Robo's weaponry, while 'The Robocop Suit', at fourteen minutes, does at least provide a decent (if fluffy) look at the making of the new RoboCop suit. Bringing up the rear for this disappointing showing is the film's theatrical trailer.
That a film which makes such a song and dance about identity struggles so much to find one of its own is an amusing source of irony. It's not completely without merit, but for someone who grew up with the ultra-violent (and more intelligent) original it just doesn't cut the mustard. Although not much longer, it feels positively ponderous next to the earlier feature, and while I'm not one to insist on violence for violence's sake, the decision to deliver something that can be watched by relatively young children ultimately results in a rather toothless affair. Regardless of my feelings towards the film, fans (and I know the film has its share) should be delighted with the strong audio-visual presentation. The bonus material isn't anything to write home about, but that's about par for the course these days.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 9th June 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, LPCM 2.0 Stereo English, DTS Audio Description 2.0 English
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Omnicorp Corporate, Featurettes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: José Padilha
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Samuel L. Jackson
Length: 118 minutes
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