This review originally appeared in issue 11 of THE CINEMA LASER.
After the long anticipated wait, Voyager's extended, unrated THX certified version of ROBOCOP ($100) is finally here.
ROBOCOP is without a doubt one of the best science fiction films of the eighties; it is also one of the best social satires of that very same decade. Set at an unspecified time in the future, ROBOCOP is the tale of police officer Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller) who is killed by the most vicious gang of criminals in the city of old Detroit, and reborn via technology, as the cyborg title character. Director Paul Verhoeven depicts Murphy as a Christlike figure, a good man who is tortured and crucified by the evil forces in the film. Murphy is then resurrected by the modern gods the corporation and technology. As Robocop, Murphy's memory has been wiped by the corporation that rebuilt him. He exists solely as a product of the corporation. He is now in essence, a man without a life or identity. Slowly, clues about his true identity force Robocop's conscious and subconscious mind to seek out his past, and try to reclaim the man he once was.
The corporation that created ROBOCOP, OmniConsumer Products (OCP), is portrayed as a satirization of the corporate greed of the eighties. In the future, the world is run by the profit driven corporations. Every aspect of the government is slowly becoming privatized, with the police department the latest acquisition of OCP. OCP runs the police force and builds the machines they will use to replace police officers. Only in corporate America could this happen. OCP's first police replacement prototype, the ED 209 doesn't quite perform up to specifications during a presentation. In fact, the damn thing doesn't work. But that doesn't matter, because OCP already has the ED 209 sold to the military for the next 25 years. Ronny Cox portrays OCP senior executive Dick Jones, and Jones is the epitome of the evils of corporate greed. Not only does Jones run the police department through OCP, he is also profiteering by backing old Detroit's number one criminal Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). Jones is the master of the corporate policy: greed is good, and has turned the game of playing both ends against the middle into a high art form.
Another facet of ROBOCOP's social satire are the Mediabreaks which interrupt the plot at various times. In the future, the attention spans of audiences have been eroded by the continuous bombardment of television, so newscasts can't last more than a minute. The Mediabreaks only deliver what we need to know at the given moment. Sandwiched into the Mediabreaks is some of the most absurd advertising you are ever likely to see... that is, until the future. The Mediabreaks also serve two plot purposes in the film. First, they are designed deliver portions of the film's exposition. Second, they interject humor into ROBOCOP at critical times.
The cast of ROBOCOP also includes Nancy Allen as officer Lewis, the sharp cop who is able to recognize the man beneath Robocop's metal exterior as her former partner Murphy. Dan O'Herlihy is "The Old Man", who heads OCP. And Miguel Ferrer as Robert Morton, the OCP junior exec who heads the Robocop program and steps on Dick Jones' toes.
We now come to the matter of the restored footage. The footage that was originally cut from ROBOCOP to avoid the dreaded "X" rating can be counted in seconds. But, these brief snippets of film make some important differences in ROBOCOP. The first addition takes place in the board room scene where the ED 209 is presented for the first time. Instead of the quick cut away, when the Ed 209 malfunctions and begins shooting the hapless junior exec repeatedly, the sequence is now extended and the ED 209 keeps shooting and shooting and shooting until the junior exec resembles bloody chopped meat. The excessive violence of this restored footage turns the sequence on its ear. Where the scene used to be horrific, it is now over the top, and quite funny. Director Paul Verhoeven originally intended the real violence in this sequence to become cartoon violence. The horrific aspects of this scene have been eliminated thanks to the restored footage. Whether they knew it or not, the MPAA made this sequence far more horrifying by forcing the footage out of ROBOCOP. The second addition restores much more of the horror to Murphy's death scene, forcing the viewer to identify even more strongly with Murphy's plight. The restored footage turns Murphy's death into a crucifixion, which adds deeper significance to his later resurrection. This cut hurt ROBOCOP far more than the earlier cut, since it reduces the audience's empathy for Murphy when he is brutally murdered.
ROBOCOP is now a much stronger movie, thanks to the restoration of only a few seconds of film.
Voyager's new Letterboxed transfer of ROBOCOP is terrific, it totally blows away Image's old transfer. The image has been Letterboxed to the director approved aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and the framing appears dead on. The colors are rich and very smooth on this new edition, making the older transfer look like garbage by comparison. Contrast and detail have also been vastly improved by the new digital transfer. The new transfer gives ROBOCOP the kind of movie quality one finds in a theater with top notch projection (something not found in many places). With the new digital transfer, one can truly appreciate Jost Vacano's superior cinematography. This just wasn't possible on the old disc. To its credit, the soundtrack on the older issue of ROBOCOP was quite good. Actually, the soundtrack was the only thing that was good about that transfer. But, the new disc easily beats the older soundtrack. The digitally encoded Dolby Surround soundtrack is cleaner on this new transfer, and has better separation and directionality. Basil Poledouris' heroic score just sounds great on this new release. ROBOCOP has been presented on four sides in CAV, which allows one to step through the stop motion ED 209 sequences, as well as the other special effect sequences. The Japanese pressing was virtually flawless.
Voyager has included a number of interesting features to supplement their release of ROBOCOP. The multimedia style of the "SHOOTING ROBOCOP" sequence is way cool, and it makes reading the text off your monitor fun. The audio commentary by director Paul Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeier and producer Jon Davison is entertaining and informative, but not quite as detailed as one might like. The film to storyboard comparison is an excellent feature, giving the viewer a better understanding of that part of the creative film making process. The publicity section is skimpy, and the omission of a theatrical trailer for ROBOCOP is something fans are going to notice right away. An undocumented feature, "ROBOCOP IN 2 MINUTES", presents multiple images of the film at an accelerated pace this is something that only the MTV generation or Mediabreak fans could enjoy. The $100.00 asking price for ROBOCOP is steep, and we know a lot of collectors will have trouble justifying it, so we make the following recommendations. Many Laserdisc outlets sell discs at twenty percent off, and they don't charge for shipping. Live without a few "junk" Laserdisc titles you don't absolutely have to own. Finally, you can sell your old copy of ROBOCOP to someone less critical, to help lessen the hit on your wallet. These suggestions are intended to help ROBOCOP fans on a limited budget afford one of their favorite films. If you still can't come up with the necessary funds, Voyager's track record indicates a lower priced CLV edition of ROBOCOP will be released at some point in the future.
Voyager's Criterion Collection release of ROBOCOP is the absolute best NTSC transfer of the science fiction classic you are ever likely to see. It is also the only way to see the complete and uncut ROBOCOP. For these reasons, this release of ROBOCOP gets our recommendation.
reviews are Copyright © 1996 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied
or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.