And so with the DVD format I’m gradually filling in the holes of my childhood with films I haven’t seen. Of course I was a child of the 90s so movies that were released in the 80s never really gave off any kind of allure that made me want to see them. Still, I was fully aware of Robocop and its sequels and despite never seeing the films I had always been curious about them.
Robocop is set in a futuristic world (unfortunately because the film was made in the 80s, this futuristic world looks like the 1980s with fancy buildings) where Detroit is running rampant with crime and drugs and cops are dying every day. The police department is eventually purchased by a business called OCP, which supplies them with the necessary weapons and armor to defend themselves against the criminals. Of course, with plans to pave over Old Detroit and create a New Detroit, free of crime, amped up cops aren’t going to do it and OCP has plans for robotic police forces to be unleashed upon the city to enact a drastic drop in the crime rate.
I’ve seen plenty of violent and gory films through the years but I have to say that Robocop is by far the most gruesome. The gore is almost comical at times and when one of the henchmen is drenched in chemical acids, begins melting and is eventually hit by a car and goes splat all over the windshield, I had to keep myself from laughing. The film is nothing to be taken seriously (and with the title of Robocop, it should be evident why) and while the gore is extreme it’s really just hilarious to watch.
As a film it’s hard to piece together my thoughts on it. Yeah it was enjoyable in the usual popcorn flick sense, but, as I’m finding with a lot of these films I didn’t watch as a kid, it really was a product of its time. If you didn’t grow up with it, there’s a strong chance you’ll find the film nothing more than a quick action flick you’ll never care to watch again. Not to say there aren’t things in the film that aren’t worth viewing, as Peter Weller as Murphy/Robocop is really the highlight of the film, there just isn’t much here that will stick with you after watching it.
I think part of my non-enthusiasm stems from the actors. Not even the cops or the OCP managers, so much as the villains. Seeing Kurtwood Smith as a coke snorting, foul-mouthed killer is a bit jarring after only seeing him in That 70s Show previously and Ray Wise, one of Smith’s characters henchmen, was once a vice president on the show 24 (as an aside, I counted three Robocop alumni who also showed up in 24–Peter Weller included, of course). It’s sad that I couldn’t buy Smith as a cold-blooded villain (even after seeing him murder Murphy early on in the film), but I guess that’s what comedic roles do to you (I imagine this is the reverse process for what Michael Keaton had while filming Batman).
I don’t want to anger any fans of the film by negative comments; I just really think it is something you have to know about before really enjoying. While it’s certainly a fun film to watch once, it doesn’t have much replay value except for the fans. If you haven’t seen it prior, Robocop is a definite Rental.
Of course with a film like Robocop with its fan following, it’s no surprise there have been so many various editions of it over the years. While the Criterion edition was the king of the releases for years, this new 20th Anniversary Edition will blow it away. In addition to all of the extras from the Criterion set as well as the trilogy three-pack release, this two-disc edition comes with three new featurettes with new interviews with cast and crew along the way.
The most noticeable thing when looking at this new DVD? The packaging. Steelbooks are quickly making a name for themselves in the DVD area and Fox is wholeheartedly embracing the packaging, re-releasing old two-discs in new (and shiny) Steelbook casing. In addition to the physical aspect, Steelbooks also tend to add a bit of heft to the overall package, making a special edition really feel “special.” The only questionable thing about this Robocop release is why the packaging as a brownish hue to it when Robocop is a light blue. Very strange.
On the inside of the Steelbook are two discs, an insert advertising other Fox Steelbooks and a two-page insert that gives some information and facts on the film, as well as the chapter stops. The menus on both discs are identical and feature animation on the main menu.
With the visual/audio aspect of the film we get a solid presentation. Not only are we given two variants of the film (rated and an unrated extended cut), but they both sport 5.1 DTS tracks alongside the standard 5.1 Dolby Surround as well as the original Dolby Surround 4.0 and a French Surround track. The DTS track has the slight edge, per usual, but as with most Fox releases the difference between the two isn’t that great. Still, audiophiles will prefer the 5.1 for the richer bass more than anything else. With the video transfer, both cuts look great and there’s a minimal amount of grain, unless we skip into the News segments or the extended footage (the extended footage, made up of more gore, are laden with extra grain). Overall the audio and visual package of the release is extremely pleasing.
All of the extras on the first disc, commentary included, are repeats from the Criterion or trilogy release, while the second disc which houses the extended cut, packs three new featurettes made in 2006. These featurettes include new interviews with cast and crew and I’m actually rather surprised at the production put into these extras as the one son the first disc were rather exhaustive to begin with. Still, the extras are well worth watching and the first of which, “Villains of Old Detroit”, collect interviews with Kurtwood Smith, Ray Wise and Miguel Ferrer, as well as a few others and they all recount how their involvement in the film came to be. All of them are happy to retell the stories from the set and their experiences and this, as well as the “Robocop: Creating a Legend” featurette are up-beat extras that really show how much appreciation the actors have for this film and the success it gave them afterword.
The remaining extra, “Special Effects: Then and Now” takes us into how the ED-209 was made (and the many models that were constructed for him) as well as the production of the actual Robocop suit. The extras on this second disc are near the point of exhaustive and it’s easy to see why the film was such a success as it was—even if I didn’t completely enjoy it myself.
Overall, when coupled with the extras from past releases, this new 20th Anniversary edition of Robocop easily comes as Highly Recommended. While that may seem an odd outcome for a film that I tagged as a rental only in the film portion, the DVD aspect of this release is simply stunning. I doubt a better job could have been done on this release and the fact that Fox/MGM even went so far as to record new extras when they could’ve easily just culled the past releases and throw it onto shelves shows they were dedicated to the fans of the film.
Robocop: 20th Anniversary Edition is now available on DVD.