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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/13/99

1987 (1998) - Orion (Criterion)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Criterion's Robocop Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-, B-, A

Specs and Features

103 mins (director's cut), NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:37, at start of Chapter 17), Amaray keep case packaging, commentary with director Paul Verhoeven, co-writer Edward Neumeier, executive producer Jon Davison and RoboCop expert Paul M. Sammon, film-to-storyboard comparison (boardroom massacre scene), storyboards for two unfilmed sequences, illustrated essay on the making of the film by Paul M. Sammon (originally appeared in Cinefex Magazine), teaser and theatrical trailers, animated film-themed menu screens, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

RoboCop was a shotgun blast to the face of both film critics and film audiences when it was released back in 1987. Not only was it a success, but it's also had a huge influence on science fiction films and literature, giving us more extreme violence in movies, and helping to birth the Cyberpunk genre of American literature. As a film, RoboCop ties all of the necessary cinematic elements together - cosmetically making it one of the most successful "comic book" movies ever made, aside from The Matrix.

The story presents itself basically as a comedy. We find the film winkingly poking fun at a desensitized future society (Detroit, USA), by serving us with hilarious visual puns, wry characterizations, and "blink-and-you-miss-the humor" signs, art direction and wardrobe. The film does a complete 180 degree turn on itself, when we see Peter Weller (later to become the cyborg RoboCop, but here as human Officer Murphy), being tortured by a gang of psychotic bank robbers. It's only at this moment that we come to realize this is film about crime, and law enforcement in the future is no comedy. It's something more dark and sinister, it's about greed and corporate governments -- it's about our world, not the future (or the future world from 1987, come to horrifying life here in the late 90s). This revelation comes too late, I'm afraid. By now, it's too late to turn back -- the movie has all of us totally hooked.

I think that this turning point becomes even more apparent in this DVD special edition by Criterion. In the original theatrical cut, we moved on after Murphy's hand was blown off by a shotgun. With this SE, not only do you get an additional few seconds of explosive bloodletting, you're also (thanks to DVD technology) able to torture yourself by pausing and going frame by frame through the scene. "SEE! How thick and dark the blood is!" "MARVEL! At the realistic prosthetics!" "WINCE! As your stomach starts to turn and you can taste your dinner!" This isn't a version of the film for everyone - but for the brave, it's a special treat.

The Criterion disc is, as a whole, pretty good. It's not as prime a picture as I would have liked to see - no anamorphic widescreen - but it's pretty good. The picture is a bit fuzzy, but the muted colors and harsh metallics are well preserved digitally. I did notice some pretty obvious digital noise reduction, and some edge enhancement, which didn't hurt the picture too much, but will count against my Video rating. The soundtrack is a simple, but thumping, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix that gets the job done - even if a DD 5.1 would have been much cooler.

The special edition materials are what really make this disc hard to not buy. It's packed to the gills. RoboCop features one of the most awesome commentary tracks I've heard, when it comes to pure history and fact. The track features Paul Verhoeven, producer Jon Davison and co-writer Edward Neumeier, and they sure enjoy talking about this film. Recorded separately and edited together, these men discuss everything you ever wanted to know about RoboCop, from its origins, to how many people turned down the directing gig (including Verhoeven originally), to the fight with the MPAA over an X rating. If that's not enough for your money, the supplements also include storyboards for two scenes that weren't filmed, a film-to-storyboard comparison of the corporate boardroom/ED-209 massacre, and an essay written by a RoboCop expert by the name of Paul M. Sammon on the making of the film, which is illustrated throughout with special effects footage from the film. You also get the teaser and theatrical trailer, which are both pretty cool.

The disc looks fine, although with a critical eye you will notice a few problems with the video quality. The sound is pretty much standard, but good. It's those extras that make this disc a killer, and a must own for fans of sci-fi and RoboCop alike. Overall, I'd have to say - to quote Paul McCrane's character Emil - "IIIIIIIIIIIII like it!"

Todd Doogan

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