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DVD Review: RoboCop - Special Edition

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Studio: Orion


Distributer: MGM (Region 2-only)





[Note from me: I've been swamped with work this week, so apologies for the lack of a News update. As something of a peace offering, here's one of my most requested reviews for your viewing pleasure. And if that's not good enough, you can all eat my dick.]





You know what's really amusing? People who don't understand satire. And what's even more amusing? The people who don't understand it are usually the ones being targeted by it.





Meet Paul Verhoeven, visionary director whose films have been branded as 'cult classics' due to the public-at-large's inability to understand them. There's a great user comment on the DVD Times review: "This movie is a shitload full of crap. Bad script, bad acting, unnessesary graphic violence and disastress directing. Robocup is a stupid and terrible movie in all aspects."





If you are a person with such an opinion, I extend a personal request for you to please leave the site and never return again. For everyone else, read on and find out how one of the greatest films of the eighties has received the DVD treatment it deserves...











Okay, if you're reading this, you probably only care about the DVD special features. Well, here's a little link so you can go straight there without listening to me slobbering all over Paul Verhoeven's nuts.




Still here? Wow, you must really want to hear what I've got to say. Well, below is the review of the original RoboCop. Why not a review of the other two? Well firstly, the "Special Edition" part of this DVD collection only refers the first film - the other two are nice, but not SE material. Which is good, because nobody really likes the sequels, which is basically my second reason for not reviewing them. I personally love the second film - I actually prefer it over the first - but it is an inferior film. Great action, but totally devoid of the depth that Verhoeven gave the original. And as for the third, Christ almighty...




The original seems to be the only part of the trilogy that anyone wants to hear about, so I'm buggered if I'm gonna rant(™) about the other two for no good reason.










This is one of the most misunderstood films in US cinema, right behind Fight Club and Starship Troopers. It still amazes me when I see comments like the one in the introduction - not so much for the comment itself, but for the sheer number of people who subscribe to it. What's the difference between people who understand satire and people who don't? Some people have a sense of humour, some people are just assholes.




The film is so much more than ultraviolence and coarse language - it really is a gloriously black satire, loaded with razor sharp wit and social commentary. And that's really the problem: you can't be satirical without being controversial. The violence is often vulgar, vile, and utterly shocking... taken out of context, and that's all it is. But placed within the framework of very dry, very black comedy, it speaks volumes about the society it is satirising.




More than just satire, the film is a veiled interpretation of the Crucifixtion, something Verhoeven was very aware of when directing the film, but was almost entirely missed by the majority of viewers (i.e. those who didn't think he film was funny). Murphy's hand is 'nailed' to the floor; he dies and is 'resurrected', making the world a better place; c'mon, he even walks on water at the end...




There's just so much to this movie that one can barely identify it as American cinema. Would it have been the same film if anyone else had directed it? Actually, just think about what happened to it the moment someone else got their hands on it. No - this film is Paul Verhoeven. It is largely his commentary on the United States. For all intents and purposes, this is a European film with an American cast.




Hardcore violence and robots beating the shit out of each other for the action junkies, black humour, biting social commentary and theological overtones for the thinkers - this flick has everything.




Movie Rating: *****


"You down with OCP? Yeah you know me!"










So, is RoboCop: Special Edition better than the Criterion edition? Hell the hell yeah. In every possible respect.




On all three films, the picture and sound are better than ever: a clean, colourful, very anamorphic transfer and 5.1 mix on Robo 1, with decent Dolby mixes for the sequels. After watching a fifteen year-old video for the last, um, fifteen years, I was amazed at some of teh detail I had missed; I always thought that Robo's armour only got the irridescent blue treatment in the sequels, but there he is, blowing away Clarence's gang in shiny blue glory. Even with my copy of Robo 2 there was stuff I hadn't noticed, like the fact that ol' steel tits has got neon blue bulbs on the back of his (de-helmeted) head.




It's also important to note that both Robo and Robo 2 are the Director's Cuts (2 is automatically so; on the original, you get to choose between the theatrical and Director's version). This probably sounds more exciting than it is, as the extra footage basically just makes the two flicks more violent:  Kenny now gets utterly ripped apart by ED-209, and Murphy's murder is a lot nastier, with a focus on his arm being blown off at the bicep and a Matrix-style shot of his brains flying out the back og his head. In Robo 2, there are a couple of extended shots: one of the hookers who mug the guy at the beginning actually stomps her stilleto into his eye (hence his "You put my eye out, fucking bitches!") and Lewis shooting the shit out of one of Cain's cronies when the cops capture Cain.




Interestingly, the DVD Times review refers to the extra scenes in the Director's Cut being integrated via seamless branching, which was purported to be as "non-seamless" as the X-Men disc. Well, it may very well be seamless branching, but if it is, the branching is not at all noticable - neither on my DVD-ROM or standalone player. So don't worry - your enjoyment of additional superviolence won't be spoiled by layer changes or pauses.




The extra violence is just one of the subjects covered in the awesome commentary which features Paul Verhoeven, John Davidson, and screenwriter Ed Neumeier. Again, this track is superior to that found on the Criterion release for a number of reasons, namely that all the participants were in the same room when they recorded it, and because it is a more recent and contemporary in its content (for example, their comparison of certain Media Break stories to George W. Bush's politics). Some have complained about Verhoeven commentaries in the past, but even if you hate him there's enough chatter being bouced off the other participants that 1) he won't get a chance to bug you, and 2) more importantly, there are hardly any uncomfortable bouts of silence. This is easily one of my favourite DVD commentaries, with a great balance of info, humour and reminiscing.




Flesh and Steel: The Making of RoboCop is a retrospective on the film, with contributions from Verhoeven, screenwriters Neumeier and Miner, Phil Tippett, composer Basil Poledounis and others. This is a great, insightful piece, and certainly not that HBO crap we're usually subjected to on DVD. Did you know Michael Ironside was originally considered for the lead? Or that RoboCop is an American replacement for Jesus? There's some cool, cool stuff in this doc, from discussion of the film's score, to the use of stop-motion, to discussion of the violence - and best of all, they really don't pull any punches, and Verhoeven doesn't hide the fact that he thinks shooting is the worst part of making movies. 37 minutes of pure insight.




There are two shorter making-of featurettes, both from 1987, and run about 8 minutes each. These are a nice blend between HBO fluff and behind-the-scenes as well as on-set footage and interviews. Not as good as the 'Flesh and Steel' doc, but worth watching.




There's four deleted scenes, one of which may or may not be an alternate ending. "OCP Press Conference" is, well, an OCP press conference, with Bob Morton and Johnson taking mundane questions from reporters ('How intelligent is he?' 'What's his personality?'). "Nun in the Street" plays up the Jesus parallels even more ('Crisis is God's way of seeking the truth'), as a Nun is interviewed by a Media Break cronie. "Topless Pizza" is one of the film's mock-TV spots, this time with the 'I'd buy that for a dollar!' guy groping some tits at a topless pizzaria, advertising his show "It's Not My Problem!" The last scene, "Final Media Break", looks like it would have taken place right after the old man asks Robo what his name is, and so might qualify as an alternate ending. It shows Lewis in a hospital bed, saying how great it is to be a cop, and Casey and Leeza reporting that the Police strike is resolved and the cops are back at work.




Also included in the deleted scenes is "Production Footage", which consists of a lot of rushes and a few effects tests, with a lot of focus on the Murphy mutilation scene. Nothing great here, an abandoned shot of Robo at the end which totally exposes the fake rubberness of the armour.




There's a pretty cool stills gallery, which is actually a rolling slideshow of images set to the film's score, with pictures in six categories: Cast, Paul Verhoeven, Design, ED-209, Effects, Behind-The-Scenes. There's also two trailers and a TV spot for Robo 1, and a trailer each for the sequels. Interesting is that the first trailer for Robo 1 is set to the Terminator score, and feels a lot rougher and more B-movie-ish than the second, slicker trailer with the proper score. The Robo 3 trailer is the original American one that betrayed how crap the film actually was, rather than the International one, which made the film look pretty cool.




The menus are very cool - all are blue, interspersed with blue-hued film clips and CG renders of Robo. They're of the "long enough to be cool, but not so long as to get fucking boring after the tenth time" variety. However, on the Robo 2 and 3 discs, there are no animated intros, menus, or scene selections. Factor in that there is no additional material for the two sequels, the last two discs feel a little rushed and incomplete. But, as we've already agreed, most people will buy this set for the first film, and consider the other two merely as glorified extras. And despite my twisted need to see a documentary about the troubles of the third film, I'm not going to chastise the set's score because the first disc is ridiculously loaded with features.




Extras Rating: *****


A seriously unhealthy amount of extras on the first disc, but nothing for the sequels... oh hell, what you get is still more fun than anal sex with Lita. Maybe.










One very very wonderful film that has stood the test of time, one killer action film with a lot less thinking involved, one campy piece of cinematic tragedy and a shitload of extras. Once again, this is a Region 2 set, and is currently unavailable in the US. There have been a lot of rumours of the set getting a Region 1 release, and I've no doubt it will. BUT, since MGM only released their barebones version late last year, they'll want to squeeze a little more mileage out of it, so you probably won't see the set for a while. You can either wait and see, or if you've got multi-region capability, pick up this version. If you don't know an importer, try Amazon UK - the set is roughly $42 plus shipping.




Overall: *****


You know how great it is, so it's your move. Creep.








Jay Spree



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