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DVD (Re-)Review: RoboCop Trilogy - Special Edition

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Studio: Orion


Distributer: MGM (Region 2-only)







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 at the BUTT end of 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...






We bring the wuppin'...












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, originally, I only reviewed the first and original RoboCop, thanks largely to public disinterest/borderline hatred of the two sequels. However, in the many months of maturity that I have been afforded since then, I decided that since this is my review, I'll write about anything I damn well want. To hell with the public! And stuff. So the review is now a more comprehensive look at all three films in the set (although there realy isn't a whole lot else, as you will find out below).
















This is one of the most misunderstood films in US cinema, right next to Fight Club and (maybe) 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.






When Robots Fight 1: So awesome...








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... take it 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. The director was not oblivious to the graphic content of the film; it is there for a reason, and to understand that reason, one must not only watch the whole film, but understand it. And that's the real problem - audiences just don't seem intelligent enough to do that. So it becomes relegated to the "cult" status of films like Blade Runner which, ironically, is exactly where it belongs.






Money shot.







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.






You kinda forget, but this is one nice looking fucking film.







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!"






RoboCop 2




There is the inherent problem with making a sequel to a film, and it goes far beyond whether or not it is "as good" as the original. The problem is in singling out the essence of the film - what made the first one successful, what did audiences connect with; what is the film ABOUT?






"Hey, weren't you in Aliens?" "Yup."








In the case of RoboCop 2, most people - mistakenly - saw it as nothing but a hollow rehash of the original's ultraviolence. It has been argued that the team behind the sequel fall into the same category as the moviegoers who didn't really understand the first film, and saw it as nothing but an exercise in gratuity and violence. And thus, it is argued, that's what they made in the sequel.





But RoboCop 2, like the original, is a far smarter movie than most people (including those who would say the same about the first film) would give it credit for. The violence and action has been upped to almost insane levels, that is true. But the irreverence, the black comedy, even the satirism is still very much alive and well in the sequel. For sure, it is a far blacker movie than Verhoeven's picture, something of a feat in itself. But to equate the incredible violence to a lack of even a limited amount of depth is not at all fair. Hell, watch the opening MagnaVolt commercial and tell me again that this is nothing more than a violent, two-dimensional action movie.






SO badass.






RoboCop 2 superbly continues and develops the story and characters set up in the original. It is for this reason that I inevitably enjoy sequels more than the originals; they aren't burdened with the responsibility of establishing characters and setting up backstory. We are now familiar with the world which is presented, so the filmmakers can just let loose and tell a damn story. And that's what's so great about this flick - it's just a natural progression of the Robo saga. It stays faithful to the original in almost every way, without simply being a hollow retread of it. Great performances, superb action, a pretty decent story, and if you can't enjoy this film on the RoboCop/Cain showdown alone, you simply have no business watching movies. Top notch.




Movie Rating: ****


Scores highly on the "wasn't as good as the first but I enjoyed it more anyway" scale.






...When Robots Fight 2: SatisfACTION guaranteed...






RoboCop 3




Oh, how the mighty have fallen.




RoboCop 3 is just a terrible, terrible movie in just about every respect. I remember being SOOOO jacked about seeing it all those years ago, after seeing a really nice little trailer for it (which sadly is not present on the set). Man, I must have been naïve, because this film is like getting head from a pirahna.






...When Robots Fight 3: OH. DEAR. LORD.






From time to time, there are flashes of brilliance. Okay, flashes of moderate goodness. Okay, flashes of POTENTIAL. The problem is, the whole thing is undermined by just how damn hokey The film is. RoboCop is a franchise that really struggles to exist within the confines of a lower movie rating. It’s a very dark, violent, aggressive story, and if you take out the profanity, the gore, the violence ? you’re just left with a hokey comic book film. And RoboCop 3 seems insistent upon fulfilling this destiny.




I don't know to what extent comic book extroadinaire Frank Miller's influence extended, but the story, dialogue and execution is just so B-movie-ish. References and homages to the first two films (the "I'd buy that for a dollar" guy and ED-209's cameo spring straight to mind) are nothing but shallow attempts to reaffirm the film's identity and connection with the canon and success of the originals. In fact, they just expose this film for what it is: a sequel that shouldn't have been made, with actors that shouldn't have been cast, with a story and ideas that didn't need to be and shouldn't have been told.






This deserves no caption.







The acting, for lack of a better term, deserves extra special mention. Peter Weller passed on this before they'd even phoned to ask, but Nancy Allen (Lewis), Felton Perry (Johnson) and Robert Do’Qui (Sergeant Reed), obviously on the actor's dole, all return. Allen and Perry are their usual, dependable selves , but Do’Qui (what is he, a Klingon?) seems to have had his testacles interfered with, because his voice seems drastically different. Nonetheless, they comprise the “A-level” talent in this flick, because everbody else is just TERRIBLE. John Castle is simply the most un-terrifying villain ever. He's just so crap and ineffectual. It's like, he makes all these threats and tries to sound badass, but between his overly fruity English accent and sheer acting ineptitude, just comes off like somebody's dad. And as for Rip Torn... well, he's Rip Torn - he's allowed to be crap.






For shame, Stephen. FOR SHAME.








Of particular note too is a pre-Newsradio Stephen Root, who just spends the whole film looking strung out and making Dolph Lungren look like Oliver fucking Reed. And the replacement RoboCop Robert Burke? OY VEY. He's just so crap and soft. He talks like a fag and he just can't stop smiling. There's a really goofy spinning Batlogo shot right out of the Adam West Batman campfest that pans out from Robo's head where he wakes up from a bad dream (no, I couldn't make that up), and I guess he's supposed to be looking distressed or whatever, but he's just got this huge fucking grin across his face. Fair play, he's crap. There's this one bit where's he's laid out on a table and YOU CAN SEE HIM BREATHING. His frigging chest piece is moving up and down and everything. And the Japanese ninja cyborgs - man, they could really have been cool, but they're completely useless. They don't actually do anything except a couple of cartwheels and then their heads get blown up in supremely unconvincing fashion. And then there’s the wire gag where Robo shoots the gun out of a bad guy’s hand then repeatedly blasts it in mid-air. AND WHO THE HELL THOUGHT ROBOCOP SHOULD FLY?






So... lame... must... avenge... Paul Verhoeven...








If this film had been done right, it could've been pretty class. But it wasn't, so it's not. The film had a hugely troubled development and history, but at the end of the day, that doesn't excuse it from being a pile of wank.




Movie Rating: *


There are worse films, sure. But seriously, how can you balls up a RoboCop film? HOW?

















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 the 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.






1.0 Muta.









That said, it isn't perfect. Both Robo 1 and 2 can be a little grainy at times, although ironically




actually gets a fairly clean transfer. Also, if you choose (as I know you all will) to watch the Director's Cut of Robo1, there is some disparity between the footage from the theatrical cut and the additional footage from Verhoeven's. Particularly in Murphy's

death scene, you do notice occasionally that the new footage looks... I dunno, a little more raw. The picture quality doesn't drop or anything, but there's some definite change in the tones - it looks a little darker. Just nitpicking, really. On a plus side, the artificial dubbing for this scene found on the Criterion disc (whereby they simply looped the earlier gunfire to cover the added footage) is gone, and has been replaced by some smarter audio masking. It may not be perfect, but it sure doesn't jumo out at you the way the CC version did.






It's worth pointing out the uber-cool packaging, too. A very nice fold-out digipack with full colour pictures of Robo from various "moments" in each film. There's also a neat little booklet that, while not brimming with information or anything, certainly adds to the quality feel of the set.






Alex Murphy is not having a great week.









The menus are kind of a double-edged sword. On Robo 1, they're superb, with cold blue screens interspliced with the POV footage from the film of Robo being put together by engineers. On the main menu, a CG Robo broods in the background while a lot of mechanical swooshing blares out of the speakers. The scene selection index - always a barometer of how much care has been paid to a DVD - is fully animated. Which is good. What isn't so good, however, is the looped music that accompanies it. It's the same twenty-second cut from the RoboCop score that accompanies the galleries, and it's just really badly done. It's hard to put into words, but it doesn't start or stop "cleanly" and really sounds a bit crap.






Obviously the bastard children of the set didn't receive the same attention. Both Robo 2 and 3




feature static, silent menus, with non-animated scene selections (and in fact only about thirteen randomly-selected chapters). They are completely thrown together but hey - they weren't going to put any extras on anyway, so why try to polish a turd?















Probably the biggest deal about the set is that it offers the Paul Verhoeven cut of RoboCop. While there's no lost scenes or anything really earth-shattering, there IS a lot more violence and gore. Murphy's death, for example, is now quite painful to watch. It lasts a little longer and is WAAAY nastier, with his entire arm getting blown off, and a nice bullet-time-esque shot of him getting a bullet through his face. There is a little extra dialogue here ("Hey Clarence, he's still alive!"), Clarence takes a few hits off his coke inhaler (as he does in extra snippets of footage throughout the film) and some of the original shots and dialogue are arranged differently. Kenny's death is also a little longer and more grizzly, as he gets totally ripped apart by ED with the aid of about a thousand more quibs and a milk truck full of extra blood.






You DO NOT fuck with ED-209.









Strangely, 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.






Who, Murphy? Don't worry about him - he's 'armless.









Interestingly, RoboCop 2 is also the uncensored version (though I wouldn't necessarily call it a Director's cut) that you don't see all that often. Extra footage here includes one of the hookers at the start of the movie actually stomping her heel into the guy's eye (Prompting his line "You put my eye out, fucking bitches!"), Lewis totally shooting the shit out of one of the cronies in the raid on Cain's hideout, Robo blows away another perp in the same raid, and Duffy's death is a little longer too, with some more dialogue ("He looks pretty scared to me").






The extra violence in the Director's cut 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. That said, Ed Neumeier is one ANNOYING mother fucker.






Phil Tippett: Makes movies good.






Flesh and Steel: The Making of RoboCop is a retrospective on the film (produced by Automat Pictures, the same team who made the awesome doc on the Predator disc) 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 Verhoeven doesn't hide the fact that he thinks shooting is the worst part of making movies, and nobody else tries to pretend that shooting RoboCop was anything close to fun. In fact, they all HATED IT. 37 minutes of pure insight.






"Even Jesus promoted weapons." Um, right you are then.












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 (something that, as we find out in the sequel, is not the case).






"I love being a cop." Yes dear, and Jesus promotes weapons, we know.









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, except for 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 actually made the film look pretty cool.






"This DVD's more than a dollar, but I'd still buy it!"









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. I can't say I care all that much.












One very very wonderful film that has stood the test of time, one killer action film with a little less thinking involved, one beer mat, and a shitload of extras. Again, this is a Region 2-only set, and is currently unavailable in the US. It's been out in the UK since February, and in spite of rumours to the contrary I really don't see it haeding to the US any time soon. 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 Play.com.




Overall: *****


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






Jay Spree




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