Arrow Heads Vol. 74: ROBOCOP Gets a Blu-ray Upgrade

Serve the public trust. Protect the innocent. Uphold the law. Buy this Blu-ray.

Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From the cult and genre fare of Arrow Video to the artful cinema of Arrow Academy, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.

“To serve and protect.” A motto sworn by police, and in the case of Officer Alex Murphy, a pledge he’s forced to maintain after death in the form of his technological resurrection as Robocop. The 1987 film from Paul Verhoeven hews remarkably close to a religious parable. An arc of the main character is elevated (by technology in this case) in a time of excess and misdeeds, and eventually succeeds due to his innate humanity shining through. It’s one facet of the film, packaged into something hugely entertaining and magnificently subversive.

This dystopic Detroit is a fascinating place, where the city has been ran into ruin, the pieces swept up by the one thing that stands atop the poor and impoverished citizens, a corporation. Senior President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) of Omni Consumer Products (OCP) is looking to champion his militarized defense project ED-209, a product that has more than a few glitches preventing its adoption in civilian zones rather than just for warfare. Part of his squeeze on the city to force their hand is to undermine the police force via funding restrictions and also the use of local crime pin Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his motley crew, arming them to wreak havoc and cripple the already spread too thin officers, in some cases literally. Enter Officer Alex Murphy, executed by this gang, and ultimately used as a pawn in a corporate struggle. OCP young up and comer Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) has his own ideas and aspirations, using the mangled remains of Murphy in his “Robocop” program, to combine man and machine in a new solution to the crimewave, and a way to impress the OCP head honcho (Dan O’Herlihy). Rebuilt, wiped of his memories, and put to work, it’s not long before the man inside starts to emerge, causing a conflict with his programming, to not obey the corporation who built him, but to return to a more righteous form of justice.

Robocop could have been just a blast in terms of action and excess (which granted, it delivers in spades), but Verhoeven delivers way more, weaving in layers of satire and social commentary, a wanton exploration of violence, and scathing assessment of capitalism. This future is grim, but there is a humor and energy from the film’s exploitation roots that fuels entertainment. It also possesses a thick streak of humanity, making some moments surprisingly poignant. Murphy’s return to his home after his ‘death’ is stunningly affecting in its construction and execution. Verhoeven’s Robocop is a justifiable cult classic, startlingly prescient, and has a bite to it that other films (and filmmakers) can only aspire to.

The Package

Ok, let’s get down to details here. The release offers up a transfer from a 4K restoration overseen by Verhoeven himself, along with executive producer Jon Davison and co-writer/producer Edward Neumeier. Much of the film is restored from an R-rated theatrical cut, the Unrated Director’s cut, which is also included, and is put together from differently sourced elements, so you’ll see some shifts in quality in that version. Overall, the image quality is outstanding; I’ve never seen the film presented with such high detail. From the metal on Robo’s suit to the grime that coats Detroit, it all takes on new life. The film is brighter than I remember seeing, but well balanced in terms of contrast and saturation. A healthy level of grain is also maintained. Extra features are where Arrow really excel though:

  • Unrated Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut of the film: Unrated wallows in some of the bloodier/more violent moments, notably Murphy’s death, and the boardroom scene with ED-209. You can look at a pretty great comparison of the two different versions here.
  • Split screen comparison of Theatrical and Director’s Cuts: Or check out this comparison included with the release!
  • RoboCop: Edited For Television, a compilation of alternate scenes from two edited-for-television versions, newly transferred in HD from recently-unearthed 35mm elements: More cut footage, which is a good reminder of the difficulty Verhoeven had getting the film past the censors
  • Archive commentary by director Paul Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier (originally recorded for the Theatrical Cut and re-edited in 2014 for the Director’s Cut)
  • New commentary by film historian Paul M. Sammon
  • New commentary by fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart and Eastwood Allen
  • The Future of Law Enforcement: Creating RoboCop, a newly filmed interview with co-writer Michael Miner
  • RoboTalk, a newly filmed conversation between co-writer Ed Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke (writer of Elle) and Nick McCarthy (director of Orion Pictures’ The Prodigy)
  • Truth of Character, a newly filmed interview with star Nancy Allen on her role as Lewis
  • Casting Old Detroit, a newly filmed interview with casting director Julie Selzer on how the film’s ensemble cast was assembled: Quite a fun little jaunt around Dallas, the location used to depict most of the ‘futuristic’ locations used in the film.
  • Connecting the Shots, a newly filmed interview with second unit director and frequent Verhoeven collaborator Mark Goldblatt
  • Analog with Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaven: The two key guys behind the visual effects/animations discuss their work on the film and the use of techniques like stop motion. It’s one of the standout additions here.
  • More Man than Machine: Composing RoboCop, a new tribute to composer Basil Poledouris featuring film music experts Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, Daniel Schweiger and Robert Townson
  • RoboProps, a newly filmed tour of super-fan Julien Dumont’s collection of original props and memorabilia: This one is pretty cool, as the fan shows off his collected props from the film, combined with some behind the scenes footage.
  • 2012 Q&A with the Filmmakers, a panel discussion featuring Verhoeven, Davison, Neumeier, Miner, Allen, star Peter Weller and animator Phil Tippett: Filmed at UCLA, and one of the few extra features to showcase comments from Weller himself.
  • RoboCop: Creating a Legend: Archival featurette where Verhoeven, Weller, and others dive into the design and building of the costume.
  • Villains of Old Detroit: Profile of the actors who play the various nefarious types in the film.
  • Special Effects — Then & Now: Pretty decent dive into the stop-motion and matte painting events that were primarily used in the production, with some comparisons to current day tech that have supplanted them.
  • Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg: Explains the filmmaker’s cameo in the film.
  • Four deleted scenes: OCP News Conference, Nun in the Street Interview, Topless Pizza, and Final Media Break. None with an explanation for excision, sadly.
  • The Boardroom — Storyboard with Commentary by Phil Tippett: The King of stop-motion effects breaks down one of the most memorable scenes in the film.
  • Director’s Cut Production Footage, raw dailies from the filming of the unrated gore scenes: Pretty glorious raw footage from some of the more violent sequences in the film. So. Many. Squibs.
  • Two theatrical trailers and three TV spots
  • Extensive image galleries: Stills, behind the scenes images, news clippings, and more!
  • Archive commentary by director Paul Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier (originally recorded for Theatrical version of the film)
  • Two Isolated Score tracks (Composer’s Original Mix and Final Theatrical Mix) in lossless stereo
  • Edited-for-television version of the film, featuring alternate dubs, takes and edits of several scenes (95 mins, SD only)

The release itself is very nicely put together. A quality slipcase contains the Blu-ray (with contents below), and a packed collector’s booklet:

  • Six collector’s postcards (Limited Edition exclusive): Reproductions of various lobby cards.
  • Double-sided, fold-out poster (Limited Edition exclusive)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork: by Paul Shipper
  • A security sticker: “This property is protected by Robocop.”
  • Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Omar Ahmed, Christopher Griffiths and Henry Blyth, a 1987 Fangoria interview with Rob Bottin, and archive publicity materials (some contents exclusive to Limited Edition): The booklet even contains tables showing the changes made to the film in terms of Theatrical vs. Unrated. A fun read indeed.

The Bottom Line

Serve the public trust.

Protect the innocent.

Uphold the law.

Buy this Blu-ray.

Robocop is available from Arrow Video via MVD Entertainment from November 26th, 2019.

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