Verhoeven’s 80s satirical Christ metaphor on steroids hits home video in the most complete and comprehensive edition available
It’s hard to undersell the pop culture phenomenon that was Paul Verhoeven’s 80s satirical Christ metaphor on steroids, Robocop. It was released on VHS roughly around the same time as Predator in 1987. (And that honestly was one hell of a double bill the night my family rented both of those from my local mom and pop) From there, the film seeped into the pop culture zeitgeist — there was a toy line, arcade games, a Nintendo game, and even a Saturday morning cartoon. In fact, my birthday party that year was Robocop themed in honor of my favorite film. This very R-rated film was shamelessly marketed to kids in a move that’s not too far from the bizarre reality depicted in the film. Thanks to Benedetta, I’ve been on a bit of a Verhoeven kick and jumped at the chance to review the disc on this new release, having previously purchased it on VHS, Criterion DVD, Criterion Laserdisc, and Blu-ray, and now finally on UHD.
Arrow Video recently released a 4K UHD version of Robocop in its regular, uncut form, which was previously was only available on the Criterion laserdisc and DVD and dubbed the “X-Rated” cut. This version most noticeably lengthens the notorious ED-209 boardroom massacre, where an unlucky board member paints the room red during a botched demonstration in which a droid fails to acknowledge that he had been disarmed. This new footage lets the horrific scene play out to an almost comedic length, taking the hyper-stylized violence that was already garish and pushing it to a whole ‘nother level—the bullets just don’t stop coming and the squibs just keep exploding.This is the most noticeable difference in the cut, except for a few seconds on most of the gun shots in the film, adding a little more carnage here and there.
Robocop takes place in a surreal alternate future where the evil mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products has privatized the police force and is looking to run it into the ground so that they can deploy robots and save a few bucks. This is why cop and family man Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is transferred to the Old Detroit police department and almost immediately killed, gunned down in a nightmarish, blood-drenched set piece meant to mimic the crucifixion. Murphy is later resurrected by OCP as Robocop, part man, part machine, all cop — who, after encountering one of his killers by chance, begins investigating his own death, which of course leads him right to the top. It’s not a groundbreaking narrative by any stretch, but the film is an action masterwork because of how Verhoeven expertly wields the viscera on screen, peppering hyper self-aware violence with sex and drugs to lock in that ‘80s action asthetic. The film grabs you out of the gate with its sheer audacity and doesn’t let go, while fully imbuing itself with the spirit of the ‘80s.
The film is intercut with fake commercials in a commentary on our media-obsessed society; once a warning, it now feels like it has come to full fruition. The film’s odd premise and its themes of corporate greed and corruption are as razor sharp as ever. Meant to be a commentary on the decade of decadence, the film feels timeless, since not much has changed. Weller seals the deal here, taking the role seriously and imbuing Murphy with a raw humanity and rage, even after OCP has stripped him of both. This film would catapult Verhoeven into the big leagues; his next two films were Total Recall for the blockbuster juggernaut studio Carolco, and the one that would once again become a pop culture sensation, the erotic thriller Basic Instinct. Of course, after that would come Showgirls, a film I will vehemently defend but that would end Verhoeven’s illustrious run in American film and put the Dutch director in movie jail.
Robocop would start a franchise of twomore theatrical films, a cartoon series, and a live action TV series in Canada, which just recently hit Blu-ray. If you still had any question that this film was secretly aimed at kids, Robocop 2 featured a teenage hoodlum antagonist who hangs out in arcades, and the film was paired with a music video that was relentlessly played on MTV. Both films feature some excellent stop motion work by maestro Phil Tippett, especially when Robocop battles his possible replacements. Today, Robocop is still as popular as ever, showing up as toys and T-shirts and recognized as one of the most iconic action films of the ‘80s. It’s kind of jarring when you watch it now to realize how it was a transgressive gateway drug for a lot of young cinephiles like myself.
The scan presented on 4K UHD is the same shown at digital repertoire screenings. Both versions of the film (regular and unrated) are relegated to their own discs. Arrow is utilizing the same 4K transfer from the camera negative done in 2013, supervised by Verhoeven and executive producer Jon Davison, that previously hit Blu-ray via MGM. This is another instance of a previously existing transfer getting the full room to breathe, and it looks astonishing, with an amazing level of clarity and detail to the image. This is most noticeable when looking at the Robocop suit, which sometimes looks great, and sometimes shows the seams, zipper and duct tape, thanks to the resolution. Arrow has opted to boost the brightness a bit compared to the previous Blu-ray, but given the deep blacks present from the HDR, the choice only helps to highlight the full spectrum of colors and contrast on display. The color palette is extremely robust, with HDR used to amp up the blues of the suit. This is all rounded out with a new Dolby Atmos track that is true to the original mix and bumps up the clarity and the audio stage use.
Extras-wise, this disc is packed to the gills with everything a fan could want— all the previous special editions extras from MGM are included and some new ones are even added to the mix. Extras presented include multiple commentaries, storyboard comparisons, featurettes, and panels with the cast and crew. They dig really deep into not only the basics of the film, but its deeper meaning, with some of the newer interviews peppered with Verhoeven’s perspective. Everyone from Weller to Allen, Phil Tippett, and even Michael Miner gets a moment to shine, with interviewers going over rumors and careers with a fine tooth comb and really giving fans every perspective they could possibly want.
Full list of bonus features as follows:
- 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative by MGM, transferred in 2013 and approved by director Paul Verhoeven
- Newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
- Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut of the film on two 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray discs with Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
- Original lossless stereo and four-channel mixes, plus DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Dolby Atmos surround sound options on both cuts
- Optional English subtitles on both cuts
- Six collector’s postcards (Limited Edition exclusive)
- Double-sided fold-out poster (Limited Edition exclusive)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork (Limited Edition exclusive)
- 80-page 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)
Disc One — Director’s Cut
- Commentary by Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison, and co-writer Ed Neumeier, originally recorded for the theatrical ut and re-edited in 2014 for the director’s cut
- Commentary by film historian Paul M. Sammon
- Commentary by fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart, and Eastwood Allen
- The Future of Law Enforcement: Creating RoboCop, an interview with co-writer Miner
- RoboTalk, a conversation between Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke (writer of Elle) and Nicholas McCarthy (director of Orion Pictures’ The Prodigy)
- Truth of Character, an interview with star Nancy Allen on her role as Lewis
- Casting Old Detroit, an interview with casting director Julie Selzer
- Connecting the Shots, an interview with second unit director and frequent Verhoeven collaborator Mark Goldblatt
- Analog, a featurette focusing on the special photographic effects, including new interviews with Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaver
- More Man Than Machine: Composing RoboCop, a tribute to composer Basil Poledouris featuring film music experts Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, Daniel Schweiger, and Robert Townson
- RoboProps, a tour of super-fan Julien Dumont’s collection of original props and memorabilia
- 2012 Q&A with the filmmakers, a panel discussion featuring Verhoeven, Davison, Neumeier, Miner, Allen, Weller, and animator Tippett
- RoboCop: Creating A Legend; Villains of Old Detroit; and Special Effects: Then & Now, three archive featurettes from 2007 featuring interviews with cast and crew
- Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg
- Four deleted scenes
- The Boardroom: Storyboard with commentary by Tippett
- Director’s Cut production footage, raw dailies from the filming of the unrated gore scenes, presented in 4K (SDR)
- Two theatrical trailers and three TV spots
- Extensive image galleries
Disc Two — Theatrical Cut
- Commentary by Verhoeven, Davison, and Neumeier (originally recorded for theatrical version of the film)
- Two Isolated Score tracks (Composer’s Original Score and Final Theatrical Mix)
- Edited for television version of the film, featuring alternate dubs, takes, and edits of several scenes (95 mins, SD only)
- Split screen comparisons between the director’s cut and theatrical cut, and the theatrical cut and edited-for-TV version
- RoboCop: Edited for Television, a compilation of alternate scenes from two television versions, including outtakes newly transferred in HD from recently unearthed 35mm elements
Robocop is surprisingly shocking and relevant as ever. It’s hard for any American to deconstruct our culture the way Verhoeven did as an outsider peering in, and I think that’s where the unfettered truth in his take lies. The Christ metaphor still works, and given our current barrage of media, the film’s hyperkinetic reality doesn’t feel like fiction today. This film also works thanks to its cast, led by Weller, who takes the material seriously and imbues Robocop’s journey to rediscover his humanity with a weight and emotion that I still find as engaging as I did when I first saw the film. It was shocking to revisit this film now, given our current socio-political climate, and think about how the film was marketed at kids and families with a razor-sharp edge that cuts into our Christianity-obsessed country while chugging a six pack draped in the red, white, and blue. It’s something that is almost too brilliantly subversive and on the nose to believe that it was even made and became the cultural touchstone that it is today.
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