Film reviews

Robocop: Limited Edition – Blu-ray Review

It’s been over 30 years since the character of Robocop first stomped his way onto our screens, cleaning up the streets of Detroit in his own inimitable style. Although intended as a one-off, he soon became part man, part machine, and all franchise, thanks to his popularity with cinema audiences. Soon came two sequels, a live action TV series (as well as a subsequent mini-series), video games, comic books, and even two animated shows.

Yes, there’s probably nothing more intrinsically ‘80s than taking a character from a violent adult movie, and making him a children’s icon (just see the Rambo: The Force Of Freedom cartoon). Robocop as a character has become so enduring that he even got rebooted (rather appropriate for a cyborg) with 2014’s Robocop, starring Joel Kinnaman. Heck, he’s even managed to survive the ignominy of being used in a recent advertising campaign for KFC, with Peter Weller returning to play ‘Colonel Robocop.

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Currently under development is Robocop Returns, a direct sequel to the first film, following the recent trend taken by movie franchises such as Terminator and Halloween by jettisoning all (or nearly all) the other sequels and spin-offs, and asking the audience to pretend that they never happened. With old Robo still being so relevant, it’s as good a time as any for the Paul Verhoeven original to get another outing, and thanks to Arrow Video, we have three chances to reacquaint ourselves with the former Alex Murphy – a Director’s Cut Blu-ray; a Limited Edition Blu-ray set which contains the Theatrical, Director’s and edited-for-TV Cuts; and a similar Steelbook edition.

Arrow Video have given us what is perhaps the definitive home media release of Robocop, building upon earlier editions, such as the 1998 Criterion Collection version, as well as MGM’s 2007 issue of the Director’s Cut for the 20th anniversary. As well as archival extras from these earlier discs, they’ve also given us a cornucopia of exclusive and brand new special features, covering all aspects of the film, from its genesis to its production and its legacy. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches, and puts Blu-rays of more contemporary movies to shame, in terms of its breadth and scope of content.

Having three different edits of the film in one place with the limited edition is a real treat. The Theatrical Cut still stands up well in its own right, and it feels perhaps even more pertinent today than on its original release; the satire of the shape of the media, as well as the commoditisation of virtually everything by corporate culture, are still as pointed as ever, and Robocop seems to have been quite prescient in its view of a future which is now increasingly close to our present.

Verhoeven’s vision for the film is perhaps best represented by the Director’s Cut, which reinstates a significant amount of gore and violence originally excised to ensure the movie received a lower certificate when it hit cinemas, giving it access to a wider audience. Although not altering the plot of the film in any significant way, it feels a purer reflection of Verhoeven’s more European sensibilities, with all the extra bloodthirstiness making Murphy’s fate seem even more tragic, whereas it also makes the visceral demise of an OCP exec at the hands of the ED-209 even funnier. You can see why American censors were perhaps somewhat squeamish at the level of violence in this original edit.

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However, perhaps the set’s most unintentionally hilarious inclusion is the edited-for-TV Cut, which shows just how delicate home audiences were felt to be, with the removal not just of violent scenes, but also some of the swearing, in a move which can only be envisioned as horrified clutching of pearls and mock swooning by the bigwigs needing to try and shield domestic viewers from a shower of expletives, as though they’re somehow more morally objectionable than the depiction of blood and guts. Some of the dubbing is so inept, it brings to mind the Harry Enfield sketch spoofing a sanitised TV version of Goodfellas, which included lines like “Suck my duck, you muddy funsters”.

The rest of the value added material over both discs is a perfect mix of classic featurettes and more contemporary pieces, managing to pretty much comprehensively cover virtually every aspect of the production, from the writing of the script, to the VFX, the writing, casting the movie, and everything in between. If you want a comparison of the Theatrical Cut with the Director’s Cut and edited-for-TV version, there are separate compilations, showing the main differences, which is handy if you’re pushed for time and don’t want to watch – or haven’t got the time to view – the full edits one after the other.

Most insightful from a performance perspective are the insights from Peter Weller and Nancy Allen, detailing the rationales behind the various creative choices which they made on how to play the characters, and how circumstances informed what we saw on the screen. If there’s any slight weakness to be found in the set, it’s that Weller and Allen’s contributions – which are by no means insubstantial – still feel like they should have been even longer, so fascinating are they to watch.

Similarly compelling are the looks at the way in which the visual effects were put together. Living in a predominantly digital and CGI-heavy blockbuster era, there’s nostalgia to be found in looking back at what was an analogue age, in which the order of the day was firmly stop motion, matte paintings and practical effects. There’s deservedly a lot of appreciation for the skilled craftspeople who worked such long hours to make Robocop look as good as it does, and while some of it has inevitably aged poorly, for the most part it still stands up pretty well to this day.

There’s all sorts of nuggets to be found squirrelled away here, and you should especially look out for an early trailer which – rather confusingly – chose to use the theme from The Terminator as its backing track. Well, if you’ve seen one violent cyborg…. Mind you, it’s still probably far less confusing than when the Channel 4 News theme ended up in the trailer for Pale Rider. What helps to set the Limited Edition set apart from the two other simultaneous releases is the inclusion of other bonus material, such as an 80-page collector’s booklet with exclusive writings about the movie, as well as postcards and a double-sided poster, all of which helps to put this particular set over the top.

So, in conclusion, then: when it comes to the new Limited Edition release of Robocop, I’ll buy that for a dollar.

Robocop is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

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