RoboCop (Blu-ray) (1987)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 4-Mar-2008

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Trailer
Trailer-Planet Of The Apes
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 103:14
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Paul Verhoeven
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Peter Weller
Nancy Allen
Daniel O'Herlihy
Ronny Cox
Kurtwood Smith
Miguel Ferrer
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $44.95 Music Basil Poledouris


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Italian dts 5.1
Spanish dts 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian
Italian Titling
Spanish
Spanish Titling
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Note: much waxing lyrical about the film's brilliance follows. The short version is that RoboCop is the greatest film ever made, and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. Those who wish to skip the long version can use this link to scroll down to the transfer section.

I first saw RoboCop on VHS in 1988. Prior to seeing it, I had read a myriad of reviews in TV guides, newspapers, and other such publications, but the end of one really stuck in my mind. "As incessantly as they plead, please do not let your children see this movie. It is one of the most violent I have ever seen." That would have been early in 1988. Around the middle of the year 1988, I managed to get so sick, persistently, that I lost a good half to three quarters of my bodyweight and swung from being thirsty enough to empty out a fridge in one sitting to falling-down tired. When they finally properly diagnosed the problem (diabetes), I got to spend weeks out of school watching films on VHS with my father, who chose to ignore the advice that the previously-mentioned reviewer gave. That turned out to be the Winter that, even though I did not know it at the time, I learned what I want to do with the rest of my life (specifically, to tell stories in any given medium available to me). The fact that my pet fantasy of being able to use machinery to replace less-than-optimal components of one's physical body figured into the plot was just a bonus.

RoboCop is set at an indeterminate point in the future. The true genius of this film is that even though it has "this is a product of the 1980s" stamped all over it, the events shown during its running length could almost be happening at any time. Even some of the set designs such as in the house of Bob Morton are eerily prescient of what was then the future. There are films that have not aged nearly as well in spite of being a mere five to ten years old. Anyway, this future has seen the social structure of America deteriorate to such an extent that the city of Detroit is now absolutely plagued with crime. A private corporation by the name of Omni Consumer Products has been contracted by the city to fund and run the police department. Since Omni has taken up this contract, dozens of officers have been killed by a gang leader by the name of Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith in the performance of his career). At a board meeting of Omni, a CEO known only as The Old Man (Daniel O'Herlihy) gives a pretty speech about how it is time to give something back to the law enforcement community. Turning the audience over to Vice President Richard Jones (Ronny Cox), The Old Man sits and listens as Jones gives a spiel about what he considers to be the future of law enforcement, a robot called ED-209.

Bluntly put, the demonstration of ED-209 does not go well. After a malfunction, ED-209 guns down an employee by the name of Kinney (Kevin Page), which sends The Old Man into a fit of concern about how they are going to ensure security in the construction of a massive project to renovate Old Detroit. Seeing an opportunity, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) pitches his idea for a law enforcement cyborg, the RoboCop program, to The Old Man. All he needs, as his dialogue explains, is for a police officer to get killed and allow their body to be used to construct the cyborg around. So about this time, newly-transferred officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller in the performance of his career) and his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen in the performance of her career) find themselves in pursuit of a van in which Boddicker and his entire gang are making a getaway from what later dialogue implies to be a bank robbery. After exchanging fire with the gang and pursuing them to an abandoned steel mill that will figure prominently in the plot, Murphy finds himself cornered by Boddicker and his gang, who shoot him to bits in one of the grisliest executions ever simulated on film. Mad Magazine's comment on this scene was that half the reason this gang robs banks is in order to pay for all of the ammunition they use.

It does not take a genius to work out which police officer's body Bob and his staff use to create the RoboCop cyborg, whom they send out to fight crime in his own indomitable style. A series of scenes follow in which each of the three Prime Directives that govern RoboCop's behaviour throughout the rest of the film are expounded upon. In one fateful moment, however, RoboCop crosses paths with a member of Boddicker's gang, Emil Antonowsky (Paul McCrane in the performance of his career), as he is robbing a gas station. As Emil flees the scene, screaming "we killed you!" and inadvertently destroying the gas station along the way, RoboCop is suddenly full of the same kind of questions as we saw being asked and answered in films like the 1978 production of Superman. Inputting Emil's mug shot into a computer, RoboCop cycles through Emil's known associates until he sees the face that has been haunting him in dreams, that of Clarence Boddicker. In a violent confrontation with Alex Murphy's killers, RoboCop learns the corruption from which Detroit is bleeding to death runs deeper than anyone thought possible, and soon finds himself under attack from literally every side.

In more than one source, executive producer Jon Davison has said that working on RoboCop was like being the victim of a violent crime in that your memory just blocks the whole experience out. Production difficulties and budget overruns had everyone involved on production wondering if the film would ever be completed. Director Paul Verhoeven (this being his first fully American production) and suit designer/special effects technician Rob Bottin ended up not speaking to one another. Star Peter Weller was losing kilograms of sweat every day in spite of the air conditioning unit that was eventually incorporated into the suit. Long story short, everyone involved went through hell in order to get this film made, and boy was it worth it. The MPAA had the sort of conniption fits about the content that make me really miss the days of the small-to-medium-time studios. In fact, it is this last detail that ready had me feeling sick when I heard that Fox had plans on rebooting the RoboCop franchise. Not just doing another sequel, mind you, but pretending that this monument to everything a storyteller should aspire to never happened. As if there was not already ample evidence that Fox was the true Evil Empire.

RoboCop is literally an amalgam of numerous literary themes, satire, and action, and there is not a single category it makes an attempt in where it fails. For certain, some of the special effects are shoddy (Jones' dive out the window for example), but to combine the Christ theme with Heinleinian commentary about the collapse of society and black comedy about how our worst ideas are often the most enduring is an achievement with few peers in storytelling terms. It is also unsurprising that members of the autistic civil rights movement have cited RoboCop as an example of the invisible occupants of the spectrum being portrayed by accident (note how RoboCop follows his simplistic commandments to the letter, even in situations where it is reasonably foreseeable that there will be severe negative consequences to him). There are also few other films that have the courage to portray violence in a manner as contrary to the elliptic nature that the MPAA approves of as RoboCop. One day, I hope to be able to show this film to my own son, as, among other things, it provides a good demonstration of how real guns are nothing like the toy guns my childhood friends and I pretended to shoot each other with. I just hope that if he is watching it with the fantasy in his mind that cells within the body can be replaced or repaired by artificial means, the real world he lives in will be able to comply.

Anyway, with all that out of the way, it is time to dive into dissecting the transfer. Sit down with a cup of coffee, because there is a lot to tell in this respect, too...

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

As I have intimated earlier, I have seen RoboCop on every format in existence save the theatres. Laserdisc, DVD, MovieCD, downloaded AVI, you name it. The nearest competitor to this disc in terms of video quality would be the special edition DVD released in 2003 by Fox. RoboCop is a difficult film to transfer into any medium, and the existing source materials are of variable quality. After reading reviews of the Region A Blu-ray Disc, I was literally expecting the worst. What I got was a pleasant surprise, but there is still a good deal of room for improvement.

The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window. There is some dispute over the accuracy of this aspect ratio. Director Paul Verhoeven apparently prefers the ratio of 1.66:1, although even the Criterion discs that claim to present this aspect ratio are really 1.85:1, so the difference is difficult to comment on.

The sharpness is also a difficult aspect to comment on. Numerous parts of the film were shot on what appears to be video, or through a line-removal filter used to simulate RoboCop's point of view. Every one of these shooting methods is improved in sharpness terms over the DVD and other such standard definition formats, but that brings problems of its own with it. The segments that were shot on film also vary dramatically in sharpness. Shots like the post-execution shot in the board room at 12:21 are sharp enough that the OCP logo can be made out on folders (something no previous format can claim), but the shot immediately preceding is murky, grainy, and diffuse. Grain, especially in backgrounds, is a mild but very persistent issue. The shadow detail in the few sections of the film that take place at night is very good. No low-level noise was evident.

The colours in the transfer also vary slightly. Most of the film has a true-to-life look to it, with the only noticeable theme in colour being the cold, steely-blue look of the board room. Parts of the film such as Freddie Hice complaining about his leg at 16:31 are faded and washed out, and the extended stabbing death has a completely different consistency to the rest of the film. Most of the time, the colours are well-balanced and the flesh tones are accurate. Surprisingly, no colour bleeding or misregistration is apparent.

I am somewhat hesitant to say that there were no compression artefacts in this transfer. The grain evident in some foregrounds might be compression-related. It might not. Recently, I have been reading an article about the evils of one method used to reduce grain for Blu-ray transfers and how one can rob the image of detail by attempting to reduce the grain. This argument could well apply to RoboCop, except for the fact that even most of the 35mm film sequences also lack fine resolution, particularly where anything more than six feet away from the camera is concerned. Given the quality with which older films have been transferred to this medium, it would be very interesting to hear exactly why this transfer appears the way it does.

Suffice to say no obvious compression artefacts were on display. As I mentioned, this is a progressive transfer, and a great many of this disc's advantages over the previously-released DVDs can be solely associated with this fact. Seeing RoboCop without the persistent aliasing and moire effects that plagued the Criterion DVD in particular is enough to make me sniffle and weep that it is more beautiful than I dared to hope. Film artefacts were spotted in moderate amounts, usually in the form of small white marks scattered over the picture.

Subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired are provided with this disc. These are mostly accurate to the spoken dialogue, well-timed, and attractively presented.

Edit - November 3, 2008: A check of this disc in the BDP-S350 reveals that this transfer was encoded in MPEG-2, as suspected. This explains to a great extent the persistent noise, grain, and excessive loss in resolution during filmed sequences. One can only hope a remaster will be forthcoming.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

Probably the biggest complaint I had about the previously released Fox DVD of RoboCop was how underwhelming the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack presented was. All such complaints are rectified to some degree by the audio transfer on this disc.

Three soundtracks are presented on this disc. The first, and default, is the original English dialogue in DTS Master Audio Lossless 5.1, which I listened to. Dubs in Italian and Castilian Spanish are provided in DTS 5.1 at a bitrate I was unable to determine.

The dialogue is generally quite clear and easy to understand. The speech of the emergency surgeons at 24:35 was amazingly clear in comparison to any other format I have heard it in. Dialogue is also very crisp and separated from the rest of the soundtrack, especially the score music that the DVD releases always seemed to blend the dialogue into by comparison. Specific lines that were seemingly absent from the Special Edition DVD at 15:06 and 25:57 were much clearer, having the virtue of seeming to actually be there, on this disc. Audio sync was accurate, with all of the effects and thumps in their expected places. One journalist's query as to whether RoboCop is invincible at 38:56 stands out that much more that even people who have never seen the film before laugh at it when I show them this disc.

The music in this film consists of a score by the late Basil Poledouris, with a disco-themed song called Show Me Your Spine by P.T.P. included in the disco arrest sequence. Quite simply one of the greatest scores ever committed to film, it is dominated by themes that alternately emphasise the cold, metallic appearance of the cyborg or the humanity that the organic component within is fighting to regain. At 33:50, we hear the first rendition of what has come to be called the RoboCop March, and boy does it sound awesome in a lossless format. The metallic-pipe percussion really stands out this time, and makes clear why high definition video needs the lossless audio to go with it. For those not convinced by the improved RoboCop March, the string attack at 46:33 has the words "not reasonably subject to dispute" stamped all over it. This is how Basil Poledouris' score should be heard, and should have been heard a long, long time ago.

The surround channels are used to separate the music and environmental effects from the rest of the soundtrack. The use of the rear channels in particular is a bit of a strange beast. Directional effects are only occasional, but really stand out when they are used. The gunman's shots during the infamous convenience store robbery at 35:28 echo throughout the sound field. I was thinking that the sound field collapses into stereo a lot of the time, but in reality the surrounds are active all the time, usually to such a subtle degree, that one does not immediately notice them. The massed assault that begins at 74:07 includes one of the best moments from both the score music and sound effects, but separates them in a fashion that anyone who has watched this scene on DVD will have been wishing for. The hilarious flight of the hubcap at 90:25 comes through with such clarity that, as writer Ed Neumeier once put it, viewers will duck out of the way, thinking the next one might hit them.

The subwoofer is aggressively utilised to support the gunfire, gunfire, and more gunfire that permeates the film, along with the score music, the footsteps of RoboCop and ED-209, and other such bass-heavy effects. This is a film that provides more smashes and thumps than most sound designers can reasonably count, and in contrast to the previous DVD, this transfer does not miss a single one.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

RoboCop was apparently planned for release by MGM as far back as 2006, and the Blu-ray Disc that almost, but not quite, made it to retailers at least included the audio commentary, one of the documentaries, and the deleted scenes. One can only wonder exactly whom at Fox decided this disc should go out without an audio commentary, and how much paint they had drunk at the time. On the positive side, all the extras here are in HD.

Menu

As is typical of Fox discs, there is no Top Menu at all. The Pop-Up Menu is probably the fastest I have seen from Fox to date in terms of response time, but this is faint praise considering the total lack of options and the mere sixteen chapter stops provided.

Theatrical Trailer

Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, this eighty-three second trailer actually appears to be the teaser, but it has never looked better.

Trailer - Planet Of The Apes

Presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, this fifty-four second trailer has a better transfer than either the feature or the other trailer.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

RoboCop is also available on Blu-ray Disc in Region A, but it is a Fox disc, meaning some method of bypassing the Region Coding will be necessary for those wishing to play back the Region A disc. While I cannot confirm that the local disc does not sport an MPEG-2 video transfer (in fact, I am very suspicious that does), the Region A disc has been confirmed as having an MPEG-2 video transfer, making a significant improvement in the video quality unlikely.

Summary

RoboCop is, to put it very simply, the greatest film to come out of the heady days when independent studios could still make a cheap flick and extract a profit on the home video circuit, if not ever. It is a relic of a world without the Wal-Marts or the reborn Hayes Code of the new studio system. The powers that be have tried to kiddie-fy it with edits, with merchandising, with lousy sequels, with television spin-offs, and now they are even talking about trying with a remake. That is a pretty good sign that said powers that be have taken notice of the fact that it is now more relevant than it was in 1987.

The video transfer is an improvement over the DVD, but brings questions to mind regarding what a proper restoration and mastering effort could achieve.

The audio transfer is also an improvement over the DVD, although still below expectations.

The extras are almost non-existent.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDSharp AQUOS BD-HP20X, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic Viera TH-42PZ700A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Grain vs. Resolution -
This was the review of your career - SJ2571
Suit was designed by... - REPLY POSTED