Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Daniel O’Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, and Miguel Ferrer.
RoboCop fans should snap up this new Limited Edition Blu-ray of the film, which includes the theatrical and uncut versions on two discs, most of the previously released bonus features, and two hours of new content, along with a pair of new commentary tracks. Arrow also threw in postcards, a poster, and an 80-page booklet.
When I revisited RoboCop for the 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition that was released on DVD in 2007, I was struck by how its satire of the Reagan years rang true in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration. Thus I wasn’t surprised when the same point was raised by one of the interviewees in that set’s bonus features.
And, yes, as the cliché goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here we are today in an environment where OCP could easily be seen as a stand-in for more nefarious elements of the US government. And all I have to do is look at my local Facebook group dedicated to crime reports to see plenty of people who would cheer an actual RoboCop if he was stomping around my town.
In director Paul Verhoeven’s film, which is set during an unspecified time in what was then the near-future, the city of Detroit is collapsing and headed toward bankruptcy. (Sound familiar?) Crime has skyrocketed and the Omni Consumer Products (OCP) Corporation has cut a deal to run the city’s police department in exchange for a chance to rebuild the worst area into a neighborhood full of expensive high-rises.
When police officer Alex Murphy is killed while trying to arrest members of a gang, OCP sees their chance to try out some new technology they’ve been developing. Murphy is transformed into RoboCop, complete with a brain wipe, but some of Murphy’s old memories seep through. That human element helps RoboCop turn on OCP when he discovers what one of its executives is really up to, and they bring in an ED-209 robot unit to try to finish him off.
RoboCop escapes and Detroit descends into complete chaos when the police, angered by how OCP has mismanaged their department, go on strike. He must contend with that while trying to bring OCP’s rogue executive, and the leader of the gang, to justice.
This new home video edition of the movie from Arrow features a pair of Blu-ray discs, one containing the unrated Director’s Cut and the other housing the theatrical version. Both platters contain plenty of bonus features too. The Director’s Cut runs just a minute longer than its theatrical counterpart and consists mostly of violent snippets that were trimmed to get an R rating in 1987. RoboCop was restored in 4K in 2013, with the transfer approved by director Paul Verhoeven, so this is the version you get here.
While many of the bonus features in this release were ported over from previous editions, there is a nice chunk of new stuff too. Much of the extra content from the 2004 and 2007 DVD releases is found here, but not all of it, so you may want to hold onto those editions. As far as I know, the 2014 Blu-ray had nothing new on it, so you could probably get rid of that one.
Let’s take a look at the bonus content, starting with the new stuff:
- Commentary with Paul M. Sammon: He’s a film historian who brings a scholarly lens to RoboCop, but he was also a marketing exec at Orion in the 80s, so he has that perspective too. In addition to looking at the movie as a satirical action film, he notes that Verhoeven had an interest in the Jesus story and makes the argument that he was making Christ references in the story too. (There’s also a look at the movie through the lens of it as a commentary about World War II and fascism, which Verhoeven had direct contact with as well.) You may know Sammon from, among many other works, his excellent making-of book about Blade Runner.
- Commentary with fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart, and Eastwood Allen: These guys aren’t ordinary fans: They made the documentary RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop, which features many interviews with cast and crew members. To be honest, you could probably skip this one, unless you’re a hardcore fan of the film, but I do appreciate the enthusiasm these guys bring to their group chat.
- The Future of Law Enforcement: Creating RoboCop (17 minutes): Co-writer Michael Miner, who was heavily influenced by Philip K. Dick and William Burroughs, among others, talks about the various drafts of the screenplay and his relationship with co-writer Ed Neumeier.
- RoboTalk (32 minutes): Neumeier appears in this roundtable discussion with writer David Birke and writer/director Nicholas McCarthy. The latter two are fans of the film who conduct a pretty deep dive into Neumeier’s history and influences, such as his time spent on the Blade Runner set. Along the way, Birke mentions a movie about Jesus that Verhoeven worked on but scrapped, which echoes Sammon’s commentary.
- Truth of Character (18.5 minutes): Nancy Allen looks back on her role in RoboCop, complete with, yes, a discussion of her very, very 80s haircut.
- Casting Old Detroit (8 minutes): Most film fans are aware of what casting directors do, but it’s rare to see the spotlight shown on one of them in a movie’s bonus features. Casting director Julie Selzer makes the most of her time here, talking about what her job entails and how she helped cast the major roles in the movie.
- Connecting the Shots (11 minutes): Second unit directors often don’t get their own bonus features either. Second unit director Mark Goldblatt, who has worked with Verhoeven quite a bit, gets his chance to shine here. While second unit work may not be glamorous, it often provides the glue that holds a movie together, and that’s a big part of the discussion here.
- Analog (13 minutes): Visual effects artists Peter Kurant and Kevin Kutchaver cut their teeth at ILM before forming their own company and working on RoboCop. The film was made when CGI was in its infancy, so they discuss the old school methods they employed. We also get a glimpse into the special effects home movies they created as kids, which proved to be a crucial part of their training ground.
- More Than a Machine: Composing RoboCop (12 minutes): Composer Basil Poledouris, who died in 2006, gets his due here, with film music experts Robert Townson, Daniel Schweiger, Lukas Kendall, and Jeff Bond offering their thoughts on his score. It’s easy to miss how important music is to a film, especially when it’s done well (which, of course, is the idea: to lose yourself in the moment), and the four of them do a nice job paying tribute to Poledouris.
- RoboProps (13 minutes): Another fan, Julien Dumont, walks us through his collection of props and memorabilia from the film. Some of the more delicate pieces have started to decay, but he’s done his best to preserve them.
If this was all Arrow included, I think most people would be pretty happy, but they ported over most of the content found on previous home video releases, so let’s take a look at that too:
- Commentary with Verhoeven, Neumeier, and producer Jon Davison: This isn’t the one Criterion recorded many years ago, but it’s still a good discussion of the film that’s worth hearing if you haven’t given it a listen before. It was recorded for the unrated version, so it’s been snipped a bit on the theatrical cut. (It’s available for both versions of the film.)
- RoboCop: Creating a Legend (21 minutes): Davison, Verhoeven, Miner, and Sammon, along with stars Peter Weller, Kurtwood Smith, and Ray Wise, talk about the creation of the famous suit and the challenges Weller faced trying to act with only his mouth visible. (The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal says to that: “Hold my beer.”)
- 2012 Filmmaker Q&A (42.5 minutes): Verhoeven, Weller, Miner, Neumeier, Allen, and stop-motion effects artist Phil Tippett conducted this session after a screening of the movie. While you might think they had all talked about the film ad infinitum by 2012, there are some good bits found here.
- Villains of Old Detroit (17 minutes): Verhoeven, along with cast members Smith, Wise, Ronny Cox, and Miguel Ferrer, as well as co-screenwriter Neumeier, talk about the creation of the gang that plagues Detroit and has an insidious connection to OCP. The cast members also relate some fun stories from their time on the film, including stealing golf carts and driving them around. (I’m sure they were just trying to get into character.)
- Special Effects: Then and Now (18 minutes): Verhoeven, Tippett, Sammon, matte painter Rocco Gioffre, and visual effects artists William Sandell and Craig Hayes dig into the old school effects work found in RoboCop. I hope those kinds of special effects never completely go away, but I probably sound like someone lamenting the advent of sound nearly 100 years ago. If you’re a stop-motion fan, you’ll appreciate Tippett’s examination of the ED-209 model.
- Deleted scenes (3 minutes): None of this footage is earth-shattering, or Verhoeven would have restored it for the new cut, but fans will enjoy giving it a look-see.
- The Boardroom: Storyboards (6 minutes): Tippett narrates this look at the storyboards for the boardroom scene that introduces ED-209 and had to mix live-action with stop motion.
- Director’s Production Footage (11.5 minutes): This is a nice big chunk of raw footage, some of which includes no audio. In other places, you can hear Verhoeven directing the actors. If you enjoy seeing how the sausage is made, so to speak, you’ll enjoy this piece.
- RoboCop: Edited for Television (18.5 minutes): The second platter actually includes a third version of the movie, a 95-minute one that was created for TV broadcasts. I can’t imagine bothering to sit through it, but this featurette is worth viewing to see the alternate versions of scenes included in it.
- Split-Screen Comparisons (24 minutes): There are two of these, a four-minute one that compares the theatrical and unrated cuts and a 20-minute one that digs into all the ways they worked around the “Think of the children!” stuff for the TV broadcast versus the theatrical release. The latter has a lot of repeated content from the Edited for Television featurette, but it’s still fun to watch all the little workarounds. The network censors apparently thought that even “scumbag” was too over-the-top for broadcast TV. (I went back in time to show them Game of Thrones.)
Verhoeven talks about his cameo in the film in a 39-second clip dubbed an Easter egg – it was hidden in a previous edition of the film but not here. I thought those kinds of things were fun way back when, but now I appreciate having them in the open, so I don’t have to remember what to do if I want to revisit them.
Trailers, TV spots, and image galleries, along with two isolated score tracks on the theatrical version of the movie, round out the bonus material. Arrow also included a poster, six postcards, and an 80-page booklet with new and archival writings about RoboCop. Given how only Criterion seems to bother with physical extras anymore, Arrow definitely went above and beyond there.
The company also pulled out all the stops by commissioning a ton of new bonus content, so if you’re a fan of the film, I highly recommend grabbing this new Limited Edition as soon as you can.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★★