MGM’s Robocop has been a holy grail of sorts for Blu-ray adopters over the past 15 months. Once slated for release through MGM’s former distribution partner, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, it was shelved on the heels of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment assuming MGM distribution rights. Robocop’s high-definition debut would have to wait.
While Robocop never marched onto store shelves via Sony, its final product existence was far from myth. Shortly before the cancellation, a small handful of review copies were sent out to select media outlets covering Blu-ray Disc since day one. After suffering through an agonizingly horrific video transfer, we were all in favor of distribution rights moving to Fox, where hope for improvement was not out of the realm of possibility. If anything, the unceremonious shelving was a second lease to appease the steadily growing Blu-ray Disc ownership base.
Robocop’s “almost release” and subsequent high exposure amongst early high-definition adopters is indicative of the film’s uncanny charm and appeal resulting in new home video versions every few years. When Robocop was filmed, Verhoeven was relatively new to North American cinema which might explain his unrelenting satirical view of materialistic American culture destined to destroy itself. From jabs at nuclear war in board game form to a defective robot ruthlessly gunning down a corporate executive in a blood-filled blaze of glory, there’s no topic or raw execution off-limits to the Norwegian import director. He delivers a slick, gritty action film unlike anything American audiences had seen before.
Apart from the utter coolness of Peter Weller strutting around in a sleek metal cyborg suit and storing a booming pistol in his leg, Robocop’s nostalgic appeal has taken a small hit from Father Time. Kurtwood Smith, who masterfully injects ruthlessness into the main villain Clarence Boddicker, is now more recognizable as Red from That 70s Show than a cop-killing crime lord. Today’s new audiences might expect him to call his posse “dumbasses” rather than other choice vulgarities. The then-state-of-the-art stop motion effects are, at times, blindingly fake. Robocop’s metallic nemesis, ED-209, suffers most from this now-defunct form of visual effects.
Excessive gore plays a prominent role in Robocop, highlighted moreso in this unrated director’s cut than in the theatrical cut. Ironically, the Sony-distributed Blu-ray version of Robocop was the R-Rated 102-minute cut while Fox’s new version is the 103-minute unrated cut. With more spewing blood, bullet impacts and direct camera shots of limbs being blown off, the new Blu-ray version cut of Robocop gets the nod over its ill-fated predecessor.
Fox distributes all of its titles, MGM included, with DTS-HD Master Audio, and Robocop is no exception. Truth be told, I can’t discern any difference between the core 1.5 mbps mix on the Fox disc and the PCM 5.1 lossless mix on the Sony-distributed disc. Both tracks isolate effects in the surrounds with an artificial rather than enveloping effect that transitions smoothly from front to rear. Theoretically the full DTS-HD track should pack a little more punch than the PCM track, so the audio nod also goes to the new Blu-ray Robocop version.
There’s good news and bad news in regards to the Fox distributed video transfer. The good news is some effort has gone into clearing up much of the debris and damage to the original working print which plagued the Sony distributed version. This effort is most noticeable during outdoor scenes in the sky. There’s also a tad more sharpness and less obtrusive coloring compared to Sony’s disc. The bad news is while the Fox-distributed version is a noticeable improvement over the Sony-distributed version, there’s still room for improvement due to a lack of clarity consistency from one scene to a next, which has plagued numerous catalog titles. Even though this new transfer isn’t quite the definitive presentation we have all hoped for, the obvious improvements give the video nod to the new Blu-ray version.
So far, Fox’s Robocop has trumped Sony’s in every category, but this trend makes an about face when examining the extra features — or lack thereof. The Sony version of Robocop included a filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes and a making-of documentary. Just two months ago, the 20th anniversary DVD included an entire disc of supplemental material. Logic would normally indicate the Fox Blu-ray version would land somewhere in-between. However, all Fox has offered is new animated menus and the atrocious Theatrical Trailer, despite sharing the same cover artwork as the 20th anniversary edition. This obvious preface to a future double-dip pushes the supplemental feature nod unanimously to the Sony version.
Robocop’s long-awaited Blu-ray transformation from myth to reality faces tough competition this holiday season from an onslaught of high profile catalog and new theatrical titles. Sure, there’s a small die hard audience who will scoop up Robocop regardless, but casual consumers may glance over it on the shelves. Even though the new Fox version is a marked improvement over the never-released Sony version, the lack of extras and still “could be better” transfer is worth weighing before bringing Detroit’s stoic cyborg crime fighter home.
- Score: 7.2