In the not-too-distant future, a newly transfered Detroit police officer is remade into an indestructible cybernetic cop after being dismembered by a gang of thugs in an abandoned warehouse. Reborn as RoboCop he is programmed to serve and protect the citizens of Detroit and eliminate the rampant crime in the city streets so that a massive city-wide reconstruction project can get under way. But once he has completed his task, he sets his sights on the corruption inside Security Concepts - the corporation that created him.
Arrow Video presents an all new 2-disc limited Blu-ray edition of Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, presenting both the director’s cut and the theatrical cut. Each version is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (not 1.66:1 like the Criterion DVD) using a 4K restoration performed by MGM back in 2013. Most of the film (anything that appears from the theatrical version) have been sourced from the 35mm original camera negative. Unfortunately the negatives for the sequences from the director’s cut are long lost so other elements were used to fill in the gaps. Criterion’s transfer notes for their 1998 DVD edition state that their presentation was sourced from a 35mm interpositive, so I’m guessing those were the elements used for the 4K restoration to fill in footage for the director’s cut.
While I think Arrow does a offer better encode with their edition, while also making the picture a bit brighter, it doesn’t look too far removed from MGM offered in their previous Blu-ray release, which also used this same 4K restoration. Overall both editions offer an incredibly sharp image, loaded with detail (those imperfections in RoboCop’s armour are more distinct and clearer) and film grain is rendered well in both, with the Arrow handling it marginally better. The film’s colour scheme can be limited but the colours are saturated well in both editions, and black levels are rich and deep without crushing out shadow detail (ignoring a few shots from footage exclusive to the director’s cut, which do present some crush). Neither edition presents any glaring digital issues, though again, Arrow’s grain presentation is a bit cleaner and looks a bit more natural. Both manage to offer lovely, film-like presentations.
Sticking now to just the different cuts on Arrow’s edition, the source is clean for both edits, all prominent damage removed, and both offer the same level of quality in their digital presentations. Things can look a bit iffy during some of the film’s optical effects scenes, where rear-projection or other camera tricks are employed. There can also be a dupey sort of quality during these sequences, the image looking fuzzier in areas of the screen. This is, of course, a byproduct of the original photography so it’s doubtful anything could have been done. The director’s cut also has some minor problems present in the added or alternate footage: since said footage comes from a later generation source there is a notable change in quality jumping between theatrical footage and footage exclusive to the director’s cut. Grain can be substantially heavier in some cases, and contrast can look off, darkening the image quite a bit, which (as mentioned in the previous paragraph) can cause some crush. These shots are usually quick, and I wouldn’t say they look terrible, but they stick out compared to the rest of the footage. This was also an issue on the previous MGM release.
In the end not a substantial upgrade over the MGM disc, just offering a noticeable boost in grain management thanks to a better encode, but I’m still beyond impressed with how good this film looks.
Arrow goes all out offering a number of audio options for both versions of the film, providing the original 4.0 theatrical surround presentation, a 2.0 stereo surround mix (I assume similar to what has been used on video since its original VHS release), and the 5.1 surround remix, all presented in DTS-HD MA.
The 5.1 surround track is the best one, and the one I will be sticking with, as it offers a more impressive mix for the action scenes and the film’s score, directing audio cleanly and naturally between the five speakers with noticeable splits, while making decent use of the lower channel for bass. It’s also markedly more dynamic than the other options, offering wider range with a few loud explosions.
The other two mixes are perfectly fine, though limited since the surrounds work in unison. Action scenes sound good, but range isn’t as wide, and the explosions aren’t as loud. There can be more of a flatness to the dialogue as well. I like that Arrow includes the options, though, and film purists should be happy to get the original 4.0 presentation. As usual, Arrow aims to please everyone they can.
Arrow’s limited edition is the most jam-packed special edition I’ve yet seen for the film, covering every aspect of it. Not only does Arrow port over all of the features from the previous MGM editions, but they also add a substantial amount of new material (all that’s really missing are the supplements found on Criterion’s DVD release).
The big bonus, though, is that this is the first Blu-ray release (that I’m aware of) to carry both the director’s cut and a theatrical cut of the film; MGM’s disc only provided the director’s cut. The director’s cut can be found on the first disc while the theatrical cut can be found on the second disc. The only notable difference between the two is that the director’s cut features more gore, which had to be cut out to avoid an X rating when it was originally submitted to the MPAA, which would have limited its distribution.
Both versions of the film also come with an audio commentary featuring Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeier, and producer Jon Davison, recorded in 2001 for MGM’s own special edition DVD release, and has appeared on each home video release since. The three, recorded together, talk about the development and the production of RoboCop from Neumeier (along with co-writer Michael Miner) writing the script to getting it to Verhoeven, who initially threw the script out after seeing the title (he thought the idea sounded stupid). Thankfully his wife pulled the script out of the trash, read it, and told him he had to consider doing it. Throughout the track all three also talk about problems that arose, changes that had to be made because of budget limitations, and get into the nitty-gritty of the effects work. They also like to talk about the satirical elements and themes, Verhoeven always liking to point out the references to Jesus.
The track was actually recorded for the theatrical version (for whatever reason, MGM’s 2001 DVD edition of the film only presented the theatrical version, though this ended up making the Criterion DVD more sought after) and Arrow leaves it as is for that version of the film. On the director’s cut Arrow uses an edited version that’s timed a bit differently to adjust for the additional footage. It also cuts out comments stating that they and you (the viewer) are watching the theatrical version (it’s admittedly odd, and I imagine it would have been a bit annoying watching the theatrical version with this track back in 2001 only to be told about a gorier version that exists, which isn’t the version you’re watching).
Sadly the Criterion commentary doesn’t make it on here, which would have been a nice addition for the director’s cut since that’s what it was recorded for. To be fair the tracks are not too dissimilar and actually feature the same participants (along with Paul Sammon, who appears on the next track of this release), all recorded separately and edited together. That track admittedly is missing the loose and joking nature of the MGM track, and can be even more technical, but it did expand on a few areas, and interestingly enough Verhoeven sounded a bit unsure about whether he pulled off the Christ symbolism effectively (he comes off more assured here). At any rate, the MGM track still covers most of the same ground.
And as mentioned, Sammon does appear on the second commentary track. He starts things off with two quotes, from Neumeier and Verhoeven respectively: “basically it’s the story of a violent cyborg with an identity problem” and “you can do a comic book movie and still put your soul into it.” From these he breaks down the many layers of the film, covering the more obvious satirical elements, but further exploring the Christ-like themes within it (oddly he presents this as something new despite Verhoeven talking about it almost non-stop elsewhere) and the idea of this film as being anti-fascist and anti-Nazi (which he carries over to Total Recall and Starship Troopers, the latter being the more obvious one). He keeps the track going at a good beat and covers his topics well enough. Things get a bit redundant when he talks about the production since this is covered ad nauseum elsewhere, but he has some first-hand accounts since he was there on-set during filming. He also talks a little bit about constructing the director’s cut for the Criterion LaserDisc and also shares some humourous anecdotes (Weller was really into samurai films and really wanted to throw in a lot of references, which Verhoeven had to talk down). His track adds a nice academic element to the release.
And in case two commentaries weren’t enough, Arrow adds on what can be summed up as a fan track, featuring Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart, and Eastwood Allen. The track is energetic and goes at a good clip, and the participants have a great time talking about one of their favourite films, explaining the impact it had on them and filmmaking in general. This track is also good for the little bits of trivia you won’t find in the other supplements (many of the police characters are named after serial killers), the details you might have missed (the comics in the stand at the convenience store that gets robbed), or the reasons behind some of the film’s flubs (like why the arms on the Dick Jones puppet at the end are unnaturally long). This is also the only supplement that I can recall that actually names the other actors that were considered for parts in the film (can you imagine Willem Dafoe or Rutger Hauer as RoboCop, or Christopher Lloyd as Dick Jones!?) It’s not a necessary addition in any way, and I prefer the other tracks, but it’s a fun addition.
Most of the remaining supplements are found on disc one, starting with a new interview with writer Michael Miner. It’s only 17-minutes, but he explains how he Neumeier met, how they came to start writing the script, who was responsible for certain elements, and he recalls the awful process of actually trying to sell the script.
Throughout the many editions for this film writer Ed Neumeier has participated far more in the supplements, so it was nice to get a real sit down with Miner, but Neumeier shows up yet again in RoboTalk, a 32-minute discussion between Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke (writer for Verhoeven’s Elle) and Nicholas McCarthy (director of the recent film The Prodigy). At first it feels like we’re covering familiar ground about the background to the script and film but then the three move on to the structure of the script and film, how certain elements are fleshed out without a lot of focus (like Murphy’s family) and so on, while also adding how much of it was in the script and how much of it was from Verhoeven. I was a little frustrated with it at first but it turns into a great conversation about why the film works as well as it does.
Nancy Allen next shows up for a new 18-minute interview, and as always, she proves to be a wonderful interviewee. She recalls her casting and some of the more difficult moments from filming, and even talks about the original rumours around a sequel having her coming back as a cyborg (she was horrified at the idea of having to wear a suit similar to Weller’s). The most amusing moment, though, comes when she admits her regret at turning down a role for another Jon Davison film: Airplane!
Arrow then gets a couple of more interviews with members of the crew, first with casting director Julie Selzer and then with second unit director Mark Goldblatt, running 8-minutes and 11-minutes respectively. Selzer talks about the casting challenges that came up (like finding an actor with the perfect cheekbones for the role of RoboCop) and the joy of casting against type (the sweet-in-real-life Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox as a villains, Miguel Ferrer as an executive, etc.) I was also rather fascinated by Goldblatt’s participation, who explains in detail his duties as a second unit director (which includes channeling the director, not go off and do your own thing) and what shots he was responsible for.
I also enjoyed the next feature, a 13-minute feature about the film’s analog photographic effects, featuring effects artists Peter Koran and Kevin Kutchaver. After the two explain how they met as kids and how they shared a love for Ray Harryhausen’s work they then talk about their accomplishments on RoboCop, which involved creating video effects like “Robo Vision” (the interlaced point-of-view shots for RoboCop), the news breaks, and more. Criterion did cover this aspect a bit in their release, the MGM not-so-much, and while these effects may not be as sexy as the stop-motion effects that were covered more in the supplements on previous releases it’s still fascinating and it’s incredible how well this aspect of the film has held up so well over the years.
Arrow then finishes off their new supplements with a couple more, starting with a 12-minute tribute to composer Basil Poledouris and the film’s score, featuring interviews with experts Jeff Bond, Daniel Schweiger, and Robert Townson, who all explain how the score morphs and changes with the character losing and finding his humanity. There is then a 13-minute video featuring Julien Dumont showing his collection of RoboCop memorabilia, which actually includes the original RoboCop armour (he bought it thinking it was from the second film only to have it confirmed to be what was used in the first). This feature was a bit of a surprise as it really showcases the art that went into the film’s props, and Dumont even shows how the costumes and props got cheaper looking with each new film in the series (comparing the police uniforms from the first and third film just shows how the amount of effort dropped substantially and the details are less impressive).
Arrow then digs up a Q&A from 2012, featuring Verhoeven, actors Peter Weller and Nancy Allen, writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, and associate producer Phil Tippett, with moderation performed by Robert Rosen. There is discussion around the production that we’ve heard elsewhere, and Weller talks about the difficulties around make-up and the costume that he mentions in other features that appear on here later, but there are some unique comments in here. There’s more information around another draft of the script, for example, written to accommodate a request from Verhoeven to introduce an affair between the characters of Murphy and Lewis before he realized it was an awful idea, and a question is asked about what Neumeier’s and Miner’s sequel would have been like. The video runs 43-minutes.
Arrow then adds on archival features from MGM’s previous editions. The 21-minute RoboCop: Creating a Legend is a pretty standard making-of, featuring interviews with the cast and crew. Again, a lot of this material is covered elsewhere but there is more about Rob Bottin’s work around the development of the suit, and then a rather fascinating look at finding the right gun for RoboCop (the huge Desert Eagle that appears in the film was first considered but it turned out to be too small). This is followed by the 17-minute Villains of Old Detroit, which is specifically about the villains in the film, featuring interviews with Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox, Ray Wise, Miguel Ferrer (it’s said his character was on his way to becoming a full-on villain) and others. Special Effects: Then and Now then offers a look at the film’s use of miniatures (from ED-209 to the Dick Jones puppet), stop-motion, and matte paintings. It runs 18-minutes.
The Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg is a 39-second look at Verhoeven’s cameo in the film, and this is followed by 3-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, which include Bob Morton’s news conference, a street interview with a nun, an ad for Topless Pizza (exactly what you think it is), and then an alternate ending where another Media Break interviews an injured Anne Lewis in the hospital. There is then a 6-minute storyboard comparison showcasing the boardroom scene involving the ED-209 demo. The scene plays up top (in slo-mo) with a window showing the storyboard panels. Phil Tippet also provides a commentary explaining the stop-motion process.
Arrow then puts together a compilation of director’s cut production footage, which offers the raw footage filmed for material that would ultimately be used in the director’s cut. This runs around 12-minutes.
The disc then closes with 2 trailers for the film, followed by 3 TV spots. Arrow also provides a large collection of images divided into three sections: “Production Photos,” “Behind-the-scenes Photos,” and a collection of “Posters,” the latter also including home video art (though they’re missing Criterion’s).
The second disc, featuring the theatrical cut, also includes a small collection of features, though they’re all around the alternate versions of the film. The theatrical version does come with two isolated scores that are not an option for the director’s cut. The first track features Poledouris’ original score, which offers some music that doesn’t appear in the film (the opening Media Break movie actually runs longer), while the second presents the score as it is in the film. The film also comes with the Verhoeven/Neumeier/Davison commentary and the same three audio options (2.0, 4.0, and 5.1).
The most interesting inclusion here would probably be the television version of the film, presented here in its entirety. It runs about 95-minutes and cuts out most of the graphic violence, even using alternate angles and shots to hide the violence. The foul language is also dubbed out (badly) and it’s about as effective as you would expect. It’s been sourced from a video and is presented in 1.33:1 (naturally) but it doesn’t look too bad all things considered.
To add on to that Arrow edits together 19-minutes’ worth of the alternate footage used in the television version, which was edited together from the actual film elements (and impressively it’s all in amazing condition). This is a nice feature in that you can see some of the alternate footage without actually having to sit through the television version in its entirety, and of course some of the lines are amusing, but the most interesting element to this is that in some cases there are two alternate cuts for some scenes, and this has to do with which station the version appeared on apparently. There are two different edits for a certain villain’s demise (both are less bloody and use different angles), but the most interesting set of edits involves the scene in the OCP executive washroom. Both edits seem intent on showing less footage of Dick Jones sitting in one of the stalls (which was only implied by showing his feet). The first edit completely cuts out a shot of Jones’ feet in the stall, while the second edit shows this but cuts out the quick shot of Jones stepping out of the stall. Both cuts also show both Morton and the other executive (shoulders up) at the urinals talking, while the original film’s edit showed Jones’ feet shifting about in the stall (Jones finishing up business I assume) with the two talking in the background. This is such a curious change, but as I learned from my old DVD of Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt, airlines cut out bathroom scenes from the films they show (or at least did) and I’m guessing there is/was a similar policy with television. What an uptight world we live in!
Moving on Arrow next provides comparisons for the different edits. First there is a comparison between the director’s cut and theatrical cut, followed by one for the TV version and the theatrical cut, running 4-minutes and 20-minutes respectively. Both are set up the same, with the two versions playing side-by-side when they’re the same but then one side freezing and the other playing if the sequences differ, either in terms of running-time or if dialogue differs (and in the latter case each version plays individually). I was most surprised by the director’s cut comparison because I always assumed the gorier scenes were just extended but in actuality the scenes have been edited in a completely different manner, so the whole sequence around the gore may use a different angle or have certain shots placed in a different order. This allows you to see how, in an attempt to make up for the lost violence, Verhoeven tried to rework the theatrical cut to keep some of the horror (and the over-the-top aspect) by laying the scene out in a different manner. It ends up being a rather strong (if quick) lesson on the power of editing.
That closes off all of the disc features. This limited edition also comes in a rather impressive package. While the two discs are stored in one of Arrow’s standard wide Blu-ray cases (with a flip to hold the first disc), with reversible artwork (the new art on one side, the original poster art on the other), it’s also packed into a lovely looking (and very sturdy!) sleeve, which also holds a fold out poster (featuring the new art and original art on either side) and an 80-page booklet! The booklet is packed with a lot of material. Outside of production photos and concept art the booklet features an essay on the film by Omar Ahmed followed by a reprinting of the film’s original production notes. There are then a couple of articles about the cast and key members of the crew, further exploring their careers before and after, and then another new essay, this one by Christopher Griffiths, covering its impact and influence on his generation. There is then a rather extensive essay by Henry Blyth on the alternate versions of the film, explaining how the director’s cut was reconstructed after an extensive search for the missing elements, and then the reasoning behind the multiple television versions, complete with a chart comparing how many of the lines differ (some of them ridiculous, like replacing “scumbag” with “crumb-bag”). A really great addition and it’s probably worth grabbing the limited edition just for that. Inside the case you will also find 6 post cards featuring photos from the film, as well as a “security sticker” indicating that your property is “protected by RoboCop” (I’m guessing it’s a reprint of some sort of promotion).
Though it doesn’t include all of the Criterion material this is easily the most comprehensive, satisfying, and extensive collection of features yet put together for the film, covering everything from each aspect of its production to the analysis of its many layers and the cultural impact it has had. An incredible effort by Arrow.
Update (December 1, 2019):I mistakenly stated that Arrow carried over everything from the MGM disc. This edition is missing a handful of production featurettes from the time of shooting, and a 37-minute making-of documentary. Though it's a shame that the featurettes aren't here the content of the making-of is pretty much covered in the other features that Arrow have included.
Arrow really goes all out with this and just packs on the bells and whistles. The presentation is stellar, and I appreciate the inclusion of the different audio options. In the end the video presentation only offers a minimal upgrade over the already impressive MGM Blu-ray thanks to a stronger encode (both releases use the same 4K restoration), but it’s the supplements that really sell this thing, and that alone makes this the most satisfying edition for the film yet. It comes with a very high recommendation.