There’s a strange thing that happens when machines that are capable of destroying are set in motion but aren’t stopped — they just continue to destroy with almost unfettered access. We can try to prevent or redirect, but there’s rarely an opportunity to shut down such a volatile machine, especially when it’s backed by the very systems that operate on a global scale. So what are we talking about here? We’re talking about unchecked military force that comes from thinking that the only way to solve a problem is with more weaponry. Though the concept of the person with the bigger weapon being the most powerful is not particularly new, in the 1980s, under the Reagan Administration, there came a push in the U.S. for more crime prevention as the solution for perceived increases in violence across the country. Considering this is the same administration that left its people to die of AIDS without action because of how it felt about the gay community, one shouldn’t be so shocked that it felt that more weaponry was the best method to address violence. In response to this came art of all kinds to tackle such ideas, including the 1987 Paul Verhoeven-directed RoboCop, written by Edward Neumeier (Starship Troopers) and Michael Miner (RoboCop 2), a film which looks like a superhero origin story in which a good man is imbued with incredible power to stop bad guys until one considers the larger story at play of corporate greed, local corruption, and the true purpose of police action. 35 years after its initial release, RoboCop remains as biting a political satire as ever and now comes available in the premium format 4K UHD with a Dolby audio track from Arrow Video.
In an alternate, dystopian Detroit, the police force has been procured by private organization Omni Consumer Products (OCP) via a special contract with the city. In exchange for taking care of funding the force, OCP privatizes the officers, making them de facto employees that OCP can do with as they please. Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), unaware of this, is transferred to a new station, right at the heart of the worst part of the violence, where he and new partner Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) find themselves in a confrontation with notorious thief, murderer, and drug dealer Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). While trying to apprehend Boddicker and his gang, Murphy is brutally gunned down, which OCP takes as the opportunity to forcibly recruit Murphy, as the cosigned property of OCP, for a secret Omni Consumer Securities project that will turn a regular officer into an officer of the future: a robocop.
RoboCop is a film that I must’ve seen on home video thanks to my middle brother. It’s violent, dark, and biting in a way that just tracks with some of the films he brought home even before he worked at a local video rental spot. Maybe we saw it through HBO or on television, but there was something about it that caught my eye. Back then, I think it was the fact that this good cop was transformed into a super cop, able to take down the people that took his life from him (both literally and figuratively). In retrospect, I can see the satire plainly as Neumeier and Miner skewered a society that was fine with corporate policies determining public ones, that was ok with three-minutes of news amid a myriad of commercials selling you products while regular programming was little more than mindless nonsense. RoboCop is a layered piece of work, one which requires a certain lived perspective to see and understand. Viewing the film now, in the wake of the Citizens United ruling (which argued that businesses are people and should be allowed to vote with their money without restriction), it’s not shocking at all to see a function of the government run in favor of private stockholders versus the public. Look around now and you’ll see prices going up on items from diapers to automobiles under the guise of inflation while these same companies reap in record profits, all the while government officials create supply chain issues in a bid to play politics. The biggest similarity between the satirical portrayal of Detroit’s police force and our own is that the government continues to fund police action that only propagates violence instead of supporting non-violent programs that might actually help the public. In this way, all that remains is the satisfying exploration of identity and soul through Murphy/RoboCop, as the satire is as close to the truth today as it can be.
So what about this 4K UHD release? Is it worth it? How does it differ from the 2013 Blu-ray unrated director’s cut released through 20th Century Fox Home Video or the 2020 Blu-ray released by Arrow Video?
What remains largely the same from prior releases are the bonus features. In fact, under examination, the 2020 release bonus features are mostly the same. The differences primarily lie in the addition of two isolated score tracks, the edited-for-television standard definition edition, split screen comparisons of the director’s cut to the theatrical and the theatrical to the edited-for-tv, as well as a compilation of edited material that’s been remastered from newly discovered 35mm elements. So unless you’re interested in a few more pieces of material or the extra, more family-friendly edition of RoboCop, there’s little new on-disc to entice a purchase.
What may make the decision easier, however, is the restoration itself. Just like the 2020 Blu-ray, the 4K UHD edition is made from the original camera negative that was transferred in 2013 and approved by Verhoeven. This means that the 2020 Blu-ray restoration released by Arrow is working from the same material as the 2013 edition released by 20th Century Fox. This is mostly just a fun tidbit because when you see the 4K UHD transfer…holy hell, nothing else matters. With the exception of scenes intended to look of the period (ex. Murphy’s POV shots; news footage) and any footage newly added for the Director’s Cut edition, the transfer is pretty flawless. The color on Robo’s prosthetics and applications are beautiful, the metal-looking applications a lovely mix of blues and purples. Phil Tippett’s stop-motion creation, ED-209, doesn’t have the sheen of Robo and the separation in realism is a tad more pronounced with the 4K UHD restoration, but you are also given more visible detail. Not sure I’ve noticed before what appears to be a matte-covering where the optical sensors are likely kept. For the non-mechanical, flesh tones are more natural with the HDR, details in clothes also upgraded. Backgrounds are equally improved, the blacks of Detroit at night are nice and inky while the neon lights glow without too much bleed. In terms of setting, the factory where Murphy is murdered has an initial rustic, dark feel, adding more mood to the already disturbing situation, that strangely transforms into something welcoming when Robo makes it his own before the end, perhaps due to Murphy’s own transformation and acceptance. With the Director’s Cut-specific footage, you’ll notice some fading in the image, as though the color grading doesn’t match perfectly, but it’s not enough to take you out of the action.
For those interested in how it sounds, the 4K UHD edition has multiple options from English 2.0 to Dolby Atmos 7.1. There is an option to use the Atmos track on 5.1 and instructions are provided on-screen in the audio settings. My home theater setup doesn’t include Atmos, so it couldn’t be tested. I did check out the 5.1 track on both discs and only ran into one issue with the balance: when Robo breaks into the warehouse where Boddicker is trying to make a deal, his entrance is sounded by several bangs on a door that gives under his strength before bursting. The way it plays on the 5.1 track, it’s more chaotic noise than directional. When compared to the explosion of the gas station a few scenes previously, it’s odd that this one moment is not equally immersive.
Whether you’re able to pick-up the regular 4K UHD release or the steelbook, both come with a booklet featuring film stills, behind the scenes images, essays, and restoration information. The 4K UHD release edition also includes a fold-out poster and several cards, while the steelbook edition contains neither of these. The steelbook, though, is decorated with the iconic image of RoboCop exiting his car on the front, the scene of him about to save a girl in the alley on the back, and the OCP boardroom dealing with ED-209 on the inside. The steelbook edition is what I was sent for the home release review and, between the options, this is most certainly my preference if only for the look.
Without question, RoboCop is still just as biting now as it was then. The biggest difference for me, as the audience, is that I root for Murphy/RoboCop differently than I did before. He’s no longer the cowboy hero, desperately trying to clean up the streets. He’s as much a victim as the rest of the helpless in Detroit, except he’s bound to OCP even past his warranty expiration date. Doesn’t matter how many corrupt members of OCP are removed throughout the series, as long as OCP has its roots in Detroit (or any other city), no one is safe. As long as the public remains comforted by the bubble their media offers (bad things happen to other people, not me), little will change. Personal autonomy, personal privacy, should never be sacrificed for the sake of corporate gain.
Why does that sound so familiar?
RoboCop Limited Edition Steelbook Bonus Features
- 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative by MGM, transferred in 2013 and approved by director Paul Verhoeven
- Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut of the film on two High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ discs
- Original lossless stereo and four-channel mixes plus DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound option on both cuts
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on both cuts
- Limited edition collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Omar Ahmed, Christopher Griffiths and Henry Blyth
RoboCop Legacy Special Features
Disc One – Director’s Cut
- Archive commentary by director Paul Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier (originally recorded for the Theatrical Cut and re-edited in 2014 for the Director’s Cut)
- New commentary by film historian Paul M. Sammon
- New commentary by fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart and Eastwood Allen
- The Future of Law Enforcement: Creating RoboCop, a newly filmed interview with co-writer Michael Miner
- RoboTalk, a newly filmed conversation between co-writer Ed Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke (writer of Elle) and Nick McCarthy (director of Orion Pictures’ The Prodigy)
- Truth of Character, a newly filmed interview with star Nancy Allen on her role as Lewis
- Casting Old Detroit, a newly filmed interview with casting director Julie Selzer on how the film’s ensemble cast was assembled
- Connecting the Shots, a newly filmed interview with second unit director and frequent Verhoeven collaborator Mark Goldblatt
- Analog, a new featurette focusing on the special photographic effects, including new interviews with Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaver
- Composing RoboCop, a new tribute to composer Basil Poledouris featuring film music experts Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, Daniel Schweiger and Robert Townson
- RoboProps, a newly filmed tour of super-fan Julien Dumont’s collection of original props and memorabilia
- 2012 Q&A with the Filmmakers, a panel discussion featuring Verhoeven, Davison, Neumeier, Miner, Allen, star Peter Weller and animator Phil Tippett
- RoboCop: Creating a Legend, Villains of Old Detroit and Special Effects: Then & Now, three archive featurettes from 2007 featuring interviews with cast and crew
- Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg
- Four deleted scenes
- The Boardroom: Storyboard with Commentary by Phil Tippett
- Director’s Cut Production Footage, raw dailies from the filming of the unrated gore scenes
- Two theatrical trailers and three TV spots
- Extensive image galleries
Disc Two – Theatrical Cut
- Archive commentary by director Paul Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier (originally recorded for Theatrical version of the film)
- Two Isolated Score tracks (Composer’s Original Mix and Final Theatrical Mix) in lossless stereo
- Edited-for-television version of the film, featuring alternate dubs, takes and edits of several scenes (95 mins, SD only)
- Split screen comparison of Theatrical and Director’s Cuts
- RoboCop: Edited For Television, a compilation of alternate scenes from two edited-for-television versions, newly transferred in HD from recently-unearthed 35mm elements
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray and Limited Edition Steelbook from Arrow Video April 12th, 2022.
For more information on RoboCop, head to the official MGM webpage.
To purchase a copy, head to MVD Entertainment Group.
For more information on either edition, head to Arrow Video.