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Featured Blu-ray Review: RoboCop Trilogy

October 21st, 2010

RoboCop Trilogy - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

The RoboCop trilogy started in 1987 and while it was never a huge box office player, the first film did win over a number of critics. In the 23 years since then, there have been two sequels, TV show, comics, video games, plus a lot of recent talk about a reboot. But when it comes to this Blu-ray, it is a question of whether or not the franchise has aged well enough to be worth picking up.

RoboCop

The first film introduces us to the world of RoboCop, specifically Detroit. At the time the film was made, Detroit had a poor reputation, one that has sadly not improved dramatically over the years. Crime is rampant, but money is scarce. It is this situation that OCP comes into play. OCP, or Omni Consumer Products, wins a contract with the city to privatize the police force. The head of the company, referred to as The Old Man, wants to clear out the crime in Old Detroit and build New Delta City. However, they also want to make a profit while doing so. Due to this profit motive, they've been working on the cheap and its the cops that have been paying the price. The latest plan is to replace the police with robots, specifically the Enforcement Droid Series 209, championed by Dick Jones. This massive robot has an impressive amount of firepower, but its programming is limited, and a demonstration results in the death of one of the executives. At this point, another executive, Bob Morton jumps in and says his RoboCop program would be a better solution. Having a human brain control the robotics should solve the problems. They just need a cop that died on the job.

This is where Alex Murphy comes in. He's a recent transfer to the Metro West precinct and is partnered with Anne Lewis. One of his first calls is to be part of the team of police sent in to take down Clarence Boddicker, a local crime boss. Things go poorly. So poorly that Murphy is declared dead on arrival. However, it's not the end of his career, as he becomes the first test subject in the RoboCop program and he's turned into a crime-fighting cyborg.

RoboCop is a complete success, almost. He can fight crime, he becomes a celebrity and improves the cops' image, he even busts Clarence Boddicker and gets Bob Morton a promotion. It's these last two things that are the problem. Turns out Clarence is working for Dick Jones, and Dick doesn't like RoboCop messing with his plans.

When this movie first came out, it earned an X-rating for violence (this was before the days of NC-17). However, even the unrated version here looks positively quaint when compared to the Torture porn that is prevalent today. That actually brings up one of the two reasons this movie still works so well more than 20 years after it came out. It's like it saw the future. Although that's not too hard, as all you need to do is look at the problems of the past and calculate how long it will take for "Never again!" to fade to "No one could have seen this coming." (It's 20 years, tops.) The satire still works today as well as it did when the film first came out. The privatizing of the police has occured, but more so in the military. (Although there is a massive, private, for-profit prison system in the States.) The corporate power grab in politics are at its worst. Even the commercials seen in the movie wouldn't seem out of place on TV today.

Also, it's just a kick-ass movie and it can be enjoyed for the over-the-top violence and gore. And I still say ED-209 is one of the coolest robots ever to grace a movie screen.

The Blu-ray

There are no extras on this disc, nor are there any extras on any of the discs. This is even more disappointing, as there has been a special edition DVD release, so it would have been easy just to port over the previous extras. Additionally, the Blu-ray is just a re-packaging of the earlier release, which has issues in the video quality. Sure, it looks better that the DVD, but that's hardly rich praise. The audio is marginally better, but it is still hardly a selling point.

RoboCop 2

OCP is still planning to build their New Delta City; however, their plan is now to bankrupt the city and foreclose, essentially becoming the new government. In order to do that, they make the police strike by cutting their pay and ending their pensions. This in turns pushes the city into chaos, which should cause a drop in revenue / credit rating...

In the meantime, OCP is looking to improve upon the RoboCop design. Sure, RoboCop's a huge success fighting crime, and the public loves him, but he's a little under-gunned and is nearly destroyed when he goes against Cain and his gang. He is rebuilt, but OCP is already working on the next model. This version includes a massive upgrade in weapon power, plus they plan to fix that whole independence problem. RoboCop is too independent in his thinking, so for the new design, instead of a dedicated cop who died in the line of duty, they choose a drug-addicted, mentally unstable, gang leader. Yes, they choose Cain.

It works out about as well as you would think.

If you look at the film's Tomatometer score, it shows quite a drop-off between the two movies, and it is hard to argue with that. In the first movie, the violence was so over-the-top that it was cartoonish and that added to the satire. Here the violence feels like it is meant to be taken seriously, which in turn makes it feel gratuitous. It's not all bad, and there are some parts that shine. For instance, the final confrontation between the two RoboCops is extremely well done, while there are some touches of humanity left in the script, like RoboCop giving up his old life. Overall, I don't think it is as bad as its Tomatometer Score would indicate and if you are just looking for an action film, then the positives outweigh the negatives in a lot of ways. On the other hand, if you are looking for a smart social satire with your sci-fi action, then I could understand how a lot of fans of the first movie would be uninterested in owning this movie.

The Blu-ray

Again, no extras. This time around the film is making its debut on High Definition and the results are mixed. The original film cost just $13 million to make, and I don't expect this one cost too much more than that. (At the time of production, Orion Pictures was not exactly healthy, in a financial sense.) I would be surprised if the film cost $20 million to make, so for a 20-year old mid-budget film, it looks and sounds good. However, that's a lot of caveats.

RoboCop 3

New Delta City is finally coming around, but first OCP, and their new parent company, Kanemitsu Corporation, will have to kick out all of the people who live in Old Detroit. In order to do so, they create an armed force of "Urban Rehabilitators" to move in and evict everyone. Of course, not everyone is happy with this, and a resistance has formed to fight the Rehabs and OCP. One of the people caught in the middle of this fight is Nikko, a young girl whose parents were killed in one of the raids. Rescued by the resistance, she quickly proves useful, as she's able to reprogram an ED-209 in under 20 seconds.

To combat the growing threat of pre-teen girls, Kanemitsu Corporation creates Ninja Robots. Because they are a Japanese company, they create Ninjas. Note: I'm not calling the filmmakers racist for the Ninja / Japan connection; I'm calling them lazy.

RoboCop, now played by Robert John Burke. He is property of OCP, so must fight for them. But when he is damaged, he is repaired by Dr. Marie Lazarus, who was part of the original team of scientists that created him, but grew disillusioned with OCP. Now free from his programming, he decides to fight for the little guy.

I've recently reviewed several Gamera DVDs and I was reminded of them when watching this movie. That franchise started out as a serious monster movie with Gamera being the bad guy and destroying much of Japan in the first movie, while in the second he rescued Japan, but in a way that was as violent and realistic as one could expect from this type of movie. But Quite quickly the franchise went from being a serious monster movie to something just for kids. The kids being rescued often had more screen time than Gamera.

I mention this, because this movie reminded me of Gamera. The franchise went from X-rated, to R-rated, to PG-13. If it had lasted one more installment, it would have been PG and Nikko would have been the star of the movie. When Nikko made the ED-209, "as loyal as a puppy" I was convinced the franchise was doomed, and that happens less than ten minutes into the movie. If I was just watching the movie for fun, I would have turned it off at this point. Even as a critic, I had to pause the movie and take a break. It feels like a kids movie, something made for kids that would identify with Nikko, but filled with way too much violence. It's bloodless, sometimes comedic violence, but it is still way too violent for kids, and it is lost the satirical edge of the first film.

The Blu-ray

Again, no extras, while the audio and video is a bit of a step up from the last film. It was made in 1993 costing $22 million, which was expensive for a film not released by a major studio. But this was still a little on the low side, and you can tell with some of the special effects. Sadly, High Definition doesn't make this issue better. The sound is good, but not great, and certainly not strong enough to be a selling point compared to the quality of the movie.

The Verdict

The RoboCop franchise started out an an very high note, but quickly collapsed. It's hard to recommend buying a box set when only one film is worth owning. It is doubly hard when none of the special features from the special edition were ported over. Now that it appears MGM has been bought out, the reboot will likely get back on track, in which case a special edition trilogy set will be released in a couple years to take advantage of that film's theatrical release. I think it will be worth the wait.


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Filed under: Video Review, RoboCop, RoboCop 2, RoboCop 3