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MGM Studios DVD presents
Robocop: The Complete Trilogy (1987,1990,1993)

Bob Morton: What are your Prime Directives?
RoboCop: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.

- Miguel Ferrer, Peter Weller

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: June 07, 2004

Stars: Peter Weller, Robert John Burke, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith
Other Stars: Tom Noonan, Muguel Ferrer
Director: Paul Verhoeven, Irvin Kershner, Fred Dekker

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for excessive violence, language, brief nudity
Run Time: 05h:17m:14s
Release Date: June 08, 2004
UPC: 027616909275
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-B+B B

DVD Review

There have been numerous trilogies and franchises in motion picture history, and while some have certainly been better than others, there comes a point where enough is truly enough. For the James Bond franchise and even the current five Star Wars films, there is a sense of freshness and credibility because viewers have invested their time and emotions with the characters over the course of several decades. But the trouble with most franchises is that by the time the third film comes along, the series is to a point where anything fresh and daring that can be done has already been done—an example of which is the Robocop trilogy.

Originally released in 1987, the first Robocop film effectively blends violence and satire in a story outside of genre conventions. A huge hit, it brought director Paul Verhoeven, a very gifted Dutch filmmaker, both critical and commercial success in the U.S. By the time the inevitable sequels came along, the values of the original Robocop were gone and the films had developed into overly violent action thrillers that did nothing to separate them from other entries into the genre.

Robocop (1987)
Runtime: 01h:43m:14s

The first Robocop introduces us to Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Weller) and his new partner Anne Lewis (Allen) as they encounter a gang of criminals led by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and, by the end of the firefight, Murphy is left for dead. His nearly lifeless body is used to construct the very first "Robocop," a half man, half machine crime fighter that is quick and to the point with police procedure but slower on matters of emotion and street smarts.

Soon Robocop is on the streets hunting for his killers while also dealing with recurring flashbacks of his life before the showdown with Boddicker. The story has elements of the best creature films including Frankenstein, while also producing a biting political satire dealing with issues such as the privatization of the entire Detroit Police Department, whose sole intention is complete power over the city of Detroit. Much like Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, the story is interspersed with mock news reports and other media satire.

The key to the success of Robocop is the effort by both Verhoeven and his star, Peter Weller. In the case of Weller, he crafts a performance that has strong elements of human nature considering that three-quarters of the film are done with him inside the Robocop armor. For Verhoeven, the film represents a stunning achievement as he has infused elements of slapstick humor, horrifying violence, and, most importantly, a lot of emotional resonance. This may be the director's finest hour.

Robocop 2 (1990)
Runtime: 01h:57m:54s

By the time the second installment came along, Robocop was immensely popular and with the director of The Empire Strikes Back at the helm, expectations were understandably high—the results, though, were unfortunately low. The story is fairly similar to the plot of the first installment, but this time the film lacks the vision of Verhoeven and the satire of original scriptwriter Ed Neumeirer.

This is strange considering that Robocop 2 features virtually the same central plot as the first film, right down to the corporate villains. This time Detroit is in even worse shape as the police are on strike and crime is steadily escalating to an all-time high. The head of Omni Consumer Products is known only as Old Man (Daniel O'Herlihy), and he has a plan to force the city into bankruptcy, take it over, and make a fortune selling off the pieces.

While this is a credible plot thread, here it is tossed aside for a central plot about a drug dealer named Cain (Noonan) and his creation of a drug that looks surprisingly like orange Kool Aid and, of course, it's up to Robocop (Weller) to stop him. Cain is given a young sidekick (Damon) who kills at random while trying to gain a bigger stake of the business. By the time Cain is used to create another robot, the script has lost all credibility and everything seems to happen just to lead into a final showdown between Robocop and Robocain.

What made the original film successful was the way in which it went beyond the cartoon-like violence and took us into the mind of Murphy as he fought crime as Robocop. The irony that a man being given a new lease on life at the cost of his memories represents a nice emotional core, but these themes are never visited in the second film. Instead, we get a lot of secondary characters having conversations that amount to very little while racking up a staggering body count. The character of Cain is a nice element; Noonan plays him with the actor's trademark creepiness, but the inclusion of the young child as Cain's helper and assassin is a bit too much. Robocop 2 is escapist entertainment, but the image of a young child opening fire and constantly reloading is positively frightening. Furthermore, the film cheats in its resolution of the young character as Robocop sees him as an innocent despite the constant killing and other horrible acts. The filmmakers made a grave mistake with the inclusion of the character and it turns out to be the death knell of the entire picture.

Robocop 3 (1993)

By the time Robocop 3 rolled around nearly everyone involved in the first two films had vanished, and it could be said that this third installment never had a chance. After sitting on the shelf at defunct Orion studios, the film was finally released in 1993 to dismal box office and critical response.

Detroit is yet again in peril and Robocop, now played by Robert John Burke, sent out to help fight against an elite element of the police force known as the Rehabilitators. When Robocop decides to stand up for the downtrodden of Detroit, the Rehabilitators send out a weapon of their own: a ninja warrior.

If the premise for Robocop 3 sounds ridiculous it's because, well, it is. In what could have been a perfect finish to the trilogy, the third installment represents a change from the satirical to the nonsensical. Throughout the trilogy, more so in Part One, the trilogy dealt with Robocop's recurring memories of his life before his near death; here, this factor completely omitted. That is not the only part missing, as the third film lacks the wit and comedic undertones that were prevalent in the first two installments. Instead, we are offered a slew of action set pieces that are of low quality.

Taken as a whole, the Robocop Trilogy is on a higher level than others, largely because of the first installment. That film set the bar very high and stands as a modern classic; while the sequels tried their best to live up and couldn't, at least the stunning achievement of the first film prevails.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Each film in the Robocop has been restored in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfers that are very well done. The first film suffers from some edge enhancement in the early scenes, but it is otherwise well done. The age of the print is evident as the transfer sports some noticeable scratches and grain. Robocop 2 has a few slight moments of edge enhancement, but that is the only flaw in this very passable transfer. Sharpness and detail as well as the representation of colors in the transfer are very nicely done. The final film suffers from a soft filter that brings the quality of the film down. Colors are slightly washed out in the transfer, while sharpness and detail are each average at best.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Each film has been given a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for the first time and the results are excellent. Surround use is most prominent as gunfire and other ambient sounds are represented well and the track makes very nice use of the split surround channels. Bass is rich and tight in several of the action scenes as well as the musical score for each of the three films. Dialogue is crisp and clear with no dropouts in any of the tracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Paul Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeir, and producer Jon Davison
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: The extra material for the Robocop Trilogy is largely limited to the first disc, with the majority of material covering the original picture rather than its sequels. The first feature on Disc 1 is a commentary track by director Paul Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeir, and producer Jon Davison. The track is different than the one included on the Criterion laser disc and DVD, and the track is equally informative. Verhoeven dominates much of the discussion with his thoughts on what he brought to the project, as well as how his résumé of making non-American films made him the best candidate for this project in that he had a fresh and original eye for the material.

A 40-minute documentary is the most in-depth piece about Robocop ever created. The documentary covers nearly every step of the production of the first film, from casting to scouting locations to the story behind the conception of the film, and it is fascinating throughout. Verhoeven, Davison, and Neumeir all give new interviews about the film and its impact on American audiences.

Next are four deleted scenes that are not included in the director's cut. Each scene was clearly excised for the right reasons, but it is nice to see them included here. A photo gallery including production stills, storyboards, and behind-the-scenes pictures is also available for viewing, as are trailers and television spots for each film in the trilogy.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Slick, violent, briefly comedic, satirical, and most importantly, fun: these are all words that best describe Robocop and its new release in an uncut version included in the three-disc Robocop Trilogy. This release should be welcomed by those who missed out on the previous Criterion released. Luckily, it is aided in the set by an average sequel and a lot of extra material. Highly recommended.


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