Arrow’s new 4K transfer of ‘Robocop’ is worth it.
Does this review need to say more than “RoboCop is a perfect film”?
Director Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 cyborg Christ vehicle is a satirical sci-fi blend of corporate oversight, decaying infrastructure, rampant violence, greed… and unabated violence. So much violence. Peter Weller breathes life into a robotic shell as Murphy, a murdered cop whose body is “donated” to the suits at OCP, the company that runs the police. He’s resurrected as RoboCop, ostensibly the ultimate crime deterrent. This new cyborg finds memories of a past life overriding his programming, leading to his seeking out Detroit’s worst for their overdue comeuppance.
That’s the gist of things. But as anyone who’s seen the film can tell you there’s so much more going on here. The commercials. The news breaks. An endless assortment of peripheral characters with defining moments. Incorruptible heroes. Incredible villains. Corrosive quips. Verhoeven’s Detroit is a near-future nightmare, where cops are killed almost daily and the city has effectively turned over control to a company with a vested interest in seeing human police eliminated.
Numerous think pieces have been written on the film’s underlying themes of capitalism, corporate greed, masculinity, religion, and technology. RoboCop doesn’t just present a cyborg crime-fighter; it produces an entire ecosystem in which he is one salient component. Writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner satirized the worst aspects of “Reaganomics” and in the process wrote an eerily prescient tale that doesn’t seem too far removed from today’s reality. I’d pine for a RoboCop of our own but let’s be honest here: it would undoubtedly cause as much mayhem as an ED-209 unit.
A great film can be elevated even higher by a complementary score. Nobody could have written better themes for this dystopian world than Basil Poledouris. His marriage of classical instruments and electronics is the ideal sound for a film in which man is made machine. His music conveys the pain of loss, a desire for revenge, and features one of the most iconic, triumphant main themes of all time. I don’t make that claim lightly either. This is a seriously fantastic score that perfectly harmonizes a range of emotions.
I’d be remiss not to mention the outstanding special effects work, too. Rob Bottin led a team that also included Phil Tippett, which should be enough to say the work here is unparalleled. Bottin was primarily responsible for designing RoboCop while Tippett handled the stop-motion work of ED-209. There is a wealth of artistry on display constantly, from Mr. Kinney’s violent squib-riddled death to Emil’s nuclear makeover to a stop-motion dinosaur featured in a car commercial. And all the glorious matte work… Verhoeven’s film truly is a rare feature, where every aspect is perfectly executed and the results gel together in powerful fashion.
Now on to the primary reason most will read this review: the 4K transfer. Arrow previously issued a limited edition Blu-ray that featured a stunning 4K transfer from 2013, approved by the powers-that-be. Eight years later the film has received a fresh 2021 4K HDR10 color grading. The director’s cut scenes have also been given a fresh 4K scan, giving this 2022 release a marked difference from that already-impressive Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 2160p picture is structurally tighter than before, with upticks to fine detail and a wider spectrum of color.
The most evident upgrade to my eyes is the additional director’s cut footage, which is more in line with the rest of the feature. Previously, those scenes looked rougher, with excessive grain and varying contrast. The many optical effects still look ultra-grainy and less sharp. But this isn’t news to anyone that knows how those work; they’ll never appear better. Film grain looks natural and isn’t overbearing in any way. As someone who watches this film at least once a year I found it worth upgrading solely for the improved quality of the director’s cut scenes. But then I’m also a sucker for any kind of video upgrade so your mileage may vary.
It isn’t just the video that gets an upgrade here, as there’s a new audio option to be heard: English Dolby Atmos (which folds down to TrueHD 7.1 if you don’t support that codec). The additional atmosphere afforded by the extra channels is obvious from the opening frames. Since I’ve watched this so many times on various home video formats my ears were quick to pick up on these changes however minute. This is an active track with lots of gunfire and explosive action all while Poledouris’ booming synthscape pours out from every speaker. A true beast. There are also DTS-HD MA 2.0, 4.0., and 5.1 options available if you have a specific preference. Subtitles are available in English.
There are no Blu-ray discs present but Arrow tends to port over all prior bonus features to 4K. This release is no exception; it’s absolutely packed.
DISC ONE: Director’s Cut
There are three audio commentary tracks: director Paul Verhoeven, executive producer Jon Davison, and co-writer Ed Neumeier; film historian Paul Sammon; fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart, and Eastwood Allen.
“The Future of Law Enforcement: Creating RoboCop” (HD, 16 minutes and 51 seconds): a recent interview with co-writer Michael Miner.
“RoboTalk” (HD, 32 minutes and 8 seconds): A roundtable discussion with co-writer Ed Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke and Nicholas McCarthy.
“Truth of Character with Nancy Allen” (HD, 18 minutes and 26 seconds): A new sit-down with the actress.
“Casting Old Detroit with Julie Selzer” (HD, 8 minutes and 20 seconds): The film’s casting director discusses how she helped shape the cast.
“Connecting the Shots with Mark Goldblatt” (HD, 11 minutes and 6 seconds): He was the 2nd unit director and has a longtime working relationship with Verhoeven.
“Analog with Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaver” (HD, 13 minutes and 10 seconds): The two men talking about how effects were done in the pre-CGI days.
“More Man Than Machine: Composing RoboCop” (HD, 12 minutes and 4 seconds) plays like a tribute to Poledouris, with some contemporary talking heads discussing his work here.
“RoboProps” (HD, 12 minutes and 50 seconds): Julien Dumont, who owns a number of props from the series.
“2012 Q&A with the Filmmakers” (HD, 42 minutes and 37 seconds) is taken from a screening of the film at UCLA, with all the notables (minus Rob Bottin) in attendance.
“RoboCop: Creating a Legend” (HD, 21 minutes 12 seconds) focuses on the creation of the suit.
“Villains of Old Detroit” (HD, 19 minutes and 1 second) checks out Robo’s rogue gallery, which is full of unique characters.
“Special Effects: Then & Now” (HD, 18 minutes and 23 seconds) is another piece looking at the on-screen work.
“Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg” (HD, 38 seconds) tells viewers exactly where to find the director’s cameo.
A series of four deleted scenes (HD, 2 minutes and 52 seconds) are included.
“The Boardroom: Storyboard with Phil Tippett Commentary” (HD, 6 minutes and 4 seconds) shows planned visuals while Tippett talks about how they achieved the scene.
“Director’s Cut Production Footage” (HD, 11 minutes and 38 seconds) presents dailies of some key scenes.
Two trailers, three TV spots, and three image galleries round out the features on this disc.
DISC TWO: Theatrical Cut
The audio commentary with Verhoeven, Davison, and Neumeier can also be found here.
A pair of Isolated Scores are included – Composer’s Original Score and Final Theatrical Mix.
The edited-for-TV version of the feature is included, with numerous alternate lines, takes, etc. A bonus feature – “RoboCop: Edited for Television” (HD, 18 minutes and 35 seconds) – offers up those alternates in one place.
“Split-Screen Comparisons” are available for “Theatrical Cut vs. Director’s Cut” (HD, 4 minutes and 2 seconds) and “Theatrical Cut vs. TV cut” (HD, 20 minutes and 16 seconds), with side-by-side scenes showcasing the various differences.
Arrow has produced two editions this time around: a limited edition, featuring the same contents as the limited edition Blu-ray, housed in a sturdy slipcase with an 80-page booklet, six postcards, a double-sided poster, and reversible cover art; there is also a steelbook (which I received) that has only the booklet but does look gorgeous in person.
4K BLU-RAY LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
- 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 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray discs with Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
- Original lossless stereo and four-channel mixes plus DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Dolby Atmos surround sound options on both cuts
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on both cuts
- Six collector’s postcards (Limited Edition exclusive)
- Double-sided fold-out poster (Limited Edition exclusive)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork (Limited Edition exclusive)
- 80-page Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Omar Ahmed, Christopher Griffiths and Henry Blyth, a 1987 Fangoria interview with Rob Bottin, and archive publicity materials (some contents exclusive to Limited Edition)
- Newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
DISC ONE – DIRECTOR’S CUT
- 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)
- Commentary by film historian Paul M. Sammon
- Commentary by fans Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart and Eastwood Allen
- The Future of Law Enforcement: Creating RoboCop, an interview with co-writer Michael Miner
- RoboTalk, a conversation between co-writer Ed Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke (writer of Elle) and Nicholas McCarthy (director of Orion Pictures’ The Prodigy)
- Truth of Character, an interview with star Nancy Allen on her role as Lewis
- Casting Old Detroit, an interview with casting director Julie Selzer on how the film’s ensemble cast was assembled
- Connecting the Shots, an interview with second unit director and frequent Verhoeven collaborator Mark Goldblatt
- Analog, a featurette focusing on the special photographic effects, including new interviews with Peter Kuran and Kevin Kutchaver
- More Man Than Machine: Composing RoboCop, a tribute to composer Basil Poledouris featuring film music experts Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, Daniel Schweiger and Robert Townson
- RoboProps, a 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, 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, presented in 4K (SDR)
- Two theatrical trailers and three TV spots
- Extensive image galleries
DISC TWO – THEATRICAL CUT
- 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 Score and Final Theatrical Mix)
- Edited-for-television version of the film, featuring alternate dubs, takes and edits of several scenes (95 mins, SD only)
- Split screen comparisons between the Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut, and the Theatrical Cut and edited-for-TV version
- RoboCop: Edited for Television, a compilation of alternate scenes from two edited-for-television versions, including outtakes newly transferred in HD from recently unearthed 35mm elements
Packed with content and featuring the sharpest home video transfer yet, Arrow has produced the ultimate RoboCop package for fans. Their previous limited edition may be enough to satisfy most but for those who want the best in a/v quality there’s no question this deserves a space on your shelf.