(R and PG-13)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
BY KEVIN CARR
Now that Blu-ray is becoming the standard format and your used DVDs are fetching only a buck or so at Half Price Books, it’s time to start rolling out classic films in box sets. One of the compilations I was happy to see was the “Robocop Trilogy.” As someone who grew up in the 80s, I found this to be one of the defining action films of the second half of the decade. When the first film was released, it really did break new ground and helped solidify Paul Verhoeven as a fantastic sci-fi/action director.
While the sequels never quite lived up to the original, they’re nice to have in a box set and in high definition. Unfortunately, the only supplementals on this set are some trailers for the films on each disc. It would have been nice to have a little more than the films themselves, especially for a nostalgic collection like this.
As far as the transfers go, “Robocop 2” and “Robocop 3” look better. The superior film, “Robocop” has some major inconsistencies in terms of grain, noise and color balance. This might be a result of the original print which I never noticed when I watched it on VHS many years back. On Blu-ray, these are all-the-more noticeable. Still, most of the film looks very fine.
MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
As a filmgoer, it’s so easy to say that the original is the best. The truth is, though, that it is often a hard and cold reality. The first “Robocop” was such a fantastic film, and one that was a bit controversial for its day as well. It was terribly violent and brutal, often playing off said violence with a comedic edge. That’s what offended many of the parents when this film came out, not necessarily the gritty pseudo-reality of the streets, but rather showing someone getting brutally gunned down with hundreds of bullets by a wayward robot.
The film tells the story of a Detroit cop named Murphy (Peter Weller), who is new to the downtown metro force. On his first day, he and his partner stumbles into the lair of one of the most dangerous criminals in town. After the criminals subdue him, shot him and leave him for dead, Murphy’s body is turned into a cyborg as a new option for law enforcement. However, with memories still in his head and a desire to bring his killers to justice, Murphy soon emerges from his Robocop personality to take the law into his own hands.
The 1980s were the heyday of science fiction action movies, really merging the genres with movies like “The Terminator,” “Aliens” and “Robocop.” It was also a time when the R rating didn’t cause as many nervous executives because budgets were generally smaller. “Robocop” takes advantage of all of this by delivering some really hard-edged violence, including the unforgettable death by toxic waste.
With a single film, “Robocop” worked its way into the pop culture lexicon, from quotes (like “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”) to the general idea of a cyborg cop. It’s not the best acted film, but it does have some brilliant cheesy performances by Weller as our hero, Ronny Cox as the smug executive and Kurtwood Smith as the Detroit crime boss.
I will forever remember loving the hell out of this movie when I saw it in the theater. My conservative Christian girlfriend at the time, wasn’t a big fan. (No big surprise, but we are no longer together… I think “Robocop” helped put an end to that relationship.)
MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Like many sequels over the years, “Robocop 2” never quite lived up to “Robocop” in spite of having a script by Frank Miller, the director of “The Empire Strikes Back” and most of the cast returning for a second ride. In this film, Murphy has become the face of Detroit PD, and his new target is the drug lord Cain who is flooding the city with the new synthetic drug “Nuke.” However, as Murphy tries to fight crime, his owners at the OCP corporation are meddling with his programming, trying to give him a kinder, gentler, more politically correct image.
“Robocop 2” may have been a let-down, but it’s not a total disappointment. In fact, were it released in a vacuum without the brilliance of the first film to outshine it, “Robocop 2” might have been thoroughly enjoyable. It just didn’t have the edge or the visceral nature of the first film.
The action was good, at least, with plenty of explosions and gun play. Also, Peter Weller returning as the title character was nice to see. I suppose the same would go for Nancy Allen, but she’s just not the focus of these movies. Finally, the critical look at political correctness is definitely something you’d expect from a Frank Miller script. Being released at the beginning of the 90s, “Robocop 2” was ahead of the curve in showing the silliness of political correctness. It’s almost chilling to watch these scenes now, considering the unrealistic and counterproductive PC culture we live in now. We have reached the future in that sense.
Still, the problems fell in several places. First, the Nuke storyline with Cain as the weirdly pacifistic yet violent crime boss never quite gelled, and his twelve-year-old second-in-command reeked of 80s cuteness gone wrong. There’s also a running theme in this film that was mirrored in “Ghostbusters 2” in which the sequel title was worked into the film (with OCP developing the Robocop 2 model), and that just feels awkward, now more than ever.
MOVIE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Where “Robocop 2” tried to get too cute, “Robocop 3” went overboard. First, with a softer PG-13 rating, “Robocop 3” turns into more of a poorly executed family film than a brutal tale of sci-fi action. In this second sequel, corporations are forcing people out of their homes in Detroit to rebuild the real estate. A small band of freedom fighters are going head-to-head with the better-armed private police force. Robocop soon abandons authority and fights for the side of the underdog.
First of all… there’s no excuse for a child in a Robocop movie. I know we had one in “Robocop 2,” but that was done as a gimmick to show how far the society had sunk… and even then, it never quite worked in that film. For “Robocop 3,” we’re following around a child genius who basically reprograms robotic guards to be “as loyal as a puppy.” God help us all.
Also, where there is still plenty of opportunity to put a story about corruption and danger within the system itself, this movie falls on the cliche of freedom fighters, which had been overused for the past decade and a half, since “Star Wars” was a hit at the box office. Just giving a bunch of hobos guns doesn’t make a Rebel Alliance, people.
I give “Robocop 3” some minor points for being a Robocop movie, even though Robert Burke wasn’t even able to fill the acting shoes of Peter Weller. But at least we got to see Robo again (because if you can get past Burke’s chin, the suit looks the same). Still, as an action sci-fi piece, this one stumbles and trips over its own bad special effects. How bad does it have to be to make a Robocop jet pack boring?