The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents November 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Im Not There
The Kite Runner
ASC Close-Up
DVD Playback
Body Snatchers
Flash Gordon
Robocop (1987)
20th Anniversary
Collector’s Edition
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1
MGM/20th Century Fox
Home Entertainment, $22.98

When Robocop was released in 1987, the advertisements promised little more than a B movie that placed the archetype of the maverick cop in a robot suit. Yet audiences quickly realized this was something different, a movie that used genre conventions as tools for philosophical inquiry, dark comedy and heartfelt emotion, while still delivering the requisite pyrotechnics and violence. Robocop tells the story of Murphy (Peter Weller), a cop killed in the line of duty who is resurrected as a “Robocop” by the corporation that runs the police department. His memory is erased when scientists merge him with the technology of his robot suit, but dreams of his past continue to haunt him, and he struggles to comprehend his own identity while fighting crime and uncovering corruption within the company that built him.

Like many great sci-fi films, Robocop is less about the future it depicts than the present in which it was created. Its depiction of cutthroat Yuppies and the trend toward privatization are clear reflections of Reagan’s America, and the filmmakers slyly mock the mainstream attitudes of the culture. The film’s comic sensibility is reinforced by the compositions, as director Paul Verhoeven and frequent collaborator Jost Vacano, ASC, BVK consistently find witty areas in which to place the camera (including, in one scene, the space underneath a bathroom-stall door).

Vacano’s lighting is equally expressive, combining the urban grit of action films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish with a more stylized pop-art style that gives Robocop a truly unique tone: it’s a rousing comic-book movie with realistic emotional and social underpinnings. Vacano is especially adept at using the physical properties of the Robocop suit for dynamic photographic effects, bouncing light back and forth between the suit and other reflective surfaces to create a constantly active frame, even in some of the non-action scenes.

This two-disc anniversary edition of Robocop contains two cuts of the film, the R-rated original release and an unrated cut that is one minute longer. Both transfers are solid. The movie looks as close to the film’s theatrical prints as one could ask for on a video release, and the surround mix has clarity, if not a great deal of range. (Most of the film is mixed toward the front channels.)

Verhoeven sings Vacano’s praises in an enthusiastic commentary track shared with executive producer Jon Davison and writer Ed Neumeier, a supplement that appeared on MGM’s previous DVD of the film. In addition to numerous discussions of the technical challenges faced by the crew, the commentators provide thematic analyses and amusing anecdotes about the shoot. (Note: This commentary track is different from the one featured on Criterion’s 1998 pressing.) 

Several documentary featurettes and deleted scenes are spread out across the two discs. Most of the key crew, including Verhoeven and Vacano, appear in “Flesh and Steel: The Making of Robocop,” a 37-minute featurette directed by Jeffrey Schwarz that also appeared on MGM’s previous DVD. In keeping with what he has done for other special-edition DVDs, Schwarz organizes a collection of insightful interviews into a compelling, informative narrative of the production.

This special edition also contains plenty of new material. “Villains of Old Detroit” is an enjoyable 17-minute featurette on the actors who play the villains in the picture, while the 18-minute “Special Effects: Then and Now” includes fascinating interviews and behind-the-scenes footage relating to the movie’s effects work. But the best of the new documentaries is the 20-minute “Robocop: Creating a Legend,” which offers both technical information (much of it related to the design of the Robocop suit) and stories about the interaction between the actors and Verhoeven.

Also included are two 8-minute documentaries from 1987; four very funny deleted scenes; a collection of storyboards with commentary by special-effects animator Phil Tippett; an array of trailers, TV spots, and stills; and a 38-second “Easter egg” in which Verhoeven talks about his cameo in the film.

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