Watching “Robocop” for the first time in years, I was struck by how relevant it remains today. An over-the-top satire of the Reagan years, the film could just as easily be seen as an over-the-top satire of the George W. Bush administration, especially if you consider OCP as a stand-in for Halliburton and crime-ravaged Detroit as a substitute for Iraq. Unsurprisingly, this point was raised in the documentary materials found in this two-disc set.
I’ll spare you the plot rundown and get to the details of this 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, which features both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film. The latter runs just a minute longer than the former, consisting mostly of violence that had to be cut to get an R rating back in 1987. Gotta love the MPAA telling us that we can see a guy’s hand get shot off but not see the stump gushing blood.
The two versions of the film are found on separate discs. I wondered why seamless branching wasn’t used, so that the film could stay on one platter and the extras on the other, but my guess is that wasn’t possible for technical reasons. I recall, though, that the seamless branching on “Alien” in that nine-disc “Alien Quadrilogy” set from a few years ago was incredibly complex, so I’m not sure why something similar wasn’t possible here, especially considering how little footage is added to the unrated version.
While I’m quibbling, I’d also like to note that I really dislike packaging where the discs are on top of each other, and you have to remove disc one to get to disc two. Yeah, it’s not a huge deal, and the metal box containing the DVDs is really cool, but I prefer those cases with the tray in the middle.
Moving along, not everything in this release is brand new. The commentary track (it’s not the commentary from the Criterion version, by the way) with director Paul Verhoeven, co-screenwriter Edward Neumeier, and producer Jon Davison was ported from the 2004 DVD, along with the 37-minute documentary “Flesh and Steel – The Making of Robocop,” the two 1987 featurettes, the photo gallery, one of the theatrical trailers, and the deleted scenes. The previous DVD only included the unrated version of the film, however, so I suppose the impetus for making an anniversary edition so soon was to include both versions, as well as throw in a few extra bonus features.
I don’t own any previous versions of “Robocop” on DVD or laserdisc, so keep in mind that my comparisons between this release and the others is based on what I’ve read online. With that said, the new stuff starts off on disc one with a storyboard-to-finished-product comparison for the boardroom scene, complete with commentary by stop-motion animator Phil Tippett. It runs about six minutes and contains just the stop-motion parts of that scene, which play in slow-motion, I guess so we can get a better look at the work that Tippett and his team did. It’s fun stuff for the special effects geek in all of us.
Tippett, of course, touches on the fact that CGI has eliminated the need to do these kinds of effects anymore. He seems a little bummed, but that’s the price of progress. There’s a special place in my heart for the herky-jerky stop-motion work of Tippett – as well as his predecessors, Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien – but CGI makes more sense now, since it offers a smoother feel. I will say, though, that old-fashioned model work, like the stuff ILM did for the original “Star Wars” movies, still looks better than current-day CGI.
Over on disc two, we have three new featurettes that each run in the 15-to-20-minute range: “Villains of Old Detroit,” “Special Effects: Then and Now,” and “Robocop: Creating a Legend.” That last one is noteworthy for its inclusion of interview segments with Peter Weller, who played Robocop and Murphy; I don’t recall seeing him in the 2004 documentary materials. (Nancy Allen doesn’t appear in any of the 2004 or 2007 stuff, but there is a vintage interview with her in one of the 1987 featurettes.)
The three new featurettes are all pretty much self-explanatory, and when you combine them with everything else in this set, you have an exhaustive look at “Robocop.” I’d say that the only thing missing is a discussion of the sequels, which progressively declined in quality. That would have been a good topic for the “Creating a Legend” featurette, but I guess they didn’t want to kill the buzz built by the “We made this film for little money, and no one expected anything, but we kicked butt” sentiment that’s pervasive throughout.
The bottom line: If you own the 2004 DVD, you have a pretty comprehensive view of “Robocop,” which is probably enough for those of us who enjoy the film. If you’re a big fan of the movie, though, and you want to be a completist, you’ll want this set: the theatrical version wasn’t on the 2004 DVD, and the new supplements dig even deeper into the making of the film.