Combustible Celluloid Review - The Robocop Trilogy (2004), Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner, Frank Miller, Walon Green, Fred Dekker, Paul Verhoeven, Irvin Kershner, Fred Dekker, Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O'Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Robert DoQui, Ray Wise, Belinda Bauer, John Glover, Mario Machado, Leeza Gibbons, John Ingle, Tom Noonan, Robert John Burke, John Castle, Remy Ryan, Rip Torn, CCH Pounder, Jill Hennessy, Mako
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O'Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Robert DoQui, Ray Wise, Belinda Bauer, John Glover, Mario Machado, Leeza Gibbons, John Ingle, Tom Noonan, Robert John Burke, John Castle, Remy Ryan, Rip Torn, CCH Pounder, Jill Hennessy, Mako
Written by: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner, Frank Miller, Walon Green, Fred Dekker
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven, Irvin Kershner, Fred Dekker
MPAA Rating: R/PG-13
Running Time: 323
Date: 03/19/2013

The Robocop Trilogy (2004)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Null and Droid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ten years after Star Wars, American cinema had become a wasteland of would-be blockbusters, brain-dead action flicks and second-rate sci-fi knockoffs. When Robocop suddenly appeared in the summer of 1987, it sounded like a dismal prospect. Instead it turned out to be one of the smartest, funniest and most exciting satires of the year. And the ravages of time have barely touched it.

Robocop has become a sci-fi classic, while Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 were almost universally dismissed. Now MGM/UA brings us all three Robocop films in one package. You can look at it as a deluxe version of the first film, complete with lots of extras, or you can look at it as a new way to vindicate the underrated Robocop 2. Either way, it's one of the year's must-have DVD sets.

Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (The Fourth Man, Flesh + Blood) made his American debut with the brilliant action sci-fi satire Robocop (1987) that surprised nearly everyone when it opened in the summer of 1987.

In the near future, Detroit has farmed out the operation of the police department to a private corporation, OCP, and the result is a crime-ridden wasteland. Into this mess walks a new transfer, Murphy (Peter Weller), who gets partnered with a lady cop, Lewis (Nancy Allen). While chasing a band of dangerous killers, Murphy is killed, but resurrected as an OCP project, Robocop. Robocop goes after his killers, but finds that they are under OCP protection.

Though some of the music, hair and costumes may be a bit dated, the idea of a corporate villain is even more relevant today than it was in the 1980s. The current documentary The Corporation explores the idea of privatization, but Robocop draws up a fictitious model that's much more frightening.

If that weren't enough, Verhoeven spoofs our obsession with media and consumerism with the film's occasional commercial interruptions, hyping bizarre TV shows and products. Everyone in the film covets the latest hot car, the 6000 SUX, which "goes really fast and gets really s--tty gas mileage."

None of this would matter if characters didn't give us an emotional entrance into the film, and they do. Weller is magnificent in the lead, lending grace and balance to his role (he reportedly studied with a mime to come up with Robocop's fluid movements).

Despite its slam-bang action, the movie succeeds in its smallest moments, such as when Robocop fights an evil robot, also designed and built by competing factions within OCP and presented in glorious stop-motion animation. Robocop runs down a staircase, but the evil robot's feet are too big to fit on the individual stairs.

Robocop 2 (1990) brought director Irvin Kershner back into the game. His previous two films had been sci-fi/action sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and the unofficial James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983). So he was a natural to direct the new Robocop film. With a script by co-written by comic book legend Frank Miller ("The Dark Knight Returns"), how could it go wrong?

Most people complained of excess violence and a lack of humanity. But that was exactly the point. If Verhoeven's original cut of Robocop had been released in theaters, the violence in Robocop 2 wouldn't have been an issue.

In this film, OCP moves to foreclose on the city of Detroit for its nearly $40 million debt. The city is in the grip of a drug epidemic, addicted to the synthetic "nuke." Of course, OCP both makes the drug and pays for the cops who are supposed to wipe it out. While the entire police force is on strike, only Robocop (Weller) and Lewis (Allen) are on patrol. So OCP decides it's time to make another Robocop, one they can control a little easier. When a sadistic drug lord with a Jesus complex (Tom Noonan) dies, his brain becomes the likely candidate. The resulting machine wakes up addicted to the drug and goes on a frightening rampage.

Like the first film, Robocop 2 has its share of satiric TV commercials and news reports. Of course, it's not really as surprising or as fresh as the original, but it's still a worthy sequel.

But by Robocop 3 (1993) the series had run its course. Weller did not return to the role and was replaced by Robert John Burke, who could not bring nearly the same humanity to the role. In some scenes he sounds like a dumb jock or a surfer dude. The director this time was "B" movie scriptwriter Fred Dekker. And the studio clamped down on the violence, delivering only a PG-13 film. Additionally, Orion Pictures was about to go out of business, and the film ended up sitting on the shelf for two years before it was released.

The Criterion Collection has already released Robocop in one of their beautifully-designed, definitive editions, which is now out of print. I haven't seen it, but I can vouch that this new transfer is spectacular, with rich blacks, sharp metallic tones and explosive sound. The technicians even left Robocop's video point-of-view shots intact so that they look purposely inferior to the rest of the film. And this version is indeed the same unrated director's cut available on the Criterion disc.

The Criterion version came with an audio commentary track by four people: Verhoeven, writer Edward Neumeier and producer Jon Davison, and Robocop expert Paul M. Sammon. Sammon isn't listed on this track, but I find it hard to believe that the other three would re-assemble to record a new track.

As for the rest of the extras, they include some, but not all, of the Criterion extras, plus a few new items. We have three featurettes, both new and vintage, totaling about 52 minutes, storyboards, deleted scenes, photo gallery, trailers, TV spots and a trailer for Escape from New York.

Both Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 come with their respective trailers, but the really juicy extras are on the first Robocop disc.

In 2010, Sony and MGM released a Blu-Ray set of the trilogy, but with no extras at all, save for the trailers. If you're attached to any of the aforementioned commentary tracks or featurettes, hang onto your DVDs. If you only care about watching the films, you'll love the crisp picture and sound quality of this new set.

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