Every time there is a major change in the technology that drives home entertainment there is a renewed opportunity to revisit old favorites. If you manage to get a few decades behind yourself, you undoubtedly will face the decision of whether you should repurchase a movie that you already own on a previous format. The decision was easy for most when it involved moving up from video tape to DVD. That shinny disc was far more durable, easier to store and offered much better audio and video quality that that dark brown tape. The format wars for high definition was thankfully short with Blu-ray scoring a relatively quick win so now most studios and distributors are combing through their catalogues searching for material to re-release in this highly enhanced media. There are several films that I just seem to get each time such a paradigm shift occurs in the technology. One such film is ‘Robo Cop’. I had the VHS tape, the widescreen tape and the DVD. I recently received the Blu-ray to review but now I received the ultimate edition, at least for now; the Blu-ray edition of the ‘Robo Cop trilogy’. While there is little doubt that the first movie was the best of the series the two sequels did turn out to be a lot of fun. The first film held some socio-political commentary reflective of the film maker’s back ground but even with that aspect diminished in the following two flicks they both held up as enjoyable action films that won’t let you down. They are collectively popcorn flicks but they work exceptionally well in that regard. While the first film has already been released in high definition this is the first time the entire trilogy has been available as a set. Each film has been re-mastered to look and sound better than ever. considering the massive amount of space afforded on a Blu-ray disc MGM could have treated fans to more ion the way of extras but these are the kind of films that a better to watch and enjoy than over analyze.
What people didn’t really realize at this time is how prophetic this franchise of movies would be. While the idea of augmenting the human body has been a popular trope in fiction for many years the generation born during the making of these movies would have to face the prospect of a world where the line between mechanical and organic has been blurred beyond recognition. While Robocop was not as extreme as a construct such as used in Star Trek, The Borg, it was a natural starting point. Now in the 21st century there is also imploring between what is science fiction what is fully funded serious research. The pathway that research is taking currently is leading to an idea called transhumanism; the deployment of technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. The only beginning to see prosthetics similar to those used on Murphy that provide a greatly enhanced limit replacement that is directly controlled by normal activity in the brain. For many people, including a number of well-respected scientists, this trend is leading to a moment in the interaction between mankind and machines are artificial intelligence will become indistinguishable from mankind. Actually, this next step in evolution to see mankind replaced by thinking, self-sustaining machines.
By these concepts require a formidable conceptual leap from what is discussed in Robocop, there is little if any doubt that the leading researchers in these fields grew up watching and was heavily influenced by movies such as these.
Robo Cop (1987)
This is the film that put the franchise in motion. The underlying themes here were greatly influenced by Verhoeven’s childhood in Nazi occupied Netherlands. The population of the city was under forced control exerted by the massive company Omi Consumer Products, OCP. They privatized the police force as part of their diabolical plot to expand their military division to civilian police forces. Verhoeven is extremely religious infusing many metaphors for Christianity such as the brutal death of officer Murphy (Peter Weller) and subsequent resurrection as Robo Cop. Originally the film was slated for an ‘X’ rating due to the excessive amount of violence, a trademark used in many of Verhoeven’s films. The version included here is the theatrical cur although there is the unrated version from The Criterion collection. Even the theatrical cut seen here there are more than enough bloodshed, explosions and general mayhem to satisfy any action film fan. There’s a dark side to the longevity of this movie. There’s been a market increase in police related violence and subsequently the number of police shooting resulting in death. Many point to a disproportionate number of African-Americans were killed during these encounters. Complaints and concerns that are very real today mirror some of the situations used in the context of the movie that allowed OCP to leverage the fears of public debate in the first step in replacing human police officers that are naturally subject to prejudices preprogrammed, semi-organic automatons.
Robo Cop 2 (1990)
In this installment the action is amped up along with the violence but there is the first indication of a more tongue in cheek approach to the character. This was a reaction to the surge of criticism the ultra-violence of the first film received. Another factor that altered the action was the plot point of Murphy having an internal struggle over the loss of his family and dismantling of his last vestige of humanity. OCP tries to better the design of Robo Cop but the process drives each subject insane so they wind up using an already insane drug king pin. The blight of drug use in an urban environment is one of the core issues examined in this film. Many thought that this sequel just rehashed the plot of the first without making significant contribution to the overall story lines. The storyline of this film takes the idea of corporate greed that was one of the major driving forces in the original film, takes it to an absurd yet somehow altogether terrifyingly possible scenario the corporations begin to assume the societal functions normally attributed to government. As many major cities in the United States the Detroit of this movie was in serious financial debt. The government was kept marginally viable due largely to loans supplied by OCP. The corporate plan was to force the city to default allowing the corporation to foreclose. This will allow them to systematically demolish the old neighborhoods making room for their own urban center, Delta City, a completely planned urban environment that would be autonomous, not even subject the government of the United States. While there was the ominous specter of possibility using the first film, the realization of the corporate plot is based on a series of events that are not just improbable but completely illegal and unconstitutional. OCP ignites a massive increase in street crime and cancel the pensions of the Police Department. This film just takes the concept of the evil corporations supplanting the government down an absurd path that completely negates becoming emotionally invested with the protagonists of the movie.
Robo Cop 3 (1990)
This capstone of the trilogy has more attempts at some dark humor but the overall tone remained somber. In this installment OCP is selling out to the Japanese but the deal hinges on clearing out a neighborhood in old Detroit to make way for a corporate planed and controlled city. This does overlap with the reason behind the drugs in the previous movie. The main thrust here is an old plot device; a small underground resistance movement begins to fight back. At first they use typical hit and run tactics until they take in a ten-year-old computer genius, Nikko (Remy Ryan) and the current scientist in charge of Robo Cop, Dr. Marie Lazarus (Jill Hennessy). Once they bring in Robo cop the advantage shifts in favor of the plucky group. In this movie to come up with another method to get rid of the Detroit Police Department always has proven to have an annoying habit of ruining the corporate scheduling and ultimate profit. By creating their own armed respond to increasing crime in the decaying neighborhoods OCP creates their own heavily armed group, Urban Rehabilitators, more commonly referred to as ‘The Rehabs’. Not bound by pesky little things like regulations, procedures or laws, they soon supersede the Police Department. What attempt to do some real-world social commentary in this movie was to introduce the thread concerning foreign investors taking over American businesses. OCP has most of their stock purchase by the Japanese Kanemitsu Corporation. CEO of the company, Kanemitsu (Mako), the was found on the violence with his own death squad of ninjas. At this point the writers have gotten one of the most crucial elements of successful science fiction; it has to remain somewhat plausible, at least within the context of the story. This movie comes across as the product of an accident with the studio printers. The only explanation is that the script for Robocop 3 was dropped on the floor and his pages became mixed up with a really cheesy martial arts flick.
This Blu-ray presentation is excellent. The video is so amazingly sharp that I realized that you can read his OCP serial number written on his helmet. I also never quite realized the armor has such a great bluish metallic tinge to it. It is possible to notice every dent and ding in his armor as he gets into the many gun battles. That is also greatly enhanced with the new sound track. The bullets fly around the room making pings on every corner. The shell casings rain down seemingly all around you as explosions rock viscerally through the sub-woofer. Even if you have a previous version of these films it is worth investing in this experience.
Posted 10/08/2010 07/22/2016