• Gabe Powers

RoboCop 2 Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)

When Detroit's descent into chaos is further compounded by a police department strike and a new designer drug called "Nuke," only RoboCop can stop the mayhem. But in his way are an evil corporation that profits from Motor City crime and a bigger and tougher cyborg with a deadly directive: Take out RoboCop. Containing the latest gadgetry and weaponry as well as the mind of the madman who designed "Nuke," this new cyborg isn't just more sophisticated than his predecessor... he's psychotic and out of control! And it's going to take everything RoboCop has – maybe even his life – to save Detroit from complete and utter anarchy. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)



Paul Verhoven’s RoboCop (1987) is among the greatest science fiction satires ever made, even though the concept its outlandish corporate-ruled future seems less and less funny with each passing year. Its long-term critical and financial success was the result of carefully-measured cinematic alchemy and a dash of old-fashioned good luck, so it’s little surprise that its 1990 sequel, the aptly named RoboCop 2 (1990), was scorned by critics (many of whom clearly didn’t understand the appeal of the original), drew disappointing box office receipts, and enraged parent groups. In retrospect, it is actually pretty cool, in that stuff like drug-addicted super robots played by Tom Noonan are just objectively good cinematic ideas. RoboCop 2 was directed by Irvin Kershner, who, despite directing literally one of the most beloved, popular, and quoted movies of all time (The Empire Strikes Back, 1980), never managed to catch on as a big-name film director (his career included other sequels to popular work, like the non-canon Bond remake Never Say Never Again [1983] and The Return of a Man Called Horse [1976]). Kershner disappears into Verhoven’s established style, but does a great job of balancing tone (this film is more outwardly funny than the first) and integrating the stop-motion special effects, which are among the best ever put to film in the pre-digital era. Pacing, however, proves a substantial problem.


RoboCop 2 was Hollywood’s first attempt to exploit the talents of famed comic book writer Frank Miller, who had helped changed the trajectory of the industry with his run on Marvel’s Daredevil (1979-83) and his subversive reimagining of Batman, The Dark Knight Returns (1986). While there is plenty of Miller’s personality in the final product (such as his use of language, affection for violent prostitutes, and dark sense of humor), most of it was reportedly cut and the script re-written by Walon Green (The Wild Bunch [1969] and Sorcerer [1977]) before filming. The final product shrunk the scope and more closely resembled the original film. Many sequels from the era tended to do the same thing and this one was moulded to type to its detriment. The time spent on RoboCop’s continuing efforts to reconnect with his old life are bland and get in the way of the much more amusing superdrug/second RoboCop plot. The industry clearly wasn’t ready for the writer’s ‘unique vision’ at the time and they wouldn’t be until the brief period between 2005 and 2007, when Sin City (co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez) and 300 (directed by Zack Snyder) took the movie world by storm. Shortly after, the status quo was reinstated as Miller’s own The Spirit (2008), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), and Noam Murro’s 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) all fizzled (Rise of an Empire did make a pretty penny at the international box office, however).



Video

Due in part to rights issues that followed Orion Pictures’ demise, RoboCop 2’s first DVD releases were non-anamorphic discs put out by Image Entertainment. Later, MGM rectified the situation with barebones anamorphic discs, followed by the first Blu-ray releases from Twentieth Century Fox (who had acquired most of MGM’s home video property). Despite early RoboCop HD transfers being disappointments, there weren’t major issues with the sequels, but that hasn’t stopped Scream Factory from making a brand new 1.85:1 HD transfer from a 2K scan of the original interpositives. While I don’t have the Fox disc on hand for a direct comparison, I can verify that the upgrade is notable, especially in terms of overall detail. Grain levels are tight and consistent, offering nice, even texture throughout the light and dark sequences. I see very few signs of the digital noise that has plagued some of Scream/Shout Factory’s lesser releases or any notable compression artifacts at all, aside from the ones that accompany Robo’s digitized P.O.V. Kershner and cinematographer Mark Irwin do their best impression of Verhoven and cinematographer Jost Vacano’s work on the first film, all with a significantly higher budget that affords them the chance for a slicker overall look. They also pump up the neon highlights, giving the nighttime sequences and dark interiors a blue, red, and lavender glow that is notably brighter than the earlier Blu-ray release.


Audio

This Blu-ray features both the original 2.0 stereo/surround and 5.1 DVD remixes in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio sound. The difference between the tracks is pretty negligible with the remix coming up slightly ahead with its discreet center track and the extra bump offered by the LFE channel. The entire movie hums with the vague sounds of ‘industry’ and the echoes of corporate hallways, ensuring that even the dialogue-heavy sequences are teeming with aural atmosphere. The action scenes are then more aggressive and widely spread to convey the greater impact. Composer Leonard Rosenman recycles some of Basil Poledouris’ original themes, while also expanding the symphonic qualities with cartoonish woodwinds and brassy, um, brass. And let’s not forget that end title theme, in which a soprano chorus shots “RoboCop!” over and over again. If I recall correctly, the music track was set a little too low on the previous Blu-rays, but, here, it matches the effects and dialogue quite well.



Extras

  • Commentary with author/publicist/CG supervisor Paul M. Sammon – Sammon, who supplied the archival footage for this Blu-ray’s video extras and who wrote Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner in 1996, takes a very professional approach to his commentary, covering the production process quickly and thoroughly. He’s also quick to criticize the things he doesn’t like about the film and not afraid to compare it to modern conservative politics. If the track has any problem, it is that Sammon sometimes strains himself trying to keep everything screen-specific, which means some of the more interesting anecdotes are covered too briefly.

  • Commentary with Gary Smart, Chris Griffiths, and Eastwood Allen, the makers of RoboDoc: The Creation Of RoboCop documentary – This nostalgic track features three superfans, who wedge plenty of objective factoids between gleeful memories. It is often screen-specific, but would actually work just fine as a podcast.

  • Corporate Wars: The Making of RoboCop 2 (32:04, HD) – A fantastic retrospective featurette that mixes new interviews with old video footage from Sammon’s collection to tell a near definitive behind-the-scenes story of the sequel. Interviewees include Kershner, producers Jon Davidson and Patrick Crowley, cinematographer Mark Irwin, special effects supervisor/associate producer Phil Tippett, and actors Tom Noonan, Nancy Allen, Galyn Görg, and Peter Weller (archive footage only).

  • Machine Parts: The FX of RoboCop 2 (31:36, HD) – A follow-up featurette that focuses on the film’s extensive stop-motion and physical effects work (as well as its very early digital pieces) with Tippet and other technicians/artists.

  • Robo-Fabricator (8:47, HD) – An interview with RoboCop armor fabricator James Belohovek.

  • OCP Declassified (45:50, HD) – More of Sammon’s raw archival footage including the complete cast & crew interviews and a very rough look behind-the-scenes of some deleted scenes.

  • Adapting Frank Miller's RoboCop 2 (5:55, HD) – Writer Steven Grant briefly describes the themes of the franchise and the process of turning Miller’s original script into a limited comic run.

  • Trailer, teaser, and TV spots

  • Deleted scenes still gallery (2:34, HD)

  • Behind-the-scenes photos, stills, posters, and lobby card galleries



Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.

0 views

© 2020 Gabe Powers