• Gabe Powers

RoboCop 3 Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)

When the ruthless corporation that runs Motor City begins kicking families out of their homes to clear space for a profitable new real estate project, RoboCop (Robert John Burke) joins with a renegade band of freedom fighters to save them. But RoboCop must face some deadly foes, including a lethally efficient android and a dangerous gang of thugs. RoboCop's latest arsenal of high-tech weaponry only somewhat evens the battlefield, as this lone superhero takes on the entire army of corporate militia in an all-out war to control Detroit! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)



For years, I’ve resented RoboCop 3’s stifling PG-13 rating, but, the older I get, the more I have to admit that censoring the franchise’s trademark over-the-top violence wasn’t the worst idea. Sure, I would prefer more melting men, exposed brains, and severed limbs, but Robocop’s most fervent fanbase was under 17 at the time and I can’t fault the studio for wanting to sell more toys (note that the short-lived animated series had already run its course before the second movie was released in 1988). Besides, it would’ve taken more than gore to save RoboCop 3 from its other problems – namely, its lacklustre execution and lack of cohesive themes. Every time director Fred Dekker (best known for his cult horror comedies Night of the Creeps [1986] and Monster Squad [1987]) comes close to doing something genuinely clever, funny, or dramatic with the material, he trips over another awkward attempt at pleasing the child-friendly audience with a bland kid sidekick, Robogun and Robowing attachments, and an ill-defined samurai/ninja robot rival (there is a nugget of smart social commentary here when you consider fears of corporate Japan taking over American interests at the time). Despite most of his ideas being scrubbed from the first sequel, Frank Miller was again hired to initially write RoboCop 3. I’ve read some claims that the RoboCop 2 script in question was too broad in scope and cut in half to make the two sequels, which were filmed almost back-to-back (RoboCop 3 sat on the shelf for two years), but there doesn’t seem to be any proof verifying this theory. He did, however, recycle some unused ideas from the first draft. In the end, all of Miller’s unused RoboCop ideas were turned into a limited comic book series entitled Frank Miller’s Robocop, released between 2003 and 2006 by Avatar Press.


Revisiting these sequels every six or seven years, I realize that they’re aging better than expected and are a more coherent trilogy than they’re given credit for. Yes, neither could live up to the transcendent quality of Verhoven’s film, but they match much of its cartoonish glee, purposefully heavy-handed emotional beats, and harsh political satire. In fact, it's arguable that RoboCop 3 marks a logical end to the title character’s heroic arc – he’s employed and betrayed by the corporation in the first film, he cleans up their mess in the second film, and, in the third, he finally leads the resistance against them. Perhaps if Dekker and Miller would’ve had the budget and studio backing they needed (the third film’s budget was about 2/3rds of the second’s and distributor Orion Pictures had started to implode by the time of its release, so they weren’t giving it much attention), the scope and emotional impact of Alex Murphy’s final battle might have matched fan expectations. The brief sequence where he is torn between his second prime directive (protect the innocent) and his third prime directive (uphold the law) is a glimpse of the kind of pathos that could’ve been achieved under better circumstances. It also doesn’t help that Robert John Burke – a good actor in his own right – doesn’t do a great impression of Peter Weller when he took over the role. Both films are missed opportunities that can either be easily ignored in favor of Verhoven’s original or taken into consideration for their meek, yet charming attempts at recapturing the magic.



Video

Scream Factory has not given RoboCop 3 a 2K make-over, but the results are still pretty solid – exactly as they appeared when they appeared on the original Blu-ray trilogy set. The 1.85:1, 1080p image isn’t overtly weak, but is definitely softer and more artifacty than its RoboCop 2 counterpart. Textures, including film grain, are tighter than a DVD could manage, but still a bit fuzzy, especially during the wide-angle shots, where the otherwise trimmed edges tend to smear. Gradations match the problematic details with a slightly posterized quality. Color quality is more neutral than the first two movies – mostly on purpose, since Dekker and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe were more interested in the dingy depths of the Detroit underground than the city’s neon exteriors (aside from that hypercolor opening sequence). Dynamic range could use a boost, assuming anyone ever chooses to do a remaster, but it’s not exactly necessary.


Audio

RoboCop 3 was released in a time after digital audio had made its debut in theaters, but hadn’t yet become the norm. It was mixed for the pre-digital Dolby Spectral Recording, which offers up to 4.0 channels. This Blu-ray includes a 2.0 downmix of the DSR track and the 5.1 DVD remix, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. This time, the difference is even more negligible, because the 5.1 track’s center dialogue channel isn’t always completely discrete, though the remix does have the advantage in terms of overall volume. Dialogue-heavy songs tend to be less lively, but the action sequences are quite aggressive and include a number of fancy directional cues. Basil Poledouris returned as composer after being shut out of part 2, returning the franchise to its more industrial roots and original themes.



Extras

  • Commentary with director Fred Dekker – Dekker recalls the ins and outs of this particularly problematic production with the help of moderator Michael R. Felsher or Red Shirt Pictures. The two have a fun rapport, likely due to the fact that this is their second commentary pairing, following the Night of the Creeps Blu-ray. Felsher keeps the discussion on track by asking pertinent questions – some screen-specific, some concerning the movie on the whole – and Dekker’s memory is sharp.

  • Commentary with Gary Smart, Chris Griffiths, and Eastwood Allen, the makers of RoboDoc: The Creation Of RoboCop documentary – Another charming, though sometimes overwhelming, podcast-like nostalgia-fest.

  • Delta City Shuffle: The Making Of Robocop 3 (38:27, HD) – Another well-constructed, info-packed retrospective featurette that traces the second sequel’s history, from opting for a PG-13 rating very early in production, to adapting Miller’s script, replacing Peter Weller, production design/set decoration/art direction, cinematography, and the political themes, which remain relevant today. Interviewees include Dekker, Crowley, Kibbe, production designer Hilda Stark, and actors Allen and Bruce Locke.

  • Robo-Vision: The FX of Robocop 3 (12:03, HD) – Tippet returns with more artists, including RoboCop 3 FX supervisor Craig Hayes, for a look at the second sequel’s special effects work. Much of the raw materials were recycled from RoboCop 2 and set alongside some of the franchise’s first ever CG work.

  • The Corporate Ladder (10:48, HD) – Actor Felton Perry, who is one of the few performers to make appearances in all three movies, talks about his character and working in the franchise.

  • Training Otomo (8:37, HD) – A look at Bruce Locke’s training with martial arts master and veteran stuntman Bill Ryusaki.

  • War Machine (9:17, HD) – Gun fabricator James Belohovek discusses his work creating prop weapons for the third movie.

  • Trailer

  • Still gallery



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.

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