Sunday, 11 May 2014

Blu-ray Review: Robocop 2014

In 1987, Paul Verhoeven's 'Robocop' assaulted cinema goer's with its savage, satirical vision of future law enforcement. Now, the ubiquitous remake train has arrived at this particular station, with the action remaining in Detroit but taking place in the year 2028. With almost every country in the world using robots to wipe out crime, America maintains its robophobic stance, thanks to the Dreyfus Bill which outlaws these crime fighting machines. Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is determined to gain acceptance for his Robocop prototype, but needs a product the public will love: a product with a conscience, so why not put a man inside the machine? A being with emotions that knows right from wrong, and can identify with the people it is there to protect. Dr Morton (Gary Oldman) constructs the first Robot/man hybrid when police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) arrives at his clinic, the victim of a car bomb planted by accomplices of crime lord Antoine Valon. Murphy suffered 80% 4th degree burns and his lower spine was severed. Wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son reluctantly bid farewell for now, as Alex undergoes a change that will threaten to decimate this tight family unit.

Of course, the remake is, in many respects, a different animal to its illustrious predecessor. Gone are the bloody impact squibs of the original, replaced by toned-down conflict, though rest assured there are plenty of hi-tech gun battles on display. We also get a more agile Robocop this time round, boasting an increase in hardware and a Cruiser 1 motorbike which gets from A-Z at a speed of 248 mph. Murphy's family is also more prominent here, with his wife and young son part of an emotional tug of war with a powerful and ruthless corporation on the other end of the rope. Director Jose Padilha has constructed a tightly-wound action picture that works well in its own right, and he's helped by an excellent cast. Gary Oldman as the genius who never loses sight of the human being inside the machine; Michael Keaton emerging as a man you'll most surely love to hate, scheming and double-crossing in a film that's packed with police corruption, political agendas and some nifty action scenes. The character of Alex Murphy is beautifully portrayed by Joel Kinnaman, and do watch out for Samuel L. Jackson who keeps popping up as the propaganda-flinging presenter on Cable TV.

It's inevitable there will be fans of the original film who dislike the remake for a number of reasons - including its very existence - but I believe it will win over a fair percentage of would-be detractors and certainly gain a new generation of fans who have yet to see Verhoeven's movie. 'Robocop 2014' is an intelligent, fast-paced modern action film, with some great chase sequences through rain-drenched neon-lit Detroit streets, impressive visual effects and ferocious gun battles: check out the frenetic training session where Robocop attempts to repel a crack squad led by odious Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Hayley) which plays out perfectly to the strains of 'Hocus Pocus'. I hope those yet to see the original will seek it out, and that die-hard fans of Verhoeven's film will check out the remake. There is ample room for both to flourish.

Studio Canal's Blu-ray presentation offers a splendid incarnation of this film, with strong colours, nice inky blacks and the detail and clarity one would hope for from a recent cinema release.
The extras begin with 5 deleted scenes which run for a total of approximately 4 minutes. While it's debatable whether any of those scenes would have improved the finished product, it's particularly interesting to witness the Mayor of Detroit expressing concern over possible re-election and to see yet more PR spin at work. The second batch of extras take the form of 10 information segments which run for a total of approximately 3 minutes. Here, the M2 battle rifle, the amazing Cruiser 1 motorbike and the TSR handgun are amongst the technology under the spotlight, reminding us of the technology at Robocop's disposal.
'The Illusion Of Freewill' follows, being a 7m 46s featurette where director Jose Padilha reveals he asked to direct 'Robocop' after being offered several other films. Jose - a trained physicist - wanted to reach a broad audience with his film, and producer Eric Newman and production designer Martin Whist are also on hand to talk about this process.
'To Serve And Protect' runs for 6m 5s and focuses on the weapons at Robo's disposal. Joel Kinnaman reveals he underwent intensive firearm training, eventually being able to hit a 3ft target from 135 yards with a handgun. The design of the Cruiser 1 is also discussed; an important string to Robocop's bow that underwent many changes.
The final featurette is 'The Robocop Suit' and runs for 14m 54s. Here, key personnel (including Kinnaman) chat about important aspects such as freedom of movement, and their collective desire to remain respectful to the original; an ideal that runs through the entire film.

'Robocop' 2014 will be released in the UK by Studio Canal on 9th June and will be available in a standard Blu-ray case or a classy looking steelbook.


  1. Hi Steve, I think that hatred would be the wrong word to use when it comes to remakes. I don't hate them and co-exist peacefully alongside them. But too often the newer versions of classics seem to be gutted of the very essence of why I like them. The films too often simply wash over me. Think of Castellari's Last Shark- here it is as if the producers saw Jaws simply as a big shark film and therefore can be trumped with a bigger shark. I suppose those who judge the quality of the film by the size of the shark will think Last Shark to be the greater movie. But this principle seems to hold today- the awful I Spit On Your Grave remake, for example, seems to work on the principle that it needed bigger and more cruel revenge. This suggests to me that the new film attempts to distill the essence of the older source but a film for me is the whole thing. In the case of I Spit on Your Grave I think what gets lost is any femimist subtext and any nuance when it comes to dealing with the topic of vigilantism. Anyhow my point is this- I think remakes are too often cynical exercises in trading on the reputation of a prior work. I wish the fad would die now. But, on a title by title basis, if I can put the originals out of my mind then I still get an enjoyable enough experience. Next up: remake of Don't Look Now with a wisecracking dwarf with a crossbow! As for Robocop, I think I will wait for it to come on the telly, since I've yet to come across a modern remake that had the replay value to justify a purchase.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Nigel. I think you have hit on the key to approaching remakes, by putting the originals out of your mind. By and large, I'm not a fan of them but occasionally you come across one that works in certain ways: eg 'Let Me In'.

  3. I looked at Let Me In a while back and decided not to proceed, no matter how good it may be. I really have no problem with remakes where it comes down to an unrealised vision. Nor of re-imagining of source material (I don't suppose that different adaptations are strictly remakes) but I do struggle, at times with the plundering of non-English speaking cinema for breakthrough movies to remake in a more English friendly way. Not least because I tend to get a little cynical of the motives. I acknowledge that these may, in themselves, may be decent enough movies. But I feel by remaking we are denying the opportunity to more agnostic viewers to broaden cultural horizons. Where, for example, Ring was an opportunity to showcase an interesting wave of J-Horror a few years back we instead get a remake in order to repackage films around which there is a buzz for the "I don't do subtitles" brigade. Thankfully the recently proposed Suspiria remake is currently on the dead projects list. At the end of the day these remakes really do make commercial sense but at the same time they deny entire cinema industries the chance to make a deserved breakthrough in the lucrative American market. You see, like I said before I am at peace with these films insofar as they do their thing, and I do mine, so I am passed hating- I used to really get upset about the fad for trading on the reputations of film that maybe my generation had overinflated a bit. Because this is what a lot of it comes down to. Now I watch them, but often wonder why I bothered, then me and mrs M "tsk! tsk!" into our popcorn over why the remake was necessary in the first place. :) -- maybe the industry can call a truce now and produce a list of untouchable films that will not be remade/trashed for the time being. I'd gladly help with such a list. Hehe.

  4. Yes, a list of ring-fenced films would be a good idea, Nigel. Your example of 'Ring' s a good one. The remake is dire indeed, and just a way of making money and dumping originality into the bin. It's rare to find anything that even begins to justify its existence.