Sunday, July 24, 2022


“The following film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen and edited for content.”

Well, this can’t be good, can it?

It has been a sufficiently long time since I saw Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop”, the violent science fiction satire of corporate power and possible Christ analogy that became enormously popular upon its release in 1987, spawning sequels, TV series and a 2014 remake that I had completely forgotten about.

Owning a copy of the special-edition Blu-ray set released by Arrow Films in 2019, I decided, instead of the R-rated original theatrical version or the original “Director’s Cut” that was violent enough to be rated X when submitted for review, to watch the third version that was seemingly included for both historical and comedy purposes: the television edit that removed nearly all of the gore, and all of the swearing, recounted in compilation videos and comparisons to poke ridicule, particularly in replacing more innocuous words like “scumbag” and “asshole” with “crumb-bag” and “air-head”.

I am happy to report that the TV version of “RoboCop”, presented from a Digital Betacam (DigiBeta) broadcast master tape that almost resembles HD quality, with fadeouts for breaks included, is almost as enjoyable as Verhoeven’s intended vision, and it is possible to watch it with children... which is not at all surprising, given the PG rating that applied to the two sequels that followed, and the existence of the Saturday morning cartoon broadcast in 1988 in the same vein as “The Real Ghostbusters” and “Rambo: The Force of Freedom”. 

This does appear to be the context in which it was compiled: Christopher Griffiths’ liner notes for the Arrow Films set mentions that some UK audiences thought they had seen the TV version broadcast on ITV on a Saturday afternoon, when this was actually a showing of the 1994 “RoboCop” live-action TV series. Admittedly, the lack of swearing made it feel like a pilot for a TV show, or an episode of “EastEnders”, a soap opera with a vaguely “gritty” setting where people should swear more than they actually do, but this was before TV drama started matching cinema on content from the 1990s, starting with “Twin Peaks”, “ER” and “The Sopranos”.

Paul Verhoeven intended the over-the-top violence in “RoboCop” to be satirical – from the news bulletins and TV advertisements to the levels of violence on the streets, it is just part of society. Now, this view is essentially held at length: the shooting of the executive Kinney by the ED-209 robot at the beginning is shown sparingly and without blood, the aftermath of his body on top of the Delta City display is only seen in the background of one shot, but it is still clear it didn’t end well. We see Emil, the gangster disfigured by toxic waste, but we don’t see him get hit by a car, or the effects of that, but we do see one criminal abruptly thrown by RoboCop into a fridge, that made me realise that “Looney Tunes” is the level of violence pitched at the audience, but with too much gore for that to be obvious in the TV version.

I did wonder if the reduction of violence and swearing would mean I would focus more on RoboCop’s rediscovery of his earlier memories as the police officer Murphy, as these scenes remain intact, including the estate agent’s display of his former home, but there is no difference, for our sense of the world that turned Murphy’s body into a product remains intact, including all the times where RoboCop and the police itself are called a product.

For a film that has no fat on it in any version, the TV version of “RoboCop” feels pared to the bone, but only so that as many people can watch it as possible. There is no need for such a version to exist now, in an age of home video and streaming, and TV showings of films, at least in the UK, take place at the appropriate time, and in the correct aspect ratio. Having said that, ITV’s first showing on UK television used this censored version, and viewer complaints led to this being replaced with the theatrical version in future, with some cuts for violence of course.

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