Blu-Ray Reviews of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, MAD MAX, and the ROBOCOP Trilogy

     November 28, 2010

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You can’t fault Fox for putting out catalog titles on Blu-ray. Of course, there’s good work mixed with bad work on these titles, and The Last of the Mohicans, Mad Max and the Robocop trilogy show what’s great and what sucks about Blu-ray. The Last of the Mohicans was a transitional work for Michael Mann, and stars Daniel Day Lewis stars as Hawkeye, a white man raised as an Indian who gets stuck in the middle of colonial drama. Mad Max is George Miller’s first entry in his car crash trilogy (and still just a trilogy) starring Mel Gibson as the titular character who’s forced to take out some toughs, headed up by the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). While the Robocop trilogy follows cop Murphy (Peter Weller, then Robert John Burke) as he battles for Old Detroit, and against Omni Consumer Products after he’s turned into a cyborg. My reviews of these titles after the jump.

the_last_of_the_mohicans_blu_ray_coverThe Last of the Mohicans came after Michael Mann was known for his work with crime fiction, specifically Crime Story and Miami Vice. He was a television guy. The Last of the Mohicans came in 1992, two years after Miami Vice, and Mann was ready for a new chapter in his career. And you can feel it throughout the film. Mann doesn’t put a lot of the flash, or what has evolved into the Mann sensibility throughout the film. This is a period picture, done in a more in a classic Hollywood style.

Lewis plays Hawkeye, who’s in the middle of the French and the British fighting over American land. Like Hawkeye – also in the middle – is Cora Munro (Madeline Stowe), who has been offered a hand in marriage by Major Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington), but doesn’t sense that she’s in love. Cora is to move to a safer location in America when Magua (Wes Studi) leads an attack on her escorts, which leaves her with Hawkeye, her sister Alice (Jodhi May), and Heyward. Magua wants revenge on Cora’s father. Hawkeye – like his adopted brother Uncas (Eric Schweig) – is forced into service, and when Hawkeye helps others desert to defend their homes, he’s then incarcerated, and supposed to hang. But their battle is over, and the French take their camp. The British are offered terms of surrender, but Magua will not be satisfied with anything but blood retribution.

Shot by Dante Spinotti, this is a gorgeous film with a great leading performance by Daniel Day Lewis. Mann talks on the commentary about his love of the source material, and in that you get a very respectful adaptation. As such, it’s a well put together film, but it never came alive for me. That said, it’s fascinating to watch because it was obviously done pre-CGI, so all of the practical accomplishments of the film are self evident. I felt sort of weird about not caring more – erhas it’s the period setting. Twentieth Century Fox presents the film in a definitive director’s cut. I hadn’t seen the film since it came out on video, so I can’t really comment on the differences. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD. For a 1992 film, Fox had to put some work in to make sure this looked good for Blu, and Mann was obviously on this because the picture and sound is excellent. Michael Mann provides a commentary, which is very on point. Mann was really in to making this movie, it was definitely a passion project, and it comes across in his commentary. There’s also a new Making of (44 min.) with interviews with the cast and crew done for this release. Also included are two of the film’s theatrical trailers. The only thing missing here are the other alternate cuts of the film (there was the theatrical and the first director’s cut done for DVD).

mad_max_blu_ray_coverMad Max is George Miller’s first film, and it plays like a student film. You can see what will make Miller famous, but it’s patchy. Mel Gibson’s Max is a cop, and the film opens with some great chase stunts where he pursuing some idiots. Max gets in the sights of the Toecutter (Keays-Byrne) for mistreating his fellow gangmembers, and so Max and his family must pay, but Max wants revenge so there’s a big car chase at the end.

Mad Max was a big crossover success in America, and it does a lot of great things with cars. Miller knew what he was doing, but the film has a saggy middle where there’s a lot of exposition for characters that come across as stock. Miller’s talents as a filmmaker took an evolutionary lead forward with Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior), where the stunts still impress and the characters and locations are that much stronger. This shows a lot of promise, and it’s entertaining in its own right. But – perhaps because I saw the second film first – this has always been a little disappointing.

Fox’s Blu-ray of this MGM release features the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD surround. For a 1979 Australian exploitation film, this has room to looks a little lesser, but the transfer here is excellent, and for the most part, any weakeness are due to the source material. Extras include a commentary by the cinematographer David Eggby, art director Jon Dowding, special effects supervisor Chris Murray, and film historian Tim Ridge. It’s a good track, considering that none of the participants are the ones you’d hope for. They all also turn up for a making of (26 min.), and two trailers. A DVD is also included, and offers a trivia track, and a documentary on Mel Gibson, a photo gallery and TV spots.

The Robocop trilogy is a disappointment on a number of different levels. Robocop was one of the earliest Blu-rays released, and the transfer on the disc was – like a lot of early DVD’s – good, but it didn’t appear that it was much more than an upgraded DVD quality. But besides being a so-so release, it also didn’t include any of the special features that were a part of the previous DVD special editions. And it’s this Blu-ray version that is relicated here – which only comes with a trailer – and all the sequels come with are trailers. So, unless you’re a big fan of the follow-up films, there’s no point in ever picking this up. All films are presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD. The transfers are good, and these films were all done on a budget, so that it can only look so good is no surprise.

robocop_blu_ray_coverRobocop is a great film. Paul Verhoven was at the top of his game with it. Peter Weller stars as Alex Murphy, a cop who transfers to the tough section of town in Old Detroit. Omni Consumer Products (OCP) are looking to streamline their ED 209, a robot for urban pacification, but vice president Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) is having problem getting them ready. Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) steps in with his Robocop idea, and rises in the company, just as Murphy and his new partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) meet Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang. Boddicker and crew rob banks, deal drugs and kill cops. And shoot the crap out of Alex Murphy, and it’s his body that is used for the first Robocop. Robocop is good at his job, but his human side keeps creeping into his consciousness, so he pursues Boddicker. But upon Clarence’s arrest, he reveals that he works for Dick Jones. Dick helped create Robocop though, and has left himself an insurance policy.

Robocop is the greatest comic book film not based on a comic book. It’s cartoony but in the absolute right way, and still works – as Verhoven insists – as an allegory for Jesus. The cast is great, and the action scenes are excellent. Also the film is only 103 minutes long, so it knows exactly what it is. The sequels are terrible, though. Robocop 2 was done by Irvin (Empire Strikes Back) Kershner, and he doesn’t have the right pitch for the black comedy. The idea with the second film is that they want more Robocops but they can’t find anyone who’s willing to do it like Murphy. They eventually recruit a drug dealer (Tom Noonan) to be that monster, so there’s a reasonably entertaining end fight. The memorable scenes from the film are the demos for other Robocops, the end, and when they reprogram Robo to be more PC (a joke that stops a movie that has no great drive to begin with). The film is way too long, Robocop is shot poorly, they kill a kid and it’s terrible, there’s a mayor character that annoys, and it’s mostly terrible.

Speaking of Robocop 3 is also terrible. Robocop doesn’t show up until 20 mintues into the film, and Nancy Allen is removed from the film early. This was a movie too bad for Peter Weller, so he’s replaced by Robert John Burke. It feels cheap and Canadian, and the film was done as a G-13, so it loses part of the pop of the original. OCP is taking over old Detroit. A plucky young computer hacker helps a band of rebels who are fighting against the Blackwater-esque private army of OCP that is backed by the Japanese. The Japanese have also sent a robot samurai to take out Robocop. This has a flying Robocop, and is best used as a drink coaster. I don’t know which sequel is worse, but it’s not worth finding out. I guess Robocop 2 has more money sequences. But both are pretty toxic. It might be worth icking up this set if you like either sequel, or they had included the supplements for the first film.

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