Any collector will tell you that the hunt is as thrilling as the prize. Sometimes, even more so. I got into this hobby purely out of my love for all things filmic. This hobby allows me to own a physical representation of a given film’s characters and gear. As I matured as a collector, I realised there is a deeper drive that fuels the passion for collecting. The anticipation, the discovery, the effort that goes into procuring a piece. It’s a whole lot of fun, and it can be a whole load of aggravation and grief too. There are times when the end result of that hunt is a letdown, because the prize simply cannot not live up to all that build-up and effort to get it. Other times, the collectible turns out to be a breathtaking work of art that summons a strong sense of pride and fulfilment when it’s finally in your hands.
The RoboCop Life-size bust falls somewhere in between.
Before I get into reviewing the piece itself, let me tell you a story of the journey to get it. I’ve been on similar quests before, like in the adventure to get the Indiana Jones Raiders Of The Lost Ark Premium Format figure. But that was a lazy cruise down the Nile river compared to the nerve-wracking rollercoaster ride of getting my hands on this RoboCop bust.
This piece is made by Fred Barton Productions. The company’s namesake is a well-known and highly-regarded production designer/propmaker in the US film industry. He’s not in the same league as the incomparable Stan Winston, creator of such iconic characters like the Terminator Endoskeleton, the Predator and the Alien Queen. But then again, who is in the same league? Still, Barton’s work is top-notch. When I found out that he would be creating a life-size (1:1 scale) bust of one of my favourite characters from science-fiction, I had geek palpitations. The asking price was pretty steep, but there was no way I could pass this up. Barton had promised an automotive level of paintwork to capture the ultra-glossy metallic sheen of RoboCop’s armour, and a life-like rendition of the face. Plus, it’s made on a limited edition of only 250 units worldwide. I was sold.
It wasn’t as easy as that. I had to make numerous long-distance phone calls to his office in Beverly Hills, California just to get the man to tell me if international orders are accepted. Then another couple of calls to find out how much shipping would cost. In spite of all that badgering, I never got a definite response. Only after a couple more weeks of emails did I get an estimate. The FedEx fees alone hit four figures. Crazy, but I figured what the heck. I cheerfully sent him my hard-earned cash for the pre-order. Somewhat naively, I paid in full.
I got a confirmation email stating the money had gone through. But after that, nothing. Over two months went by, and nary a sound from Barton about the status of my order. I wasn’t alone. On the collector’s online forum where I hang out, other guys were complaining about the same lack of communication. I was beginning to get seriously concerned, when I finally got a definite shipping date. Things seemed okay once more. Then I discovered that a local retailer also offered the bust for pre-order, and for MUCH cheaper. I was pissed. Barton had promised that the item would only be available directly through him. Not only was this no longer the case, he refused to provide full refunds for cancellations. I was stuck. I came close to canceling and losing my deposit just on general principle, but decided to take his explanation that those retailers were not authorised to sell his stuff.
Collectors in the US started getting theirs. And that’s when shit really hit the fan. The much-touted sports car level of paintwork turned out to be filled with problems. Air bubbles, uneven rough patches and areas that looked unfinished. Even worse, some guys had theirs badly damaged in transit, with Robo’s head breaking off completely at the neck. Collectors accused Barton of cutting corners in production and packaging. I was dead worried.
Finally, the day came when mine was to be delivered. The FedEx delivery guy actually showed up at my house while I was at work, so we arranged for the following day. It was raining when he arrived. An ominous sign perhaps, my mind wondered. The first thing that struck me was how enormous the box was. It stood at a good 4 feet in height. I opened the box gingerly, half expecting to see a beheaded RoboCop inside, like Gwyneth Paltrow in “Se7en”.
Huge sigh of relief. He was in one piece. Then came the delicate task of unraveling his Mummy-like wrapping. It took me the better part of an hour to fully liberate him. In an email reply, Barton had promised me that the damage others suffered would not happen to my piece. He’d lived up to that promise. But what about the quality of the piece itself? Well, here endeth the story and begineth (I know, that’s not a word) the review…
First, take a look at these photos I shot. To paraphrase the movie: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present to you, the future of law enforcement… RoboCop!”
Okay, as first impressions go, this is a thing of beauty.
Barton used the original moulds from the Paul Verhoeven film, which means this is 100% accurate. What you’re looking at is as close as anyone will ever get to the costume actor Peter Weller wore in the 1987 sci-fi classic. In fact, certain elements have been refined. Machining and fabrication technology was obviously not as advanced back then, plus despite being a (relatively) big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, corners were cut in terms of building and painting the on-screen armour. Barton improved on things like the paint finishes. So this bust is actually an idealised version of armour designer Rob Bottin’s vision. In that respect alone, this a top-notch film replica.
Another thing that will strike anyone looking at this bust in person is its sheer size. This guy is massive. Put the bust on the floor and he’s about the same height as a human toddler. Displaying this piece requires extra consideration, because he can easily dominate any room he’s placed in. Ultimately, I found just the right spot for him in my home.
As for the paint issues, mine did not have the severe aberrations that some unlucky collectors were stuck with. Still, it’s hardly perfect. The blue paintwork on Robo’s helmet is the most problematic. There is a patch of rough, sandpaper-like texture on the left side of the helmet, and a weird wavy line that surrounds his visor on the right side. It’s visible even from about 5 feet away, which makes it more than a minor flaw. That’s the thing that bugs me the most, and while Barton claims that inevitably, each piece will have its own paint quirk, I find this too much to overlook.
There is also some sloppiness where his face meets the jawguard, with flesh-coloured paint running into the black paint of the jawguard. This one I’m willing to overlook because the general quality of the paint application for the face is pretty good. The skin tone is just the right shade, bearing in mind that Officer Alex Murphy was essentially a corpse brought back to life as a cyborg. So he shouldn’t have too healthy a complexion. The lips are well-observed, with enough colour to differentiate it. Only the teeth show a bit of slop, with some uneven painting giving the impression of crooked teeth. But in fact I do like the imperfection. It adds to the realism. From some angles and in certain lighting conditions, he really does look alive.
For all its size, this is an extremely light piece. The bust was moulded using a process called rotocasting, which spins the resin so that it is spread throughout the inside of the mould to form the shape. That means the bust is hollow. Personally, I do not have a problem with the lightness, but many collectors have been very unhappy about it, because to them light equals cheap and it feels like they’re not getting their money’s worth. The only issue with the lightness is the fact that it is more brittle than solid collectibles cast in, say, polystone (another commonly used resin). Plus the thin material makes it subject to warping, as some unlucky collectors have experienced in theirs. One guy on the forum had a RoboCop bust with a slightly sagging helmet brimline. He has since returned it for an exchange. I’m really glad mine didn’t have these defects, though it shows that the quality control is a bit of a lottery game.
On the whole, I am quite happy with this piece. It does have a number of problems I could’ve certainly done without, especially considering the price I paid, and Barton’s promises that were only partially delivered. After the initial letdown during the first few days of owning it, I can now take a step back, literally and figuratively, and appreciate the bust’s appeal. It is a very impressive collectible. Every single guest to my home who sees it has the same reaction. They go “Wow!” That’s how you know you’ve got a winner on your hands.
The Fred Barton Productions 1:1 RoboCop Bust is a winner, one that’s (kinda) worth the hunt.