Monday, January 11, 2010

HARDWARE (Blu-Ray)

A strange, cyberpunk art film masquerading as a sci-fi horror thriller, director Richard Stanley’s HARDWARE (1990) is a narratively derivative, but visually stunning technochiller that may not be a masterpiece, but is definitely a memorable movie experience.

Set in a well-realized, post-Apocalyptic future, HARDWARE begins as a nomadic scavenger finds the skull and hands of a broken M.A.R.K. 13 combat robot in the irradiated desert wastelands. These items are purchased by soldier Mo (Dylan McDermott, THE PRACTICE), who gives them to his girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis), an artist who lives in a fortified apartment high above the crumbling city. Unfortunately, the robot’s computer brain is not completely deactivated, and while Jill sleeps, it builds itself a new, deadly body from the industrial junk in her studio…

Originally marketed by the American distributors as a pulse-pounding sci-fi thriller in the vein of THE TERMINATOR or ALIENS, HARDWARE is, instead, a deliberately-paced, stylishly-shot and designed dystopian potboiler that literally explodes with over-the-top violence and explicit gore in the final act. The story is none-too-original, but Stanley’s stylish direction makes it work, especially as he spends so much time establishing the world and characters. None of the characters are very deep, mind you, but the cast is given screentime to give their roles a chance to grow on the audience. This includes supporting characters as well, such as a dwarfish fence (Mark Northover), Mo’s spiritual pal, Shades (John Lynch) or Jill’s perverted Peeping Tom neighbor (Paul McKenzie).

Visually, the movie is outstanding – an industrial, sand-blasted and smog-choked vision of Hell, bathed in harsh reds and oranges. The production design is pretty remarkable, considering the film’s modest budget, and the animatronic effects that bring the M.A.R.K. 13 to "life" are generally very effective.

The movie’s unique use of color and textures make bringing it to video a challenge, but Severin Films rises to meet it, with an eye-popping 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition. I’ve seen the movie before on VHS, and there’s no comparison. The HD transfer brings astounding clarity to the visuals, accurately realizing the filmmaker’s vision for the first time. Audio is provided in both the original 2.0 and in a new 5.1 surround track.

Severin has loaded the Blu-Ray with supplemental features, as well, including an informative audio commentary by director Stanley, an exhaustive retrospective documentary, NO FLESH SHALL BE SPARED, covering the film’s entire history (including its convoluted distribution issues) and featuring interviews with prominent members of the cast and crew, deleted and extended scenes, and three of Stanley’s early short films, including the one that inspired HARDWARE.

If you go into it with the right mind, and prepared to enjoy the film on its own merits, HARDWARE can be a rewarding and entertaining experience, especially if watched on Blu-Ray. Severin Films has done a truly remarkable job with this release on all fronts. Recommended.

BUY: Hardware (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]