Guest writer Andrew Watton-Davies checks out the latest home video re-issue of 90s splatterpunk classic HARDWARE.
Title: Hardware – 25th Anniversary Edition
Release date: 23rd February 2015
Format: DVD (also on Blu-ray)
Video format: PAL
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16:9 compatible)
Soundtracks: Dolby Digital 2.0: English
Runtime: 90 mins
No. of discs: 1 x DVD-5
Packaging: 1 x standard x-disc amaray
Region Coding: Region 2
Rating: BBFC 18
Buy here: Amazon UK
In the barren wastelands of the future, a zone trooper stumbles upon the remains of an advanced killing machine, the Mark 13 cyborg. Purchased by rugged space trooper Mo (McDermott) as a gift for his sculptress girlfriend Jill (Travis), the dismembered fragments reconstruct themselves from household appliances, turning Jill’s apartment into a combat zone as the reborn machinery goes on the rampage.
Twenty-five years on and Richard Stanley’s feature film debut is still a glorious mess of a post-apocalyptic tour de force. It’s sexy, it’s dark, it’s stylish, it’s got more ideas than it knows what to do with, and it’s got a plot and a script that have the decency to stay out of the way whilst all the good bits get on with what they are doing. If Blade Runner answers the question “what would happen if Stanley Kubrick made cyberpunk?”, then these 94 minutes of celluloid insanity scream out the response to “How cool would it be to mainline Max Headroom into Tobe Hooper’s mind?”
From the opening scene of Carl McCoy of the Fields of the Nephilim walking across a red washed desert, via the first appearance of Dylan McDermott as Moses The Zone Trooper in a bunker, through Lemmy of MotorHead acting as aqua-taxi driver through a bombed out slagheap of a city, to Stacey Travis as Jill making death-robot and blowtorched toy-doll art to the sounds of Ministry and ending on Iggy Pop’s lurid DJ announcements of pyrrhic victory in the closing scene, it is clear that Stanley’s previous filmmaking experience of making music videos and being in war zones is the key factor on display here. Everything looks fantastically awful in every possible way; be it the unending hovel of the anywhere and nowhere city, the technology and darkness labyrinth of the apartment that covers the core of the story, or the aforementioned bunker and desert that frames the piece. The level of detailing is superbly terrifying, with nothing looking hospitable and everything looking worn-in and dug over. The density and the darkness become overwhelming, presenting a horribly believable environment for people to exist in.
Everything sounds amazing as well, with a soundtrack that sways between light background to hard-driving industrial and with effects that hammer away at your mind. Highs and lows, musical pieces and background noises all swamp together into a soundscape that only highlights and exemplifies everything you are witness to. Together both elements are choreographed into small, maximum impact, 3 to 5 minute sequences of a dark, gritty future that have, surprisingly, actually aged reasonably well if you are willing to forgive the late 80’s computer graphics. This is clearly the work of someone who knows how to impart huge amounts of information and emotion with great efficiency, as well as who has actively participated in the insanity of a battlefield and third-world breakdown. It’s also the work of someone who knows symbolism, because having a hulking great doom-machine running around like robot-wars having mated with Mad Max, waving drill-bits and chainsaws from flailing metal limbs, may be cool but putting the Stars & Stripes on its head is singular, blunt genius.
To compliment the outstanding craftsmanship of the sound and visuals there is, surprisingly for such a £960,000 UK 90’s sci-fi film, a rather good cast involved. McDermott and Travis work well as the troubled couple at the core of the story, with Travis carrying the final quarter of the film with great finesse, John Lynch does a measured turn as the exposition/comedy relief that is Shades, Paul McKenzie is surprisingly effective as the trash-trader Vernon, and William Hootkins manages to get more creepiness and sexually-disturbing-ness with his 10 minutes on screen as the stalker Lincoln than a lot of modern shocker films could manage with two hours of abuse scenes (yes, you will cheer when he dies). The rest of the cast, as you would expect, range between good to adequate, but no-one is especially bad and often it’s more to do with what they have been given than with if they are any good at that art.
Because this is where the favourable raving must end and whilst the cinematography and editing are several guides in How-To-Make-The-Apocalypse-Look-Cool, the actual script, pacing, and to a certain degree lines, always were and always will be its weak point. That the core narrative was taken from a seven page/forty panel 2000AD comic (as proven by lawyers after the film was released) becomes obvious as there really isn’t much going on with it. Man gets cool thing, man gives cool thing to artistic girlfriend, girlfriend makes it into unsellable art, cool thing develops psychic powers for no apparent reason so it can hook into the main to recharges its batteries before eating everyone’s face off in a locked studio flat (“~~!!It’s The Circle Of Death!!~~”).
The core could have been done in thirty minutes by The Twilight Zone infected with a rabies-tetanus hybrid. The reason it goes up to its full length is that there are scene-setting details about ecological disasters, discussions about population control, strange death-scenes with the death-bot made to look like a demented cable-TV evangelist, mentions of off-world happenings that never go anywhere, and lots of random flicking through channels on the telly to highlight how awful everything has been even before this point in time. It’s wonderful-looking, some of it is even verging on profound – but whilst it was high-art then, it’s just filler now that adds up to very little. To make it worse, there are random moments of almost-comedy (such as the family downstairs banging on the ceiling because the techno-reaping is making too much damn noise) that get thrown in (possibly as social commentary) and arbitrary hurdles like the sidekick being off his face on space-age-acid for no real reason other than ‘loaded!’. Yes, in a really strange way it adds a certain realism to the proceedings by not having them happen in a convenient bubble but they just appear and then disappear with no build-up or major addition to the core, so they look clunky and old. Even the final reveal makes no sense once you think about it for more than five seconds, which you will do as the credits have just started to roll and you will want to chew things over a little after being unrelentingly force-fed insanity for the previous hour and a half.
AV Quality & Extras
The review copy of the 25th anniversary edition U.K. DVD we received came with no animated menus, no interviews, no extras of any kind. You are met purely with the option of “Play” over a still image of the cover art and logo. The sleeve advertises limited edition art cards from more recent 2000AD artist Clint Langley, but these were not made available to us.
The actual AV quality is excellent, clearly taken from the 2009 remaster used for the blu-rays released then from various labels around the world, including Severin Films in the U.S. and Studiocanal in the U.K. However, both of those had a superb and weighty selection of extras; both carried the director commentary, deleted and extended scenes, period promo, two early 8mm films from Stanley (one of which inspired Hardware), and another short film from him. The U.K. edition then added one of his other documentaries, while the U.S. disc added a German trailer and two fantastic featurettes – a proper retrospective documentary on the making of the film, and more from one of the interviews done with Stanley where he talks about the abandoned sequel. These two make the U.S. disc the one to buy for hardcore fans, epsecially as it is region-free. However, with both the U.S. and U.K. Studiocanal blu-ray both still available to buy for the same price or less than this new, feature-less edition, fans of the film who haven’t already invested in one of the 2009 editions will be better off spending their money in that direction instead.
That very lack of anything on the disc other than the option to play the film actually works in its favour, because any detailed review or analysis will invariably show all the flaws that can be found in the movie. It also holds the key to loving it, if you feel so inclined, as if you just sit back and watch it for what it is you will be in for a feast of the senses that goes into dark-territory that few dare to tread. Treat it as a sinister fairy-tale from another time, with snippets of an undiscovered world thrown at your feet, and you are in for a delight. View it as anything else and you will be sorely disappointed.