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Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/13/2009
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/15/2009
Each week there are dozens of new DVDs and Blu-rays released. Most of these are new titles, some are older movies, and there's always a number of movies which are being released on DVD again (double-dips). And despite the fact that DVD has been around for over a decade, there are still some films out there which haven't yet reached the medium. But, every once in a while, a batch of obscure films suddenly arrive in stores. Just recently we've seen Phantasm II andThe Stepfather hit DVD after fans had been clamoring for years. Along with these titles, the sci-fi cult film Hardware has just come to Blu-ray Disc.
Hardware is set in an undisclosed dystopian future London. Disease, poverty, and radiation poisoning are common. The government is passing laws to restrict population growth. The areas outside of the largest cities are vast wastelands. As the film opens, we see a man (Carl McCoy) wandering this desert and he finds the remains of what appears to be a robot. Back in the city, soldier Mo (Dylan McDermott) has just returned from a mission and he's greeted by his friend, Shades (John Lynch). Mo wants to get a present for his girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis), who does art using scrap metal. Mo visits junk dealer Alvy (Mark Northover) just as the nomad arrives with the robot parts. Sensing that Jill will love them, Mo buys them and heads to Jill's apartment. The building has become even more run-down since his last visit, and Mo learns that Jill has become a shut-in. She works on her art and stays high most of the time. Still, she's glad to see him and she loves her present. She immediately paints the skull-like head of the robot and places it in a sculpture. What neither Jill nor Mo realize is that the robot is a sophisticated weapon which taps into the apartment's power grid and begins to reassemble itself. Soon, a machine designed for killing humans is loose in a very confined space.
In case you aren't familiar with Writer/Director Richard Stanley, he's known as somewhat of a maverick. Following Hardware, he made Dust Devil, a movie which took years to be released due to financial issues and disagreements over the film's length and content. Then, he was hired to direct the bid-budget remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, but he was fired not long after shooting started. According to Stanley, he then snuck back on the set and appears in the film as a monster. Since that time, he's output has been nominal. However, in 1990, when Hardware was released, he was considered someone to watch. Seeing the film again nearly 20 years later, we're reminded as to why.
The rumor that the film's story was stolen from a British comic book aside, Hardware is an ingenious low-budget amalgam of other movies. The basic story is essentially this -- what if the T-800 robot from The Terminator (the metal one, not Arnold Schwarzenegger) got loose in an apartment? This is set against a Mad Max like backdrop of a world in chaos. There is also a pinch of a Rear Window-esque, peeping tom type film thanks to the presence of a perverted neighbor. In essence, the film is very short on story. Mo brings the robot parts to Jill's apartment. She begins to work with them and inadvertently brings the robot back to life. Chaos ensues. Mo and Jill must then fight this machine which seemingly can't be killed.
The rest of the film is filled with Richard Stanley's style. Coming from a music video background and heavily influenced by the works of Dario Argento and Mario Bava, Stanley makes the apartment the scene of a colorful nightmare. Heavy blues and reds are used throughout and the screen gets very dark at times. He also uses psychedelic imagery, lasers, and harsh back-lighting to convey the story. The movie has some scenes of frenetic violence which don't pull any punches. Given the low-budget nature of the movie, Stanley is still able to give it a very slick and polished look, and it never feels "cheap".
However, even proponents of the movie must admit that it has its flaws. The pacing is very slack at times, and many viewers will get antsy waiting for something truly interesting to happen. On the one hand, the movie should be applauded for taking its time to introduce all of the characters, but this gets in the way of the story at times. There are scenes where the film makes excuses for its odd tone. For example, Jill is stoned when she's first attacked by the robot, so she seems to take it all in stride and doesn't seem very panicked. However, this comes across as a combination of iffy filmmaking and bad acting by Travis. The film never gives us a great look at the robot, and at times it's difficult to ascertain exactly how big it is and what it's capable of doing.
It would be very easy to write-off Hardware as a gory sci-fi ripoff, but this is a film which must be experienced. I know that's a cheesy cliche, but there is some pure cinema happening here and if one can get past the lean story and really get into the visuals, Hardware can have a mesmerizing effects. Long-since unavailable on video, it's great to have this movie back, and perhaps a new audience can discover it.
Hardware can't seem to open its own front door on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Severin Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only very mild grain at times and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, as the reds and blues really come to life here. For the most part, the image is never overly dark or bright, but keep in mind that this is a dark film. This look much better than some other 20 year old films which have hit Blu-ray Disc. The Disc carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 448 kbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. At first glance, it's disappointing that this release doesn't have a lossless track, but don't worry, this is a good audio presentation. (And sounds better than many lossless tracks which I've heard.) The track really shows off the sound mix and there are constant stereo and surround sound effects. The robot sound effects fill the speakers, making the action even more intense. The in-film music sounds great and the subwoofer effects are notable as well.
The Hardware Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Richard Stanley. "No Flesh Shall Be Spared" (54 minutes) is an incredibly detailed making-of featurette which examines nearly every facet of the film. The piece starts with comments from Stanley who discusses his career and the origins of the story. From there, we hear from many crew members and actress Stacey Travis, who talk about how they get involved with the movie. There is a great deal of discussion of the challenges of making the moive on a low budget. Richard Stanley's short film "Incidents in an Expanding Universe" (45 minutes) is included here, and it's clear to see how this influenced Hardware. We also get "Rites of Passage" (10 minutes) "The Sea of Perdition" (9 minutes), two more of Stanley's short films. "Richard Stanley on Hardware 2" (8 minutes) has the director talking about the ill-fated sequel which was written but never made. The Disc contains a series of DELETED AND EXTENDED SCENES which run about 25 minutes. There's nothing truly new here and the bulk of it is taken up by a long dialogue scene with Jill and Mo. The extras are rounded out by the German TRAILER for the film, and a "Vintage Promo Video" (4 minutes) which is like an expanded trailer.
Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long