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Our review of Hardware, published October 28th, 2009, is also available.
You Can't Stop Progress
To comic fans, 2000 AD (a British weekly comic) is a godsend. If you like any of the current crop of British comic creators, people like Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, or Kevin O'Neill, chances are they either started or were sustained by the weekly magazine. In addition to giving artists a regular paycheck, the publication has been host to a number of cutting-edge sci-fi stories over the years. Sadly, for film fans, they're primarily known as the source for the generally execrable Stallone-vehicle Judge Dredd. While it's true that the publication is the source for Judge Dredd, don't hold that against them. As the first film to come out of the pages of 2000 AD, Hardware shows that not everything the magazine publishes is turned into total crap. Although the film has some problems, it's an interesting take on the whole post-apocalyptic idea, and this Blu-ray release is sure to satisfy rabid fans who've worn out their previous VHS release.
Facts of the Case
In a war-ravaged future where much of the world has been turned into radioactive desert, Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott, Hamburger Hill) has just returned from scavenging for parts. During his travels he encounters a robot head which he brings to his metal-sculptor girlfriend (Stacey Travis, Mystery Men) as a Christmas present. She incorporates it into her latest piece, but neither of them are aware that the head belongs to a new military robot which has two interesting properties: it's bent on destruction and can heal itself after being destroyed. Naturally, the robot is going to wreck havoc if Moses and his girlfriend can't stop it.
Despite talk of "cinematic storytelling" and "widescreen comics," movies and comics are radically different media. Comics provide readers with a self-paced combination of words and pictures which allow details to be gradually absorbed (or ignored) at the reader's leisure. Film, on the other hand, moves at the pace directed by filmmaker and details are glimpsed at his or her discretion. This dichotomy is very evident while watching Hardware.
Every single frame of Hardware has been designed to the Nth degree. This post-apocalyptic world has been crafted down to the tiniest detail (like the packaging design on the government-sponsored marijuana cigarettes), and they are a wonder to behold. Part Mad Max-style desert, part Western-inspired visuals, Hardware is also obviously influenced by other sci-fi films like Alien, and the retro-futuristic set design is beautifully claustrophobic. It really is a fascinating world, and one I'd love to fall into on a weekly basis, in a comic or on television.
All that's well and good. Certainly having a convincing post-apocalyptic world is a plus for this type of film, but it has to be paired with a story that warrants that kind of detail. As it is, Hardware is pretty thin from a narrative perspective. The movie's almost half over before we even know what a M.A.R.K. 13 is or how dangerous it could be. All that time is spent slowly building up the world of Hardware, and while that's laudable, it makes the first half very difficult to sit through. In contrast, if this had been a comic, I could have flipped through until I saw where the story ended and gone back to check out the details. With a film, that's more difficult, and many viewers will be put off by Hardware's languid pace (despite its reputation).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Speaking of reputations, Hardware certainly earns its place as a hallucinatory and violent film, at least in its second half. Utilizing practical, low-budget effects, director Richard Stanley does some bizarre work with the robot and his human prey as the film progresses. Things get positively trippy at points, and rather than using special effects to fool us into thinking it's the future, the retro-charm of some of the computers and effects are actually more convincing than contemporary CGI.
The film has also earned a reputation for its relationship to industrial and metal music. It's great to see Lemmy (of Motorhead) as a taxi driver and Carl McCoy (of Fields of the Nephilim) as a nomad, and hear Iggy Pop himself as Angry Bob, a radio personality.
Whether the film is perfect or not, fans are in for a treat with this release. DVDs of Hardware were tough to come by, and not worth watching if available, so this Blu-ray from Severin is likely to be a double upgrade for those familiar with the film on VHS. Although the look of the film isn't going to win any hi-def awards, Severin obviously worked hard to transfer the film as faithfully as possible. It shows in the colors of the scorched desert, as well as the strength of the blacks in the interior scenes. The soundtrack is given the Dolby Digital 5.1 treatment, and the use of both music and effects is impressive.
Extras, though, are where this release shines. Things kick off with a commentary from director Richard Stanley, where he discusses the trials and tribulations of making the film. Similar material is covered in the all-new featurette "No Flesh Shall Be Spared" which gathers new interviews with the cast and crew. Fans will also want to see the deleted and extended scenes for more of Hardware, and to top it off there are three different short films by Richard Stanley, including an early version of Hardware.
Hardware is a bizarre little post-apocalyptic sci-fi film from an odd era in moviemaking. Over the years it has earned a cult following as a British import full of retro-futuristic styling and trippy effects. Although some of the film can be hard to sit through, it's nice to know that Hardware is finally available on home video in a decent transfer, with some excellent extras to boot. People clinging to their VHS tapes are going to want an upgrade, and anyone interested in the grittier side of sci-fi will want to check this flick out.
Since you can't stop progress, Hardware is not guilty.
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