Judge Patrick Bromley is past president of the Lori Petty fan club.
Poster girl for the apocalypse.
A relic from '90s genre cinema makes its Blu-ray debut, ready to be reassessed as a cult classic or written off as another castoff from the comic book movie wasteland that was the 1990s?
Facts of the Case
It's 2033, eleven years after a comet has wiped out the planet's water supply. What little water is left is hoarded by evil Water and Power, run by the evil Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell, The Company). Enter Rebecca, a.k.a. Tank Girl (Lori Petty, A League of Their Own), a member of an underground resistance dedicated to sabotaging and ultimately overthrowing Water and Power. But W&P attacks her and her friends, killing her boyfriend and taking both Tank Girl and her friend, an adolescent girl named Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower, The Baby-Sitters Club), prisoner.
While imprisoned by W&P, Tank Girl meets Jet (Naomi Watts in an early role, this time with dark hair and glass—let me repeat: Naomi Watts with dark hair and glasses is in this movie), a brilliant mechanic who's as reluctant to make waves as Tank Girl is inclined. When a band of mutant kangaroos (let by Ice-T of New Jack City) attack W&P, Tank Girl and Jet make their escape and set out to rescue Sam, team up with the Rippers and bring Water and Power down for good. Also, everybody sings and dances.
Tank Girl is a movie that could have only existed in the '90s. It's more than just the titular "riot grrrl" at the movie's center, and it's more than the soundtrack made up of mid-'90s alternative radio staples like Veruca Salt, Hole, Bush and Belly. It's in the way that it was almost impossible to make a successful comic book movie during the decade. In the post-Batman world, studios continued to attempt to launch comics to the screen with mostly disappointing results. There was the occasional commercial success—Batman Forever made the most money in that series and 1998's Blade was a modest hit—but most of them looked a lot more like Steel. Or Spawn. Or Tank Girl.
I say this as someone who kind of likes Tank Girl, messy and overbearing as it can often be. There is no other movie like it. That is by design; at times, it's clear that everyone involved is bending over backwards to make sure that the movie feels wacky and eccentric and original. This is a movie the combines a post apocalyptic wasteland, Iggy Pop playing a pedophile, a musical number, Malcolm McDowell with a hologram head and a band of mutant kangaroos led by Ice-T. As much as director Rachel Talalay (a former New Line producer and the woman responsible for Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare) tries to create a cohesive universe in which all of these disparate elements feel like part of a whole, Tank Girl never quite overcomes the idea that everyone involved is very aware and proud of just how silly the stuff is. Much of that should probably be credited to Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, who originally created the comic book on which the movie is based. But credit to the filmmakers for making sure that so many of the comic's eccentricities made their way to the movie adaptation. It's very easy to imagine a version that's completely watered down.
So, yes, Tank Girl is brash and often obnoxious, because the main character (Rebecca) is brash and often obnoxious. But Talalay has made a movie that attempts not just to recreate a comic book, but interpret what makes it unique and bring that energy to her adaptation. It's easy to point to the mutant kangaroos as the poster children (kangaroos) for the film's lunacy, but Talalay pushes the form to crazy places even before The Rippers show up, from the inventive and exaggerated set design to frames of the actual Tank Girl comic that break up some scenes to the animated scenes that seem like they were there because it was cheaper to draw them than to shoot them. She claims in the special features of this new Blu-ray that bringing Tank Girl to the screen was not an easy process, and that studio United Artists interfered to such a degree that the finished film doesn't necessarily represent her original intentions. That's certainly possible, though aside from the animated sequences, Tank Girl doesn't feel like a movie that's been compromised. Cynical perhaps (there's sometimes a vibe of "Hey, you '90s kids with you Lollapalooza and your Mountain Dew will like this!"), but rarely compromised.
One of the most notable aspects of Tank Girl is that it's one of the few (only?) superhero movies largely driven by female cast and crew. Beyond the three main female characters, the movie was directed by a woman (Talalay), shot by a woman (Gale Tattersall), and production designed by a woman (Catherine Hardwicke, who would go on to a successful directing career that includes the first Twilight). The list goes on. It hardly rights the wrongs of years of male-centric genre cinema, but at least it's a happy exception—especially for 1995.
Tank Girl makes its HD debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory, the label that continues to do incredible work with niche and cult titles (this release is not part of the great Scream Factory line, but still gets a solid special edition treatment). The movie is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, not 1.78:1 as the disc jacket states, and generally looks solid in high def. Colors pop, fine detail is good and the only real signs of print damage or age are in the optical effects shots (yes, Tank Girl was made just prior to the CGI explosion and uses mostly practical effects, all of which still hold up). Two lossless audio options are available: one a 5.1 surround mix and the other a standard stereo mix. Both are acceptable, but the surround mix (from what I could gather toggling back and forth between them) offers a fuller experience. It also handles the music better, particularly the "Let's Do It" musical number in the middle of the movie.
Director Talalay and star Petty sit down for an all-new commentary track for the film, and it has a decent amount of production information and some joking around, mostly by Petty. Talalay talks a lot about what she couldn't do or where studio interference affected the movie, but it doesn't lapse into whining or self-pity. For fans of the movie, it's a decent discussion. Petty and Talalay are both interviewed in separate featurettes; the first is more a of a career retrospective (Petty says there's hardly a day that goes by in which she doesn't get recognized for her role in Point Break, which proves that the world works as it should), while Talalay spends more time showing off props that she was able to keep. The third and final interview featurette is with production designer Catherine Hardwicke, who talks about her work on the movie. Also included is on archival "making-of" piece and the movie's original theatrical trailer, which is grating but manages to capture the spirit of the movie. A standard DVD copy of the film is also included.
As a story, Tank Girl is not very interesting. As a character piece, it's downright irritating. But Tank Girl is such an odd and interesting little blip on '90s cinema that I have a tough time not being charmed by it. Here's a movie that tries to do so much that it can get by only succeeding at half of it.
I may be crazy for liking it, but I do.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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