Hardware: 2-Disc Special Edition:
Director Richard Stanley concocts a world on the edge of social, financial and environmental collapse. Perhaps Stanley riding right up to post-apocalypse without going past is down to Mad Max and sequels casting too large a shadow on genuine post-apocalyptic Australian cinema. Nevertheless, Stanley's chemically corrupted society-on-the-brink provides a warm feeling for enjoyers of claustrophobic, dystopian futures, bowing to the altars of Blade Runner, Max Headroom, Alien, Brazil and others such as it does. And then an evil robot starts killing folks, pleasing gore-hounds, too. As the blood-red sun sets on another grimy day, Hardware provides derivative, counter-revolutionary fun.
Life isn't good in Stanley's modern world, a cesspit of pollution, decay, corruption and despair. The government's talking about eugenics and forced population control, and Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) resorts to selling scrap tech to greasy blobs in the black market in order to supplement his soldier's income. Even his Scrap Art girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) scares him by talking about wanting illegal kids; he counters by bringing her a robotic head to use in her sculpture. Sadly, that sculpture then comes to life and kills everybody.
Clearly, Stanley has more in mind than marketing pulp sci-fi, a genre that Hardware fits into nicely. He loads his movie with background noise, news broadcasts and such, providing an almost subliminal background of political unrest and discontent. That stealthy nature, however, enables the viewer to get lost in Stanley's (un)intentional bid to gloss parts of the movie with MTV slick-ittude, and other parts with action and gore. Stanley's 1990 effort appears to be both a poorly aging victim of the times, and possible victim of studio interference. Certain stylistic/ content choices were just par for the course back then; overuse of P.I.L. in the soundtrack, (shades of Miami Vice) or having a grimy sex-shower music video, for example. Other things, such as winding up with unctuous Dylan McDermott as your gritty, damaged soldier - who then rejects his character's more elaborate make-up for a silly looking rubber machine-hand - such things speak of unfortunate concessions made.
Anyway, as Moses and Jill continue their sexual ways, turning on their voyeuristic neighbors, they're also turning on the voyeuristic robot head. Hot to trot, the Mark 13 robot springs to life and trashes the apartment before going on a killing spree and mixing it up with black marketeers intent on getting some head for themselves. What follows is; gore, siege, and multiple climaxes.
Hardware certainly carries on with lunatic verve. People get drilled, shot, and bisected while the Mark 13 goes wild destroying Jill's apartment and chasing her into the refrigerator. In fact there's so much cinematic hyperbole that Hardware has about five climaxes, evenly paced ten minutes apart, which has the effect of making the movie seem to stick around too long. Hardware has plenty of action, splashy gore, and excellent (but slavish) futuristic style. However reliance on MTV gloss causes Hardware to age poorly, and mediocre pacing means all those thrills will eventually become tiresome. Idiosyncratic director Stanley's pre-apocalyptic message movie is overwhelmed by style and gore, but for genre fans, there are far worse sins.
Hardware comes in an awesome looking 1.85:1 Anamorphic transfer. Colors are bright and deeply saturated, yet the moody atmosphere is preserved through deep blacks. The image looks about as sharp as possible, with good levels of detail, very little film damage and nice amounts of grain. No compression artifacts pop up, despite numerous opportunities in Jill's very-poorly lit apartment.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio is likewise impressive. The soundtrack sounds as fresh as new, with a wide dynamic range. Though John Lydon's track gets oppressive quickly, and the score is at other times quite bombastic, it never overwhelms dialog, nor does it seem out of balance. Sound design seems sophisticated, as far as my stereo set-up can tell. Dolby Digital 2.0 is available as well.
This 2-Disc Special Edition comes with a ton of extras. First off on disc one is the moderated Director's Commentary Track. The moderator does a good job of keeping the prone-to-wander director Stanley on topic, while uncovering everything from artistic, thematic intent to frank admissions of what parts were added to pad the run-time. Stanley can be obtuse, but this is still a relatively fun track. Disc two contains the rest of the bounty, from the German Theatrical Trailer to a four-minute Vintage Hardware Promo Video, an old-school teaser/ preview of the movie. Stanley On Hardware 2 is an eight-minute interview wherein the director talks about the absent sequel, one that was set up in the first movie, and why it never made it to the screen. 25-minutes of Deleted And Extended Scenes revolve around just a few scenes, which are extended generously. More sex between Jill and Moses is a highlight, and other areas of their relationship are fleshed out in more detail. No Flesh Shall Be Spared is a 54-minute documentary on the making of the film. Overloaded with more of the overbearing score from the movie, this doc starts out a bit grim, boring and dry for the casual fan (especially those who may be put off by Stanley's unique persona) but picks up steam when Stacey Travis (Jill) begins giving good anecdotes. Disc two also includes Incidents In An Expanding Universe a 43-minute, early Super-8 version of Hardware. It's an interesting document, but mostly for hardcore fans. Stanley does a lot with a little - it's pretty amazing for Super-8 - but mainly we get a crude glimpse into the world wherein Stanley worked out Hardware's kinks. The Sea Of Perdition is a 2008 ten-minute short, showing what Stanley's unique vision is capable of. It's a dreamy, daft, highly stylized Martian trip-out with scares and topless alien babes. Rites Of Passage, finally is an 8-minute early Super-8 film about the cyclical nature of man, and for Stanley scholars only. Many of these extras are sourced from Stanley's old cassette tapes, containing some video distortion and other anomalies, while the Super-8 pieces are obviously of very low visually quality.
Hardware is yet another one of those forgotten gems. Sitting on the video rental shelf in the early '90s, it was a title you probably skimmed over many times, never renting it, for one reason or another. Severin's beautiful transfer of the film, and extras-packed 2-Disc Special Edition, make it Recommended for genre fans. With a little too much slick style and gory action, elements which somewhat cheapen Stanley's deeper message, Hardware is still a fun exploitation effort. *(Curiously, neither DVD contains time-code, and for me, both create a low rattle when first spinning up, which sometimes continues for several seconds before disappearing. I've heard a few others complain of something similar, while others have had no problems at all. Just keep your receipt!)
- Kurt Dahlke
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