The Rachel Talalay-directed Tank Girl was definitely ahead of its time with its comic book panels, randomly dispersed animation, song-and-dance numbers, and title cards. The film was a labor of love for its director, but the studio made a number of edits to the final cut, angering source comic book writers Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett. Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where a powerful corporation owns most of the water supply, Tank Girl stars a spirited Lori Petty, a young Naomi Watts, and a dependably villainous Malcolm McDowell. Petty is the titular heroine, a resistance fighter who steals water to give to the poor. This pop-art Robin Hood stands up to tough guys with plenty of sass, dispatching corporation baddies with kicks to the groin and face. As fun as it is, Tank Girl doesn't quite come together, and is ultimately a case of ambition beating out the execution.
After a comet strikes the Earth in 2022, the world goes dry for 11 years, allowing the evil Water & Power corporation to stockpile the dwindling water supply to sell at a substantial markup. Tank Girl and her fellow resistance fighters steal water to give to their community, risking death at the hands of W&P goons. Tank Girl is ultimately captured in a raid and taken to corporation headquarters, where she is tortured by Water and Power president Kesslee (McDowell). Enslaved and confined to the high-security compound, Tank Girl befriends a shy mechanic, Jet Girl (Watts), and continues to anger her captors with her defiant behavior. Jet Girl begs Tank Girl to tow the line, but Tank Girl plans an escape that requires Jet Girl's assistance.
There is a lot going on in the frenetically paced Tank Girl. Director Talalay (Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare) includes snarky title cards, plenty of Tank Girl narration, campy dance numbers, holography and miniatures. In his less-than-enthusiastic theatrical review, the late Roger Ebert remarked that "all I really missed were 3D and Smell-O-Vision." He has a point, but I can't fault Talalay and company for trying something new. There are a number of animated sequences, too, but those were apparently included when the budget didn't cover some important sequences from the comic book. To say that Tank Girl is a tad overwhelming would be a fair description.
Petty, best known for her role in Point Break, is an infectious lead, jumping, giggling and dancing her way through the campy action. Her performance is over-the-top, but it made me wonder why we never saw more of the actress in mainstream films. Watts' performance is also a curiosity, and Tank Girl debuted some eight years before she hit it big in America with The Ring. Watts was apparently as shy as Jet Girl and had to be coaxed into performing on camera. McDowell plays the villain as he has countless others, but even generic McDowell is worth watching.
In the end, Tank Girl is a bit of a mess. By the time Tank Girl teams up with the Rippers, a group of kangaroo-like renegades led by T-Saint (a highly recognizable Ice-T), the film has jumped the rails and the action onslaught becomes easy to ignore. A lot of love and ambition went into filming Tank Girl, and the film is almost successful at bringing a unique comic book to life. Come for the visuals and a spirited performance by Petty but temper your expectations.
Tank Girl makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout! Factory, and the 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is not half bad. Detail is surprisingly excellent in both close-ups and wide shots, and the bold, stylized colors are nicely saturated. I'm happy to report that the image has not been digitally scrubbed of all its grain, and Tank Girl maintains a filmic appearance. There's some minor black crush and a bit of softness here and there, but it's not too troublesome. The elements show some minor wear, but the specks and dirt clear up after the first reel.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is pleasantly active, with plenty of surround-sound effects and pans to impress the listener. Dialogue is clear and balanced nicely with effects and score. The music number is dynamic, and the mix's overall clarity is satisfactory. An English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are English subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc Collector's Edition combo pack includes the Blu-ray and a DVD copy of the film. The discs are packed in a standard Blu-ray case and, as is often the case with Shout! Factory releases, the artwork is dual-sided. The extra features run for over an hour and are quite interesting:
- Baseball, Tanks and Bad Tattoos: An Interview with Actress Lori Petty (22:37/HD) - Petty discusses her career at length, including her work on Tank Girl. She reveals that people still recognize her for playing Tank Girl, and discusses the film's cult status.
- Too Hip for Spielberg: An Interview with Director Rachel Talalay (23:53/HD) - Talalay discusses what drew her to the project, and reveals that the comic book writers were on board with her vision of the film. She provides interesting insight into the production and isn't too bitter about the studio interfering with the final cut.
- Creative Chaos: Designing the World of Tank Girl with Production Designer Catherine Hardwicke (18:08/HD) - The now-famous director discusses interviewing for the Tank Girl job and reveals how she worked with the filmmakers to create the film's unique look.
- Vintage Making-Of Tank Girl Featurette (5:03/SD) - This EPK-style featurette features a running time code at the bottom of the frame from its video source.
- Commentary with Actress Lori Petty and Director Rachel Talalay - This energetic commentary hits on the production difficulties, film's visual style and cast and crew. It's too bad Watts didn't stop by to chat.
Lighthearted and ambitious, Tank Girl is a fun but flawed comic book adaptation. Lori Petty is an infectious lead as a renegade who stands up to the evil corporation hoarding the world's water supply. A young Naomi Watts and Malcolm McDowell are also on board in director Rachel Talalay's campy actioner. Shout! Factory puts together a nice Blu-ray Collector's Edition, with excellent picture and sound quality and some nice bonus features. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.