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Written and directed by Albert Pyun for Cannon Films (their last theatrical release) and released in 1989, Cyborg introduces us to a loner named Gibson Rickenbacker (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a professional fighter, or ‘slinger,' who has lost his family and roams what's left of a post-apocalyptic America alone. Most of the populace has been infected with a plague, one that has spread not just across the country, but outside of the United States and across the world. The future that this film takes place in is not a pleasant place.
When Gibson makes it to New York City he meets a woman named Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon) who lets him know that she's actually a cyborg tasked with getting some top-secret information to a team of scientists based in Georgia that are working on a cure for the plague. She hires Gibson to help get her there in one piece so that the scientists can continue their important work. Of course, it can't and won't be that simple. Soon enough, Pearl is kidnapped by a gang of pirates led by a rat bastard named Fender Tremolo (Vincent Klyn). They want what she's carrying and decide they'll be the ones to get her to Georgia or unleash total anarchy or something… sometimes details aren't important in movies like this. Gibson teams up with a woman named Nady Simmons (Deborah Richter) to chase down Tremolo's gang, save Pearl and get revenge against those responsible for the death of Fender's family.
The first of many post-apocalyptic cyborg movies to be directed by Pyun (Exhibit A: the Nemesis film series), Cyborg makes up for what it's lacking in complex plot development and deep, well-written characters with some seriously solid action and some genuinely cool set design. The movie has a very unique look to it, portraying the dystopic American landscape as a bit of a wasteland but doing so on a low budget that would seem to have required some genuine creativity to pull off. Yeah, Cyborg might be cheap and it might be less than wholly original but it looks so cool in the way that the best B-movies can. The film famously made use of sets and costumes that were originally intended to be used on a sequel to Masters Of The Universe and an unmade Spider-Man film that Cannon had hoped to produce, Pyun (who used the pen name Kitty Chalmers) sort of tailored some existing script work he had to work with what Cannon had available. As such, it's a mish-mosh of ideas and visuals, but it works in its own bizarre way. Pyun's story also does a weird job of working pop culture and music references into the character names and in making the movie feel as much like a western as a sci-fi movie. Pyun also works in some seriously strange moments wherein, like Christ, Gibson is literally crucified. To say the movie is tonally uneven is an understatement, but if nothing else it stands out.
Van Damme (who also did a substantial amount of uncredited editing on the picture after a terrible test screening) is pretty solid in the lead role. His character doesn't have a load of dialogue here, and the movie plays to his strengths as an action star rather than an actor (though to be fair, JCVD would turn into a much better actor in the 2000s). He looks cool, he moves fast (maybe too fast, as he injured Jackson Pinckney's eye in a fight scene and was sued for it) and he fits the part well. Dayle Haddon is fine as the titular cyborg and Deborah Richter decent enough as Van Damme's sidekick later in the movie. Vincent Klyn is a lot of fun as the heavy, but he can't hold his own against Van Damme in the action department even if he is really throwing himself into his villainous role.The Blu-ray
Cyborg comes to Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in a transfer taken from a new 2k scan of the 35mm interpositive. This is quite a nice-looking image with good detail, depth and texture to it. The film retains its gritty aesthetic but advances over past editions with solid black levels and nice color reproduction. Skin tones look lifelike and accurate and the image is free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. The picture is also pretty clean, showing very little in the way of print damage aside from a few white specks here and there.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track on the disc is fine. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. There's some good channel separation in some of the action scenes and a decent lower end to the mix that helps here as well. There are no alternate language options provided but English closed captioning is provided.Extras:
Extras for this release start off with a new audio commentary featuring writer/director Albert Pyun moderate by Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher. It's an interesting talk, with Pyun telling some stories about his relationship with Cannon Films when the movie was made, how Cyborg kinda-sorta rose out of the ashes of some failed projects that they were behind, how Jean-Claude Van Damme was to work with, the locations and effects, the action set pieces, and more. He also discusses how test screenings led to the picture being recut without his consent and discusses what was changed in the film and why. Felsher does his part well, keeping Pyun engaged and on topic. This is well worth taking the time to listen to if you're a fan of the film.
From there we move on to a few new featurettes, the first of which is A Ravaged Future: The Making Of Cyborg, a half hour piece that is made up of interviews with Pyun, actors Vincent Klyn, Deborah Richter and Terrie Batson, director of photography Philip Alan Waters and editor Rozanne Zingale. This is well done and quite interesting. Pyun repeats a bit of what he talks about in the commentary but we get insight from the other participants and cover Van Damme, shooting the film, what it was like on set and more. Also exclusive to this release is a twelve-minute piece called Shoestring Fantasy: The Effects Of Cyborg which interviews visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr., Go-Motion technician Christopher Warren and rotoscope artist Bret Mixon. As you'd guess, this is a more technical talk with a focus on the effects work and what these guys were able to bring to the movie, techniques that they used, thoughts on the final product and more.
Shout! Factory has also included over an hour's worth of extended interviews taken from Mark Hartley's documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films with Pyun and editor Sheldon Lettich. Again, this covers some of the same ground as the commentary but it's great to have it included here as it doesn't just cover Cyborg but also offers plenty of insight into Golan and Globus, working for Cannon Films, how Van Damme wound up in the film and plenty more.
Additionally, the disc includes a theatrical trailer, an animated still gallery, menus and chapter selection. Packaging includes some reversible cover sleeve art and, for the first pressing at least, a cardboard slipcover. Unfortunately Shout! Factory was not able to include Pyun's preferred director's cut nor were they able to get Van Damme on board for the extras, but what is here is very good.Final Thoughts:
Cyborg remains a unique mix of post-apocalyptic action and sci-fi, a starkly original film that features some solid performances and striking action set pieces. Shout! Factory has done a nice job bringing it to Blu-ray, presenting it in great shape with fine audio and a nice array of supplements that detail its fascinating history. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.