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Split Second (1992)

MVD Entertainment Group // R // August 11, 2020
List Price: $27.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 13, 2020 | E-mail the Author

Having seen probably a thousand films labeled "cult classics" over the years, there are two core elements that earn a movie the label. The first is just that the film is legitimately well-made or inspired, containing enough of a unique and striking sensibility that there's something worth earnestly appreciating. On the other hand, many coast by on a similar-yet-different factor: the film is just so strange and off-the-wall that watching it is kind of like rubbernecking, existing years after the fact as an odd pop culture artifact. In the best cases, a movie will be a little of both. Given the lavish treatment that MVD Visual has given to Split Second, there are plenty of people out there who have been waiting for this, but as someone who never caught it on HBO, the film reads like the latter more than the former.

It's the distant future of 2008, and global warming has caused the polar ice caps to melt, flooding the streets in London, where renegade officer "Harley" Stone (Rutger Hauer) is on the hunt for a serial killer who murdered his partner a few years ago, and has been going around ripping women's hearts out of their chests. A fellow officer (Pete Postlethwaite) tries to get Harley kicked off the force by filing a medical leave recommendation, but Harley is doing well enough that the captain, Thrasher (Alun Armstrong) instead assigns Harley a new partner, the literate, by-the-book researcher Detective Dick Durkin (Alastair Duncan). The two men butt heads, but make progress on the case, thanks to Harley's seemingly psychic bond with the madman, only for the hunt to become even personal when it looks like Michelle (Kim Cattrall), Harley's ex-flame and his deceased partner's widow, appears to be the killer's next target.

Split Second was written by Gary Scott Thompson, who later wrote the script for the first Fast and Furious movie and now seems to have a great life mostly collecting residual checks (a wonderful gig if you can get it!). The Fast and the Furious was widely criticized for being an obvious riff on Point Break, and Split Second isn't much different, shoving Blade Runner, Aliens, Predator, and any buddy-cop comedy into a blender without much added inspiration. Rewritten at Hauer's request from a script called Pentagram, and then rewritten again during production, chunks of stock action movie dialogue will play out beat-for-beat next to truly bizarre comedy, while seemingly running threads (such as any explanation for the connection between Harley and the creature, a clear understanding of the creature's purpose or motivation, and the use of occult imagery) all just disappear.

Given the disjointed writing, it's no surprise that the film is just as disjointed in execution. There are no apparent rules in this world, no sense of how the universe functions, with character dynamics suffering as a result. Beyond their differing approaches, there is no real reason for Harley and Dick to be at odds with one another, yet the film keeps returning to the well of semi-comic banter that seems completely at odds with the semi-serious monster scenes. The film is not over-the-top enough to be silly, too ridiculous to be straight-faced, too self-serious to be funny, and too goofy to be scary. Director Tony Maylam (who eventually stepped down over creative differences) makes no obvious attempt to reign anything in so it feels like a single movie, although he does manage to construct some stylish shots and camera moves despite the film's limited budget.

Really, if there's something to fully admire about Split Second, it's what the filmmakers got done on such limited resources. Although the film is obviously shot indoors, without any sign of real sunlight or any kind of expansive open-air space, the movie generally looks decent, with an active camera and some relatively clever production design sprucing things up. The monster is rarely seen (a wise decision), and some of the effects don't help (a scene with a claw that's obviously on a straight track is probably the corniest visual gag), but during the film's explosive final action scene, my complaints were all about the writing rather than the technical execution. If all Split Second were trying to achieve was evoking Blade Runner on what was probably 1/10th of the budget, then the movie would be pretty successful. Alas, its goals are set a little higher than that.

The Blu-ray
MVD Visual has produced a fairly substantial special edition for Split Second as part of their Rewind Collection. This one-disc release arrives with new artwork by The Dude Designs, which does a good job of capturing the movie in a Struzan-like collage (although I have to side-eye the fact that the Dude appears to have removed Kim Cattrall's pants, perhaps to make the movie look more salacious). The sleeve offers reversible artwork featuring one of the film's rather boring theatrical posters on the other side, and a mini-poster with the same 1992 artwork is included inside the Vortex Blu-ray case. There is also a matte cardboard slipcover with the Dude Designs' artwork on it. At the beginning of the line, these were generally designed to look like VHS rental tapes, with stickers and the like, but this is a straight replication of the sleeve artwork.

The Video and Audio
The packaging lists Split Second's 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encoded presentation as "newly scanned, restored, and color graded in 4K from the 35mm original internegative." A glance online shows only a 2003 HBO DVD for the US, and only one or two 2015-era Blu-rays globally, so I wouldn't be surprised if just having the film in a passable HD presentation was good enough for fans. That said, this is pretty underwhelming for something being advertised as a 4K remaster. Right from the beginning, the lack of depth really prevents the image from delivering that 4K feel, with a hazy sheen that makes the film look dated despite the fresh work that's been done on it. Detail makes it into the "HD" tier but is never as crisp or defined as one might be hoping for, appearing soft throughout (albeit in a filmic way). Colors have a slightly drab, muted feel, with stylistic tinting creeping into skintones. Contrast is anemic, contributing to the flattening of the picture, although crush is not a significant problem. Print damage is noticeable from time to time, including cigarette burns in the upper righthand corner from time to time. None of this is the fault of MVD: the transfer does not appear to have compression artifacts, and occasional glimpses of banding do not seem to be an issue with the disc -- it just seems like the internegative had limitations that could not be overcome.

Sound is a LPCM 2.0 track that sounds better than the feature looks. Effects, music, and dialogue all sound crisp and are mixed nicely, despite the obvious technical limitations of the film itself. Most of the track is pretty center-heavy, but the music helps to expand out to the surrounds, and the action sequences provide a decent punch. English subtitles are also included.

The Extras
The real selling point for fans will be the incredible package of supplemental features that MVD has assembled, produced in association with 88 Films in the UK. First up is an audio commentary by filmmaker Arne Venema and action film historian Mike Leeder. Together, they dive into the visual style of the movie, how it fits into Hauer's overall career as an action star, the film's botched release, and more, along with plenty of musing on the nature of the killer creature in the film and other details in the script.

Next, there are a series of new interviews. The best of them all is "Great Big Bloody Guns!" (27:25), which sits down with producer Laura Gregory and star Alistair Duncan for a friendly chat about their memories of making it. What's nice about this interview is that both of them seem very candid and have a great, natural rapport with one another, looking back on this ridiculous movie they made that still has a life with film fans. Duncan, in particular, has some fun memories of working with Hauer, who he calls the one true movie star he's ever acted with, and Gregory has an amusing story about a battle that took place on the back of a bathroom stall door after the women's toilets stopped working. I also thought "More Blood!" (32:03) was a stand-out, talking with creature effects designer Chris Wallace, who discusses being self-taught, essentially cold-calling to get jobs, and the transformational experience of seeing The Howling and An American Werewolf in London within a month or so of each other, before going into a bit of an overview of his career before arriving at Split Second. This one succeeds on Wallace's pleasant demeanor, giving viewers a charming and pleasant little tour of his career.

The rest of the new interviews are also good, although perhaps more essential for fans of the film. "Call Me Mr. Snips!" (22:21) catches up with composer Stephen W. Parsons in a pub, where he chats about his interest in music, how he got involved in filmmaking, the transformation of the music industry from analog to digital, and some of the composers he attempted to emulate or admired (including John Carpenter and Jerry Goldsmith). It is funny, however, that the interview opens with him talking about the score being placed in the movie directly, with no edits or changes, given he replaced Wendy Carlos after her score was rejected. "Stay in Line!" (23:02) turns to line producer Laurie Borg. His memories of the production are a bit vague, but he recalls coming off of The Commitments and just wanting to work, his picture of what a line producer's job ought to be and how that influenced his approach to Split Second, working with Gregory and the challenges he believes she must have faced, shooting the finale, and various issues during production (including Rutger Hauer injuring himself, and Tony Maylam's frustrations as director). Finally, "Shoot Everything!" (18:57) finds Clive Tickner in his home (there's a special thanks at the end noting that he shot the interview at home during the pandemic), where he dives into his journey from documentary to narrative filmmaking, the challenges of lighting when half the set is covered in water, the limitations of film stocks at the time, his frustration at seeing Maylam replaced, Rutger Hauer's chaotic behavior (not just on Split Second, but also Voyage, a TV movie co-starring Eric Roberts). One slightly odd choice here is to reuse the exact same intro for each of the new interviews. It makes no real difference given the meat of each one is the actual discussion, but I did get tired of seeing it.

The rest of the disc's extras consist of archival material. An original 1992 making-of featurette (6:26) contains a few comments from Hauer, Cattrall, Pollard, and Thompson, who otherwise don't appear on the disc. Similarly, another 1992 featurette on the special effects (3:41) gives viewers a glimpse at future Blade and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen director Stephen Norrington. Finally, fans will be pleased by the inclusion of both the Japanese cut (95:00) of the film, in full-frame with burnt-in Japanese subs, as well as the deleted scenes from the Japanese cut (4:42), excised from the same copy.

An original theatrical trailer, seven promotional TV clips, and a US VHS home video promo are also included.

Split Second is a messy, goofy movie, which no doubt has its fans. Although the film didn't gain a new one, the Blu-ray is definitely worth celebrating, with a disc's worth of charming extras that anyone who already loves the movie will have a ball digging into. Rent it.

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