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The abandoned parts of a disfunctional android, after being brought into the home of a scrap- metal artist, reconstruct themselves into its former self, a violent killer.
For more about Hardware and the Hardware Blu-ray release, see Hardware Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on October 15, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Richard Stanley
Writer: Richard Stanley
Starring: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Iggy Pop, Mark Northover
» See full cast & crew
Hardware Blu-ray Review
“No Flesh Shall Be Spared”
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, October 15, 2009
I've been anxious for Hollywood to take the plunge and give George Miller a shot at reinventing the "Mad Max" series for a new generation of film-lovers. After all, we've seen a successful reboot of nearly every other film trilogy in the past three decades, so why not revisit the scorched, post-apocalyptic world of The Road Warrior? Unfortunately, I'm not here to offer you good news regarding a long-rumored sequel to that franchise. Instead, I've been given the opportunity to review a film from 1990, which happens to be set in a dystopian future that feels reminiscent of the scorched planet depicted in Mad Max. I like to think I've maintained a finger on the pulse of sci-fi filmmaking over the years, but somehow this little piece of sci-fi/horror storytelling managed to elude my radar up until now. There's nothing inventive or groundbreaking about Hardware, but if you're looking for a fun way to kill 93 minutes, I could come up with plenty of worse options.
Returning to the city after a scavenging expedition through the surrounding desert of a futuristic Earth, Moses (Dylan McDermott) purchases a bag of scrap robotic parts from a fellow drifter. After meeting up with his friend Shades (John Lynch), the two men visit the apartment of Moses' former girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis), who works as metal sculptor. Moses hopes Jill will grant him a fresh start at a life together, so he gives her the bag of scrap robot parts as a gesture of his intentions to rekindle their relationship. Mixed in with the scrap metal, Jill finds the head of a robotic creature and decides to make it the focal point of her new artistic creation. Meanwhile, Moses slips out of Jill's apartment to consult with a scrap-dealer friend of his on a robotic hand that also appeared in the bag he recently purchased. Unfortunately, he soon learns the hand and head are key components in an abandoned government experiment involving robotic killing machines. Unbeknownst to Jill, the metallic head that once adorned her latest creation has pieced together a shiny silver body complete with all manner of sharp instruments. Trapped in her apartment with the deadly robot, the night quickly becomes a desperate battle for survival as Moses and Jill struggle to protect one another.
Director Richard Stanley deserves a lot of credit for taking such a simplistic plot, and turning it into an exciting cinematic spectacle. At the core of the story, we have a killer robot that preys on multiple victims during the course of the film, but never manages to generate the thrills or chills of countless predecessors (Terminator, Westworld, The Black Hole and 2001: A Space Odyssey). However, the film makes up for the shortcomings in robotic scares by throwing in some peculiar characters and situations to keep things interesting. For instance, we have the perverted neighbor who becomes increasingly bold in his attempts to court Jill. It's not too difficult to foretell the demise that awaits him down the line, but his despicable acts up until that point almost made me anxious for the robot to rid Jill of his menacing presence. Additionally, I enjoyed the political and religious undertones that permeate the story and the cinematography. I'm not giving away much by revealing that the government experiment leading to the creation of the savage robot was designed with a goal of human population control. In a world devoid of natural resources, it's not too far out there to imagine a government capable of such extremes. From a religious standpoint, even the name of the robot (M.A.R.K. 13) is taken directly from the Mark 13:20 biblical passage, which I listed as the headline at the start of this review. By itself, that might not seem so profound, but when you read the entire biblical message of Mark 13 (foretelling the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem) and Jesus' description of hardships to come, the unleashing of this robotic nightmare on the innocent population of Earth takes on new meaning. Additionally, there are multiple scenes in the film where MARK 13 is shown in a Christ-like pose, raising deeper questions about the filmmaker's intentions. At the core, this is still a blood-drenched gore fest that the kiddies should avoid like the plague, but I'm looking forward to revisiting the film in the near future to explore the thematic elements in greater detail.
As with most low-budget horror/sci-fi films, Hardware has its fair share of cheap effects (by present-day standards). Scenes with MARK 13 on the warpath don't generate much excitement, since it seems to take it 20 minutes to move from one side of the room to another. After all, the majority of the film takes place within the confines of a relatively small apartment, yet we're given multiple "chase" scenes that rarely extend beyond a hallway. I'm sure the filmmakers thought we'd feel a sense of exhilaration when we're shown the robot's point of view as it pursues Jill, but I'm afraid the effect has worn off after nineteen years. On the flipside, I was pleasantly surprised with the craftsmanship of the various sets, which show an amazing attention to detail. Filmed on a reported budget of only 1.5 million, the filmmakers did an excellent job of recognizing their financing limitations and adjusting the scope of the production accordingly.
Although there's not a huge cast in Hardware, you'll instantly recognize some well-known faces. The one actor who's made the biggest name for himself is Dylan McDermott (Bobby Donnell in the long-running television series "The Practice"). I wouldn't say McDermott reaches into his bag of tricks for his role as Moses, but he still generates a convincing level of intensity. Turning things up a notch, we have Stacey Travis as the strong-willed heroine of the story. In the early stages of the film, I began to wonder if she would simply offer a healthy dose of eye-candy in her role as Jill, but as the plot unfolded, she became the glue that held everything together. If you liked Sigourney Weaver in the first Alien movie, you'll appreciate Stacey Travis in Hardware. Rounding out the cast, we have a minor role for Mark Northover (better known for his memorable role as Burglekutt in Willow), a creepy portrayal of the neighborhood pervert from William Hootkins (he took this part immediately after playing Lt. Eckhardt in Tim Burton's Batman), and a cameo performance from Iggy Pop as the radio personality known as Angry Bob.
Hardware Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 22Mbps), Hardware is a home-run visual presentation. Considering the low-budget roots of the film and the fact that we're rapidly approaching the 20th anniversary of its release, I expected to find less-than-stellar source material for Severin to work with. Those worries were soon put to rest, as I witnessed a startling level of clarity in the film elements. Every intricate wire in Jill's metallic art is readily apparent, and the level of precision in the facial textures on Dylon McDermott's unshaven face is astounding. The majority of the film takes place during the course of one night, so there isn't what I'd call a vivid color spectrum, but despite the relative lack of bright lighting, it's rarely difficult to make out the horrific deeds of the murderous robot. There's one scene in particular toward the end of the film, where the action shifts from the darkness of Jill's apartment to her brightly lit bathroom. This is the first vivid glimpse we're given of MARK-13, and really stands out as a perfect example of the transfer's proficiency in color reproduction. Moving along, black levels offer a wonderful sense of depth, allowing contrast to create subtle gradients of differentiation between various shades in the low-lit scenes. Unfortunately, there are still a handful of segments that exhibit a lack of shadow detail (due to weak contrast), but those sequences are definitely the exception.
Those of you with an aversion to film grain should know that this is a fairly gritty film, with noticeable grain present through a large portion of the film. It never became a distraction in my personal opinion (I know the debate continues over the use of DNR versus film grain), and I'd even go so far as to say it adds a degree of necessary texture to the post-apocalyptic world.
Hardware Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I'm a bit disappointed that we're continuing to see Blu-ray discs released to market with lossy audio tracks. I'm willing to cut Severin some slack considering they're a small studio that only recently broke into the high-definition market, but after suffering through countless Warner releases that don't fully utilize the capabilities of the format, this is growing a bit tiresome. Now that I have that out of the way, we can move into a discussion of actual merits of the audio track I'm here to review. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, Hardware contains an interesting mixture of elements that might seem off-putting at first, but become rather nostalgic after the first 20 minutes pass by. For the uninitiated, the soundtrack contains music by Iggy Pop, Motorhead and Ministry, with a score that borrows heavily from the synthesizer- infused melodies of Vangelis (think Blade Runner and you have some idea what I'm talking about). The light, airy sound of the score almost lulls you into a false sense of security during the rare quiet moments of the film, before cranking everything up 10 notches for the umpteenth attack from MARK-13. Purely from a technical standpoint, the audio track is well balanced, delivering a decent level of surround separation on the more intense scenes. Whether it's the shrill sound of saw blades cutting through metal, or the crackle of sparks flying from severed wires, every minor detail is afforded adequate weight in the overall design of the mix. Likewise, dialogue never seemed flat or difficult to make out, and the musical numbers are delivered with an excellent level of clarity (despite the lossy compression).
In the end, I found the audio track to be a highly competent Dolby Digital offering, but it could have been exceptional if given the breathing room of a lossless mix.
Hardware Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No Flesh Shall Be Spared (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 53:59 min): This impressive featurette was produced by Severin for this Blu-ray edition, and includes interviews with almost everyone involved in the film (minus Dylan McDermott). There's an amazing amount of information regarding the production history of the film, which is largely delivered courtesy of writer/director Richard Stanley.
Incidents in an Expanding Universe (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 44:30 min): This Super-8 film was created by Richard Stanley during his teenage years, and follows the general plot structure of Hardware. I'm impressed that this was included on the disc, but it becomes a bit taxing to sit through (mostly due to the poor quality).
Rites of Passage (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 9:50 min): This is another interesting short film by Richard Stanley, completed at the age of 15. The film is definitely rough, but shows a level of storytelling creativity not normally found in someone at his age.
The Sea of Perdition (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:33 min): This short film was directed by Richard Stanley in 2006, telling the story of a stranded cosmonaut on the surface of Mars. There's no denying the film is strange, but most guys will love an odd twist thrown in toward the end (I won't spoil the surprise).
Richard Stanley on Hardware 2 (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 7:40 min): director Richard Stanley discusses the legal battle over the sequel, which he completed at the same time he wrote the script for the original film. The script for the sequel is available online, but Stanley also describes many of the themes he hoped to explore in Hardware 2.
Deleted and Extended scenes (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 25:02 min): Richard Stanley released this set of scenes from his personal archive, so the VHS-sourced material looks and sounds extremely rough. Fans will probably enjoy this extra a lot more than casual viewers.
Rounding out the extras, we have the high-definition trailer shown in Germany, a vintage promotional segment on VHS (extremely rough footage), and an audio commentary from Richard Stanley. On the commentary track, Stanley discusses a multitude of topics, managing to be entertaining and informative at the same time. I'm baffled that Stanley hasn't become a household name in the horror/sci-fi genre (especially when you consider Uwe Boll continues to land directing gigs).
Hardware Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Despite my enjoyment of the film, Hardware will only appeal to a small segment of the overall viewing public. With plenty of gore, snippets of nudity, pervasive sexual language (vulgar), and a robot with an oddly phallic appendage, the film is far from tame. However, for anyone who's not repulsed by the idea of watching a film with those descriptors proudly attached, there's no reason to pass up the opportunity to give this a spin on an upcoming Saturday night with your friends (just make sure you share the same taste in cinema). For anyone else, approach this release with cautious optimism and consider a rental rather than a purchase.
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