Hardware Review

The Film

South African emigre Richard Stanley was called back from Afghanistan, where he was supporting the Mujahidin against those damn commies, in order to helm this apocalyptic script for Palace pictures. Stanley's film was to be a tale of a future state where media ignores the growing desperate situation of the people and the government devise a final solution for the problems of society. Drawing on his roots and applying the style that had graced music videos from the likes of Fields of the Nephilim, Stanley filmed Hardware for less than a million pounds.
Hardware is very much a product of the decade that came before it and it's interesting to note that this movie ends the decade that Alien and Blade Runner began. All three films carry substantial British involvement, all the films are directed by a primarily visual stylist, and all feature a version of the future that warns of dangers very much in our present. The evil multinationals in Ridley Scott's movies equate with a government at war with its population in Stanley's. Both directors had honed their craft in the shorter forms before making an imaginative visual feast, and all three films feature set design and an aesthetic for the future that may reference film history but is peculiarly the director's own.

The major differences between Scott and Stanley are those of legacy, resources, and ability. Hardware fails the most basic element of a science fiction monster movie by fudging the representation of the very threat which will torture mankind during the movie itself. Alien may have been a man in a rubber suit but it kept the monster out of sight until its magnificent reveal in all its glory, but in Hardware the monster is never revealed properly because actually it doesn't seem like it was completed! The threat is that of a machine that purges humanity but largely this threat looks like a slightly sick version of the cutesy monster from Short Circuit.
Faced with such a botched threat, Stanley elects to lay on the atmosphere with groovy red and blue lighting and plenty of darkness. Simple and rather dull activities are refreshed in red monochrome, and hey presto you have science fiction. This is not the only gimmick that the director enjoys whilst trying to distract the viewer from the lack of production value. He throws tons of first person POV shots into the mix, lots of crazy camera angles, and quick editing to improve the tempo. Hardware is very clearly a film made by a man who has known music videos.

Unsurprisingly then, Hardware is a movie that lacks coherence and a strong narrative. It is at its best when short sequences throw up action or mood that actually succeeds in creating horror or repulsion. The build up to the films climax is the best section of the film with the woman in peril scenes executed well and genuine tension is created as Stacey Travis fights off the food blender from hell whilst her useless boyfriend is off having his chin waxed. Travis, in fact, deserves better than her role here as the object of attention for monster, voyeur, and lover, and she is surrounded by unconvincing performances of distressingly bad quality - John Lynch is so bad at comedy sidekick, it'll make your teeth ache, and your eyes and ears bleed.
The intention is to make a funky retro dystopian thriller about a world where the government has decided to prune its electorate as well as to control them. Unfortunately, the budget is too small, the script as filmed is very uneven and unsure, and the treatment by a director wishing to maximise impact is painfully limited. When the film was made, it represented a return to genre film-making for British independents, and a ray of hope that stuffy costume dramas and bad romantic comedies were not all that Blighty had left in it. For this fact, Hardware deserves credit that it was made, however as a film it is severely limited.

Technical Specs

Hardware is presented at 1.85:1 using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and the filesize for this transfer is 17.3Gb. The image offered is very nice with a light dusting of grain, decent if not outstanding detail and effective contrast. There doesn't seem to have been a lot of boosting of the image in terms of colour, contrast and edges, what you get is relatively film-like, natural looking and genuinely quite impressive. Shadows don't yield a great deal of information but perhaps that's the point in such a dark, relatively low budget film. This is the longer, x-rated cut complete with sex, nudity and swearing(hooray).
Again no lossless option is included, instead there are 5.1 and surround tracks offered. The surround track offers speaker coverage and a lot less detail with the 5.1 mix being much more impactful in terms of atmosphere and directionality. Clarity in the mix also seems better in the 5.1 track, although channels are not used in a way that would fully imitate three dimensional sound.

Special Features

Or everything you wanted to know about Richard Stanley but were too busy to ask. Seriously though, you get a commentary, early short films and a making of, so if you didn't enjoy the film, or like Stanley, then you won't love trawling through them all. I did start to like Stanley with his cheerful admissions about stealing from other films and his rather dark take on the real world during the commentary, but Norman Hill who comperes the commentary is slightly redundant. Stanley starts the track by saying "I don't really believe in commentary tracks" and then proceeds to contradict his own opinion by being good value as he explains how the UK can't make sc-fi films but has great writers and talks about his inspirations - Argento etc. I actually enjoyed the commentary much more than the film, to be honest.

The documentary has Stanley explaining how he escaped South Africa, made a few pop videos for goth bands and then cleared off to Afghanistan before being tricked back to make the film for Palace Pictures. There's good biographical detail on La Scala and contributions from Stephen Wooley, Graham Humphreys, Stacey Travis and composer Simon Boswell.

Stanley's short films are also included here with the debt that Hardware owes to them very clear. Incidents has the same radio based narration, dystopian aesthetic and noirish feel. Rites of Passage features a wanderer alone in a seemingly post apocalypse environment, and that same environment appears again in the mind-bending and much better produced 2006's Sea of Perdition short.

In interview, Stanley explains how the sequel never got made because of fights over rights despite a script being written. He explains that the sequel gives more of a clear brief to the 'droid and pushes a more technophobic line. Some pretty murky quality deleted and extended scenes are included as a reel, these have been rescued from the directors own archive and are transferred from VHS.

A promo and a splendidly Teutonic trailer finish the extras off. Video quality throughout is mixed but all is HD encoded, and this dual layer region free disc is 80% used.

Summary

It's a splendid package of a pretty meh film. Fans will love it, HD purists will question the sound and I liked the director but not his work.

Film
4 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
5 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

Last updated: 14/06/2018 04:04:52

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