Strange Days Review
When Strange Days was released back in 1995, it found itself a cult audience impressed with its dazzling visual postmodernism; particularly interesting was the notion that the film was only set four years from when it was made – two days before the Millennium to be precise. Now however, it's the twenty-first century, and Strange Days is now therefore not only consigned to the folder of futuristic films now set in the past, but is also a film that is worryingly dated.
30 December 1999 – The populous are weary of the looming end of the world (possibly) and racial riots have been stirred up by a black rapper named Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer). Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes in an against-type role) is an ex-cop turned sleazy black market dealer who specialises in selling real experiences stored on a disc (MiniDisk to be precise). These experiences are recorded directly from the brain as they happen first hand, and through the use of an intricate device that is strapped to the head (A techno version of Alien’s facehugger) other people can relive these experiences. The technology was used by the Feds as an enhancement of the audio wire, and has now gone black-market. Lenny doesn’t have much of a life, and spends most of his time ‘replaying’, a term devoted to addicts hooked on this technology. He constantly replays scenes with his ex-girlfriend Faith (Played in a sexy-yet-trashy way that only Juliette Lewis can), varying from sitting together in a hot-tub, to rollerblading, to having sex. Faith left Lenny for Gant (Michael Wincott), the manager of Jeriko One, and Lenny is obsessed by her, and never leaves her alone. Soon, Lenny inadvertently acquires a disc which contains the murder of Jeriko One, and with the help of his friends Max and Mace (Tom Sizemore and Angela Bassett respectively) Lenny attempts to stop the disk falling into the hands of the killers.
Essentially, there are two themes writer James Cameron and director Kathryn Bigelow want to explore with Strange Days. The run up to the Millennium and the mass hysteria that ensures, and the technological advance of being able to record experiences onto disc. Strange Days allows the filmmakers the opportunity to do both, but renders the film rather disjointed. It takes about thirty minutes to actually show you where the film is headed, and even then it feels like it has been cut for length, which isn’t surprising considering it weighs in just under two-and-a-half hours. Visually, the film is very impressive, and as far as futuristic films go is only beaten by Blade Runner when it comes to depicting LA as a post-modern hell. Looking back, the hellhole predictions have proved way-off, but Strange Days becomes much more of an interesting document because of this.
Ralph Fiennes proves quite adept at playing a sleazy American dealer, bearing in mind that his previous role was as the evil Nazi Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. Angela Bassett and Juliette Lewis both provide fine support from the female side, but their roles seem either considerably cut or underdeveloped. Tom Sizemore seemed miscast as Max, he appears as if on autopilot, relying on stock characterisation for his part.
With regards to the directing, Bigelow is more than capable for the job, but you can’t help but wonder whether James Cameron would have realised the film on a greater level. It’s a shame that Cameron had to pass the script over to Jay Cocks, because he himself had to go and film True Lies.
The soundtrack to the film is deliberately intended to be a nightmarish mix of techno and punk in its predictions of 1999. Ironically, the music seems dated, but Juliette Lewis does perform some PJ Harvey numbers and Skunk Anansie shows up in a cameo towards the end.
Strange Days is definitely a film of the nineties and must be seen if just to take view how the twenty-first century was feared to be in terms of a social hellzone. The futuristic overtones are severely dated now, but the film is an exceptional science-fiction thriller and still a credit to the genre.
NOTE: Strange Days has been briefly cut in the UK, and unsurprisingly this is with regard to the rape scene where a few seconds have been trimmed. The cuts aren't noticeable, but if this bothers you then opt for the R1 version, which is uncut.
Presented in a splendid 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, the transfer beats the R1 with regards to quality and anamorphic enhancement. The film appears in a splendid visual mix of gloom and bright neon; very similar to Blade Runner. The brightness and contrast is slightly gloomier than could be expected, but this is still a fine transfer with only slight grain.
A good 5.1 mix, with some very good panning effects with regards to the ‘wiring’ scenes. The crowds at the finale sound very vibrant and you feel like you are genuinely involved. Strange Days is a film that comes alive audibly compared to the VHS version, but could probably do with a decent DTS mix.
Menu: A static, dark and moody menu consisting of some images from the film.
Packaging: Presented in an amaray packaging, the film is given a dark design and also has a four page production notes booklet, which sadly is devoid of any chapter listings.
Director’s Commentary Kathryn Bigelow’s commentary on Strange Days has to rank as one of the world’s most annoying. It only lasts fifty minutes and is taken from a lecture she gave (hence audience noises) to the BFI. Unfortunately, Bigelow devotes large portions to discussing how she pulled off the famous illusion of a non-edited POV robbery in the film’s opening. The problem is, she waits until the scene has finished before dissecting it, which renders the concept of screen specific discussion useless, and renders the commentary an extra that you won’t wish to revisit.
Making Of Featurette The making of featurette is a short mix of interviews with film clips. No new insights are gained and it's better to have these things than to not, but it's standard promotional fare only.
Trailer The trailer is a mess, and the film obviously proved difficult to Universal’s marketing department, who didn’t know what type of segment to market it to.
NOTE: The Laserdisc version of Strange Days contained two deleted scenes and some other extras – The first is a scene where Lenny is in his apartment after getting beat up in the basement of Gant's building and nearly fries his brain trying to see the killer's face in the clip using the scan and rewind buttons on his wire-deck. In the second scene, we see how Lenny managed to enter to the party at the end of the film. He takes the pass of a reporter friend. The Skunk Anansie music video, that was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, some storyboards and production stills were also included on the Laserdisc and are sadly missing on the DVD version.
Strange Days is a science-fiction classic and film wise is given the quality it deserves (if a shame about the few seconds cut). Extras wise, the film doesn’t amount to much after a second glance, and there are some notable items missing from the Laserdisc version. Even so, Strange Days is not a film that should be avoided by any sci-fi fan.