Richard Stanley's first feature looked like being the start of a promising career. However, characterised as a stubborn individual and one who refused to play the Hollywood game (when he got there) his directing career was over seemingly just as quickly as it had started. Drawing heavily on his pop promo background, Hardware is a striking debut. Stanley creates and urban scrap culture future that in part recalls The Terminator, Blade Runner and Brazil, but comes out owing a great deal to the US Max Headroom television series. The film was not Stanley's first foray into the future, his earlier 8mm and video shorts occupy the same setting, so his own version of this much-depicted 'tech noir' dystopian future stands on its own merits also.
The plot is a very simple one. A nomad uncovers a dismantled robot, Mark 13, in a desert landscape and takes it to the city, to a scrap dealer. Here, Moses (Dylan McDermott) buys the robot and gives the pieces to his artist girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) who incorporates the torso into one of her scrap metal sculptures. Discovering that the Mark 13 was an abandoned government experimental military droid, the scrap dealer contacts Moses to talk about its big money potential. Meanwhile, Mark 13 powers up and sets about rebuilding itself, tearing free of the sculpture, and intent on carrying out its primary function - merciless killing.
The producers, production designer and lighting cameraman all took the pop video route to the big screen and their common background can't help but make its presence felt in almost every frame of film. Indeed, the use of songs by the likes of Iggy Pop, Motorhead and Public Image Ltd, all past clients of Stanley's video promo services, only add to the pop video atmosphere. Yet what Hardware boasts in terms of imagery, it lacks in plot and character development. No explanations are offered for gaping deficincies in the narrative, such as how a top secret experimental robot came to be abandoned in the first place. This is but one example of far too many holes. The relatively modest budget is masterfully stretched to its limits in the set dressing but the lack of exterior locations and limited number of sets do make it all very obviously studio bound, but not in a claustophiobioc, tension-enhancing manner.
Britain's (then) top special effects outfit Image Animation provide the Mark 13 robot and prosthetic effects. Bob Keen and Paul Catling, who designed Frank's classic rebirth sequence in Hellraiser, create a similar scene in Hardware, when the Mark 13 skull controls the rest of its detacted body parts into rebuilding itself. This scene, accompanied by the Ministry track Stigmata, is impressive. The incidental music by English composer Simon Boswell, although not up to is often high standard, retains his touch for the off-beat and does deliver unexpected Celtic and operatic sound to the proceedings - a nice change from the totally electronic score often assocoated with the science fiction genre. Religious references and musician cameos (Iggy Pop, Lemmy and Carl McCoy) abound, but Stanley never quite fuses the eclectic imagery and the weak plot. Nevertheless, Hardware is an interesting and entertaining first feature.
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