Category Archives: Dystopian

I bling the body electric: Chappie ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 7, 2015)

The mathematician/cryptologist I.J. Good (an Alan Turing associate) once famously postulated:

Let an ultra-intelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man…however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultra-intelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion’, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus, the first ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.

Good raised this warning in 1965, about the same time director Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke were formulating the narrative that would evolve into both the novel and film versions of 2001: a Space Odyssey. And it’s no coincidence that the “heavy” in 2001 was an ultra-intelligent machine that wreaks havoc once its human overseers lose “control” …Good was a consultant on the film.

While the “A-I gone awry” prototype dates as far back as the metallic “Maria” in the 1927 silent Metropolis, it was “HAL 9000” that took techno-phobia to a new level, spawning a sci-fi film sub-genre that includes The Demon Seed, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Robocop, I, Robot, and (of course) A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

There are echoes of all the aforementioned (plus a large orange soda) in Chappie, the third feature film from South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp. In this outing, Blomkamp returns to his native Johannesburg (which provided the backdrop for his 2009 debut, District 9). And for the third time in a row, his story takes place in a near-future dystopia  (call me Sherlock, but I’m sensing a theme).

Johannesburg is a crime-riddled hellhole, ruled by ultra-violent drug lords and roving gangs of thugs. The streets are so dangerous that the police department is reticent to put officers on the front lines. So they do what any self-respecting police department of a near-future dystopia does…they send droids out to apprehend criminals.

The popularity of these programmable robocops has created lucrative contracts for Tetravaal, the company which employs mild-mannered designer Deon (Dev Patel). In his spare time, Deon has been working on an A.I. chip that approximates “consciousness”.

Jacked on Red Bull, Deon pulls an all-niter and makes his breakthrough. Excited, Deon approaches Tetravaal’s CEO (Sigourney Weaver) with a proposal to work up a prototype. Unfortunately, she doesn’t share his vision, and Deon is laughed out of her office. Who needs a police droid with “feelings”, right?

Determined to carry out his experiment, he re-appropriates a damaged droid scheduled for destruction. Before he can make it safely home,  he is carjacked and abducted by a trio of inept gang bangers (Ninja, Yolandi Visser, and Jose Pablo Cantillo) who figure they can coerce Deon into securing them a remote control that shuts down police droids (they are only speculating such a device exists).

What they do end up with is a droid with self-awareness, and the ability to absorb and mimic human behavior. Will he “grow up” as the enlightened being that his Gepetto-like creator intended, or will he turn into the “gangsta” that his thug “Daddy” wants him to be?

Through their creation of the character “Chappie”, Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell have managed to put a fresh spin on a well-worn trope. When you cut through all the obligatory action tropes, “his” story resonates at its core with a universal, timeless appeal. The film has more in common with Oliver Twist than with Robocop.  Chappie is, by definition of his inception, an “orphan”; innocent and pure of heart. The child-like droid is shuffled by fate into the thug life, where he is tutored in street smarts and criminal behavior by “Ninja”, who plays Fagin to his Oliver (on one level, Blomkamp and Tatchell are exploring the “nature vs nurture” theme).

This is a return to form for the director, especially after his slightly disappointing sophomore effort Elysium. I really got a kick out of the performances, especially the scene-stealing Ninja and Visser, who are slumming from their day job as rap outfit Die Antwoord (apparently popular with the “zef” crowd…I’ll let you look that up, like grandpa had to prepping this review). Hugh Jackman hams it up as a heavy, and Blomkamp’s favorite leading man Sharlto Copley does a marvelous job breathing “life” and personality into Chappie (move over, Andy Serkis). BTW, despite my references to Pinocchio and David Copperfield, this one is definitely not for the kids; it’s rated ‘R’ .

Stop the world, I want to get off: Elysium *** & Europa Report **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 10, 2013)

It’s tempting to take the political allegory in Neill Blomkamp’s new sci-fi action adventure Elysium and run with it. But I am going to take the high road. I’m not going to shoot you a Palin-esque wink as I tell you the year is 2154, and the human race is reduced to two classes: the super-rich, who have ensconced themselves in a glorified gated community called Elysium (a gargantuan bio-domed space station in Earth’s orbit) and the rest of humanity, who have been ghettoized back on Earth, which has fallen into ecological and economic ruin.

The Earth rabble try to infiltrate the 1 per-centers’ big wheel in the sky via “illegal” shuttle crafts,  but those lucky enough make it past Elysium’s formidable Star Wars missile defense system and land are captured by police droids and deported back to Earth (note I’m still keeping a straight face). Screw it. I reveled in the political allegory.

I especially reveled in Jodie Foster’s turn as Elysium’s icy Secretary Delacourt, who usurps the President’s ineffectual requests to take it down a notch on these strident Homeland Security measures (and if she didn’t base her characterization on Governor Jan Brewer, then Stephen Colbert actually is a conservative pundit).

Meanwhile, back in the States, we meet Max (Matt Damon), an ex-con who works at a dreary droid manufacturing plant in L.A. The Los Angeles of 2154 resembles a giant favela (it makes the Blade Runner rendition of the City of Angels seem Utopian). Nearly everyone speaks Spanish (now…settle). Those lucky enough to have a job are mercilessly exploited by their employers (I said: settle!). While there are hospitals, they are understaffed and ill-equipped to treat catastrophic illnesses; whereas on Elysium, every mansion come equipped with a miracle medical appliance that seems to cure everything from paper cuts to cancer via cellular regeneration.

All of these mitigating factors are about to converge into a perfect shit storm for our protagonist. A work accident exposes Max to a lethal amount of radiation. He’s told he has 5 days to live and given a bottle of painkillers. His only chance for a cure is on Elysium.

Desperate, he reaches out to an old acquaintance (Wagner Moura), now a successful smuggler, to see if he can arrange passage. As Max is somewhat short on funds, the smuggler offers a trade deal. If Max does a special “job” for him, he’ll get him on a shuttle. Max agrees, but the gig goes south, and he’s on the run from an odious mercenary (Sharlto Copley) who does covert operations for Secretary Delacourt.

What ensues is a mashup of Escape from New York with Seven Days in May (granted, Max is no Snake Plissken, but he’s in the same ball park). As he did in his 2009 feature film debut District 9, Blomkamp deftly delivers a strong political message and slam-bang sci-fi action entertainment all in one package. While Damon is unquestionably the star, I think Copley (who seems to be establishing a Scorcese-De Niro/Herzog-Kinski type partnership with the director) nearly steals the movie with his deliriously over-the-top performance (his character is the best scene-stealing sci-fi heavy since Dennis Hopper and his eye patch played to the back of the house in Waterworld).

Oh, by the way…the best part about this film is that the real show hasn’t even started yet. There is an unmistakable, marvelously unapologetic pro-Obamacare message in the denouement that is surely going to leave the “Aha! It’s another piece of Hollywood lefty socialist propaganda!” crowd apoplectic and sputtering with impotent rage. They are going to go absolutely spare (if they haven’t gone so already). Personally, I can’t wait. Pass the popcorn…

Film makers who aim to create “realistic” sci-fi dramas are faced with a conundrum: While it may be true that “It’s not about  ‘destination’,  but rather the journey”, an inconvenient truth remains…real life space journeys are tedious (Apollo 13 aside). Even our nearest interstellar travel destination (the Moon) takes 4 days (I don’t know about you, but I get antsy after 4 hours on a plane). So if you want to do a realistic film about a Jupiter mission, how do you add drama? OK, Kubrick  did it  in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that set a high bar.

To their credit, for about two-thirds of their hyper-realistic sci-fi drama Europa Report, director Sebastian Cordero and screenwriter Philip Gelatt seem headed for that bar. Framing the narrative with the “found footage” gimmick, the film is a faux-documentary that “reconstructs” a privately-funded mission to Jupiter’s moon of Europa to probe for signs of aquatic alien life beneath its ice pack. The six crew members have each been chosen for expertise in their respective fields. Shipboard footage capturing the workaday mission minutiae is interspersed with somber “present day” interviews telegraphing that it all ends in tears (don’t worry…not a spoiler).

Most of the filmmaker’s effort focuses on making us believe that this is all really happening, and indeed the overall “look” is right. Special effects are seamless; all the hardware, the radio chatter, EVA procedures etc. etc. suitably authentic and convincing, but there’s one thing missing…an interesting story. There’s simply no “there” there, and the sudden 180 into The Blair Witch Project territory in the third act cheapens the film and destroys all credibility.

The cast (which includes Michael Nykvist and the ubiquitous Sharlto Copley) do the best they can with woefully underwritten parts, but the resultant lack of emotional investment on my part as a viewer made it hard for me to care about what happened to whom once the mission (and the film itself) began to go horribly, horribly awry.

SIFF 2013: Die Wand **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 25, 2013)

Adapting first-person narratives like Marlen Haushofer’s dystopian novel Die Wand (The Wall) for the screen can be a tricky affair. Consider Julian Roman Polsler’s film, wherein our heroine (Martina Gedeck) wakes up one morning and finds that an invisible, encircling “wall” has confined her within the perimeter of an Alpine lodge, with only a dog, a cow and woodland animals for company. As she adapts to her Robinson Crusoe lifestyle, she begins keeping a journal. Since she has no one to converse with, we get voice over narration. A lot of voice over narration. Gedeck (a skilled actress) is left with little to do but stare into space. There’s a lot of staring into space. Atmospheric, nicely shot, but ultimately it is little more than a picture postcard-festooned exercise in tedium.

Will it go round in circles? – Looper ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 6, 2012)

My dinner with me: Willis and Gordon-Levitt talking to themselves.

If there’s a cardinal rule of time-travel I’ve gleaned from watching sci-fi movies over the years, it’s this: make sure that you never, ever “meet” yourself. Why? Dunno, really, just that you’re not supposed to. I imagine it could be quite unnerving, in either direction. I mean, it’s traumatic enough looking at that dorky version of my younger self in that yearbook photo, and who in their right mind is chomping at the bit to get a sneak preview of themselves in drooling dotage?

In his stylish and ultra-violent sci-fi thriller Looper, writer-director Rian Johnson not only breaks the cardinal rule, but manages to violate a few that haven’t been invented yet (see what I did there?). Johnson has himself a jolly old time exploring the potential fluidity of the time-space continuum, toying with causality and paradox like a kitten batting a ball of yarn all about the room with gleeful abandon.

The year is 2044, and America is a dystopia (it took that long?). The economy has gone 2008 for good, crime is rampant and 1 out of every 10 people has a mutation that gives them the power to levitate objects at will (although for a majority of the afflicted, their abilities are limited to the occasional Uri Geller parlor trick). Jobs are scarce; the biggest “job creator” is organized crime (again…it took that long?).

And yes, they still have plenty of gigs for hit men in the future; especially for  “loopers”.  Loopers have a relatively easy time of it; unlike your standard assassin, who has to meticulously plan the right time and the right place to do a hit, the looper simply shows up for “work” at a designated spot, where the target-bound, hooded and festooned with a set of silver bars, is delivered to him like an overnight FedEx package…from 30 years in the future (don’t ask…just enjoy your delicious buttered popcorn and accept it).

Pretty easy job, wouldn’t you say? The hours are good, the wages are decent, and loopers party like rock stars when they go out on the town. However, there is a calculated risk every looper takes by choosing this career path. “Retirement” (at least in the traditional sense) isn’t necessarily part of the equation. Should your bosses (who can be a fickle lot) determine that for whatever reason your services will no longer be required, they send the older version of yourself back to the present so that your younger self can take you out. This is referred to by the higher-ups as “closing the loop”.

Naturally, they don’t give you a heads up; it’s just another anonymous hooded victim who appears out of thin air in the middle of a cornfield somewhere in Kansas. Either way, you never see it coming. Ergo, as looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) confides with self-effacing irony in voice-over, this is not a profession that attracts “forward-thinkers”. Joe does have plans; he’s stashing all his silver bars and learning to speak French. Everything is going swimmingly for young Joe until that one fateful day in the cornfield, when his Victim du jour turns out to be… “old” Joe (Bruce Willis), who manages to flee. Uh-oh.

I’ll leave it there, and let you discover and enjoy the surprising twists and turns in your own time (in a manner of speaking). While there are some obvious touchstones here (primarily 12 Monkeys, The Terminator and Logan’s Run, with a few echoes of Groundhog Day) Johnson has fashioned a clever and original thriller that’s smarter than your average modern sci-fi action flick, yet not so self-consciously “meaningful” as to drown in its own self-importance (i.e., the director remembers to entertain the audience along the way).

Most notably, there’s an emphasis on character development (remember that?) and a palpable focus on the quality of the writing that is sorely lacking in most genre entries these days. The production design, special effects and atmospheric flourishes are “futuristic” without going over the top. It’s the little touches I especially enjoyed, like the fact that the time travel device is clearly modeled after George Pal’s design for his 1960 version of The Time Machine. Gordon-Levitt and Willis are terrific, and there are strong supporting performances from Jeff Daniels and Emily Blunt. See it now. See it later. It doesn’t really matter…time being relative and all.

I owe my soles to the company store: Repo Men **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 20, 2010)


Inside scoopers: Jude Law and Forest Whitaker in Repo Men

You could say that the new sci-fi action thriller Repo Men is a film with heart-as well as kidneys, livers, lungs and the odd spleen. David Cronenberg meets John Woo at the corner of Brazil and Logan’s Run in this dystopian vision of a near-future in which life-extending high-tech advancements in organ replacement have become available to all.

Teabaggers needn’t panic-it isn’t a government-sponsored health care program; as long as you flash a credit card, make a down payment and sign up for an EZ installment plan, you too can be the happy recipient of a shiny new mechanical bladder (hopefully bereft of any “sudden acceleration” issues). There is one catch. If your account goes delinquent, a repo man is sent to retrieve it…with no regards as to anything else it might be attached to.

Organ repo is a messy job, but somebody has to do it; somebody who is stealthy, skilled with knives, impervious to pleas for mercy, has a good gag reflex and doesn’t mind paperwork. Remy (Jude Law) and his long time partner Jake (Forest Whitaker) are two such men. For example, Jake has no problem excusing himself from a backyard barbecue  to perform a quick “favor”-the unceremonious disembowelment of a deadbeat client in the driveway, then returning to the business of grilling hot dogs and shooting the shit with family and co-workers. As he reminds Remy, “A job… is a job.”

Remy has been suffering through a personal crisis . His wife (Carice van Houten) is at the end of her rope; she’s tired of him leapngi out of bed at 3am to go running off into the night so he can yank out some hapless debtor’s entrails in order to keep food on the table. Under threat of separation, she’s pressuring him to go into sales-but he’s a repo man, through and through, and knows he’s not, erm, cut out for sales (you could say he’s more of an “opener” than a “closer”). The weaselly head of sales (Liev Schreiber) knows that as well-Remy is his number one man in the field, and he’d prefer to keep him there.

Fate intervenes when Remy suffers a heart attack while out on a call. Awakening from a coma, he discovers that he’s being kept alive with a “Jarvik-39”. The bad news is that he can’t recall signing the sales contract that now makes him an indebted client of his own employer, which makes him subject to that fine print about overdue accounts. I’ll give you three guesses as to what happens next.

Although Repo Men borrows freely from the films I mentioned earlier, it is directed with a certain amount of verve by Miguel Sapochnik. The screenplay, adapted by Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner from Garcia’s own novel The Repossession Mambo, works best when it waxes satirical, which helps take the edge off the gruesome aspects.

Although I am quite squeamish when it comes to blood and guts, the “repossessions” didn’t bother me; perhaps because it was so over the top as to be cartoonish. The action scenes are stylish and well-choreographed, which moves things along. One kinky and visceral scene sure to have audiences buzzing involves Law and Alice Braga (as a character who is like the Bionic Woman-with bad credit). I wouldn’t exactly call it a “sex” scene, but it is consensual, and does involve penetration (that’s all I’m prepared to disclose at this time).

I’ve gleaned some fan boy hysteria on the web concerning this film’s alleged similarities to the indie musical Repo: The Genetic Opera, which I have not seen, nor frankly had ever heard of until I was doing some background research for my review. So alas, I can only offer ambivalence regarding this particular issue. Then again, if I allowed myself to lose sleep over every Hollywood script that was cloned from another Hollywood script, I would suffer terminal insomnia.

It is kismet that the film is opening just as the health care bill debacle is coming to a head. I’m sure the filmmakers see that merely as happy coincidence, as I didn’t sense any purposeful political subtext (aside that one could interpret the film to represent the speculative extreme of an unregulated free market-health care system, just as Robocop did for the concept of corporate-run law enforcement). Aw, hell, I’m thinking too much. See it for the cool action scenes.

DVD Reissue: Max Headroom ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 7, 2010)

Video killed the radio star

And then committed suicide

Doug Powell, “Empty Vee”

The original maven of the matrix has returned. The belated release of ABC-TV’s late 80s one-season wonder, Max Headroom on DVD has given sci-fi geeks a nice little lift from the midsummer doldrums (hey-why is everybody looking at me like I’m some kind of a nerd?).

In case you spent the 80s in a coma, or you’re too young to remember, “Max Headroom” was a fictional, computer-generated TV personality who was created via a blend of live-action camera, prosthetics and old-school animation techniques. First appearing in 1985 on Channel 4 in the U.K. as the host for a weekly, MTV-style music video/variety show, the hip, irreverent and oh-so-sardonic Max was indelibly brought to “life” by the comic improvisations of square-jawed Canadian actor Matt Frewer, backed by a bevy of hip writers (it’s like Robin Williams mind-melded with HAL 9000).

The original one-hour pilot that kicked off the British variety series in 1985 provided a back story for the character, and was quite an impressive production. An imaginative mash-up of Brazil, Network and The Parallax View, it is set in a dystopian metropolis some “20 minutes into the future” and concerns an investigative journalist (Frewer) who works for a media conglomerate called Network 23.

He is hot on the trail of his own employers, who have developed a secretive video technology that can deliver a huge cache of subliminal advertising to unwitting TV viewers in a matter of seconds; such a huge amount of information, in fact, that some people have an adverse physical reaction (OK, they explode-don’t worry, not a spoiler). A shadowy conspiracy thriller ensues. While fleeing would-be assassins, he runs smack into a parking gate arm (emblazoned with the warning “Max Headroom”). Soon thereafter, his memory and persona is “saved” and downloaded into a hard drive, which then transmogrifies into the “Max” we all know and love.

I remember first seeing the British pilot here in the states on Cinemax, which kicked off the domestic version of the variety series (only a handful of installments, which aired back in 1986). Unfortunately (most likely due to legal snafus) that original pilot is not included in the DVD set; if you scrounge around secondhand stores and yard sales you may spot the odd VHS copy (I found mine for $3 at a Hollywood Video a couple years ago when they were liquidating VHS inventory). I recommend catching it, if you haven’t.

What is included is the 14 episode season that aired on ABC in 1987, a coveted cult item. The reworked U.S. pilot  follows the same basic story line (although not quite as gritty and technically accomplished as the original) and sets up the character dynamics for the series. Frewer reprises his dual role as investigative TV journalist Edison Carter and his alter-ego, Max. Also retained from the original pilot are the lovely Amanda Pays (as Edison’s controller) and the delightful William Morgan Sheppard as “Blank Reg”, a Mohawk-sporting pirate cable channel entrepreneur. The always dependable Jeffrey Tambor was recruited for the U.S. series to play Carter’s producer.

Something else retained for the U.S. series (and much to its benefit) was a good portion of the original British production and writing team. As I’ve been working my way through the episodes over the past week, it amazes me how subversive the show was for U.S. network TV; especially with its unapologetic leftist, anti-corporate, anti-consumer culture message. With hindsight being 20/20, it’s not surprising that it was yanked after one season. Sad as it is for me to say, you would never see a show like this on American television now that dared to challenge the status quo (the X-Files had its moments, but cloaked them in horror-show silliness, more often than not).

Some of the story lines are quite prescient, dealing with themes like the advent of social networking, cyber-crime, and the merging of the technocracy with the idiocracy (which any casual perusal of YouTube will confirm). Perhaps what resonates most significantly in hindsight is the show’s depiction of news as infotainment and an insidiously corporate-controlled media (dismissed by many as far-fetched paranoid fantasy 23 years ago). Worth ch-ch-ch-checking out.

Blu-ray reissue: THX-1138 ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

THX-1138 (The George Lucas Director’s Cut) – Warner Blu-ray

Is it just me, or is it a fact that the farther back you go in George Lucas’ catalog, the more “mature” his films become? At any rate, I still like to revisit his 1971 debut now and then, and marvel at how prophetic it was in many ways; although its unifying theme, if it has one, remains elusive. Lucas gives his own imaginative take on an Orwellian “future”, where people have become dehumanized “product”, barely distinguishable from each other or from the stark technology that coddles and enslaves them (been to the mall lately?).

And, just like in 1984, or the cult TV series The Prisoner, the biggest crime one can commit in this strictly regimented society is to be a non-conformist. Robert Duvall (as the eponymous character) gives an interesting physical performance that at times borders on mime (think Chaplin’s Modern Times-except without the laughs).

Oddly, Lucas’ predominately white on white color scheme is even more striking in high-def. There are tons of extras to plow through on this Warner Blu-ray, including Lucas’ original student film version.

Blu-ray reissue: Metropolis (1927) ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

The Complete Metropolis – Kino Lorber Blu-ray

For film buffs, the news that a “complete” print of Fritz Lang’s visionary expressionist 1927 sci-fi masterpiece had been discovered languishing on a dusty shelf in a film historian’s personal collection in Argentina in 2008 was akin to hearing that the Holy Grail had turned up at a church rummage sale. A box-office flop upon its first run, it was famously butchered for time by its original U.S. distributor, and censored for content by German authorities. Happily for fans, the film is now likely as close as it is ever going to get to its original presentation as intended by Lang.

Kino has one-upped their previous “definitive” DVD version with this new Blu-ray transfer of the Murnau Foundation’s latest re-tweaking, which now shores up previously choppy scenes by incorporating 20+ minutes of the Argentine footage. A recently discovered copy of the censor’s notes (containing all of the original inter-titles) was an equally valuable tool for the restoration team (especially for syncing up the original music score, which has been beautifully re-recorded). This all adds up to a new total running time of 147 minutes (compared to the tacky 90-minute Georgio Moroder-scored version that floated around for years, this is a godsend).

There is one  caveat you should be aware of.  The recovered Argentine footage was a 16mm copy of a tattered 35mm print. They cleaned it up as best they could without compromising image; be warned that these new inserts are relatively “gauzy”, albeit essential. Still, this (nearly) complete version, with its absorbing companion documentary, makes it a worthwhile investment for collectors.

Blu-ray reissue: Delicatessen ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 11, 2010)

Image result for delicatessen 1991

Delicatessen – Lionsgate Blu-ray

This film is so…French. A seriocomic vision of a food-scarce, dystopian future society along the lines of Soylent Green, directed with great verve and trademark surrealist touches by co-directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro (The City of Lost Children). The pair’s favorite leading man, Dominique Pinon (sort of a sawed-off Robin Williams) plays a circus performer who moves into an apartment building with a butcher shop downstairs. The shop’s proprietor seems to be appraising the new tenant with, shall we say, a “professional” eye? In Jeunet and Caro’s bizarro world, it’s all par for the course (just wait ‘til you get a load of the vegan “troglodytes” who live underneath the city streets). One sequence, involving a hilarious, imaginatively staged sex scene, stands on its own as a veritable master class in the arts of film and sound editing. The arresting visuals really come alive in Lionsgate’s Blu-ray edition.

Blu-ray reissue: Death Race 2000 (1975) ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 4, 2010)

Death Race 2000 – Shout! Factory Blu-ray

At first glance, Paul Bartel’s 1975 cult gem about a “futuristic” gladiatorial cross-country auto race in which drivers score points for running down pedestrians is an over-the-top black comedy. It could also be viewed as a takeoff on Rollerball, as broad political satire, or perhaps wry commentary  on that great American tradition of watching televised bloodsport for entertainment. One thing I’ll say -it’s never boring! David Carradine is a riot as defending race champ, “Frankenstein”. Also featured in the cast: Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul) and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone. This Blu-ray is part of Shout! Factory’s “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series, with cherry-picked titles from the legendary “no-budget” producer’s inventory of 1970s and 1980s exploitation films. It’s debatable whether hi-def improves some of these curios, but most of them are cult buff catnip.