Its coming outta the Goddam Couch! : Split Second (1992)

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“Operator? Get my Agent!”

There’s a scene in Split Second in which our hero’s love interest, Michelle (Kim Cattrall) is sitting in her lover’s apartment being stalked by the monster, and she’s frantically sweeping the room with her gun for sign of the menace, when its huge claws rip up from inside/under the couch she’s sitting on… utterly ridiculous and nonsensical (this thing is ten or twelve foot tall but it can sneak up out of the sofa?) this moment sums up the whole sad, silly film.

Its a very cheap, very dumb British sci-fi film trying so very hard to be an American action thriller, heavily indebted to Blade Runner and Predator and Alien, set in an unconvincing flooded future London with a plot and characters that come across as pure unadulterated fan fiction: the kind of thing where being adult is saying the F-word endlessly, so much so that this film may have the most F-bombs of any film I’ve ever seen. The kind of film where sophistication and ‘cool’ is mistaken for chomping cigars and eating junk food. Its the kind of film that can star actors like Rutger Hauer and Kim Cattrall and waste them completely.

I have Rutger Hauer’s book All Those Moments, in which he reminisces about his film career. I just searched through it for any mention of Split Second. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe some self-deprecating comment, some wry humour, some telling anecdote. But no. No mention at all. Maybe Rutger was trying to pretend it never happened. Maybe his book only had so many pages permitted and some topics/films just had to be cut. Maybe he had forgotten it.

I’ll be honest, I was rather disappointed. His memories of making a film like Split Second would be fascinating, I think. We are used to hearing actors talk about their finest moments, their greatest films (for obvious reasons), but I suspect we might learn the most telling things about them if they talked more about their mistakes, their embarrassments. Tom Cruise, for instance, has never, to my knowledge, ever reminisced about starring in Ridley Scott’s Legend– its a film he’d clearly rather forget and strike from his filmography. Indeed, maybe dear Tom has absolutely forgotten that film, had it excised from his memory totally I’m not so sure Rutger would be like that regards Split Second; he seemed the kind of guy that wore all his films like some badge of honour: proud of his finest hours, pragmatic about his more embarrassing efforts. Goodness knows he had plenty of the latter: so many times in the 1980s and 1990s I was horrified in seeing his face on the cover of some straight-to-VHS b-movie fodder, far too many times.

The guy was Roy Batty. I always thought he deserved better, but then again, I was an LA 2019 obsessive. Everyone who was involved in that film was touched by greatness, in my book.

So how to explain Rutger in trash like Split Second, a film so bad even its title doesn’t bear any connection with anything in the film itself, it feels so absolutely random, nonsensical. I suppose Rutger was practical. He needed the money, it was a job, you can’t expect every film to be a Solder of Orange or Blade Runner or LadyHawke or The HItcher (moment of confession: I only ever saw one of those. There are so many films of Rutger’s that I have to catch up with).

I find it so very difficult to say anything positive about Split Second. It seems well-intentioned, but the story is so weak, the direction so amateur, it feels like something based on a very dated, very poor 1970s comic strip so obscure most people forgot it and it got handed to a creative team still in film school. Rutger is hamstrung by a very poorly written, cliche-ridden character, but he’s also actually very good in it: you can see a wry gleam in his eye at times, like he knows he’s in a piece of trash only dreaming that its Blade Runner (and God knows he was in that, so he’d know the difference) and that he’s going to have fun with it anyway. There’s a gentleness to Rutger: you could see it in his Roy Batty even though he was ostensibly that films villain. Rutger deserved his own franchise, his own Indiana Jones series of films.  He could have been great in it.

KIm Cattrall of course is as sexy as ever- she just exudes this aura in everything she did, and that’s true even in something as poor as this- the film suddenly brightens, quickens, somehow, as soon as she (eventually) appears in it. The film  missed a trick not bringing her appearance forward by about half-hour. Indeed, she perhaps shouldn’t have been Rutger’s lover at all, but rather his buddy cop. She must have come to the set straight adter appearing in Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, because I swear she’s wearing the same hair-do. That’s one of the most interesting things I can say about Split Second, its that poor a movie.

Split Second is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Last Week: Tears in Rain

Last week I picked up my old hardback of Frank Herbert’s Dune for a reread. Continued reading the frankly miraculous and perfect Vol.4 Amazing Spider Man Omnibus (it’s like I’m ten all over again), watched quite a bit of new stuff on tv and was saddened to read the news of Rutger Hauer’s death at the age of 75. We’re all getting older and 1982 seems such a long time ago, even more so with Rutger’s passing.

rutgerAs anyone familiar with this blog over the years will know, Blade Runner is my favourite movie- it remains the most intense cinematic experience of my life. Its a dark irony that we are now living in 2019, the year in which the film is set, which back in 1982 was still a lifetime away. To paraphrase Rutger, all those years lost in time like tears in rain. I have watched that film so many times, over 200 most likely (I used to keep count but gave up at around 100) and I have always been fascinated by Rutger’s performance as Roy Batty. Mercurial, bewitching, childlike, feral… one of the biggest achievements of the film was transforming a one-note and frankly incidental character from the book into possibly the true star of the film. Watching Blade Runner, there is always the sense that Rutger knew he was playing the part of a lifetime and seized every opportunity to maximise the performance and every magical cinematic moment. So many things came right for the film- the perfect director, the perfect composer, the perfect cinematographer, visual effects artists, editor, production designers and futurist… and Rutger was the perfect actor to play Roy Batty. He seems to know that in every single scene he is in.

Over the years I would be a bit of a Rutger fanboy, fascinated to see him in other roles (although somehow I never saw him in The Hitcher, must rectify that), from Flesh & Blood to Dark Knight and of course those Guinness ads. Nothing really approached the greatness of Roy Batty, and in particular the Tears in Rain speech that became one of the most famous and quoted scenes in film history. Nothing could ever equal it, I guess, and I marvel that Rutger evidently handled this fact well over the years. I imagine it might have haunted some actors to be in the shadow of something like that forever: thank goodness his biography wasn’t titled ‘I Am Not Roy!’

another1Katee Sackhoff  of course has a famous genre character of her own, as Battlestar Galactica‘s reimagined Starbuck. She’s continued a very successful career since and seems at peace with Starbuck being her defining role, but goodness me she’s backed a turkey with Another Life, the new sci-fi show on Netflix. Since my post the other day I’ve watched a few more episodes and Good Lord it’s just gotten worse. Its abominable, frankly, and I’ve not been cheered up by discovering that what I mistakenly thought was an eight-part show is in fact ten episodes. Its really becoming hard work to get through. The last episode was what I like to call the ‘Space:1999 episode’ which means it was so bad it’s like the last forty years of sci-fi television never happened. Shows are rarely that bad, although Nightflyers pulled it off too. Two episodes after the crew was nearly all killed by an alien infection from a rogue moon, they now land on an Earth-like planet and sample the native fruit etc by, er, just going ahead and eating it, breath the local air and don’t even wear gloves. One character gets a scratch off a thorn and nearly loses his leg in mere seconds from a deadly infection, and another two walk into a colourful forest glade from the Annihilation set and get intoxicated  by hallucinogenic drugs given off by the flora. In another episode, an alien hunts and kills the crew on the spaceship one by one until it turns out it’s all a hypersleep dream. In the last episode I watched, an alien bug brought onboard from that Earth-like planet fraks up some wiring which nearly wipes out the ship, everyone only saved by the obnoxious always-bitching communications woman who has continuously failed to get communications up and running, who sacrifices herself and ends the show as a bloody puddle. So I guess they’ll never get communications up. Maybe the show will amaze me with an amazing finale twist, but I doubt it.

The next season of The Expanse, not arriving until December, seems so long away.

While I dedicate far too much time here writing about Another Life, and also Star Trek: Discovery prior to that, I just feel I need to point out really bad scripts and creative choices. Another Life is truly abominable and should never have gotten filmed in the state its in. Sackhoff is actually a producer on the show so probably sees it as a career progression, but that only reinforces her guilt for the whole thing being so bad, it’s not as if she’s just an actor trying to make the best of the scripts she’s given. It is very true that some parts of the creative business in Hollywood and beyond are taking the streaming giants of Netflix and Amazon for a ride. There is no quality control, it seems, when the main objective is just to get access to that streaming pot of gold. I’ve ranted about this before and I’m certain I will do so again. Of course the streaming giants are party to the guilt themselves because they just seem to be throwing money at everything in the hope something sticks, but genre shows really are taking steps backwards of late and it’s a worrying development. I’m certainly no professional and have no story in print anywhere, but I could write a better show than Another Life – there should, surely, be a quality distinction between what passes for professional script writing and what is often dismissively termed ‘fan fiction’ but of late I have to wonder. Maybe us amateurs deserve a shot, doubt we could do any worse.

Except maybe that’s the point. Maybe, as I have noted before, the geeks finally have inherited the Earth (or Hollywood, certainly) and all this mess is simply because too many geeks/amateurs think they can write scripts or be showrunners. It does seem curious that Another Life seems to be ripping off a different tv show/movie every episode, and that Star Trek: Discovery was riddled with nods to Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Inception etc.  so much so that it seldom seemed like Star Trek at all.

 

 

 

Fifty Great Films: Blade Runner -The Final Cut (1982/2007)

br1“Where were you in ’82?” Its a question I’ve asked so many times that I should have it on a tee-shirt. Its something of a badge of honour, having seen the original version of Blade Runner back when it first came out (reaching UK shores that September), and loving the film, and watching its fall into obscurity and eventual phoenix-like rebirth years later.

Last night I saw the Final Cut version of Blade Runner on the big screen again, taking the rare opportunity of a cinema screening of my favourite film. This close to Christmas made the whole thing seem something of an early Christmas present. I went with my old mate Andy, who was with me back on that September afternoon in far-distant 1982 when we first saw the film. “How long ago was that?” he asked me as the endless adverts screened infront of us (some things never change, although I miss the Pearl and Dean intros). I did the mental arithmetic; “Thirty-two years,” I told him. Andy looked around at some of the faces sitting amongst us in the cinema. A lot of them were not even born back then.  The very cinema we first saw the film in (the old ABC in town) doesn’t exist any more. Thirty-two years. Andy and I are each of us just shy of fifty years old now. I have a wife waiting for me back home. It seemed oddly poignant then, at that moment, the two of us dwelling on the passing of time, considering how so much of Blade Runner is about death and mortality. We wondered how many of those at this screening had never seen the film on the big screen at all before this night*.

If we are getting old, then so is the film, but you’d hardly think it. Even though I love the film, its still remarkable how well it holds up even today. The sets and the beautiful cinematography really shine projected on a big screen, the sound effects loud and overpowering, the music as astonishing as ever. All that amazing set-dressing. The film influenced the ‘look’ of pop videos, television shows and other movies for decades. Back on the big screen, the visual effects hold up as well as ever- indeed, better on the big screen than at home. Its not so much just the execution, its the design of each shot, and the impact of using effects so sparingly, something modern films could learn from. Even the matte paintings. Blade Runner dates back to paintings on glass, static wide shots quite removed from the all-singing/all-dancing 3D CG mattes we see these days with sweeping virtual cameras. But stillness can be far more powerful than motion, and Blade Runner‘s mattes are quite a revelation, precisely designed and crafted.

Its a beautiful movie. Such details! Rachael’s photograph momentarily coming to life as Deckard looks at it. Its extraordinary. Who thought of doing that? Who even does stuff like that now? The blood from Deckard’s cut lip slipping into his drink. Deckard waking up in his apartment, awkwardly spilling his glass that had been on his chest. The cuts and bruises on his face. Rutger Hauer’s incredible performance; his face up on the big screen is quite mesmerising. His howls of anguish as he stands over Pris’ body. Still gives me chills.

br3Its such a dark movie, but such a sad movie too. The sadness threatens to overpower everything. A character has her whole life undermined when she learns she isn’t real, not even her memories or experiences. Its all a lie, a fabrication, as she is herself. Rick Deckard may not even be real. He might be just the same as Rachael. Its not an idea I subscribe to, but its there, a possibility hanging over everything, underlined by the origami unicorn that he finds at the close of the film**. The Replicants are slaves who have fled for freedom and longer lifespans as they quickly near their termination/expiry dates. JF Sebastian has a genetic problem that leaves him in a mouldering, rotting building, so alone his only company are the ‘friends’, the toys he builds. The rain never ends, its like Gods tears endlessly falling onto the blighted world.

Even now, thirty-two years on, it feels so unlike any other so-called blockbuster. It almost doesn’t function like an ordinary movie. Without 1982’s voice-over, it really does drop people into the middle of a story (if only The Final Cut had finally dropped that awful text prologue at the end of the titles!), a future rich with darkness and complexities. I’m the first to admit though, the central premise is idiotic. There is no way anyone would create superior artificial humans without an easy way to identify them. A blood test or some microscopic stamp in their eye or under their skin. Be that as it may, the four runaway Reps are supposedly on the run/in hiding but don’t even change their names, Leon trying to infiltrate the Tyrell building giving his real address and not even changing his name, his appearance or anything. Holden’s only got to look at the ID file on Leon (that we see as Bryant shows it Deckard later) to see that its him. But none of that matters. In some ways its not even important. Its the whole thing. The look, the sound of it. Its a fantasy about death and mortality and what is human, what is God. Of course it flopped at the box-office back in 1982. It isn’t the film people were expecting back then. Its something else entirely. Every Harrison Ford fan back then could have told you why***.

At films end, we walked out of the cinema into the cold December night, and it was, fittingly, raining. The rain-drenched carpark and shopping mall reflecting all the bright neon of shop-fronts, advertising signs and car headlights. We were stepping out into Blade Runner. Its here now. Back in 1982 it was still the future, but we are in it now. We may not have the flying cars or Replicants or Off-World, but we have the rain and the neon and the multi-cultural society that the film visualised. And some of us have our own mortality breathing closer over us.

Back in 1982, it was still quite sunny as Andy and I walked across town to catch our bus home. I remember us raving about the film, reliving it as we eagerly discussed it, digested it. Would I have ever dreamed that I would be walking out of another cinema, another showing of the film, some thirty-two years later? Of course not. Funny thing though. We were still raving about that film, this time as we walked through the rain, just as we had when we were teenagers so long ago. Some things never change.

 

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*This would be the fifth time I have seen the film at the cinema, the first time seeing the Final Cut on a cinema screen. I saw the film twice in 1982, then again the following year in a double-bill with Outland (another Ladd Company venture), and then the Directors Cut version in 1994. I didn’t get chance to see the Final Cut in 2007, screenings were quite limited prior to its release on home formats.

**I still feel uncomfortable in the love-scene between Deckard and Rachael. It feels almost like rape, she isn’t even human, what’s Deckard doing with her, is it masturbatory abuse of a construct? (is he making love to a toaster? Is that even legal? Is he even human himself? Are they two Replicants fumbling at a human sex-act?). But goodness Sean Young is so beautiful in this film. Too beautiful. She isn’t real. She’s a construct. I’m surprised Sean Young even exists outside of this movie.

***What was Harrison even doing in the film anyway? He’s great in it and I think its his best film, but it seems an odd move for him. Likely he was trying to shake off Star Wars and become a ‘serious’ actor (its funny, considering some of the films he would end up in afterwards). Oddly, I was never ‘into’ that whole Harrison Ford thing anyway back then, had not even seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, so when I first saw Blade Runner I wasn’t expecting any popcorn adventure movie. It was from the director of Alien for goodness sake, I figured it would be dark and serious.