Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite
All the recent Gorillaz talk prompted me to revisit the film that introduced me to Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s Tank Girl.
When I was an impressionable 13-year-old way back in 1995, I saw a news item on TV covering the forthcoming set-in-Australia film Tank Girl. I guess this sort of thing was, and still is, considered newsworthy simply because Australia. We do love it when this little old chunk of land we occupy turns up in the movies (even if it’s not actually shot there). The fluff piece/promo was no more than two minutes in length, but it was enough to get me excited about this brand new movie about to hit the cinemas. The bright colours, punk aesthetic and weaponry on display only added to my anticipation of this cult comic adaptation, of which I had previously never heard.
I didn’t see it at the cinema. I did, however, become quite familiar with the soundtrack, which is a pretty good cross-section of ’90s alternative music featuring Bjork, Portishead, Hole, and more. Devo also appear with a version of their song Girl U Want. It was re-recorded to sound more like Soundgarden’s 1992 cover of the song, something that was cheaper to do than procure the rights for the Soundgarden version.
So yeah, the soundtrack got me more excited to see the film and when I was able, I got me a copy of that flick on VHS.
Directed by Rachel Talalay and starring the likes of Lori Petty, Malcolm McDowell, Ice-T and Naomi Watts; the movie itself is a strangely-charming mix of comedy, action and general weirdness. I’m quite sure my fondness for this one is mostly from nostalgia for my childhood.
It’s a wildly uneven romp, and as reflected on IMDB, Hewlett and Martin do not have positive memories of the Hollywood process. The comic’s creators and Talalay have each commented on how studio interference hindered the project, along with many production problems. The addition of the animated sequences were not so much a stylistic choice but a necessity, when it became clear that portions of the film had not been shot.
I’m tempted to say that Tank Girl is a product of its time. As with many comic book films of that era (Judge Dredd, The Phantom, The Mask), it was homogenised to become a family-friendly romp, with little to no regard for the original source material. But then, two years before, we got The Crow. So, what the hell? I have to concede that Hewlett is right and that it’s the studio that turned this anarchic and subversive comedy into the child-friendly blandfest that occasionally gleans moments of brilliance, but not anywhere near enough to actually call it a good film.
Visually, the creature effects by Stan Winston hold up, and the digital effects aren’t too bad either. As with a handful of films around this time, James Osterberg pops up in a grotesque blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo. Like the aforementioned film, The Mask, there’s a song-and-dance routine in this one too. The animation, despite its last minute inclusion, works well and adds to the eclectic tone. The whole package feels a bit like a scrapbook of ideas hastily jammed together.
As a 13-year-old in 1995, I thought this movie was great. The music, the animation, the dumb jokes, the creatures, and a leg of ham from Malcolm McDowell absolutely sold it. But today, it looks cheap, the pace is all over the place, and it feels very much like a film from the ’90s.
A curiosity at best, this was one of many comic book properties being turned into films before Marvel got their shit together, and it’s certainly not the best. It’s an oddity and a sketch that shows potential for what might have been.
That said, if ever there was a time to try bringing Tank Girl back to the big screen, perhaps this post-Deadpool/Dredd era is it. We’ve got the technology to do it right (seing fully realised Rippers in mo-cap would be great) and the big studios now seem more willing to risk not playing to the lowest common denominator (either that, or the bar has been raised).
Watch it under the influence and you may not feel the regret Naomi Watts feels with this experience.