For just under two weeks, The Labia has been running the ‘Celludroid’ Film Festival, dedicated to Science Fiction and Fantasy films. The centerpiece of the festival were several feature films and documentaries by a largely unknown, cult filmmaker, Richard Stanley. Most famous for being the director who got fired from ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, he has directed films you have never heard of such as ‘Dust Devil’, ‘The Secret Glory’, and one I had the extreme displeasure of seeing ‘Hardware’.
It is not often that you hate a film so much that it actually gets you thinking about the point of making films, and makes you ponder life, filmmakers, and the medium itself. Generally in any film I watch, no matter how bad, I can find something to appreciate, something that worked and that I can take note of as a lesson to myself. Besides a few minor pieces of set dressing that I thought were cool, this film had nothing to appreciate, especially when compared to the film that it tries so hard to be… James Cameron’s ‘The Terminator’.
Both films share similar concepts (Cameron’s came 6 years earlier), similar lead characters (sort of… Hardware doesn’t really have characters), and very similar narrative points. My quick argument and comparison is not to point out similarities and differences, but to highlight why ‘The Terminator’ is the legend that it is, and why some people have it (Cameron) and others, quite frankly don’t (Stanley). It also bothers me that there are many people out there who have never watched ‘The Terminator‘ and mistake it for a film like Hardware.
The Narrative:- Both have similar concepts at the surface level. A killing machine is on that rampage, targeting a seemingly innocent woman. The Terminator however creates an intricate, yet clear back story involving the future destruction of mankind after machines have taken over our planet, and end up using us as slaves. The unborn son of young Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) will become their only hope, so the machines of the future send The Terminator (Arnie) back in time to kill her before she can give birth to him. The humans however, also send their own soldier back in time to protect Sarah.
Hardware has something to do with a machine created for population control that is attacking people in a post apocalyptic world. That’s about as clear and as intricate as it gets.
The World:- The Terminator (even though spectacularly dated and trapped in the 80’s) creates a believable world, both in terms of visuals and in terms of a believable history (and/or future). The story of mankind’s technology turning on them is carefully detailed as is the future war etc…
Hardware on the other hand does not really delve into what has happened. I’m not sure that the writer, director or actors know exactly what happened, or what is happening. I’m not sure if the government system is the enemy and who our main characters are fighting or what they’re fighting for.
The Characters:- Between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable ‘Terminator’, Linda Hamilton’s innocent ‘Sarah Connor’, and Michael Beihn’s brave protector ‘Kyle Reese’, The Terminator has bunch of characters that are believable and that you either love or fear. All minor characters, from the cops, to the psychologist, to the friends are also all well written and performed.
To say the characters in Hardware are one dimensional would be both a compliment and a stretch. The characters, who ever they are and whatever they are have no distinct personalities. You don’t care… you just want the machine to kill them… or kill you and put you out of your misery.
The Script:- The Terminator, James Cameron’s writing and directing debut is just a brilliantly crafted script. Everything from the dialogue to the structure are fine tuned. His biggest stroke of genius being the fact that he combined the action and exposition; so instead of having a big action scene, then a boring dialogue scene explaining everything, he combined it together having Kyle Reese explain the intricacies of the plot on the run while driving away from danger and dodging bullets. And it also contains one of the most classic lines in history… ‘I’ll be back!’. Perfect!
Hardware quite simply has no characterization or memorable lines in any of its dialogue. The script is messy, boring, and unclear. There is simply no engagement into the world, the story or the characters. I can’t believe that a bunch of people looked at the screenplay and thought… ‘this is a good idea.’
The Score:- I am a huge believer in having a memorable score. Think about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Gladiator, Jurassic Park… These themes help keep the film in your mind long after you’ve left the cinema and just give the films an extra level of immersion that they would otherwise lack. Brad Fiedel’s exquisite synthesizer score for the first Terminator movie is one of the most memorable themes around and is suitably heroic, epic and pulse pounding.
I can’t remember if Hardware had a score.
Sex and Violence:- Finally, non-cinema going people, and most people born after the release of T2 will think that The Terminator is simply an exploitation film filled with gratuitous sex and violence. Although my personal convictions will stray to not including sex in a film at any cost, at least in this film the action and the one sex scene is at least highly motivated and (honestly) is actually integrated into the story.
And yes, you’ve guessed it… Hardware really is just cheap, exploitation cinema at its finest, with copious amounts of gratuitous sex, language and violence.
The Terminator spawned three sequels, several Oscar wins, a TV series (The Sarah Connor Chronicles), videogames, comics etc… it is well worth your time. All Hardware spawned is this blog post.