Monday, April 22, 2013

Cyber Monday: CYBORG 2: GLASS SHADOW (1993)

For some reason cheap sequels hold a fascination for us here at VJ. Sure a lot of them can be quickie cash-ins that have no problem simply going through the motions and picking up a paycheck for rehashing ideas with all the enthusiasm of high-school history lesson. If you've been reading our stuff over the years, you've probably read me lavish praise on Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE (1980) more than once for being a sequel with it's own mind. These days that rhetoric isn't new (remember back when most people hated ZOMBIE?), but basically, the producers wanted a sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979). They never told Fulci that they wanted it in another shopping mall, per se, so Fulci made the sequel a throwback to the atmospheric chiller WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) and then cranked the undead carnage to 11... or 12. As far as I'm concerned this is the perfect example of not only sequel-making, but exploitation filmmaking in general. The audience wants zombies, so we give them zombies, but we're going to do it in a way that is creative and original. Roger Corman became a millionaire several times over with this philosophy.

Created in the malestrom of Cannon's death throes, Albert Pyun was commissioned by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan to make a movie using the the sets built for the (sadly) aborted sequel to MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987) starring Dolph Lundgren. Ironically Pyun cast Jean Claude Van Damme to star in his now iconic dystopian, post-holocaust fusing of hard sci-fi and kickboxing action. Ironic since Lungren and Van Damme would, only a few years later, go on to star together in the hugely successful sci-fi / action epic UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (1992). Albert Pyun's CYBORG (1989) was not only a smashing success during its limited theatrical run, but went on to staggering popularity on video and cable. Of course this sort of cash-wallowing does not go unnoticed in Hollywood and a sequel finally ensued.

After Cannon was drawn and quartered, MGM ended up with the rights to CYBORG, but somehow Trimark managed to end up with the rights to a sequel. How this happened seems to be a factoid lost to time, but suffice it to say, they were going to make the most of it. CYBORG was reportedly made for a paltry $500,000, which I don't think would even cover Van Damme's coke debts on the set of STREET FIGHTER (1994). CYBORG 2: GLASS SHADOW (1993) on the other hand was reportedly budgeted at ten times that amount, making it a substantial production for an era of DTV action.

*Sigh* ...another day at the office.
Set in the dystopian future of 2074, two mega-corporations, one American, one Japanese, vie for supremacy in the cyborg tech industry. The American corporation, Pinwheel, has perfected their new android series that cannot be distinguished from a real human. They have been created to have memories, emotions and are fully functional right down to enjoying a good screaming "O" while the boardroom watches on closed circuit video. And they blow up real good. Yes the Pinwheel corp decides to run a demo of their latest research by showing live video of two "cyborgs" having loud sex before exploding in a splattery mess. You know these guys are on to something good, because every meeting I've ever been to, the most exciting thing is usually the free bagels and coffee. Pinwheel has decided that the way to attain superiority in the tech race is, not to spend years developing and researching android technology, but instead a substance called "glass shadow". A liquid that is injected into an android, who has been trained for optimum combat self-sufficiency and has the latest, cutting edge emotional software, and will pretend to be an ambassador from Pinwheel in order to explode during a meeting with the Japanese, killing all of their senior officers. These guys must have the patience of a saint! Well, a saint that has no problem murdering competitors.

Koteas contemplates his career.
That android is one Casella "Cash" Reese (Angelina Jolie) who has no idea what glass shadow is or that she is going to be used as a human, err, cyborg time bomb. What she does know is that her karate instructor, Colson "Colt" Ricks (Elias Koteas) is a bit of a hottie (yes, Elias Koteas) and apparently all Colt thinks about back in his cybercubicle is Cash's hotness (at least that part is understandable). Are you annoyed yet? You will be, you will be...

In this future the workers live in the corporate towers and the corporation makes their own laws. One of those laws is "don't squeeze the Charmin". Try to get jiggy with the product and the sentence is death! The (*groan*) starcrossed lovers quickly find themselves in 120 degree H20. A pontificating, disembodied mouth (Jack Palance) on a video signal that jumps around to different CRT monitors (the future!), takes a shine to the pair and guides them with cryptic utterances out of the grasp of Pinwheels shock troops. Once outside of the megacorp (which seems to be nothing but corridors in an abandoned refinery), they find the world is in a perpetual night (what - no rain?), complete with buildings that look like modern Compton. This seems particularly odd since in the opening flyby, we get a cool miniature cityscape that proves that someone in the art department is a fan of Ron Cobb. Too bad none of the actual physical locations match this vision.

Directed by veteran second unit / first assistant director Michael Schroeder, the man sure knows how to make a film look good and you have to give him credit for not doing a mindless rehash of Pyun's certified classic, but I'm not sure he actually wants to make a cyborg film at all. The bulk of the film is Cash and Colt being relentlessly pursued through a BLADE RUNNER / MAX HEADROOM / JUDGE DREDD vision of the future by a hitman (Billy Drago) dressed up like a '40s era gangster, complete with waistcoat and cravat. Not that this is a bad thing at all, I really don't mind the patchwork of sci-fi influences in low-budget films, however it seems that Schroeder is really interested in the tragic romance between Man and Machine and spends so much time with long gazes into eyes, long winded emotional dialogues and sappy, sentimental sequences with tender piano and violin music that the film not only drags to a grinding halt, but really starts to chafe. Even worse, the straight dialogue scenes are simply cringe-inducing. For example this exchange between Sheperd's allegedly Chinese assassin and Koteas' marble-mouthed wannabe Robert Deniro:
Chen: "So tell me what's worse... Cyborg envy, or human envy?"
Colt: "Penis envy?" (big goofy grin) "Huh?"

No amount of Jolie nekkedness can atone for this. Yes, I said "Jolie nekkedness". This should be no surprise to anyone, unfortunately it's not like she's running around starkers doing kickboxing and stuntwork like Maria Ford in ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION (1994). This is just some tasteful romantic stuff that unless you have a major cyberchubby for Jolie, it isn't anything to get excited about.

Schoeder to his credit has an eye for great widescreen shots and throws in cool little details here and there, even sporting an obligatory (for the era) underground fighting tournament of death. Even so, in the end it still feels like he just wants to do the whole BLADE RUNNER romance angle and if he had his way, the film wouldn't have any action in it at all. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that once again, we have the beautiful and badass Karen Sheperd's mad skills being completely wasted. In the one scene we get of her putting the boots to Koteas, it's a jumbled mess of close-ups and jumpcuts. Wouldn't want to mess up Koteas' purdy mug, I guess. The most damning thing is Jolie and Koteas have zero charisma and their dishwater dull performances are what really takes this would be epic off-line.

In spite of its major flaws, CYBORG 2 was quite successful on video and cable, and after another five years or so became very popular due to the fact that this "Anjelina Jolie" person was apparently well known for other things in which she was not at all naked. So popular (or at least, so well rented) was CYBORG 2, that Schroeder would return to direct yet another sequel! Apparently their boardroom meeting must have consisted of showing the exploding sex bit, or they all fell asleep in the beginning and were too embarrassed to admit it and Trimark decided hand over the sequel rights to a producer team who knew how to "Cash" in!

CYBORG 3... Next!

2 Reactions:

  1. Where is there a proper 2.35 transfer of CYBORG 2? I had long believed the old Trimark DVD was just the standard pan-scan edition w/ letterboxed credits. It's a clunker, but I'm fond of it nonetheless. I think it's that last ludicrous image that kinda gets to my latent teenage romantic self.

  2. As far as I know, the Germans are the only people crazy enough to release both CYBORG 2 and CYBORG 3 on DVD in their full aspect ratios. It's a damn shame too. Both films really benefit from 2.35 transfers.


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