Friday, 8 April 2011

Cyborg Director's Cut: Review Feature

Back when I was in my early teens and VHS tape rental stores gave us the ways of watching movies that may or not grace the big screen, I caught The Sword and the Sorcerer. I had been reading stories about it in Fangoria and Starburst and I particularly liked the look of the make-up effects so was one of the first to rent the movie when it became available at my local rental store. It didn’t disappoint. It had a quirky sense of humour, cute female lead and loads of gore and violence. I will admit to not taking too much of the Director’s name at that point. It was not unusual for me to skip that detail, unless a Director was quite prolific, like John Carpenter.

Fast Forward to 1989 and a low budget action movie starring the popular Jean Claude VanDamme began to be talked about in similar magazines, called Cyborg. I was a fan of JCVD after having seen Bloodsport and Kickboxer. Cyborg was to be his first step into Sci-fi and I was excited at this prospect. When the Director turned out to be Albert Pyun, I felt a sense of familiarity (this is long before imdb of course). Looking at the collection on my shelf, I identified Albert as the Director of The Sword and the Sorcerer and that gave Cyborg a seal of approval before I had even viewed it.

So, the film became available and I bought an ex-rental; a yellow big box with a pretty decent photo design as the cover.

The film didn’t disappoint. I found the score unusual but put it down to the nature of the movie. Although the film felt like a 90 minute video game with JCVD spending much of the running time kicking butt I accepted it because of the lead actor’s strengths in that department. I wasn’t expecting strong thespian qualities. As I watched Cyborg, I couldn’t’ help but feel that it was heavily cut by the BBFC; certainly the dock yard scene seemed heavily cut as there was an implication of some nasty stuff being done to the locals, reminding me of a scene in Mad Max 2 - “Oh god, look! They’re stringing em up, the bastards!”

I didn’t think much of it as the BBFC were cutting the silliest of things, as far as I was concerned; that’s another story. I also disregarded the dodgy ADR in some scenes, especially, at the beginning with Pearl. I put it down to the budgetary constraints.

Time went on and although I became a big fan of Pyun’s movie Nemesis, I lost touch with the Director’s output.

The internet has united fans of many a film or rock band and a few years back I noticed Albert Pyun’s presence on the net. I’d seen proposals for a sequel to The Sword and the Sorcerer, which I felt was bizarre due to the amount of time in-between movies but I kept an open mind. Well, to this day I haven’t seen Tales of an Ancient Empire. I won’t illegally download it and will wait until it’s ready for release, but something odd happened in my waiting for it. Albert and Curnan Pictures got hold of the missing tapes of the original cut of Cyborg through Albert’s original choice for score artist; Tony Riparetti. I’d read of a potential commentary that might have been a DVD extra on the film – audio only. That was exciting in itself, but then it was announced the Cyborg Director’s Cut was to be released. Oh boy! This was very exciting!

Present Day – After having watched it, I felt a mixture of completion and disappointment. I haven’t regretted buying the disc, as it provides finance for Mr Pyun to continue his projects (I look forward to a DC of Ticker, and Nemesis 2.0 with enhanced effects) and I have also seen what could have been a very different film. Disappointment comes from the lack of the dock yard scene. I respect Mr Pyun’s reason for its removal but ultimately I wanted to see if I had been right about the horrific content. I also liked it because it showed Fender’s disregard for life on a larger scale. Disappointment also came from the quality of the VHS telescine picture. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what it was but felt sorry that Mr Pyun hadn’t got a better quality print for what he wanted to give to us; someway towards what he originally envisioned for the movie.

Slinger, as it was originally called, is a different movie from the Cannon released Cyborg. Interestingly, it begins with Gibson crucified on the boat (just over the halfway mark in the original movie, if I recall correctly) then flashes back. Ok, I’ve complained that this has been done to death now but it hadn’t been in 1989.

When we first meet Pearl and her protector, the dialogue is very different and explains the strange ADR in the official version. What is also missing is the Fender rant that now sounds like a singer in a Metal band; all growly and subversive. I was never a fan of that line “I like the pain. I like the misery. I like this world!” There is no mention of the plague, only that there is a need to bring back technology that has been damaged in a major conflict or after a cataclysmic event. From early on we are aware that Fender’s gang are devil worshippers and believe that the world is like it is because the devil has intervened in man’s affairs. They want Atlanta’s technology for themselves and their own twisted uses. This makes more sense and is more dramatic.

Let’s face it, JCVD is not known for external dialogue but in this Cyborg DC we get internal dialogue. Ok, it’s not JCVD that’s speaking it, it’s another actor. JCVD was originally to voice this in ADR but the decision to edit the movie differently stopped that in its tracks. I wonder if JCVD took a leaf out of Clint Eastwood’s biography. Eastwood read the script for A Fistful of Dollars and pared down the dialogue because he felt that his character would say little. Thinking about the finished cut, JCVD doesn’t say a great deal, following on the tradition from Dollars and carried on in movies like Mad Max 2. Albert Pyun uses the internal dialogue expression quite a bit in his movies and l like that stylistic approach in his movies like Left For Dead.

Little touches, at times, elevate the movie. I like that the reason Gibson helps Pearl is based upon the fact she reminds him of the woman he loved, Mary. In the DC this is more explicitly shown by a jump cut of the actress Terrie Batson.

One potentially controversial scene that I think is great (possibly making me sound like a sicko) is the tragic aftermath of Gibson’s rescue of the small boy playing ball, in the market. As in the original cut, Gibson rescues some boys from an aggressive gang that steals their ball. Gibson hands the ball back and in the original cut that ends the skirmish until we see similarly dressed individuals within a sort of building site. In the DC, later, Gibson and Nady come across the charred and chewed remains of the boys. The camera focuses on Gibson staring at the bloodied ball in the foreground and then looking at the corpse of the boy that he spoke to. It’s chilling stuff. We then get some longer scenes ahead of the fights which turn up the tension considerably. Had this approach been left in, the original movie would have been so much better in my view. Gibson and Nady avenge the deaths of the family and improves the fight as we have an emotional investment in it. Also, the darker side of Cyborg appeals to me; that the gangs feed on their victims for their demonic beliefs. The ending too reflects a darker tone, that perhaps Gibson didn’t help the world by safely delivering Pearl to Atlanta after all.

Putting the movie’s release in context of when it was released, I can see why Mr Pyun was kicked out of the editing suite. His vision of the movie was more artistic and dare I say more intelligent than the spiritually barren but fun cut we all know. I won’t speculate as to how successful a potential DC would have been then, there’s no point but I can understand and sympathise why the bean counters wanted a more simplistic movie.

I’m used to the Kevin Bassinson score, so the original proposed score by Tony Riparetti is noticeable in its differences. It’s no better or worse than Bassinson’s, just different. The only times that I missed Bassinson’s score was the majestic main theme that’s repeated as we see Fender’s boat sail by and the theme used when we see Fender and co at the window watching a sleeping Mary and Gibson.

The Cyborg Director’s Cut is really geared towards hardcore fans of Cyborg that are interested in seeing how Albert Pyun originally wanted the film to be released. This is a genuine Director’s Cut unlike, for example, the 1991 “Director’s Cut” of Blade Runner, so it’s warts and all. As I’ve said the quality is pretty awful by standards then, let alone blown up on a HD TV now, but it’s a welcome release that shows how a movie can change in the editing room and serves the Director’s purpose of showing us his vision and a very interesting vision it is. It’s a pity we never got that version back in 1989.

For those interested in buying a copy of this, it comes with the excellent Bulletface (reviewed here) so think of the Cyborg DC as an extra. Only a limited supply was run of the DVD so I’m not sure if any are left. At least, I hope that MGM consider doing a definitive Blu-Ray of Cyborg, perhaps including the recent cut. I won’t hold my breath.

Meanwhile, keep up to date with Albert Pyun’s projects at his website you can find his facebook page link there, which is the best way to get the latest news.

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