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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/7/99

Strange Days
1995 (1999) Lightstorm/20th Century Fox (Fox)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits


Strange Days Film Ratings: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A/C

Specs and Features

145 mins, R, widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:09:37, in chapter 12), Amaray keep case packaging, commentary (not full-length) featuring Kathyrn Bigelow's description of the opening P.O.V. sequence, theatrical trailer and teaser, 2 deleted scenes, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (22 chapters), language: English (DD 5.1), English & French (DD 3.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Close Captioned

"Cheer up. The world's about to end in ten minutes anyway."

Strange Days... you either love it or hate it. I love it. I thought it was technically captivating, hugely entertaining, and very original. Heck -- it even coined a few terms like Y2K, a staple in today's paranoid society. The acting is all very good, the characters and story are believable (at least until the end), and I really want one of those thought-recording SQUID thingies for myself.

Strange Days comes from the mind of James Cameron, giver of Terminator and Titanic. But while it may be from Cameron's mind, the look and feel of the film is all due to Kathyrn Bigelow (who HAS to be the most attractive woman making films today. I mean, not only is she beautiful and intelligent, but she also has an ass-kicking visual flair that anyone would covet). Strange Days is a simple futuristic-noir mystery story, that starts like this: two cops chase a young woman into a subway station. She's frightened, dressed for a party, but somehow out of her element. The cops (Vincent D'Onofrio and William Fichtner) are really pissed, but don't really seem to be after her for a criminal justice reason -- it looks personal. Why are they after her? What's so distressing to all these people, and what's that thing underneath the wig D'Onofrio pulls off of the girl's head?

Those questions do get an answer, but the answer isn't really what the story is about. It's about the end. It's the last few days before the year 2000. Our story takes place in Los Angeles, and our hero is Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), a disgraced cop and seller of dreams, who currently has a few problems. He's trying to get back with his aspiring rock star ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), who doesn't want anything to do with him. He's also trying to make a quick buck, without asking too many questions about where his "playback" is coming from. Oh... and some people want to kill him about every 15 minutes. Getting back to the SQUID thingies: in this future, it's possible to experience other people's lives through their own eyes and feelings, via a brainwave recording technology developed for the government. When this technology hit the streets, it became the newest addictive craze, quickly replacing chemical drugs. Instead of shooting up, addicts are now jacking in.

When the story begins, Lenny is hustling and dealing, trying to addict virgin brains and get some new product (new "recordings" or "playback"). We meet his best friend Max (Tom Sizemore), and his best girl Mace (Angela Bassett). And learn that one of the most influential political rappers has just been assassinated, and that the city of LA is headed for revolt in the last few days of the current millennium. It just gets bigger from there, and to go into more detail might tip off too much of the film's hidden story elements. Let me just say that Fiennes is really good as Lenny. He's a used car salesman with a heart of gold, and as we see him jacking in to relive his past, we see a man who wishes he was anywhere but here. The tender caress of the camera over his face in these moments is really well done, and conveys much about his character -- even when he's writhing in pain from what he's seeing.

The movie itself is a wonder to watch. It's utterly fascinating. The camera tricks, the editing and the directing are all top-notch, and I marvel each and every time I see it all. The colors in the film, and the use of light and shadow, are just as impressive. It's also an intriguing story, ironic in its own way -- these people are watching life, just as we are watching them. Movies are about seeing a perspective that's not our own, and this story holds the mirror back at the audience and really makes you think.

As a DVD, I'm not as impressed as I wanted to be. It's an okay transfer, aside from moments of edge-enhanced shimmer. The colors are really pretty sweet actually. But I detected some artifacting in the picture that isn't just grain, which shocked me considering this transfer is approved by THX. It looks like a laserdisc transfer, and I'd bet a dollar it's the same one done for the laserdisc release. Someday, someone is going to have to explain to me how a years-old "approved" laserdisc transfer is also pre-approved for DVD. Warner used this trick of semantics for the Kubrick set, claiming that the transfers had been personally approved by Kubrick... which was true, but for laserdisc -- not DVD. And as we know, there's a significant difference between the two, and the result was a crappy DVD box of films. Now we have THX-approved laserdisc transfers being turned into THX-approved DVDs. THX should require that their approval standards be higher for DVD, otherwise their stamp on a disc is going to start to mean less and less to consumers.

Sound-wise, the English tracks (DD 5.1 & 3.0) are great. Both are full of life, and some of the higher charged sounds will blow you through your recliner. There are a few extras on board as well. Kathryn Bigelow has a short commentary track and it is fascinating... except that I liked it a little bit better the first time I heard it, about three years ago -- ON LASERDISC! Considering this is THE year for this movie (2000 only happens once, after all), you'd think Fox might have done a new transfer -- a 16x9 one, without all that unneeded edge-enhancement, and maybe gotten together a new, full-length commentary track. I mean, they just took the laserdisc and put it on DVD, and they left stuff off! Gone is the Bigelow directed video for Skunk Anansie, and gone are the storyboards and production art that appeared on side 3 of the laserdisc special edition. That really pulls my chain. Ggrrr. There are a few redeeming moments in the extras arena: a couple of deleted scenes, and the too-cool-for-words teaser trailer. They almost (and I mean almost) save the DVD from being trashed by me. But not quite.

If you're a fan of the film and don't have it on laserdisc, go ahead and pick it up on DVD. But if you have a laserdisc player, then I would seriously suggest you find it on LD -- it's pretty much the same disc, but with much more fun attached.

Todd Doogan
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