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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/8/02

1980 (2002) - MGM

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Spetters Film Rating: B

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

Specs and Features

123 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), Amaray keep case packaging, RSDL single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 59:19, between chapters 8 & 9), audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: Dutch (2.0 mono), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Closed Captioned

As much as I love Showgirls, I don't think anybody really believes that director Paul Verhoeven succeeded in pushing the envelope of on-screen sexuality with his NC-17 camp classic (and I realize that somebody trying to pass himself off as a film critic should probably never begin a review with the phrase "as much as I love Showgirls". Some of you will know what I mean. The rest of you... lighten up). In fact, Verhoeven had already broken most screen taboos long before he ever came to this country, in Dutch films like The 4th Man and Turkish Delight. But with these films (as well as later, American controversy-magnets like Basic Instinct), Verhoeven frames his view of sexuality in easily recognizable movie tropes. Murder mysteries, costume dramas, explorations of upper-class or artistic types, that kind of thing. One of the few times, perhaps even the only time, Verhoeven has really used explicit sexuality in an examination of common, everyday lives is in his 1980 film Spetters.

Spetters (and don't ask me what the title means 'cause I have no idea) focuses on three friends, Rien, Hans and Eef, who share a lower-class background and a fanatical love of motocross racing. Both Rien and Hans race themselves, aspiring to someday be as good as their idol, champion racer Gerrit Witkamp (Rutger Hauer). When we meet these guys, it looks like their lives could follow this same course forever. Racing in local meets for low stakes, getting drunk at the disco on weekends, and fooling around with their girlfriends. But things get complicated with the arrival of Fientje, a sexy blonde who works a fast-food trailer with her brother. Fientje wants a better life and thinks Rien shows enough promise on the racetrack to give it to her. When things don't go as she planned, Fientje works her way through the rest of the group.

At its core, Spetters is nothing more than a sports-centered, coming-of-age drama. In other hands, this might have resembled the 1979 biking drama Breaking Away. But with Verhoeven at the helm, you just know that this is going to be a lot darker and more cynical than that feel-good hit. However, you might not be prepared for just how dark and cynical Verhoeven is willing to get. Rien, who at first seems to be the movie's hero, loses pretty much everything a person can lose throughout the course of the film. Hans, the nicest guy in the group, is basically a screw-up and a total failure at motocross racing, the thing he loves the most. And then there's Eef, abused by his ultra-religious father and seemingly consumed by a hatred for homosexuals... a hatred that ultimately reveals itself to be self-loathing after a brutal gang rape scene.

To say that Spetters is not a film for every taste is putting it mildly. The sexuality, while not as extreme as in such films as Baise-Moi, is very explicit. Verhoeven's view of organized religion is extremely dim. And his treatment of homosexuality is troubling, to say the least. I don't think Verhoeven is gay-bashing here, exactly. Eef's slow coming to terms with his own sexuality does seem perfectly appropriate for his character, considering his background and the time and place. But you do have to view it in its specific context, and not as emblematic of the gay community as a whole. Since there aren't really any other gay characters, that might be hard for some people to do. Still, Verhoeven and screenwriter Gerard Soeteman have crafted a compelling story populated, for the most part, with complex, fully developed characters and well-acted by the young cast. The intermittent racing scenes are fairly exciting, with some stunts that look amazingly dangerous. Spetters isn't a great movie, nor is it the best of Verhoeven's Dutch films, but it is funny, provocative and certainly worth a look.

MGM has released Spetters on DVD as part of their World Films collection. The image is considerably better than I expected, despite not being enhanced for anamorphic displays. The print used is extremely clean, with hardly a blemish or scratch to be seen. The picture's a little soft, but I imagine that's intentional. However, the lack of a new digital, anamorphic transfer does result in some unfortunate color bleeding, particularly during the opening, bright red credits. The audio is a solid mono track. Nothing spectacular but it gets the job done.

I doubt many people would have noticed or complained if Spetters had been released without any special features at all, so it's a nice surprise to see a few here. While this might not exactly qualify as a special feature, it should be noted that this is the unrated director's cut of the film, not the R-rated version that runs about 8 minutes shorter. Paul Verhoeven contributes a typically animated commentary, filling in much appreciated details about the social background in Holland, anecdotes about the cast, and discussing the film's initial reception. MGM also provides a trailer, with the film's title bizarrely and repeatedly shouted by a heavily accented Dutch narrator.

Anyone interested in Paul Verhoeven's American films should certainly make a point of seeking out his Dutch work (the rest of his pre-U.S. output is available through Anchor Bay). Spetters lacks the hyperkinetic thrill of movies like Starship Troopers, but highlights a side of Verhoeven most people don't even realize exists. Yes, Paul Verhoeven can make a movie about regular, ordinary people doing regular, ordinary things... and pretty well, too. MGM hasn't exactly gone out of their way to create a definitive, special edition DVD of Spetters but didn't completely drop the ball, either. Verhoeven's hardcore, faithful fans shouldn't be disappointed.

Adam Jahnke
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