It’s a new era for high def JCVD
There was a glorious time in the late 1980s in which cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were producing movies under the Cannon Films label. These were films that featured a bizarre roster of stars ranging from those with extremely little in the way of acting chops (but whom we loved anyway, like Michael Dudikoff, Sho Kosugi, or Chuck Norris), to established legends (Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone), or up and coming stars (Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren). Israelis with an insatiable love for American cinema and the drive to create their own version of a mogul-run empire, Golan/Globus cranked out some of my very favorite films to ever grace the silver screen. Rarely even approaching conventional “quality” or “acclaim,” these were films that celebrated machismo, approximated the American aesthetic at the time, and capitalized on even the mildest of pop culture phenomenon that could be exploited for a buck. I’ve often puzzled over why these “wheeling and dealing” films that are unquestionably more of a product than an art hold so much sway over me, and that question won’t be answered here today. But I love Cannon Films; and a product like Cyborg, from this studio and era, with a star like Van Damme and a director like Albert Pyun, is exactly my jam. Even if there’s no question that this film isn’t particularly good.
A dark and brutal post-apocalyptic film, Cyborg is more nihilistic than the typical Van Damme property. It came at a time that was just early enough in his career that he was still desperate for stardom but hadn’t quite developed his brand. The more one becomes acquainted with the troubled post-production of this film, the more one comes to understand just how central Van Damme’s stardom was to the final product. The Cyborg released in theaters and here on this new Blu-ray is a final cut that was controlled by Van Damme himself after poor test screenings gave Cannon cold feet and the film was removed from Director Albert Pyun’s hands.
Van Damme plays Gibson, a “Slinger” who is paid to transport people safely across a New York City that is dominated by the barbaric followers of Fender (Vincent Klyn in the film’s most iconic role). Gibson is haunted by memories of a tranquil life he once lived with an adopted family who were cut down by Fender. When a cyborg (Dayle Haddon) conscripts his services to transport her to Atlanta and bring the secrets of the cure for a plague to the last remaining scientists, Gibson ends up on a collision course with Fender’s gang.
To be honest, that’s almost the entirety of the plot. The bulk of the runtime of Cyborg involves extended chase and action sequences that showcase Van Damme’s onscreen charisma. The final battle between Gibson and Fender (intentionally named after guitars by Pyun under the pen name Kitty Chalmers) is little more than primal grunting and screaming between these two hunks of man flesh. Pyun clearly pays homage to westerns and George Miller-esque destruction. But where Sergio Leone focused in on squinted eyes and twitchy trigger fingers, Pyun highlights pectorals shivering under rain machines. I’m not complaining.
For all the big set up, and the ruined futureworld, and the myriad flashbacks (some of which play in full multiple times within the same 86 minute film), and the misnomer of a title (the titular character is little more than an aside), Cyborg is ultimately an action movie. Fender’s gang is bad, Gibson is good, and they’ll have a series of battles that all come down to rain-drenched fisticuffs. There is a totally excellent crucifixion sequence in there too. Perhaps the setting and themes create a darker tone than your average fight film, but most of the ideas intended are sidelined by the focus on action set pieces.
Again, it’s a weird thing with movies like this: Cyborg is from the right era, and from the right people, and therefore I’ll be forever more fascinated by it than by dozens of actual great films that are likely far more worthy of the time investment that I’ve sunk into Cyborg. Pyun has made available a sort of “renegade” cut of the film called Slinger which he sold on his website at some point in the past and has occasionally screened for audiences. This Scream Factory release does not include that cut, which is a bummer, but was probably an impossibility from a licensing perspective. Yet even after taking in that cut, and all the myriad bonus features that are brand new and available on this excellent Blu-ray release, it becomes clear that Cyborg is a deeply flawed film with a few indelible images and performances regardless of which cut you prefer.
Importantly, though, for the second time in as many months, I find myself reviewing a prime-era Jean-Claude Van Damme Blu-ray release loaded with bonus features. It’s a great time to be an action film and physical media fan. Where MVD’s recent Black Eagle Blu-ray was a ton of fun, even if a stretch for the very small company (and a fairly boring film in the scheme of things), Cyborg is packed to the gills with bonus features from stalwart Red Shirt Productions. It’s a release that honors the Cannon era, treats Pyun like the auteur that he is, and recognizes the brilliance of beefcake-ism. I couldn’t be happier about the care and effort going into releases of classic action cinema. Bring on MVD’s Collector’s Edition of Lionheart, I say.
As mentioned in the body of the review, there’s no “Slinger Renegade Cut” here. It’s hard to call this a “definitive” version without that, but barring that omission the bonus features here are about as good as they come. Red Shirt Productions do a fantastic job with tracking down talent from bygone films and getting their current memories and reflections on film. I’ve always been enamored by Vincent Klyn’s Fender villain and it’s amazing to see him as an older guy and learn that his career was in surfing. Pyun is also all over this thing. He’s got a commentary, you get his unedited interviews from Mark Hartley’s Cannon Doc Electric Boogaloo, and a new interview with him as well. It’s got a “director approved” kind of vibe to it, and he isn’t shy about his opinions on the final film.
Cyborg itself also looks pretty fantastic on this disc, with a new 2K scan and all. Despite Cyborg being a pretty run of the mill film, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray Collector’s Edition comes with a strong recommendation for fans of Van Damme, Pyun, Cannon Films, or any variation on the three.
And I’m Out.
Cyborg Collector’s Edition hits Blu-ray from Scream Factory April 24th, 2018