Strange Days poses these questions: Have you ever jacked in? Have you ever wire-tripped?
Those are asked by Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) when he wants you to try out his Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, or SQUID for short. The idea is that you plug this into your brain and can record what you see onto minidiscs and your real-life experiences will be sold to those who want to experience them for themselves.
Nero makes a good living out of dealing these “clips”, the film starting with one of a break-and-enter which runs through a restaurant, but problems are abound when “blackjacks” – recordings of death – are introduced onto the market. He is given one anonymously and is then drawn into a case of trying to get the killers caught while staying alive himself. The whole thing may sound like virtual reality, but isn’t because that’s a computer simulation whereas this has more emphasis on reality.
To make matters more complicated, the action takes place on the last two days of 1999 in Los Angeles, culminating on New Year’s Eve, but presuming it was the end of the millennium – whereas anyone sensible knows that happened a year later. Niggles aside, the assumptions of the world that thought all the computers would crash and there’d be troubles aplenty fires up the hysteria even further and sets the scene for a highly-charged atmosphere.
Acting is first rate from most of those concerned including Fiennes and Juliette Lewis as Faith, his ex-girlfriend and a former prostitute who he wanted to “save” from the time when he used to be a cop, a long-haired Tom Sizemore as former colleague Max Peltier and superb psychotic corrupt cop roles for Vincent D’Onofrio (best known as Edgar in Men in Black and Pvt. Pyle in Full Metal Jacket) and William Fichtner, not a well-known name at all, but a complete change of direction from his role as the blind colleague of Jodie Foster in Contact, as well as having a more curious role in the classic Pulp Fiction-esque Go.
Sadly, the one face who does let down the proceedings is Angela Bassett as another friend of Nero’s, personal security expert Lornette “Mace” Mason, playing it over the top as usual in an overly-feminist role. Plus I think she’s just a rather crap actress, but if you can get past that then you’ll hugely enjoy the rest of the ride.
Although this DVD has only been released after the time the film takes place, I had it on video for a while and only actually got round to watching it on the eve of the two days during which it takes place. I also watched it in two parts. This wasn’t intentional as I started watching it too late on the night of December 29th, 1999, realised there was a natural break in the film and carried on the next day. I was going to be out on the night of New Year’s Eve, naturally, so wondered after each part if the following day would be any similar. It wasn’t.
The back of the box has a few errors, most notably that the ratio is not cropped to 16:9, but is in the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I couldn’t face watching it in a ratio less than that since it is fully utilised throughout but then you should realise that given the combination of action director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break) and producer/scriptwriter James Cameron (T2). Makes you wonder why the two haven’t worked together on a big-screen follow-up, but what we have here looks fantastic with even the many night-time scenes encoded effortlessly.
Recorded with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, from the opening “wire trip”, through many action scenes, an early one being the cops chasing an apparent prostitute through a subway, to even outdoor ambient moments of a helicopter circling ahead, the sound positioning is accurate and astounding. Pure heaven from start to finish. My only complaint is that we didn’t get the DTS soundmix as well which would’ve been even better.
Sadly, what’s lacking is any major extras. A two minute Trailer, six-minute Featurette (which may as well be an extended trailer) and feature-length Director’s Commentary, whereas even the NTSC laserdisc contained two deleted scenes, the music video for “Selling Jesus” by Skunk Anansie, several trailers, storyboards and production stills including poster art conceptions for Year 2000 celebrations. Oh, and a DTS soundtrack.
There are 20 chapters to the film which isn’t really enough, English subtitles for the hard of hearing and menus which are static and silent.
Running time: 139 minutes
Cat no: 078 215 2
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English for the hard of hearing
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Super 35)
Disc Format: DVD 9
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Producers: James Cameron and Steve-Charles Jaffe
Screenplay: James Cameron and Jay Cocks
Music: Graeme Revell
Lenny Nero: Ralph Fiennes
Lornette “Mace” Mason: Angela Bassett
Faith Justin: Juliette Lewis
Max Peltier: Tom Sizemore
Philo Gant: Michael Wincott
Burton Steckler: Vincent D’Onofrio
Jeriko One: Glenn Plummer
Iris: Brigitte Bako
Dwayne Engelman: William Fichtner
Palmer Strickland: Josef Sommer
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.