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Tank Girl (film)

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Tank Girl
Theatrical release poster
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Produced by Richard B. Lewis
Pen Densham
John Watson
Screenplay by Tedi Sarafian
Based on Tank Girl 
by Alan Martin
Jamie Hewlett
Starring Lori Petty
Ice-T
Naomi Watts
Malcolm McDowell
Music by Graeme Revell
Courtney Love (soundtrack coordination)[1]
Cinematography Gale Tattersall
Edited by James R. Symons
Production
company
Trilogy Entertainment Group
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • March 31, 1995 (1995-03-31) (US)
  • June 23, 1995 (1995-06-23) (UK)
Running time
104 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $4.1 million

Tank Girl is a 1995 American science fiction action comedy film directed by Rachel Talalay, loosely based on Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett's comic series of the same name, which originated in the British comic magazine Deadline. It stars Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Ice-T, and Malcolm McDowell. The film follows a series of confrontations between the draconian corporation Water & Power and both Tank Girl (Petty) and the Rippers, a group of genetically modified super soldiers, who must team up to defeat the corporation's leader Kesslee (McDowell).

Despite being based on a British comic book that is set in Australia, Tank Girl was filmed in the United States, primarily in White Sands, New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona. Special effects were done by Stan Winston, and the film's soundtrack was assembled by Courtney Love. The film was met with mixed to negative reviews from critics, and was also financially unsuccessful, though it gained a cult following in later years.

Plot[edit]

In 2022, the Earth is struck by a comet, causing an 11-year drought. By 2033, a majority of the scarce water supply is being held in reserve by Water & Power (W&P), a corporation led by Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell), which uses the water to control the world's population. Rebecca (Lori Petty), aka Tank Girl, is a member of a commune in the Australian outback who own the last surviving independent well. Their hideout is attacked by W&P, who kill Tank Girl's boyfriend Max (Billy L. Sullivan) and capture her young friend, Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower). Tank Girl is captured as well, but her defiant nature and independence intrigues Kesslee, who rather than executing her, decides to torture her and make her a slave. Tank Girl meets Jet Girl (Naomi Watts), a talented but introverted mechanic who has given up on freedom; she tries to convince Tank Girl to make less trouble for them, but Tank Girl refuses and is only tortured more.

Meanwhile, W&P is attacked by the Rippers, a mysterious group of warriors. The Rippers slaughter Kesslee's men and escape undetected. Kesslee uses Tank Girl as bait to draw out the Rippers, but they turn the tables, gravely injuring Kesslee and letting Tank Girl escape. Jet Girl joins her, and they learn from the eccentric Sub Girl (Ann Cusack) that Sam is working at Liquid Silver, an adult entertainment club. They infiltrate the club and rescue Sam from a lecherous pedophile, Rat Face (Iggy Pop). They then humiliate the club's owner, "The Madame" (Ann Magnuson) by making her sing Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" at gunpoint. W&P breaks up the song and Sam is again captured. With nowhere to go, Tank Girl and Jet wander the desert, eventually finding the Rippers' hideout. They learn that the Rippers were genetically engineered from both human and kangaroo DNA by a man named Johnny Prophet and are currently led by the Ripper Deetee (Reg E. Cathey). Tank Girl befriends a Ripper named Booga (Jeff Kober) while a Ripper named Donner (Scott Coffey) shows a romantic interest in Jet Girl. Despite the objections of the Ripper T-Saint (Ice-T), who is suspicious of the two girls, the rest of the Rippers send Tank and Jet out on a reconnaissance mission to destroy a shipment of weapons, only to discover they were set up after finding the body of Johnny Prophet stuffed in one of the weapons crates.

Jet Girl comes up with a plan to sneak into W&P. Kesslee, reconstructed after his injuries by cybernetic surgeon Che'tsai (James Hong), reveals that Tank Girl was bugged; their assault turns into a firefight that kills Deetee. Enraged, the Rippers quickly turn the tide of battle while Jet Girl kills Sergeant Small (Don Harvey), who had sexually harassed her earlier. Kesslee reveals that Sam is in the pipe, a hollow tube that he is slowly filling with water. Tank Girl is able to use her tank to disable and kill Kesslee before pulling Sam from the pipe. The scene is followed by an animated sequence where water flows freely and Tank Girl takes Booga water skiing; she tells Jet not to warn them of a waterfall as a surprise to Booga who dives from the cliff.

Themes[edit]

Writing in the book The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women On-Screen, Dominique Mainon said the film had anti-establishment themes, also stating that unlike many comic-book adaptation films which gratuitously objectify women, Tank Girl stood out as being "stridently feminist", with the exception of the "cliché victim/avenger complex".[3] According to Mainon, the film makes fun of female stereotypes, as shown by Tank Girl's response to the computer training device instructing her how to dress appropriately at the Liquid Silver club, and her repeated emasculation of Kesslee with witty comebacks as she is being tortured.[4]

Writing in the book Trash Aesthetics: Popular Culture and Its Audience, Deborah Cartmell stated that while the comic showed Tank Girl to be "unheroic or even [an] accidental anti-hero", the film sets Tank Girl up with "classic western generic" emotional and moral justifications for her liberation and revenge on W&P, after she witnesses the slaughter of her boyfriend and her "trusty steed", the abduction of one of the commune's children, and her capture and subsequent slavery. Cartmell also said Tank Girl held parallels with other "contemporary 'post-feminist' icons", as she displays dominant female sexuality and a "familiarity and knowing coolness of 'outlawed' modes of sexuality", such as masturbation, sadomasochism and lesbianism.[5]

Production[edit]

A black and white newspaper advertisement, with the main text "Are You Tank Girl"
An advertisement seeking applicants to star as Tank Girl

About a year after the launch of the Tank Girl comic in 1988, Deadline publisher Tom Astor initiated the search for a studio interested in making a film version. While several studios including New Line Cinema expressed interest, progress was slow.[6] Rachel Talalay's stepdaughter gave her a Tank Girl comic to read while she was shooting her debut directorial film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Talalay read the comic in between takes, and took an interest in directing a film version.[7] She contacted Astor, who gave her permission to attempt to get the film made.[8] Talalay pitched the film to Amblin Entertainment, Disney and Columbia Pictures, who all turned it down, before MGM made an offer.[9]

MGM held open casting sessions in London, Los Angeles and New York for the role of Tank Girl. Talalaly had been searching for someone who could "be Tank Girl, rather than a star who would dwarf the part and pretend to be [her]",[10] and chose Lori Petty because "she is crazy in her own life and [the film] needed somebody like that.[11] MGM faxed Deadline asking them for an "ideal cast" list; they selected Malcolm McDowell for role of Kesslee, though never believed MGM would actually contact him.[12] McDowell spoke favourably of his experience working on the film, saying it had the "same flavour" as A Clockwork Orange, also praising both Talalay and Petty.[13] Talalay was approached by several people who wanted cameos in the film, though she did not want the film to be overloaded with such appearances. Two cameos were settled on, with Iggy Pop being given the role of Rat Face and Björk being offered the role of Sub Girl. Björk later dropped out of the role; the character's scenes were re-written and the role was given to Ann Cusack.[14]

Tank Girl was filmed at three locations: desert scenes were filmed at White Sands, New Mexico, the Liquid Silver club set was built at an abandoned shopping mall in Phoenix, Arizona,[15] and all other scenes were filmed within forty miles of Tucson, Arizona.[16] Many scenes were filmed in an abandoned open-pit mine in Tucson.[17] Filming took 16 weeks,[18] with principal photography completed on 28 September 1994, two days over-schedule though still sticking to the original budget.[19]

A screenshot of a heavily modified and accessorised army tank
The tank as seen in the film, which featured accessories ranging from lawn chairs to rocket launchers.[20] The rear section of a 1969 Cadillac Eldorado is visible at the back of the tank

In the comics the Rippers are considerably more kangaroo-like; however, Talalay wanted real actors rather than stuntmen in suits playing the roles. She asked Jamie Hewlett to redesign the Rippers to make them more human, allowing them to have the facial expressions of the actual actors.[12] Requests were sent out to "all the major make-up and effects people", including Stan Winston. Talalay said while she considered Winston to be the best, she did not expect to hear back from him.[21] When she did, she still did not think she would be able to afford his studio on their budget. A meeting was arranged, where Winston insisted on being given the project; his studio cut their usual prices in half to meet the film's budget, with Winston saying his team was "desperate" to work on the film as the Rippers "are the best characters we've had the opportunity to do."[22] Eight Rippers featured in the film; half were given principal roles and the remaining half were mainly used as background characters. Each Ripper had articulated ears and tails which were activated by remote control, and the background Rippers also had mechanical snouts which could be activated by both remote control and when the actors moved their mouths.[23] Each Ripper's make-up took about four hours to put on, and three technicians from Winston's studio were required to work on each Ripper's articulations during filming; no puppets or digital effects were used for the Rippers.[24]

Believing that MGM would not allow the depiction of a bestiality relationship in the film, the romance between Booga and Tank Girl was only written into the second or third version of the script, after Booga was already established to people involved in the film. By this stage Booga "was a character and not just a kangaroo [so] it wasn't an issue anymore."[25] A "naked Ripper suit"[26] which included a ten-inch prosthetic penis that cost $5000, was created for Booga, though a post-coital scene filmed in the suit was edited out of the film's final version by MGM.[27] Deborah Cartmell stated the post-coital scene in the final version, which featured Booga fully clothed, had been "carefully edited".[28] Numerous other edits were made to the film following test screenings, including removing all but one of the scenes involving Sub Girl, who was originally a major character, and removing the final scene which showed Tank Girl burping into the camera.[27]

The tank used in the film is a modified M5A1 Stuart. It was purchased from the government of Peru about 12 years prior to filming and had already been used in several films. The original tank has a top speed of 37 mph; jet thrusters were added as the tank was required to travel significantly faster for the film. The tank's 37 mm anti-tank gun was covered with a modified flag pole to give the appearance of a 105 mm gun, and numerous other modifications were also made. An entire 1969 Cadillac Eldorado was added onto the tank, with the rear section welded at the back and the fender welded to the front.[29]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Tank Girl grossed $4,064,495 in the United States on a $25 million budget, debuting and peaking at No. 10.[30]

Critical reception[edit]

The film holds a 38% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 37 reviews, where the consensus is "While unconventional, Tank Girl isn't particularly clever or engaging, and none of the script's copious one-liners have any real zing."[31]

Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars. While praising the film's ambition, he said its manic energy wore him down, saying:

Here is a movie that dives into the bag of filmmaking tricks and chooses all of them. Trying to re-create the multimedia effect of the comic books it's based on, the film employs live action, animation, montages of still graphics, animatronic makeup, prosthetics, song-and-dance routines, scale models, fake backdrops, holography, title cards, matte drawings, and computerized special effects. All I really missed were 3-D and Smell-O-Vision.[32]

Owen Gleiberman gave the film a C-. Gleiberman praised Petty's performance, though added it was the only good part of the otherwise "amateurish" film.[33] Jonathan Rosenbaum, however, gave a positive review, concluding "unless you're a preteen boy who hates girls, it's funnier and a lot more fun than Batman Forever."[34]

Legacy and related media[edit]

Deadline, which had been suffering from a decline in readership, decided to feature Tank Girl on the cover of the magazine many times in 1994 and 1995 in both anticipation of the film's release and in an attempt to boost sales. Tom Astor said the release of the film "was very helpful, but it did not make up the difference, it lost some of its cult appeal without gaining any mainstream credibility."[35] The magazine's last issue was released in late 1995.[36] Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett have since spoken poorly of their experiences in creating the film, calling it "a bit of a sore point" for them.[37] Hewlett said, "The script was lousy; me and Alan kept rewriting it and putting Grange Hill jokes and Benny Hill jokes in, and they obviously weren't getting it. They forgot to film about ten major scenes so we had to animate them ... it was a horrible experience."[38] Rachel Talalay complained that the studio interfered significantly in the story, screenplay and feel of the film.[39][40][41] Despite being a critical and commercial failure, the film has achieved cult status.[42][43]

A novelisation of the film was written by Martin Millar,[44] and Peter Milligan wrote an adaptation comic.[45]

Soundtrack[edit]

Tank Girl Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by various artists
Released March 28, 1995 (1995-03-28)
Genre Alternative rock
Label Warner Bros./Elektra
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars link

The film's soundtrack was assembled by Courtney Love.[33][43] Greg Graffin was originally supposed to do the duet of "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" with Joan Jett, but due to contractual restrictions he was replaced by Paul Westerberg. Devo recorded a new version of their song "Girl U Want" specifically for the film, as they were big fans of the comic.[46] The soundtrack featured Björk's song Army of Me before it was released as a single. Following the financial failure of the film, both Björk and her label declined to use footage from the film in the song's accompanying music video.[47] The song "Mockingbird Girl" by The Magnificent Bastards (a side project of Scott Weiland) was recorded specifically for the album, after Love approached Weiland asking if he would like to contribute a song.[48] The single's cover showed the torso and thighs of an animated character resembling Tank Girl, and also featured the tracks "Ripper Sole" and "Girl U Want" from the album; it peaked at No. 27 on the Mainstream Rock chart and No. 12 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.[49] The song "2 Cents" by Beowülf appears in the film; Talalay lobbied Restless Records to have the song included on the soundtrack, but was unsuccessful. Instead, she directed the music video for the song, which featured both animated and live-action footage from the film.[50]

The soundtrack album was released on March 28, 1995 on Warner Bros./Elektra Records. It peaked at No. 72 on the Billboard 200.[49] On April 3, New York magazine wrote that the soundtrack was getting more attention than the film itself.[51] Ron Hancock from Tower Records, however, stated that sales of the album were disappointing, and attributed the low sales to the financial failure of the film.[47] Owen Gleiberman spoke favourably of the soundtrack,[33] as did Laura Barcella writing in the book The End, who described it as a "who's who of '90s female rock."[43] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic said the album was "much better than the film", awarding it three out of five stars.[52]

  1. "Ripper Sole" by Stomp! – 1:42
  2. "Army of Me" by Björk – 3:56
  3. "Girl U Want" by Devo – 3:51
  4. "Mockingbird Girl" by The Magnificent Bastards – 3:30
  5. "Shove" by L7 – 3:11
  6. "Drown Soda" by Hole – 3:50
  7. "Bomb" by Bush – 3:23
  8. "Roads" by Portishead – 5:04
  9. "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" by Joan Jett and Paul Westerberg – 2:23
  10. "Thief" by Belly – 3:12
  11. "Aurora" by Veruca Salt – 4:03
  12. "Big Gun" by Ice-T – 3:54
Other songs in the film

Home media[edit]

Tank Girl only ever received a 'basic' DVD release;[42] it was released on 10 April 2001. Aaron Beierle from DVD Talk gave the DVD 3½ stars out of 5 for both video and audio quality, though only half a star for special features, noting that only the original trailer was included.[54]

Shout! Factory acquired the rights to several MGM films, including Tank Girl, and subsequently released a Blu-ray version on 19 November 2013. Special features included the original trailer, a 'Making of' featurette, a commentary track with Lori Petty and Rachel Talalay, as well as separate interviews with Talalay, Petty and production designer Catherine Hardwicke. Jeffrey Kauffman from Blu-ray.com gave the version 4 stars out of 5 for both audio and video quality, and 3 stars for special features.[55] M. Enois Duarte from High-Def Digest gave the version 3½ stars out of 5 for video quality, 4 stars for audio quality, and 2½ for extras.[56]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Maslin, Janet (31 March 1995). "Movie Review - Tank Girl; Brash and Buzz-Cut Atop Her Beloved Tank". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "Tank Girl". British Board of Film Classification. 13 April 1995. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Mainon 2006, p. 157.
  4. ^ Mainon 2006, p. 159.
  5. ^ Cartmell 1997, p. 41-43.
  6. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 16.
  7. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 17.
  8. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 18.
  9. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 20.
  10. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 32.
  11. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 33.
  12. ^ a b Wynne 1995, p. 34.
  13. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 39.
  14. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 35.
  15. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 55.
  16. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 79.
  17. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 52-53.
  18. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 78.
  19. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 86.
  20. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 59.
  21. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 62.
  22. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 63.
  23. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 68-69.
  24. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 82.
  25. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 21.
  26. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 66.
  27. ^ a b Brew, Simon (10 October 2014). "51 films, and how they were affected by test screenings". Den of Geek. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  28. ^ Cartmell 1997, p. 43.
  29. ^ Wynne 1995, p. 58-59.
  30. ^ "Tank Girl". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  31. ^ "Tank Girl". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  32. ^ Ebert, Roger (31 March 1995). "Tank Girl review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  33. ^ a b c Gleiberman, Owen (14 April 1995). "Tank Girl review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  34. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Tank Girl". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  35. ^ Shirley 2005, p. 255.
  36. ^ Shirley 2005, p. 257.
  37. ^ "Alan Martin on Tank Girl". sci-fi online. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  38. ^ Fairs, Marcus (June 2006). "Jamie Hewlett interview". Icon Magazine. Archived from the original on 24 March 2010. Retrieved 21 February 2010. 
  39. ^ Talalay, Rachel; Rosenberg, Bob. "Tank Girl Movie: The Outtakes". Tank Girl. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  40. ^ "A Q&A with Rachel Talalay". Nightmare on Elm Street Companion. 25 March 2005. Archived from the original on 31 December 2005. Retrieved 21 February 2010. 
  41. ^ Bates, John K (December 1994). "Tank Girl Stomps Hollywood". Wired. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  42. ^ a b Volmers, Eric (6 March 2014). "The blu-ray redemption of Tank Girl: Director Rachel Talalay talks about her 1995 cult film’s handsome rebirth on DVD". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  43. ^ a b c Barcella 2012, p. 130.
  44. ^ "Tank Girl: Novelisation". Amazon.com. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  45. ^ "Tank girl: Explosive adaptation of the hit film!". Amazon.com. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  46. ^ Rosen, Craig (25 March 1995). "'Tank Girl' Set shoots From Hip". Billboard 107 (12): 10, 44. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  47. ^ a b Atwood, Brett (13 May 1995). "Elektra's Bjork Putting A Love Letter In The 'Post'". Billboard 107 (19): 17–18. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  48. ^ Azzerad, Michael (August 1995). "Peace, Love, and Understanding". Spin 11 (5): 57. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  49. ^ a b "Tank Girl Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  50. ^ "Tank Attack". Billboard 107 (14): 53. 8 April 1995. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  51. ^ "Tank Girl". New York 28 (14): 86. 3 April 1995. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  52. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thoma. "Original Soundtrack: Tank Girl". Allmusic. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  53. ^ Gold, Jonathan (August 1995). "Throw Another Punk on the Barby". Spin 11 (5): 26. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  54. ^ Beierle, Aaron. "Tank Girl". DVD Talk. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  55. ^ Kauffman, Jeffrey (8 November 2013). "Tank Girl Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  56. ^ Duarte, M. Enois (14 November 2013). "Tank Girl: Collector's Edition". High-Def Digest. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 

Bibliography

External links[edit]