Tank Girl (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Rachel Talalay|
|Screenplay by||Tedi Sarafian|
|Based on||Tank Girl comic
by Alan Martin
|Edited by||James R. Symons|
Trilogy Entertainment Group
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||Approx $6 million|
Tank Girl is a 1995 American science fiction action-comedy film directed by Rachel Talalay. Based on the British post-apocalyptic comic series of the same name by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett that was originally published in Deadline magazine, the film stars Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Ice-T and Malcolm McDowell. Tank Girl is set in a drought-ravaged Australia, years after a catastrophic impact event. It follows the antihero Tank Girl (Petty) as she, Jet Girl (Watts), and genetically modified supersoldiers called the Rippers fight "Water & Power", an oppressive corporation led by Kesslee (McDowell).
After reading an issue of the Tank Girl comic she had received as a gift, Talalay obtained permission from Deadline's publisher Tom Astor to direct a film adaptation. She selected Catherine Hardwicke to be the production designer, and worked closely with Martin and Hewlett during the making of the film. Tank Girl was filmed primarily in White Sands, New Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona. The film's critically praised soundtrack was assembled by Courtney Love, and the Rippers' makeup and prosthetics team was headed by Stan Winston. Winston's studio wanted to work on the project so much that they cut their usual prices in half in order to meet the film's budget.
Financially unsuccessful, Tank Girl recouped only about $6 million of its $25 million budget at the box office and received mixed to negative reviews from critics. Martin and Hewlett have since spoken negatively of their experiences creating the film. Talalay blamed some of the film's negative reception on studio edits over which she had no control. Despite the negative critical reception and box office failure of the film, it has been cited as an example of a comic book film with a cult following, and it is noted for its feminist themes.
In 2022, a comet strikes Earth causing an 11-year drought. By 2033, most of the little remaining water is held in reserve by Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell) and his Water & Power (W&P) corporation, which uses the water to control the population. Rebecca Buck – "Tank Girl" (Lori Petty) – is a member of a commune in the Australian outback that operates the last water well not controlled by the corporation. In an attack on the commune, W&P troops kill Tank Girl's boyfriend, Richard (Brian Wimmer), and capture Tank Girl and her young friend Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower). Rather than killing her, Kesslee tortures and enslaves the defiant Tank Girl. Jet Girl (Naomi Watts), a talented but introverted jet mechanic who has given up trying to escape W&P, urges Tank Girl to make less trouble for their captors, though Tank Girl refuses. Among other forms of torture, W&P personnel push her down into a long pipe and fill it with water.
The mysterious Rippers slaughter guards at the W&P compound, then escape undetected. Kesslee uses Tank Girl to lure the Rippers into the open, but they gravely wound Kesslee and let Tank Girl and Jet Girl escape. Jet Girl steals a fighter jet from W&P and Tank Girl steals a tank, which she modifies heavily. The girls learn from the eccentric Sub Girl (Ann Cusack) that Sam is working at a sex club called Liquid Silver. They infiltrate the club, rescue Sam from a pedophile, Rat Face (Iggy Pop), and 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 troops break up the performance and re-capture Sam. Tank Girl and Jet Girl wander the desert and find the Rippers' hideout. They learn that the Rippers are supersoldiers created from human and kangaroo DNA by a man called Johnny Prophet. Tank Girl befriends a Ripper named Booga (Jeff Kober), while a Ripper named Donner (Scott Coffey) shows romantic interest in Jet Girl. Despite the objections of the Ripper T-Saint (Ice-T), who is suspicious of the girls, the Rippers' leader Deetee (Reg E. Cathey) sends the pair out to capture a shipment of weapons. The girls bring the weapon crates back, though most of them are empty. After finding Johnny Prophet dead in one of the containers, the girls and the Rippers realize that W&P has tricked them.
The girls and the Rippers sneak into W&P, where they are ambushed. Kesslee, whose body had been reconstructed by the cybernetic surgeon Che'tsai (James Hong), reveals that Tank Girl has unknowingly been bugged. Deetee is killed. While the Rippers turn the tide of the battle, Jet Girl kills Sergeant Small (Don Harvey), who had earlier sexually harassed her. Kesslee reveals that Sam is in the pipe, and her life is endangered by the rising water. Tank Girl uses her tank to kill Kesslee, then pulls Sam out of the pipe. The film ends with an animated sequence showing water starting to flow freely. Tank Girl drives down rapids, pulling Booga behind on water-skis, then takes them over a waterfall, shouting for joy.
Writing in the 1997 book Trash Aesthetics: Popular Culture and Its Audience, Deborah Cartmell states that while the comic showed Tank Girl to be "unheroic or even [an] accidental anti-hero", the film sets her up with "classic western generic" emotional and moral justifications for her liberation and revenge on W&P, as she witnesses the slaughter of her boyfriend and her "trusty steed". She also sees one of the commune's children being abducted, and is herself captured and enslaved. Cartmell also says Tank Girl holds 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.
In her 2006 book The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women On-Screen, Dominique Mainon writes that the film has anti-establishment themes and, unlike many comic-book adaptation films which feature "gratuitous sexual objectification" of women, Tank Girl stands out as being "stridently feminist", with the exception of the "cliché victim/avenger complex". According to Mainon, the film makes fun of female stereotypes, as shown by Tank Girl's repeated emasculation of Kesslee with witty comebacks while she is being tortured, and by her response to the computer training device telling her how to present herself to men at the Liquid Silver club. The device provides seductive clothing and tells Tank Girl to remove her body hair and to wear make-up and a wig. Tank Girl completely ignores the advice and modifies the clothes to create her own style.
In the 2011 book Cult Cinema, Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton discuss the issue of whether cult films purported to be feminist were truly feminist or "partly the effect of the performance of feminist attitudes in its reception". The authors consider Tank Girl to be a "'real' feminist cult film", as opposed to the feminist cult films of Kathryn Bigelow and Catherine Hardwicke, which they consider to be too masculine and too eager to cater to "hetero-normativity" respectively.
In 1988, about a year after the launch of the Tank Girl comic in the British magazine Deadline, its publisher, Tom Astor, began looking for a studio interested in making a film adaptation. While several studios, including New Line Cinema, expressed interest, progress was slow. Rachel Talalay's stepdaughter gave her a Tank Girl comic to read while she was shooting her directorial debut film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (released in 1991). Talalay read the comic between takes and became interested in directing a Tank Girl film. She contacted Astor and, after hearing nothing for almost a year, was about to give up trying to secure the rights when he gave her permission to make the film. Talalay pitched the film to Amblin Entertainment and Columbia Pictures, who both turned it down. Talalay turned down an offer from Disney as she did not believe the studio would allow the levels of violence and the sexual references the plot required. An offer from MGM was accepted. Talalay worked closely with the Tank Girl comic's co-creators Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett during the film's production, and selected Catherine Hardwicke to be the production designer. The studio was unhappy with Hardwicke, who was relatively unknown at the time, being chosen over more experienced designers and Talalay had to meet with the producers to persuade them to allow Hardwicke to work on the project. Tedi Sarafian wrote the screenplay, which marked his debut production credit, and Gale Tattersall was chosen as cinematographer. Believing that MGM would not allow the depiction of a bestial relationship in the film, the romance between Tank Girl and Booga was only written into the second or third version of the script, after the character was already established in the minds of people involved in the production. By this stage, Booga: "was a character and not just a kangaroo [so] it wasn't an issue anymore."
MGM held open casting sessions in London, Los Angeles, and New York for the role of Tank Girl. According to Talalay, some were skeptical of the open casting, thinking that it was a publicity stunt. This was true to an extent, as she had been asking the studio to cast a well-known English actress, Emily Lloyd, who was replaced after she refused to cut her hair for the role. Talalay cast Lori Petty, an American, because "she is crazy in her own life and [the film] needed somebody like that." MGM faxed Deadline asking them for an "ideal cast" list; they selected Malcolm McDowell for Kesslee, but never believed MGM would actually contact him. McDowell has spoken favorably of his experience working on the film, saying it had the "same flavour" as A Clockwork Orange, and praised Talalay and Petty. Talalay was approached by several people who wanted cameos in the film, but she did not want the film to be overshadowed by such appearances. Two cameos were settled on – Iggy Pop was given the role of Rat Face, and Björk was offered Sub Girl. She later dropped out, her character's scenes were re-written, and the role was then given to Ann Cusack.
Tank Girl was filmed over sixteen weeks, in three locations: desert scenes were filmed in White Sands, New Mexico, the Liquid Silver club set was built at an abandoned shopping mall in Phoenix, Arizona, and all remaining scenes were filmed within forty miles of Tucson, Arizona. Many scenes were filmed in an abandoned open-pit mine, where filming had to be halted one day due to a chemical leak. Permission was received to film the water pipe scenes at the Titan Missile Museum, near the mine, but the day before shooting permission was withdrawn. These scenes were filmed instead in a tunnel at the abandoned mine. New sets were often found by simply searching the mine. Principal photography was completed on September 27, 1994, two days over schedule though still within the original budget.
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 Hewlett to redesign the Rippers to make them more human, allowing them to have the actual actors' facial expressions. Requests were sent out to "all the major make-up and effects people", including Stan Winston, whose prior work included the Terminator films, Aliens, and Jurassic Park. Talalay said that while she considered Winston to be the best, she did not expect to hear back from him. When she did, she still did not think that she would be able to afford his studio on her budget. A meeting was arranged and Winston insisted on being given the project, saying the Rippers would be: "the best characters we've had the opportunity to do." Winston's studio cut their usual prices in half to meet the film's budget. Eight Rippers featured in the film: half were given principal roles, the others were mainly in the background. 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 either by remote control or by the movement of the actors' mouths. Each Ripper's make-up took about four hours to apply. 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.
The tank used in the film is a modified M5A1 Stuart. It was purchased from the government of Peru about twelve years prior to filming and had already been used in several films. Among numerous modifications made for Tank Girl, the tank's 37 mm anti-tank gun was covered with a modified flag pole to give the appearance of a 105 mm gun. 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.
A "naked Ripper suit" incorporating a prosthetic penis was created for Booga and used in a filmed post-coital scene which was removed from the final version of the film at the studio's insistence. Deborah Cartmell described the "post-coital scene" in the final version, which featured Booga fully clothed, as "carefully edited". Against Talalay's wishes, the studio made several other edits to the film. The scene in which Kesslee tortures Tank Girl was cut heavily on the grounds that she appeared "too ugly" while being tortured. Also cut was a scene showing Tank Girl's bedroom, which was shown to be decorated with dozens of dildos, and a scene in which she places a condom on a banana before throwing it at a soldier. The studio cut the original ending scene, a live-action scene in which it begins to rain; the film was to have ended with Tank Girl burping.
|Tank Girl Original Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by various artists|
|Released||March 28, 1995|
The film's soundtrack was assembled by Courtney Love; Graeme Revell composed the original music. Love's band Hole contributed the song "Drown Soda". Greg Graffin from Bad Religion was originally supposed to sing 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 from The Replacements. Devo recorded a new version of their song "Girl U Want" specifically for the film, as they were big fans of the comic. The soundtrack featured Björk's song "Army of Me" before it was released as a single. Because of the box office failure of the film, both Björk and her label decided not to use footage from the film in the song's accompanying music video.
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. The single's cover showed the torso and thighs of an animated character resembling Tank Girl and featured the tracks "Ripper Sole" and "Girl U Want" from the album. In the United States it peaked at No. 27 on the Mainstream Rock chart and No. 12 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. The song "2¢" by Beowülf also 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.
The soundtrack album was released on March 28, 1995 on Warner Bros./Elektra Records. It peaked at No. 72 on the Billboard 200. The next week, New York magazine wrote that the soundtrack was getting more attention than the film itself. However, Ron Hancock of Tower Records stated that sales of the album were disappointing and attributed this to the financial failure of the film. Owen Gleiberman spoke favorably of the soundtrack, as did Laura Barcella writing in the book The End, describing it as a "who's who of '90s female rock." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic said the album was "much better than the film", awarding it three out of five stars.
|2.||"Army of Me"||Björk||3:56|
|3.||"Girl U Want"||Devo||3:51|
|4.||"Mockingbird Girl"||The Magnificent Bastards||3:30|
|9.||"Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love"||Joan Jett and Paul Westerberg||2:23|
- Other songs in the film
- "B-A-B-Y" by Rachel Sweet
- "Big Time Sensuality" by Björk
- "Blank Generation" by Richard Hell and the Voidoids
- "Disconnected" by Face to Face
- "Shipwrecked" by Sky Cries Mary
- "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes
- "2¢" by Beowülf
- "Wild, Wild, Thing" by Iggy Pop
Initial screening and box office
Tank Girl premiered at the Mann Chinese Theatre on March 30, 1995. Approximately 1,500 people attended the screening, including Talalay, Petty, Ice-T, McDowell, Watts, and several other actors from the film, as well as Rebecca De Mornay, Lauren Tom, Brendan Fraser and Jason Simmons. Men in W&P costumes handed out bottles of mineral water, and girls dressed in Liquid Silver outfits gave out Astro Pops, candy cigarettes, and Tank Girl candy necklaces. About 400 people attended the official after-party at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The film opened in cinemas across the United States the following day.
Tank Girl opened in 1,341 theatres in the United States bringing in $2,018,183 in its first weekend and $2,684,430 at the end of its first week of release. By the end of its second week, Tank Girl had made only $3,668,762. Its final gross in the United States was $4,064,495. Internationally, the film added approximately $2,000,000 to that total, against a production budget of $25 million.
The website Rotten Tomatoes, which categorizes reviews as positive or negative, surveyed 37 critics and determined that 38% of the reviews were positive with a rating average of 4.9 out of 10. The website gives the consensus summary: "While unconventional, Tank Girl isn't particularly clever or engaging, and none of the script's copious one-liners have any real zing." Lamar Hafildason of the BBC gave the film one out of five stars, saying: "Sadly, the BBC does not pay out for one-word reviews. If it did, then this review would read simply: 'tiresome'." In 2001, Matt Brunson from Creative Loafing gave the film one and a half stars out of four concluding: "a rockin' soundtrack ... and a peek at Watts early in her career are the only ingredients saving this from a bomb rating." Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars. While praising the film's ambition and energy, he said he could not "care about it for much more than a moment at a time, and after a while its manic energy wore [him] down."
Owen Gleiberman gave the film a C– rating, praising Petty's performance which he said was the only good part of an otherwise "amateurish" film. Jonathan Rosenbaum and Janet Maslin gave moderately positive reviews, with Rosenbaum concluding: "unless you're a preteen boy who hates girls, it's funnier and a lot more fun than Batman Forever." Maslin wrote: "Chief among its strong points is Lori Petty, a buzz-cut fashion plate in a Prozac necklace, who brings the necessary gusto to Tank Girl's flippancy." Leonard Klady from Variety gave a mixed review, saying: "What's missing from the mix is an engaging story to bind together its intriguing bits. And Lori Petty as 'Tank Girl' ... has the spunk but, sadly, not the heart of the post-apocalyptic heroine."
Tank Girl was released on DVD by MGM on April 10, 2001. Aaron Beierle from DVD Talk gave the DVD three and a half stars out of five for both video and audio quality, though only half a star for special features, noting that only the original trailer was included.
Shout! Factory acquired the rights to several MGM films, including Tank Girl, and subsequently released a US Blu-ray version on November 19, 2013. Special features included the original trailer, a 'Making of' featurette, a commentary track with Petty and Talalay, and interviews with Talalay, Petty, and Hardwicke. Jeffrey Kauffman from Blu-ray.com gave the version four stars out of five for audio and video quality and three stars for special features. M. Enois Duarte from highdefdigest.com gave the version three and a half stars out of five for video quality, four stars for audio quality, and two and a half stars for extras. The blu-ray has not been released internationally.
To boost its declining readership, Deadline featured Tank Girl on its cover many times in 1994 and 1995 in anticipation of the film's release. Subsequently, 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." The magazine ceased publication in late 1995. Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett have since spoken negatively of their experiences creating the film, calling it "a bit of a sore point" for them. "The script was lousy," Hewlett recalled, "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." Talalay complained that the studio interfered significantly in the story, screenplay, and feel of the film. She said that she had been "in sync" and on good terms with Martin and Hewlett until the studio made significant cuts to the film, which she had no control over. Peter Milligan wrote an adaptation comic in 1995, and a novelization of the film by Martin Millar was published in 1996.
Despite being a critical and commercial failure, Tank Girl is often said to have a cult following. Petty's version of Tank Girl remains a popular character at cosplay events. The music video for Avril Lavigne's 2013 song "Rock n Roll" was heavily influenced by Tank Girl. During her interview included on the Blu-ray release of the film in 2013, Petty was asked why she thinks the film still resonates with fans, and replied: "There's no formula as to why Tank Girl was so fabulous and why people love it so much ... It was unique, it was new, it was fresh, it was way ahead of its time, and I'm happy that I got to do it and that I'll always have her." Luke Buckmaster from the BBC included the film in his 2015 list of the "ten weirdest superhero films", asserting that: "at its best, director Rachel Talalay captures an ostentatious steampunk vibe that proves weirdly addictive."
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