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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
Screenplay by Tedi Sarafian
Based on Tank Girl comic 
by Alan Martin
Jamie Hewlett
Starring
Music by
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)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[2]
Box office Approx $6 million[2][3]

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. 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 gained 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 film's production. 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.

Tank Girl was financially unsuccessful, recouping only about $6 million at the box office from its $25 million budget, and receiving mixed to negative reviews from critics. Martin and Hewlett have since spoken poorly of their experiences in creating the film. Talalay blamed some of the film's negative reception on studio edits which she had no control over. 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 also noted for its feminist themes.

Plot[edit]

In the year 2022, a comet strikes the 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). Kesslee tortures and enslaves the defiant Tank Girl rather than killing her. 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, but Tank Girl refuses. Among other forms of torture, W&P personnel push her down into a long pipe and fill it with water.

The Rippers, mysterious warriors, 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 the W&P boss 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 heavily modifies. 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 song and again 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 crates back, but most of them are empty. After finding Johnny Prophet dead in one of the containers, the girls and the Rippers realise that W&P has tricked them.

The girls and the Rippers sneak into W&P, where they are ambushed. Kesslee, whose wounds had been reconstructed by the cybernetic surgeon Che'tsai (James Hong), reveals that Tank Girl had 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 in danger from 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.

Themes[edit]

A photograph of a middle-aged woman with short, messy hair, wearing glasses and a light blue T-shirt
Lori Petty, who played the title role in Tank Girl, in 2008

In her 2006 book The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women On-Screen, Dominique Mainon writes that the film had anti-establishment themes, also stating that unlike many comic-book adaptation films which feature "gratuitous sexual objectification" of women, Tank Girl stood out as being "stridently feminist", with the exception of the "cliché victim/avenger complex".[4] According to Mainon, the film makes fun of female stereotypes, as shown by Tank Girl's repeated emasculation of Kesslee with witty comebacks as 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, wear make-up and a wig. Tank Girl completely ignores the advice and modifies the clothes to create her own style.[5]

In the 2011 book Cult Cinema by Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton, 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" was discussed. The authors considered Tank Girl to be a "'real' feminist cult film", as opposed to the feminist cult films of Kathryn Bigelow and Catherine Hardwicke, which the authors considered to be too masculine and too eager to cater to "hetero-normativity" respectively.[6]

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", sees one of the commune's children abducted, and is herself captured and enslaved. 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.[7]

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 the British magazine Deadline in 1988, the magazine's publisher Tom Astor began to seek a studio interested in making a film version. While several studios expressed interest, including New Line Cinema, progress was slow.[8] Rachel Talalay's stepdaughter gave her a Tank Girl comic to read while Talalay was shooting her directorial debut film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (released in 1991). Talalay read the comic between takes, and took an interest in directing a Tank Girl film.[9] She contacted Astor, who gave her permission to have the film made about a year later, just as she had given up on trying to secure the rights.[10] Talalay pitched the film to Amblin Entertainment, Disney, and Columbia Pictures, who all turned it down, before MGM made an offer.[11] 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 the choice of Hardwicke over more experienced designers. Talalay had to meet with producers to persuade them to allow Hardwicke, who was relatively unknown at the time, to work on the project.[12] Tedi Sarafian wrote the screenplay, with the film marking his debut production credit,[13] and Gale Tattersall was chosen to be the cinematographer.[14]

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 actress. The original choice, the English actress Emily Lloyd, was replaced after she refused to cut her hair for the role.[15][12] Talalay cast Lori Petty, an American, because "she is crazy in her own life and [the film] needed somebody like that.[16] MGM faxed Deadline asking them for an "ideal cast" list; they selected Malcolm McDowell for Kesslee, but never believed MGM would actually contact him.[17] McDowell spoke favourably of his experience working on the film, saying it had the "same flavour" as A Clockwork Orange, and praised Talalay and Petty.[18] Talalay was approached by several people who wanted cameos in the film, but she did not want the film to be overloaded with such appearances. Two cameos were settled on—Iggy Pop was given the role of Rat Face, and Björk was offered Sub Girl. Björk later dropped out, and her character's scenes were re-written. The role was then given to Ann Cusack.[19]

Tank Girl was filmed over 16 weeks,[20] 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,[21] and all other scenes were filmed within forty miles of Tucson, Arizona.[22] Many scenes were filmed in an abandoned open-pit mine, where filming had to be abandoned 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 this permission was withdrawn. These scenes were instead filmed in a tunnel back at the abandoned mine. New sets were often found by simply searching the mine.[23] Principal photography was completed on 28 September 1994, two days over-schedule, but still within the original budget.[24]

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.[17] 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 while she considered Winston to be the best, she did not expect to hear back from him.[25] 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, saying the Rippers would be "the best characters we've had the opportunity to do."[26] Winston's studio cut their usual prices in half to meet the film's budget.[26] Eight Rippers featured in the film: half were given principal roles and 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 motion of the actors' mouths.[27] Each Ripper's make-up took about four hours to put on. 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.[28]

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.[29] The rear section of a 1969 Cadillac Eldorado is visible at the back of the tank.

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 Booga was already established to people involved in the production. By this stage, Booga "was a character and not just a kangaroo [so] it wasn't an issue anymore."[30] A "naked Ripper suit" incorporating a prosthetic penis was created for Booga and used in a filmed post-coital scene, but was removed from the final film at the studio's insistence.[10] Deborah Cartmell described the post-coital scene in the final version, which featured Booga fully clothed, as "carefully edited".[31] Against Talalay's wishes, the studio made several other edits to the film. The scene in which Kesslee tortures Tank Girl was heavily cut on the grounds that Tank Girl appeared "too ugly" while being tortured. Also cut were a scene showing Tank Girl's bedroom, which was shown to be decorated with dozens of dildos, and a scene in which Tank Girl places a condom on a banana before throwing it at a soldier. The studio also cut the original ending scene, a live-action scene in which it begins to rain—the film would have ended with Tank Girl burping.[10]

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. 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.[32]

Soundtrack[edit]

Tank Girl Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by various artists
Released 28 March 1995
Genre Alternative rock
Label Warner Bros./Elektra

The film's soundtrack was assembled by Courtney Love;[33][34] Graeme Revell composed original music.[14] Love's band Hole contributed the song "Drown Soda". Greg Graffin from Bad Religion 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 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.[35] 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.[36]

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.[37] 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. In the US it peaked at No. 27 on the Mainstream Rock chart and No. 12 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.[38] 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.[39]

The soundtrack album was released on 28 March 1995 on Warner Bros./Elektra Records. It peaked at No. 72 on the Billboard 200.[38] The next week, New York magazine wrote that the soundtrack was getting more attention than the film itself.[40] 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.[36] 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."[34] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic said the album was "much better than the film", awarding it three out of five stars.[41]

No. Title Recording artist(s) Length
1. "Ripper Sole"   Stomp! 1:42
2. "Army of Me"   Björk 3:56
3. "Girl U Want"   Devo 3:51
4. "Mockingbird Girl"   The Magnificent Bastards 3:30
5. "Shove"   L7 3:11
6. "Drown Soda"   Hole 3:50
7. "Bomb"   Bush 3:23
8. "Roads"   Portishead 5:04
9. "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love"   Joan Jett and Paul Westerberg 2:23
10. "Thief"   Belly 3:12
11. "Aurora"   Veruca Salt 4:03
12. "Big Gun""   Ice-T 3:54
Total length:
41:58
Other songs in the film

Release[edit]

Initial screening and box office[edit]

A blue-eyed, white-haired man of about 70, smiling
Malcolm McDowell, who portrayed the film's main villain Kesslee, in 2011

Tank Girl premiered at the Mann Chinese Theatre on 30 March 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.[44] The film opened in cinemas in the US the following day.[2]

In the United States Tank Girl opened in 1,341 theatres. It made $2,018,183 in its first weekend,[45] towards $2,684,430 in 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.[2] Internationally, the film added approximately $2,000,000 to that total,[3] against a production budget of $25 million.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The film holds a 38% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 37 reviews, with 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."[46] 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."[47] 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.[48] Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars. While praising the film's ambition, he said its manic energy wore him down:

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.[49]

Owen Gleiberman gave the film a C– rating, praising Petty's performance, but added it was the only good part of the otherwise "amateurish" film.[33] 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."[50] 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."[51] 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."[52]

Home media[edit]

Tank Girl was released on 10 April 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.[53]

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 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.[54] M. Enois Duarte from High-Def Digest 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.[55]

Legacy and related media[edit]

A Tank Girl cosplayer in 2014

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."[56] The magazine ceased publication in late 1995.[57] 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.[58] "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."[59] Talalay complained that the studio interfered significantly in the story, screenplay and feel of the film.[60][61][15] 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.[10] Peter Milligan wrote an adaptation comic in 1995,[62] and a novelization of the film by Martin Millar was published in 1996.[63]

Despite being a critical and commercial failure, Tank Girl is often said to have a cult following.[64][34][65] Petty's version of Tank Girl remains a popular character at cosplay events.[66][67] The music video for Avril Lavigne's 2013 song Rock n Roll was heavily influenced by Tank Girl, right down to the styling of Lavigne's hair.[68] During her interview that appeared on the Blu-ray release of the film in 2013, Petty was asked why the 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."[69]

References[edit]

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  65. ^ Mathijs & Mendik 2007, p. 9.
  66. ^ Hayes, Britt (22 February 2013). "Cosplay of the Day: Don't Mess With Tank Girl Unless You Want to Get Bombed". Screen Crush. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  67. ^ Panda, Robo (27 March 2015). "Tank Girl Anniversary Edition Of The Funny, Sexy, And Awesome Cosplay Of The Week". Uproxxx. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  68. ^ E. Smith, Courtney (20 August 2013). "Avril Lavigne Pays Homage To ‘Tank Girl’ With ‘Rock N Roll’ Video". Radio.com. Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  69. ^ Lori Petty (2013). Baseballs, Tanks and Bad Tattoos: An interview with Actress Lori Petty (Blu-ray featurette). 
Bibliography

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]