New Year’s Eve 1999. Anything is possible. Nothing is forbidden.
Strange Days is a mesmerizing cult sci-fi/mystery film. It presents a murder mystery in a perverted, twisted view of the eve of the millennium.
Strange Days made its theatrical debut in 1995. It told the story of events taking place in Los Angeles just five years away, just before the calendars rolled over all four digits. The world it presents isn’t all that different than the one we are living in as I write this. Only the core technology — the “SQUID” receptors and the ability to view the recorded output of another person’s cerebral cortex — is all that far-fetched. (Even then, university researchers have been able to perform similar feats with cats.) I have not heard of the National Guard mobilizing in Los Angeles, but who knows what will happen.
A considerable amount of talent, both in front of and behind the cameras, was utilized in making Strange Days. It was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who directed Point Break. It was written and produced by James Cameron, the writer and director of famed movies such as Titanic, The Abyss, and the Terminator series. I’m not the world’s biggest Cameron fan, but he is virtually unsurpassed at creating compelling stories with interesting characters. Strange Days is no exception. Ralph Fiennes is the marquee name among a fine cast. He has shown his substantial talent in fine films such as Schindler’s List, Quiz Show, and The English Patient. Also starring are Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear, Natural Born Killers), Angela Bassett (Boyz N the Hood, Contact, How Stella Got Her Groove Back), and Tom Sizemore (True Romance, Heat, Saving Private Ryan). In smaller roles are recognizable character actors Michael Wincott (The Crow), Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket), and William Fichtner (Armageddon).
The plot of Strange Days hinges upon the SQUID technology. It consists of headgear and a recording/playback deck. The headgear picks up the wearer’s brainwaves and records them to a disc. The disc can then be played back, and the viewer can see and hear what the recorder was doing. The technology is demonstrated in the opening sequence. A would-be thief records as he and two accomplices burst into a restaurant, take the money from the register, and lock the restaurant staff in a freezer. Just as they are about to make their getaway, the police arrive in force. The wearer and another robber run up a flight of stairs to the roof, pursued all the way by the cops. When they reach the roof, the other robber leaps to another building. The wearer hesitates, but chooses to jump as the police close in. He doesn’t make it and plunges to his death…as it is recorded. This entire sequence is presented without cuts.
That’s just a demonstration of the SQUID device. The catalyst of Strange Days‘ plot is the murder of a famous (and politically active) rapper at the hands of two Los Angeles cops. Along for the ride was a call girl who happened to be “wearing.” She passes on the tape to Lenny Nero (Fiennes), an ex-cop who now peddles black market “clips” (as the SQUID recordings are called). However, she only places it in his car, which is promptly repossessed. Lenny enlists the services of Mace (Bassett), an old friend who is a bodyguard/limo driver. Gradually they uncover a plot involving Lenny’s ex-girlfriend Faith (Lewis), her current boyfriend Philo (Wincott), and Max (Sizemore), Lenny’s best friend who is now a detective in the employ of Philo. The story climaxes on New Year’s Eve 1999. As crowds gather in the streets to celebrate, Lenny and Mace must protect themselves both from the rogue cops and the menacing parties involved in the cover-up. I’m reluctant to give much more away, but I’ll give this clue…what happened to Sizemore’s characters in each of the three movies that I mentioned previously?
Strange Days is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but it is a non-anamorphic transfer. Despite that quibble, the picture is flawless. Many scenes in the movie contain elements that can cause problems on DVD transfers. For example, take the closing party scenes. Multi-colored strobe lights are strobing, confetti and balloons are flying, and gigantic TV screens are flashing bright Y2K messages. I noticed absolutely no bleeding or pixelation or digital artifacts. The audio is equally sparkling…if only I had the system to judge it adequately (Santa was kind to me this year, but not THAT kind).
Extras-wise, the disc falters a bit. There is not a commentary track per se. Instead, there is a very low-fi recording (presumably at a university) of Kathryn Bigelow describing the work that went into filming the opening sequence. It begins after the sequence is over, and runs for about 50 minutes while the movie continues to run. Her comments are interesting and informative, but it’s hard to keep track of what she is talking about because the one scene she is discussing is long over. Also included are two theatrical trailers and two deleted scenes. The excised scenes are bookended by the parts of movie around them — a nice touch. The menus are movie-themed, and are nicely animated and sound-articulated.
I love the movie, it looks and sounds beautiful, and the extras complement the movie. The only quibbles I have are with Fox’s use of the Alpha keep case and Cameron’s reluctance to allow anamorphic transfers.
Bigelow and Cameron have crafted an extraordinary cult film. As we enter the new millennium, it is also rather timely. The judge recommends that you watch it at your first available opportunity.
Case dismissed, and the prosecutor is sternly reprimanded for bringing this fine movie before the court.