An efficient yet entertaining action thriller, Cyborg is an instantly rewatchable 80’s classic filled with intense fight scenes and some wonderful low budget cheese. This post-apocalyptic thrill ride rushes to Blu-ray with a new 2K scan and a slew of new special features making the overall package Highly Recommended.
“I’ll give you the horror show.”
Cyborg is that weird stepchild of Van Damme’s action films. Not quite a martial arts spectacular yet not quite a sci-fi fantasy. When going through his filmography or even listing your favorites from the “Muscles from Brussels” it rarely comes to mind. Sitting early in his career it was sandwiched between Bloodsport and Kickboxer but ultimately didn’t have the same reach as those two films. Rewatching Cyborg today I am reminded of a simpler time when action films were lean, cool, and offered something unique.
In a post-apocalyptic world devastated by plague, a lone cyborg named Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon) has the chance to deliver the cure from NYC to a team of scientists in Atlanta. It isn’t long before she is attacked and her security detail is killed by the sinister gang leader Fender Tremolo (Vincent Klyn) and his horde of brutes. Hell bent on sustaining his way of life in the wastelands Fender will stop at nothing to prevent a cure. Pearl hires the mercenary or “slinger” Gibson Rickenbacker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) to help her fight off the thugs and protect her on the journey to Atlanta. With the help of his chain mail army Fender grabs the cyborg, slaughters a bunch of people, and makes off to Atlanta on a stolen ship while Gibson nurses his wounds and cares for a survivor named Nady (Deborah Richter). With civilization hanging in the balance the two head south on foot hoping to catch Fender before he unleashes his wrath on the scientists. It becomes clear that Gibson’s real mission isn’t saving the world, but bloody revenge against the man who killed his family.
Cyborg is a solid action thriller that is entertaining as hell. Utilizing the strengths of then-newcomer Jean Claude van Damme, director Albert Pyun crafts a lean film that moves at breakneck speed. Gibson is the strong but silent type which helps the film’s momentum, but ultimately the character is stunted as we only learn about his motivations through flashback. Unfortunately, the stakes never seem high enough to warrant the protection of Pearl as the revenge angle is played up so much you just forget about that pesky plague nonsense. Where Cyborg succeeds is in managing this uneven direction and tone with spectacular action scenes. Vincent Klyn absolutely kills it as the wasteland’s gnarliest villain Fender Tremolo. The choice to have him scream/grunt every line was perfect. Also a man of few words, but what Fender lacks in communication skills he makes up for in being one of the most memorable antagonists in 80’s action movies thanks to his electric final confrontation with Gibson.
Cyborg thankfully graduated from the school of Mad Max rather than 1990: The Bronx Warriors in terms of style and visual direction. Costuming feels appropriate with copious buckles, leather straps, and general rattiness invoking a wasteland heavy metal band aesthetic. As Gibson fights Fender for the fate of the world we’re taken to so many interesting places. From dank sewers to lush marshes to empty factories Cyborg reveals the future to be a horrifying yet beautiful place in which to avoid the plague and those roving gangs out for blood.
Audiences will have a great time revisiting this late 80’s thrill ride. Seeing it again with fresh eyes, I’m caught off guard by all the Christ imagery and the absolutely grim fate Gibson’s family suffers. Deep down, Cyborg wants to be more than just another post-apocalyptic shoot-em-up. Unfortunately when it reaches for something with substance the film is thrown off balance making an already impatient film seem confusing. Most notably the flashback sequences highlighting Gibson’s past or the tender moments with Nady seem almost hokey. Don’t even get me started on Jean-Claude’s wigs. Don’t.
However, for an action film, it’s surprisingly tense and offers some terrifying moments that may excite those looking for more than a mindless actioner.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Cyborg arrives on Blu-ray thanks to the Scream Factory label. The 50GB disc is housed in a standard keepcase with reversible artwork and slipcover featuring new art from Shout! Factory. The disc opens to label logos before settling on the static Main Menu with typical navigation options. When you hear the pulsating synth music you’ve made it!
Presented in 1.85:1 this 1080p transfer is taken from a new 2K scan of the 35mm interpositive. Fine film grain looks solid and consistent throughout the feature. The transfer is clean with very little dirt seen at all. Color reproduction is dynamic with depth and texture to compliment. Blacks are inky and deep with detail in shadows. In close-ups, skin tones are remarkable for a film of this caliber! What an amazing effort from Shout! Factory. I’m genuinely impressed at how good this film looks considering it’s legacy of shoddy home video releases.
The sole audio track on the disc is a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. It sounds just fine, carrying dialogue, effects, and music tracks with no distortion. Dialogue is clear and clean with only a few instances of tinny resonance. Subtitles are available. I suggest keeping the volume at a medium level as most of the dialogue is recorded at lower levels.
Audio Commentary: Writer/Director Albert Pyun discusses the film with moderator Michael Felsher from Red Shirt Pictures.
A Ravaged Future: The Making of Cyborg (HD 29:45) Interviews with cast and crew (minus Jean-Claude) offer insights on the making of the film. If you skip the commentary track from Albert Pyun don’t miss this featurette!
Shoestring Fantasy: The Effects of Cyborg (HD 11:57) Visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr., Go-Motion technician Christopher Warren and rotoscope artist Bret Mixon provide a technical overview of the film’s special effects work. Super interesting stuff here.
Expanded Interviews From Mark Hartley’s Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (HD 1:03:35) Uncut interviews with Albert Pyun and editor Sheldon Lettich in which they speak at length about the culture of Cannon Films and working with producers Golan & Globus.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 1:30)
Still Gallery (HD 4:39)
Cyborg isn’t a movie easily classified. Part sci-fi, part action, and part revenge tale, it rides on its good looks and intensity rather than relying on plotting or deep characterizations. For those of us who discovered it back in the heyday of VHS, it sits on a mantle of 80’s action movies that only get better with time. With a strong performance from Jean Claude Van Damme Cyborg is a memorable action thriller that never lets up. With an outstanding A/V presentation and a slew of special features, this staple of 80’s action cinema comes Highly Recommended.