"The more you drive, the less intelligent you are."
Making his feature film debut, Alex Cox grapples with that age-old question of whether you can make a movie with an unruly teen punk, a pair of dead aliens in the trunk of a car, and a band of rowdy repo agents and still be entertaining. In the wildly outlandish 'Repo Man' from 1984, the answer is a conclusive "YES!" And the near-visionary sci-fi fantasy comedy even succeeds in having audiences beg for more — more of the quasi-philosophical jabs at modernity, more of the incisive insights at life's purposeless existence and more of its zany abandonment for logical and narrative rationality. None of what is seen in this independent low-budget production makes much sense, yet it's satisfying and fulfilling, as if we, too, can fly through skies of Downtown Los Angeles in a 1964 Chevy Malibu.
The story, which was also conceived by Cox, wrestles with a variety of social themes and satirical absurdities, none of which are necessarily related but all of which somehow function as integral components of the film's overall effect. Tracy Walter's character sums it up nicely in an oddly poignant conversation about random coincidences being part of a cosmic unconsciousness. Oh, and that aliens are in fact creatures from our future traveling into the past, inadvertently causing it and creating a feeling of predestination. It's completely bonkers on the surface of it, but it's these sorts of surreal, off-the-wall comments which have me bursting with laughter while also making me ponder on their possibilities. 'Repo Man' is a pointless comedy with a point, a meaningful story about meaninglessness, a nonsensical tale that makes quite a bit of sense. (Well, enough of that, then.)
Walter's lot mechanic, Miller, is having this chat with the agency's newest recruit, Otto (Emilio Estevez), who's really starting to love his latest career choice. The plot mostly centers on the young rebellious teen, providing the film with a dark coming-of-age angle that isn't immediately apparent. Living with his hippie parents who've succumbed to a sense of complacency and televangelism, he's growing disillusioned with the punk-rock lifestyle and surrounded by banality, as seen with endless placement of generic products. It's absolutely brilliant that the kid finds relief and a strange sort of awakening for life working as a repo man. It's ironic also that the job would invigorate in him the energetic, thrilling, and chaotic ideals punk failed to fulfill.
Serving as Otto's mentor is the always thrilling to watch character actor Harry Dean Stanton. As Bud, a hardened and cynically embittered repo man who initially hired the kid, he offers a brutally realistic view of the world. Going in line with the film's outrageous nature, however, the guy is neither rooted in reality. Yet, much like Miller, the character shares many of his unusual thoughts on modernity with his young apprentice, though some are hilarious contradictions. ("I don't want no commies in my car. No Christians either.") As demeaning, unrewarding and often scorned by most as the job may be, Bud and his team function as the guardians of unsympathetic capitalism, as the crux and necessity of Reagan economics with endless credit masking mountains of disparity.
A mix of offbeat absurdity and quirky observations, 'Repo Man' is a social satire that engages with an unconventionally crass but captivating style rarely seen in films, especially major studio productions. Alex Cox's direction is not particularly noteworthy or standout, but he has his moments which are inspiring and charismatic. Although he continues to make micro-features today, his best years are without doubt the 1980s, following this impressive debut with punk biopic 'Sid & Nancy,' the wildly-entertaining Spaghetti Western pastiche 'Straight to Hell,' and the intentionally anachronistic 'Walker.' Looking back, 'Repo Man' is surely a warning of things to come from Cox's imagination of irrationality, and this eccentric film remains just as incisively intelligent nearly thirty years later.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Blu-ray edition of 'Repo Man' comes courtesy of UK-based distributor Eureka Video, via their "Masters of Cinema" series (spine #27), on a Region B locked, BD50 disc and housed in a clear keepcase. Accompanying the disc is a 43-page booklet, featuring pictures, notes and original drawings personally collected by Alex Cox. It also has a copy of the film's proposal. There are no trailers or promos before being greeted by an animated main menu.
Personally supervised and approved by Alex Cox, 'Repo Man' lands on Blu-ray with a striking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will surprise devoted fans and neophytes alike. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and taken from a new high-definition master, this is a marked improvement over previous home video editions and will likely stand as the definitive version for many years.
The picture is awash with a thin veil of grain throughout, giving it a very attractive film-like quality. The structure is made somewhat more apparent during low-lit interiors, but is never intrusive or gives the illusion of mosquito noise. The rest of the transfer displays excellent definition and clarity for a nearly thirty-year-old movie shot on a small budget. Facial complexions show great texture while cars, clothing and the Los Angeles architecture are distinct, sometimes strikingly so. Aside from a couple scenes with slightly below average resolution, the movie is quite sharp for its age and production history with terrific shadow details in the many nighttime sequences.
Contrast and brightness are very well-balanced with clean, bright whites and accurate, deep blacks. Colors receive a nice boost and are boldly rendered, particularly in the softer pastel hues. The transfer overall comes with a revitalized feel and energy without losing any of the movie's deliberate grittiness which beautifully exemplifies Robby Müller's photography, making this high-def edition a must-own upgrade for cult enthusiasts.
According to the accompanying booklet, the original monaural design has also been remastered for this Blu-ray edition and the results are outstanding. The DTS-HD Master Audio track comes with exceptional acoustical presence that while remaining perfectly centered in the middle of the screen, imaging manages to feel broad and expansive from beginning to end. Dialogue reproduction is crystal-clear and precise. Dynamic range is surprisingly extensive, nicely differentiating a variety of loud, sometimes screeching noises from the mid-level sounds. There's also an ample amount of mid-bass that's robust for a movie from 1984, though the scenes with the Chevy Malibu make better use of that deep extension. Still, it's enough to give the lossless mix a good deal of appreciable weight, especially with all the great music playing in the background.
Overall, it's a notable and memorable high-rez soundtrack for fans to enjoy.
Many of the supplements are also found on the Region 1 DVD release from Universal in 2006.
Writer and director Alex Cox made his feature-length debut with 1984's 'Repo Man,' a social satire on the banality of modernity and starring Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez. The bizarre sci-fi/fantasy comedy blends punk rock, dead aliens, government conspiracies and repo men into a hilariously weird but incisively clever tale. The Blu-ray from UK distributor Eureka arrives with an excellent, greatly-improved video and audio presentation. While the same supplements from the previous DVD are ported over, there are a few new exclusives which make this high-def edition a must-own for fans and cult enthusiasts.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.