Color, 1992, 90 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by Tony Maylam
Starring Rutger Hauer, Kim Cattrall, Alastair Duncan, Michael J. Pollard, Alun Armstrong, Pete Postlethwaite, Ian Dury
MVD Rewind Collection (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), 101 Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), DigiDreams (Blu-ray) (Germany R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
At times playing like a Mad Libs game of sci-fi and action elements, this futuristic buddy cop vs. monster movie seems designed to hook adolescent viewers who might stumble across it on late night TV. Featuring a memorable leading man turn by Rutger Hauer spending most of his screen time in a mean pair of sunglasses, it's also an environmental statement of sorts that still plays a little close to home today.
In the far-off world of 2008 London when the city is "largely submerged below water," jaded homicide detective Harley Stone (Hauer) is partnered up with rookie Dick Durkin (Duncan) to investigate a string of brutal murders that bear a strong resemblance to the slaying of Stone's prior partner three years earlier. Their path uncovers some disturbing revelations about the killer's biological makeup, which seems able to adsorb its victims' DNA, as well as the involvement of Michelle (Cattrall), the dead partner's wife and a former flame of Harley's. An exploration of the city's underground tunnels brings them even closer to a culprit that's clearly not human, and one with which Stone seems to share a supernatural psychic bond.
A challenging production that led to the departure of its credited director, The Burning's Tony Maylam, before the end of shooting, Split Second gets by on the feisty energy of its two leads and nutty genre blending, which is coated in that dreary, druggy ambiance common to so many genre films around the late '80s and early '90s. Hauer's clearly the star of the show here and makes the most of it, spitting out bon mots and chomping cigars with wild abandon while sharing telepathic thoughts with a beast that remains unseen for most of the running time. It's not a film designed to upend any genre conventions at all, but it moves at a decent clip, offers plenty of junky thrills, and even provides the spectacle of seeing Oscar-nominated character actors Pete Postlethwaite and Michael J. Pollard sharing space in the same film, albeit without a ton of screen time.
Only given moderate U.S. theatrical play, Split Second became a fairly popular VHS titles in 1992 from HBO's home video wing and was eventually issued in a very mediocre DVD edition a decade later. The film first bowed on Blu-ray in 2015 from film grain-phobic German label DigiDreams as part of its "Platinum Cult Edition" line alongside titles like Nemesis. That release features English and German audio options (DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0) with optional German subtitles, and extras include three trailers (British, Spanish, U.S) and two American teasers, a promo stills gallery (1m7s), an artwork gallery of posters and video covers (3m28s), a production photo gallery (1m2s), and a merchandising gallery (26s). The transfer itself was the best we'd had it to that point but suffered from some obvious issues including soft and unnatural grain, a yellowish tinge through most of the film, and blown-out white levels in bright scenes that obviously obscured detail.
That left plenty of room for improvement in terms of both a/v presentation and extras, so fortunately in 2020 MVD stepped up to the plate in the U.S. and 101 Films in the U.K. with Blu-ray releases with essentially identical releases in terms of both the source transfer and bonus features. Touted as a 4K scan from the 35mm internegative, the film looks vastly superior here with deeper blacks, more convincing color grading (including the restoration of those vivid blues that were virtually annihilated on the older release), quite a bit more visible detail with the white levels back under control, and much more image info on the sides and top with slightly less on the bottom. The sole audio option is 2.0 LPCM stereo, which is fine as that reflects the original theatrical mix and decodes nicely to surround anyway; optional English subtitles are provided. (The U.K. disc was not available for review, but based on these comparisons, it appears to be a few notches brighter.) The disc is loaded with a hefty batch of new extras starting off with an appreciative audio commentary with "action film historian" Mike Leeder and filmmaker Arne Venema, who chew on this slice of "Hauersploitation" with gusto and acknowledge both its strengths and weaknesses with good humor while rattling through its history (including its multitude of titles and various versions as well as its earlier L.A.-set script incarnation as Pentagram). Plus you get to learn the correct pronunciation of "Rutger Hauer." Then in "Great Big Bloody Guns!" (27m25s), Duncan and producer Laura Gregory cover the film from its genesis as a low-budget horror project in London through the production with the very enthusiastic leading man. Other new featurettes include "Call Me Mr. Snips!" (22m21s) with composer Stephen W. Parsons, "Stay In Line!" with line producer Laurie Borg (23m2s), "More Blood!" (32m3s) with creature effects designer Cliff Wallace, and "Shoot Everything!" (18m57s) with cinematographer Clive Tickner, which are all loaded with material including side gigs as rock drummers, the original choice of Wendy Carlos as composer, the implementation of "muscle mags" for sculpting creatures, the directorial issues, the artistic decisions that led to the film's aesthetic, the lessons learned from working with Stephen Frears, and plenty more. Also included is the original promo featurette (6m26s) for the film's release (featuring Hauer, Cattrall, Duncan, Pollard, and others), a short behind the scenes vintage featurette (3m41s) focusing on the effects including future Blade director and Sean Connery terrorizer Stephen Norrington, seven promo TV clips, the American home video promo, and the U.S. trailer. In a welcome touch, you also get the entire Japanese release cut of the film (96m9s) in standard definition with burned-in subtitles; though obviously taken from a very dated full frame video master, it's fascinating as it contains a handful of deleted dialogue scenes (4m41s) which can also be viewed separately in their entirety. The MVD slipcase release also comes with a nifty reversible sleeve boasting new art by The Dude Designs as well as an insert featuring a mini-poster with the familiar artwork seen on the original VHS release.
MVD (U.S. Blu-ray)
DigiDreams (German Blu-ray)
Reviewed on August 28, 2020.