As a part of their ’90s comic books on film series, the Coolidge Corner Theatre has put together one hell of a roster, and a true gem from that era is screening this coming weekend. The Coolidge will be showing friggin’ Tank Girl on Saturday night (February 11) and we want you to go see this wonderful cult classic. We know that just mentioning the words “tank” and “girl” and “screening” and “boston” will drive some people to go ahead and buy their tickets (and perhaps cosplay, because that’s what some Tank Girl fans do), but for the others who might not know what this is or why they should see it, we’re here to provide you with a little background.
The comic version of Tank Girl, the brainchild of writer Alan Martin and future Gorillaz designer Jamie Hewlett, debuted in the pages of Deadline, a comic magazine similar to Heavy Metal or the more well-known 2000AD. Originally a venue for English audiences to be exposed to the new wave of American independent comics like the Hernandez brothers’ incredible Love and Rockets, Tank Girl instantly took the magazine by storm and remained a mainstay of its roster until the magazine ceased publication in 1995. If you’ve ever seen a Gorillaz video featuring any of the band’s animated characters, you have a pretty good grasp of what Hewlett’s style looks like. Just take that and apply it to post-apocalyptic Australia with Kangaroo-human supersoldiers and punk babes with tanks and jets who don’t give a fuck what you think of them, and you have an irresistible aesthetic coupled with Martin’s acerbic wit guiding the story.
It proved to be an irresistible combination for audiences, and when it crossed the pond and was released by Dark Horse Comics in comic book stores all over the North America, Hollywood took notice.
The production was a disaster, and Hewlett and Martin hated working on it, as the suits behind the film didn’t understand their humor and bungled a lot of the details in translation. They stacked the cast with the most ’90s names possible, including Lori Petty (whose career never really recovered after its release), a barely-recognizable-under-the-prosthetics Ice-T, a then-unknown Naomi Watts as Jet Girl, and Malcolm McDowell as the big bad — a solid choice given that he had just killed Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations.
Director Rachel Talalay, who’d previously been exposed to the patronizing sexism of the Hollywood patriarchy with her experiences on the set of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (she received studio notes telling her not to make it “too girly”), tried to make it stylistically faithful to the comic and also tried to preserve its feminist themes. She succeeded on both fronts — the film is continually talked about amongst feminist film circles as being as good as anything directed by Kathryn Bigalow, and the excellent production design (done by future Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown director Catherine Hardwicke) really elevates the film from interesting minor flop to bonafide cult classic. Talalay also asked Courtney Love to curate the soundtrack, and holy shit, it’s got so many great cuts on it from artists like Veruca Salt, Portishead, Devo, and Björk that it’s just work recommending on that basis alone.
Though Petty’s performance can occasionally be grating, and the sugar rush energy and constant propulsion found within each frame can make it kind of hard to follow from scene to scene, there’s no denying that Tank Girl is one of the most unique comic book adaptations of its era, and deserves more respect from folks than it gets. It’s a real shame that Talalay never really had the chance to make other Hollywood films and was forced into television, especially given how good her recently directed episodes of Doctor Who are. She’ll always have this to point to, and legions of fans to back her up on it. Though the suits almost fucked all of it up (just like they’d do with other British comic mainstay Judge Dredd a year later), Martin and Hewlett’s anarchic spirit comes through enough to solidify this film’s place in the canon of cult, and yo, it’s a great way to spend a night at the movies.
TANK GIRL :: Saturday, February 11 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St. in Brookline, MA :: 11:59 p.m., all ages, $12.25 :: Advance tickets :: Coolidge film page