Director: John McTiernan
Writers: John McTiernan
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Leslie-Anne Down, Maria Monticelli
Length: 102 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: August 18, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Interview with Leslie-Anne Down
- Radio Spot
- Photo Gallery
A year before he put himself on the map with Predator, and two years before Die Hard solidified his role in mainstream action cinema, Director John McTiernan had his debut with the mostly-forgotten psychological horror film Nomads. Upon its release, the film received wavering reviews. Many noted McTiernan’s promise as a director but (understandably so) were perplexed by the film’s plot. By all means, despite the talent involved, it would have been easy for this film to die. But, as they are prone to do, Scream Factory has given the film a Blu-ray upgrade, allowing it to remain relevant for its small cult following and perhaps pick up a few new fans along the way.
The film opens in a California-set hospital, where Lesley-Anne Down plays a late-night shift doctor named Flax. Her already hectic night takes a turn for the worse, when a severely injured man (Brosnan) is rushed into her wing. The man has been attacked but, despite his failing state, is screaming at the top of his lungs. According to the subtitles he is speaking French, although it sounds more like gibberish. Flax attempts to subdue him but is unsuccessful and the man eventually succumbs to his injuries. As he dies, however, his memories are transferred to Flax, a force that causes her to pass out. When she awakes, she is taken through the days leading up to the man’s, a French anthropologist named Jean Charles Pommier, life. As it turns out, Pommier’s work has caught the attention of ancient spirits who followed him back to America (taking the form of a renegade punkish gang) to put an end to his meddling.
To this date, Nomads is the only film written by McTiernan, which begs at two questions. First, is this the kind of film that McTiernan wanted to make but hasn’t been able to due to Nomads relatively negative feedback? Has his relegation to action cinema been to his dismay? Or, perhaps McTiernan found directing other people’s work to be a lot more rewarding, and therefore never returned. Either way, there is something quite fascinating about this film. At first, you might be pressed to almost hate it. It’s, admittedly, easy to laugh at because many of its aspects are so eccentric that they become unintentionally humorous. Principle among these is Pierce Brosnan’s horrific (we mean horrific) French accent. It is purported that the role was originally to go to Gerard Depardieu and given to Brosnan as his first leading role after failing to secure Depardieu. So perhaps Brosnan saw it as a challenge to take the French role on, but really it was unnecessary and with minimal rewriting they could have made him English or American (even without recasting the French Anna Maria Monticelli as his wife). Excepting his accent, Brosnan does a fine job in his debut role. It’s a role that certainly improves over the runtime and by the end its hard to not feel attached to his character. Alongside Bronsnan, Down is great at Flax, although she does take the back seat and her role is limited by the narrative scope of the film.Many have accused the film as being almost inexplicable. There is a hint of truth to this. The plot is a tad confusing and McTiernan seems more interest in the mood than really over-explaining the roles. It would be a lie to say that the film doesn’t give you everything you need to understand the basic plot. There is actually something refreshing about the amount left either vague or completely unexplained, because it leaves it to the viewer to piece it together. It’s a film that feels a bit more respecting of its audiences than one that wants to hand feed them.
Where the film really shines is in McTiernan’s direction. He really sets up a nice atmosphere. McTiernan begins the flashbacks in a 3rd person perspective but quickly abandons this technique. Some may find the abandonment to be somewhat cheap, having most of the film fixed from the perspective of Pommier rather than trying to keep it layered, but it allows McTiernan to set up the plot without having to didactically explain it. There is a strong, almost ethereal atmosphere. It creates a tangible sense of dread that can be felt and doesn’t feel entirely too aged — although some aspects have aged better than others. While McTiernan’s action films are fun — Die Hard is a masterpiece in its own right —, it would be great to see him work from his own material and work in horror again. Nomads is a fiercely unique film.
Scream Factory delivers Nomads to Blu-ray in a modest fashion. Overall, the grain structure is good but there does appear to be some slight issues with the print. Artifacts such as dirt and scratches appear and at times there are some issues with compression. Colors are accurate and bold and there doesn’t appear to be any over-zealous DNR issues. In the end, it can be said that the print is good but not great. Still, it’s a great effort for a title that few labels would even bother touching.
Audio does fare better than the video. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is well mixed, capturing the bombastic sound design with the score and dialogue in an effective manner. Everything is clear and relatively crisp, leaving little room for complaints.
The package for Nomads isn’t exactly stacked but we do get a few nice supplements for the film. First, there is an interview with Down that focuses on the film/her role. It’s a nice piece because while Down doesn’t disown the film she clearly has fun wrestling with her own reservations about it and with how the film has been upheld by fans. In addition, to the interview there are trailers, a radio spot, and a photo gallery. It would have been fantastic to get a commentary track with McTiernan, so that we could be taken through the film from his perspective. Even an interview would be great, but you can’t dwell too hard on what is not there, and we appreciate having at least the new interview with Down.
Nomads should be seen by any McTiernan fan. It does set the mold for many of the films he would go on to make, while at the same time feeling completely different than anything in his oeuvre. It will be a bit too abnormal for many but those that appreciate a little eccentricity in their cinema will feel right at home. Its far from a perfect film but it is one that deserves a chance to be seen, and it’s great that companies like Scream Factory continue to use their platform to champion not just the greats but also the underseen.