NOMADS (1986) Blu-ray
Director: John McTiernan
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Before THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR remake, Pierce Brosnan appeared in John McTiernan's radically different directorial debut NOMADS, on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

When a seemingly strung-out and combative Frenchman (Pierce Brosnan, GOLDENEYE) is brought into the emergency room, recent Boston transplant and divorcee Dr. Eileen Flax (Lesley-Anne Down, COUNTESS DRACULA) is the unwilling recipient of his cryptic last words (as well as a bloody nip to the ear): "They are not there, they are…" The next day Eileen learns from her colleague Olds (HILL STREET BLUES' Alan Autry) that the seeming derelict was actually French anthropologist Jean-Charles Pommier who was set to teach at UCLA in the fall and had only been in the country with his wife Veronique (Anna Maria Monticelli, THE DARK ROOM) for less than a week. Eileen starts to suffer from increasing hallucinations leading to a collapse at the hospital. As Olds and colleague Cassie (Jeannie Elias, THE PIT) try to discover what is wrong with her, Eileen's waking dreams lead her through the last days of Pommier's life and his growing fascination with a gang of punks (singers Adam Ant and Josie Cotton, cult icon Mary Waranov, dancer Héctor Mercado, and ESCAPE FORM NEW YORK's Frank Doubleday) attracted to his new home which was the site of a brutal family slaying. Following them through Los Angeles and photographing them over the span of thirty hours, he conjectures that they are something like a nomadic tribe in the middle of a modern city, seemingly always moving and virtually invisible despite their unprovoked acts of violence. When the punks do not show up on film and they start hounding him with phantasmal appearances, Pommier is no longer certain whether he is having some sort of nervous breakdown or if his nomads are some sort of malevolent supernatural force.

The beguiling debut of John McTiernan – followed up quickly by DIE HARD and PREDATOR – NOMADS has an intriguing concept, but his development of the story smacks of Introduction to Anthropology (although in actually refers to the life essences of both humans and animals) and French I. The casting of Ant, Waranov, and Cotton among the nomad principals might have given the film more of a commercial hook than the stars of REMINGTON STEELE (Brosnan) and NORTH AND SOUTH (Down), but they seem as threatening as punks in an MTV music video. There is indeed a music video-like sequence in which Waranov dances on a car hood as Pommier photographs her, but it actually fits into the story once Pommier and the audience realizes that not only are they aware of his presence here and are posing for him, but have likely been aware of his surveillance from the start and playing up to his voyeurism for sinister purposes. Although Brosnan's French accent is dodgy, he makes for an interesting protagonist at the expense of Down, who is sort of given short shrift even though his POV is seen through hers (Monticelli has less screen time than both, but gives some nuance to her constantly in-the-dark character. Frances Bay (BLUE VELVET) has a standout supporting bit as a mysterious nun and Nina Foch (THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE) has a small role as a real estate agent. Bill Conti (THE KARATE KID) provides an atmospheric synthesizer score, including a wonderful title theme with electric guitar accompaniment by a pre-whack job Ted Nugent.

Released theatrically by Atlantic Releasing Corporation and then on VHS by Paramount, NOMADS wound up with MGM along with other Atlantic titles like STORMY MONDAY, TEEN WOLF, NIGHT OF THE COMET, and PATTY HEARST. MGM's DVD in 2002 featured an anamorphic widescreen transfer that was superior to the tape release but still rather softish (partially due to the cinematography which like so many eighties films utilized degrees of onscreen diffusion that caused highlights to bloom). Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 1.85:1 encode cannot make this low budget film look like studio efforts of the period, but it is definitely a nice upgrade. What sounds like prominent hiss during the opening theme on the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track appears to be an intentional musical effect, and some of Brosnan's French mutterings are more discernable (although not transcribed or translated on the optional SDH subtitles).

Although not a collector's edition, Scream Factory has drummed up a handful of extras for the film. Actress Lesley-Anne Down (16:28) discusses her beginnings as a model and actress, having vaguely known Brosnan in her school days, and getting involved in the film through producer Elliot Kastner (DEATH VALLEY). She found McTiernan gruff and discovered that he had someone in mind for her part (and even admits that she was not a good choice for the role of an American doctor, although her character's Britishness does make her seem as far away from home in Los Angeles as Pommier and his wife), but concedes his strong vision and the film being better than she anticipated from the script. Composer Bill Conti (17:23) recalls the film as being particularly memorably because he did not write a score so much as go into the studio and improvise on synthesizers with Nugent (a gun nut even back then) on guitar. He spends a bit more time discussing other works, but his comments on THE KARATE KID relate back to NOMADS in the use of exotic instruments that for aesthetic effect rather than direct commentary on the culture or nationality of any character (for instance, Romanian Gheorghe Zamfir's Pan Flute in the former film). Besides the theatrical trailer (2:06) from the MGM DVD – which starts off selling the film as it if was a haunted house film – the disc also includes a radio spot (0:33) for the film and a nice still gallery (3:02). (Eric Cotenas)