At the start of “Cherry 2000”, we are reminded the film is “An Orion Pictures Release,” which is charitable of them: it finished production in December 1985 for an August 1986 release, which was pushed back to March 1987, then September 1987, before finally being released in November 1988. This is the lot of many films, especially when there are now many more places to shove a difficult film than ever before.
“Cherry 2000,” however, should not have had this fate. It is a post-apocalyptic, science-fiction, romantic-ish comedy thriller: very little is not covered by that description. However, because it is all of those things, and not just one of them, it became too difficult to market – “Blade Runner” was languishing in pre-Director’s Cut obscurity at the time, so comparisons with that film were impossible. Therefore, “Cherry 2000” was squeezed out on VHS in the United States and Japan, although it was seen in cinemas in Europe.
Fortunately, the film compares favourably with “Blade Runner,” taking place in a dystopian, grungy, neon-tinged night-time, alongside the post-apocalyptic landscape, a Wild West version of “Mad Max.” There are pockets of relatively normal-looking civilisation, but society’s relationship with itself has changed: in an increasingly sexualised and bureaucratic climate, sex involves drawing up a contract first, so men taking androids for wives is increasingly commonplace. (The film takes place in the year 2017 but, then again, “Escape From New York” was set in 1997.)
“Cherry” is an android whose body has malfunctioned, leading to her “husband,” Sam, on a journey to a factory, located in one of the lawless areas of the US, to find a replacement. Cherry’s personality and memory spends the intervening time on what looks like a dictaphone, inviting comparisons with the relationship of Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore and Scarlett Johansson’s virtual assistant in Spike Jonze’s film “Her.” Sam crosses the land with Edith, a human female sherpa-like tracker. Edith is played by a bright-red-haired Melanie Griffith, in one of her earliest starring roles.
Edith is just about the only female character in the film that isn’t an android, and her presence makes her the star, as she is the only one not to have been made to be controlled by men – as a result, she is also the only character not to have been driven by desire. When the final escape is made at the end of the film, Edith is the one that makes the altruistic decision to save the couple, and it is her humanity that means she is the one that is ultimately saved – I am trying not to giveaway the ending, but you do hope it is the healthier relationship that wins.
“Cherry 2000” was undeniably made from a male point of view but, thankfully, it is a male fantasy that plays against itself – the use of androids for substitute relationships is shown as convenient, if not entirely wrong, and the rejection of this is still saving the male lead from himself. If remade today, Edith would be more clearly identified as the protagonist, bearing in mind that when the film ended production, we were still a full decade away from Geena Davis playing the lead in action films like “Cutthroat Island” and “The Last Kiss Goodnight.”
Melanie Griffith is undeniably the real star of “Cherry 2000,” and justifiably received an Oscar nomination, and won a Golden Globe, the following year – for “Working Girl,” the romantic comedy she made while waiting for it to be released. Meanwhile, Orion Pictures, which collapsed into bankruptcy in the 1990s before being bought by MGM, is being relaunched in 2020 to make films by, and about, people whose voices are underserved in cinema. This is change being implemented by MGM once Orion releases a science fiction comedy they did know how to promote: “Bill & Ted Face the Music.”