Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Film Review: SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983, Lamont Johnson)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Ironside. Ernie Hudson, Molly Ringwald, Peter Strauss. Music by Elmer Bernstein. Produced by Ivan Reitman (GHOSTBUSTERS), Andre Link (MEATBALLS, RABID), John Dunning (writer, SNAKE EATER trilogy), and Don Carmody (TERROR TRAIN, PORKY'S).
Tag-line: "Journey with Wolff and Niki, an interstellar adventurer and young rebel. On a mission to rescue three stranded women from a planet no one has warned them about. Because no one has ever returned."
Best exchange: Ringwald: "But... you said if I made it through, I'm free..." Ironside: "I lied, nobody goes free! Chemist, prepare the Fusion Tube!"

I shall continue Ironside week with a film that doesn't usually make the shortlist of 'greatest Ironside roles,' but sometimes it makes the medium or the long lists. Your appreciation of the film will likely depend on when you saw it; people I've talked to who saw it as children sometimes place it on the same hallowed ground as say, WILLOW or LABYRINTH. Yet, I, having seen it only this year, can't quite muster the same sort of appreciation. Ironside is definitely great in this, but my biggest complaint is that he's not on screen nearly enough. In interviews, Ironside has reflected fondly upon this film, but has called it 'kitsch.' I say it's kinda like a mediocre CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE.

I mean, if a watered-down STAR WARS/ROAD WARRIOR mash-up sounds up your alley and you've already had your fill of BEYOND THUNDERDOME, then, by all means, give this a whirl. Everything about SPACEHUNTER is pretty generic, even the title: "SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE." Has quite a ring to it, right? Probably a better (though less accurate) title would be "SCALPHUNTER: THE ADVENTURES OF MICHAEL IRONSIDE." I'd watch THAT movie.

Now, SPACEHUNTER is in 3-D; but aside from the opening and end credits, which SWOOP and FOOOSH into the frame, it doesn't appear to take full advantage of the technology.

SWOOP

FOOSH

Our star is perennial TV-movie actor Peter Strauss, who's certainly not bad, but he's a far cry from the Han Solo-style hero we require. He weakly delivers a lot of smartass one-liners (like "I love this planet!" or "Works every time!"), and calls Molly Ringwald sardonic nicknames like "Princess" and "Kid," but, by God, he's no Harrison Ford. Ringwald plays one of those "ubiquitous, generic sci-fi urchins," who's clothed in a burlap sack, yet possesses immaculate teeth, coiffure, etc. Ringwald and Strauss' relationship is awkwardly fleshed out, and it's almost as if there were dueling screenwriters at work: one wanted them to be lovers, and another wanted them to be father and daughter... kinda creepin' me out over here.


Ernie Hudson plays 'The Black Guy,' and makes his underwritten role extremely likable, as always.

Karate-choppin' Ernie Hudson. No choppin' this time, unfortunately.

Finally, we get a villain: a diseased cyborg (?) named "Overdog" played by the one and only Michael Ironside. They've altered his voice (á la Freddy Krueger), disguised him beneath heavy makeup, and given him giant robot pinchers.

He's the kind of villain who's got all sorts of henchmen who say things like "Are you pleased?" and then Ironside responds "YOU'LL KNOW WHEN I'M NOT PLEASED."
He's also the kind of villain who presides over a giant THUNDERDOME/RUNNING MAN-style gauntlet called 'The Maze." Ultimately, though, he's criminally under-used.

There's a rollicking Elmer Bernstein score, a couple of semi-decent, proto-TOTAL RECALL monsters,

and we get to see an android's face melt, so I guess that counts for something.

Surely this counts for something.

But in all, I was often plagued by the thought, "I'd rather be watching HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN." Hmm. Three stars.

-Sean Gill

5 comments:

J.D. said...

I saw and loved this film as a kid (in 3D no less!) but it has not aged well. I caught part of it on cable a few months ago and it was pretty awful.

Now, METALSTORM... now there was a post-apocalyptic 3D film I can get behind. You even have the bad guy's metal prosthetic arm extend out in 3D and spit out some nasty fluid... yeah!

Sean Gill said...

I've never seen METALSTORM, but it sounds pretty fantastic. And any Thomerson/Band collaboration is always welcome in my home, no matter how suspect the packaging may appear.

J.D. said...

I actually found a site that has a copy of METALSTORM both in 3D and 2D. Very cool. It was nice trip back to my childhood...

Woody said...

This is my absolute favourite film ever!!

OK, I was 5 when I first saw it, but it has a lot going for it... if you know where to look.

Yep... It certainly *seems* bad...
However, given the firing of one director, the rushed induction (5 days) of another and the typical wrecking of the plot by studio people who think they know what will work better than the people making the movie, I'm amazed that it turned out so well.

The whole 3-D thing was a late tack on by aforementioned stuio peeps, as well as a set release date. The same studio cut most of the actual character development (and really pissed off the actors) in favour of more random action moments.

Even the model makers had to re-shoot everything to accomodate the studio's 'better ideas'.


That said, even this final result is cool and is evident from both the props & costumes and the impressive list of crew, who have all gone on to do some major works on massive movies.

I can only imagine how cool this would have been if the studio had just let people do what they do best.

Sean Gill said...

Woody,

That definitely makes sense. Consistently there's the feeling that a better movie lies beneath the semi-generic exterior, eager to emerge. Maybe one day we'll see a director's cut.

And kudos to you, sir, for keeping the fire burning with the SPACEHUNTER forum. Given the love this flick receives from the diehards, I definitely wish I could've seen it as a kid.