Monday, August 24, 2009

They Just Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To


Can you even imagine a title like that on a movie turned out by the slick, suave, modern Hollywood? I mean for God's sake just look at it. How gauche! Even Michael Bay would cringe at the very idea.

Get a load of this premise: three completely helpless bimbos in shiny space-lingerie are stranded on a desert planet after their ship explodes, and immediately fall captive to the horrible evil population of mindless drones and their horrible evil overlord. Naturally, it falls to some unshaven square-jawed clod to ride in, blow everything up, and save the day with his erstwhile sidekick and an underage girl.

Where's the nuance? I do declare, I may get a case of the vapors.

As seen above, there is HAIR! OF! THE! FUTURE!, the likes of which haven't been seen by your author since his unfortunate exposure to Battlefield Earth. There are deformed midgets, who may or may not be radioactive. There are explosions. There are Road Warrior-inspired cars, trains, motorcycles, and snowplows(!). There are Amazons and dragons and blobby pasty human grub s. Michael Ironside rocks the Nosferatu facepaint and six-foot-long robotic claw arms, hamming it up on a crane hoist.

How's all this come together? I already told you in the second paragraph. That's not the 100-word pitch, that's the freaking screenplay. This movie has all the depth and complexity of the grounds-laden rime of sludge steeping in the office carafe at 5:30pm.

I think I like it not so much for what it is, but for what it isn't. It's refreshing, in a way. Peter Strauss is not some conflicted, brooding bad boy with a troubled past, he's just this average guy. Ernie Hudson's character isn't a "magic negro" full of obscure wisdom or a "token negro" with streetwise moves and cunning, he's just a companion. Molly Ringwald isn't La Femme Nikita the wily innocent-faced assassin or Short Round the wisecracking plot device, she's just a dingy sorta scruffy kid. Ironside isn't out to destroy all mankind and rule the universe with an iron claw, he's satisfied with his one little planet, some half-naked slavegirls, and dumping the occasional hapless slacker in his Running Man industrial death maze.

I can't really say whether the movie was intended to be taken seriously. The title suggests self-parody, but the film isn't overtly played for laughs. The effects are 80s cheesy, but some of the makeup - particularly the blobby human grubworms - is unexpectedly effective, in that sense of "whoa, that's not CGI, that's a dude in a slimy rubber fat suit. And he is really emoting!"

Yeah, it's trash cinema. Mike and the robots would tear it to shreds. That doesn't mean it can't be a good time. Guilty pleasure? Perhaps. Not guilt on par with listening to ABBA, but maybe somewhere between a Broadway production of "Cats" and certain tangentially related works in the Paul Schrader oeuvre.

Overdog: stranger danger.


  1. That was great. Ernie Hudson: the fourth Ghostbuster. The logo says it all. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume this movie is one of those that lacks "eros". Also, love the hair of the future. As a quick aside, Apoth, did you ever hear the origin of the Centauri hair do from B5?

    I'm guessing that early to mid '80s space trash movies like this were merely trying to capitalize off the success of Star Wars. I could be wrong about this because I was young and out of the country at the time (studying at a madrassa in, I kid, I kid), but wasn't there a dearth of sci-fi in the second half of the '80s, especially on TV? If so, do you think these movies were largely responsible because they turned people off to the genre? I remember there not being any sci-fi but reruns until Star Trek: TNG came out and the '90s sci-fi explosion followed in its wake. Since TNG was so bad, in retrospect, I'm thinking that fans of the genre were so starved that it was still better than anything else out there.

  2. I don't really know whether films like this were the cause of the perceived sci-fi dieback, or the effect. I was in my late teens in the late 80s. There's a lot of it I don't recall very well.

    TV-wise, there was Quantum Leap, which was reportedly pretty good. Then there was stuff like...well, this. I wouldn't typically classify shows like "Airwolf" and "Knight Rider" as sci-fi - more like military action and cop shows, respectively - but hey...Cat People. So they're in the mix.

    SHAMEFUL ADMISSION: I still like the Airwolf theme music.

    Movie-wise, sci-fi wasn't the wasteland it might seem. Innerspace, the Back to the Future series, Cocoon, Millennium (even if John Varley hated it after it was done, I still liked it), The Quiet Earth, and of course my fave, The Abyss. So it wasn't a total wasteland.

    Maybe it's not so much a lack of movies at the time as it is a lack of eight-figure advertising budgets.

  3. Hooooleeee crap. Haven't thought about Automan in a loooooooong time. I couldn't even tell you anything about that show other than somehow I know I have seen it before.

    Quantum Leap was one of my childhood staples during my "one channel only" years. What I could never understand about that show is why they limited themselves to having Bakula only jump around within his own life time. I think the show could have been a lot more interesting if he wasn't always in the '60s and '70s.

    Airwolf theme: guilty, too. Still remember it. That was another one of my favorite shows along with Knight Rider. Stringfellow Hawk. Do you remember Blue Thunder? That was the helicopter show that never got off the ground, no pun intended. Or how about Misfits of Science?

    Innerspace and Back the Future were great, too. I have seen most of Cocoon but never seen Millennium or the Abyss and never heard of The Quiet Earth. Oh, and the first Terminator came out in '80s, too. So maybe it was more TV that was lacking during that time? Now there is a glut of sci-fi, and most of it terrible. I've tried watching a couple of the newer Sci-Fi channel shows like Flash Gordon and something else, but they were dreadful.

  4. Btw, forgot to comment on the lack of CGI thing you mentioned. CGI is getting overdone now. There is a need for it in some circumstances, but not for everything. For example: I much preferred Yoda as a muppet. It felt more "real" to me because the puppeteers were able to pull the effect off so well in the original films. I never felt like he was a muppet, I felt like he was an alien. Just like in Farscape: I knew that Rygel and Pilot were both muppets, but somehow I never felt that way when I was watching the show. Even though CGI has come a long way since TRON, you still instinctively know it's not real.

    I think movies will eventually be completely CGI. Some recent movies are already sickeningly lifelike, and what studio wouldn't want to avoid having to deal with all of these nutty, egomaniac actors? I'm not saying I like the idea, in fact I think it's pretty creepy, but they already did that with Beowulf. There have already been several movies made where the live actors are barely doing more than standing in front of a blue screen and are even replaced with CGI models for some scenes. If that's the case, then what do they really need the actors for?

  5. I remember liking the movie Blue Thunder (hey look, more Malcolm McDowell!) but the television version was forgettable. It would've crashed and burned on its own even if it hadn't been overshadowed by Airwolf.

    You should find and watch The Quiet Earth, as soon as possible. A variant on "what if you woke up and discovered you were the last man on earth, and that was more or less your fault." No zombies, no nightbreed, just one man coming to terms with his own slow descent into insanity.

    Some scenes. Soundtrack fortunately not representative of that in the actual film.

    I won't tell you it's a truly great film, a sci-fi masterpiece, with scenes of sheer brilliance...I'll let you figure out those things for yourself. I can tell you with some certainty that you won't be disappointed.

    Now. Details on the B5 Centauri hair, please.

  6. I'm not sure how I neglected to mention this piece of awesome in my 80s sci-fi list, but consider that oversight rectified. Definitely one of my favorite time-travel films.

    The theme music alone is worth the price of admission.

  7. I will have to check out The Quiet Earth. I know about the Final Countdown but I have only seen snippets of that. I have some gaps in my '80s pop culture experience due to living in Germany.

    Btw, I was expecting the song of the same name by Europe. Wasn't that song written for the movie or is that just an amazing coincidence?

    As for the B5 hair, it was explained it on one of the DVD commentary tracks. Peter Jurasik did it up all crazy like that on purpose as a joke to play on JMS. He pretended like it was this big idea he was all proud of, and JMS thought he was being serious. He grudgingly went along with it because he thought he was massaging Jurasik's ego but was really upset about it. JMS didn't have an openly adverse reaction to it so Jurasik thought he actually liked the idea. Thus the Centauri hair as we know it was born, with nobody actually liking it.

  8. That's great. Funny how they managed to integrate it into the storyline later though, with the size of the hair indicating rank and stature in society, even so far as having Emperor Cartagia voluntarily cut his short to flaunt his "decadence."

    The Final Countdown is worth watching in full, and probably worth an entire post here in and of itself simply because it's another of those movies you can't imagine being made in today's political climate. The time travel aspect is compelling, but the dogfight scenes...oh, my. This movie had me deep in love with the F-14 Tomcat long before Tom Cruise put on a flight suit.

  9. I wish we could edit comments, so I wouldn't have to make a new one for stupid addenda every time I forgot to add something.

    The movie predated the Europe song and they had nothing to do with each other. Unless Europe just liked the title.

  10. This movie had me deep in love with the F-14 Tomcat long before Tom Cruise put on a flight suit.

    WHAT!!?? j/k

    The movie predated the Europe song and they had nothing to do with each other.

    That's good. I would have a much harder time taking the movie seriously if Europe was constantly playing. Not that I intensely dislike the song, just that its "mood" doesn't fit with a serious military movie...even if time travel is involved.

  11. Lost the trail of thought somewhere up there.

    But I loved Airwolf. The whole thing. The premise. The secret hiding place. The music. The HELICOPTER.

    C'mon, admit it. You did too. It's called a guilty pleasure...

  12. Another fan of Airwolf and Knight Rider these tunes, here...

    I LOVE Spacehunter!!!
    Despite meeting some very famous people on a regular basis, I'm not much of an autograph collector at all.... But having Michael Ironside proudly signing my original VHS copy of Spacehunter was fantastic - Mr. Ironside seemed to concur, saying "Oh, YOU'RE the one who bought this movie... I've heard of you!!!"

    But yes, big fan of the film and I really enjoyed your review of it. Very nicely done.