Monday, 2 September 2019

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

So it's 1983 and you wanna make a movie, what's hot? Well 'Star Wars' changed the face of cinema in 1978 and is still going strong with the third sequel in cinemas at the time. I know! Let's make a Star Wars-esque rip-off! A futuristic western with a Han Solo-esque hero, oh and just to be sure...we'll rip-off 'Mad Max 2' too. Greenlight!

K so Wolff (Peter Strauss) is a salvage operator, a bit of a rogue, and all-round good lookin' hero, you can tell by his cool name. Wolff has a debt problem and no he doesn't owe any large slugs money, ahem. Luckily he picks up an alert after a ship crashes on a hostile planet. Three sexy ladies have survived but have also been taken hostage by the locals (space pirates). On the planet Wolff finds two battling factions, the Scavs and the Zoners. The Scavs seem to be the goodies whilst the zoners, you get the idea. So the zoners have run off with the sexy ladies and taken them to their zone (hence their name) which is ruled by 'Overdog'. So it's Wolff's mission to rescue them, that's it (seriously).

One of the first things to happen in this fun-filled movie is a quite impressive battle on the hostile planet Terra XI. Wolff manages to find the three women with the Scavs and their large...train? Before much heroic schmoozing can be done the baddie Zoners attack and all hell breaks loose. Now this sequence is very much in line with the big finale in 'Mad Max 2', but instead of an oil tanker we have a train with gun turrets and...sails? This action sequence does appear to be (in retrospect) the main set piece of the flick. It does look like they blew everything on this action sequence and in all honesty it does look and feel good. You have goodies and baddies hand-to-hand fighting all over the shop. Laser battles, engine propelled gliders, motorbikes with roll cages etc...But don't worry, you know who's who because the bad guys all wear black.

Naturally the bad guys escape with the ladies so it's Wolff's job to get them back. It's at this point we discover that Wolff's female sidekick, who has been killed in the battle, is actually an android or Gynoid. This doesn't actually add anything to the plot of the movie but it does allow the opportunity for some pretty nifty special effects (for the time). I only mention it because the visual effects for this were pretty good. But never fear, we get plenty more female representation as Wolff stumbles across another attractive young lady in the form of Niki (Molly Ringwald), a tracker. She tried to steal Wolff's sweet moon buggy vehicle for reasons. When caught she begs Wolff to hire her as his tracker, or allow her on the mission. Wolff eventually allows it because...she's cute.

On the way to the forbidden zone the duo bicker and kinda fall out numerous times in very unconvincing ways. Of course they always work things out cos she's cute and he's gruff and good lookin'. Think Han and Leia, wash rinse and repeat. They also come up against some...mermaids? Some Amazonian type female warriors, and some sea creatures/monsters. All as cheesy as they sound. But again Wolff stumbles across another hero who can join in the adventure. This time it's his old, errr...salvage rival? Washington (Ernie Hudson), another good lookin' gruff space cowboy type dude. Wolff and Washington go way back and don't trust each other that much. But they put all that aside and team up cos...cliches.

Eventually the trio reach the forbidden zone which is like some bleak dystopian nightmare landscape with a huge industrial structure where all the baddies live. Kinda weird really because up until this point the landscape has been all desert with lovely weather. As you might expect all the bad guys that dwell within are clad in black attire with your typical Mad Max-esque addons like metal spikes, eye patches and whatnot. They also have a large arena with a maze loaded with deadly booby traps. They enjoy watching their captives get killed in this. As for Overdog (Michael Ironside), well he turns out to be this weird biomechanical looking human fused with various metallic industrial parts to enhance himself. Think of Pinhead but more industrial. I'm not sure if he was attached to the metal structure or just winched around by a crane, but he definitely has (robotic?) metal claws for arms.

I won't spoil the ending but I'm sure you can guess how this turns out. This movie is inherently silly and a blatant copy of many other much better bigger films. But I believe the cast knew this and were simply enjoying the ride. Ironside easily being the most outrageously over the top in a glorious display of cornball villainous acting. But despite all the cheese this movie does actually look pretty good all the way through. As said there are some great action sequences with solid stunts and pyrotechnics. There are some lovely matte paintings dotted here and there. Some terrific little bits of makeup and prosthetics. And the location work is spot on, very effective. Bereft of originality for sure, but overall it's a charming little space romp that I would recommend for all fans of sci-fi.