Friday, January 28, 2011

spacehunter: adventures in the forbidden zone [1983]

what's that? you thought the arts of the 3-d movie is sooo new? almost every flick that isn't a drama is released in 3-d. i've seen more 3-d movies these past two years than i have the last 25 years. the technology is vastly improved now but i still think of 3-d as a gimmick, a way to get you off the internets, off the smart phone, off the gaming systems, and into the theater.

it's a pretty effective gimmick, today and yesterday. altho the techniques for shooting a movie in 3-d are fairly old it wasn't until the 1950s when the movie studios were threatened by the ascendency of television. the studio execs needed some thing to get people back in the theaters. 3-d was that thing. however, it was a horrible experience and you were more likely to have a headache and eye trauma from the cheap paper 3-d glasses you needed to wear to potentially see an item from the screen careen toward your head. often what you saw onscreen was a mass of blurred images that increased the pain in your retinas.

the second wave of 3-d movies arrived when mom and pop video shops sprang up all over the u.s. when we lucky kids could get a vhs player and watch movies in our own homes. a different, younger set of studio execs panicked and needed some thing to get people back to the theaters. the techniques of 3-d hadn't improved since the 1950s but no matter, it was novel.

that's where this pic enters the scene. it was shot in 3-d and i saw it at the theater. i was there to witness the film in all its multidimensional glory. that was 1983 and it was the first time i watched the movie. i might've watched it again on vhs tape but i can't be sure. i know i did see it again for the first time in years a few nights ago online at it's worse than i remembered it.

spacehunter is the lead character played by peter strauss, a kind of nomadic cowboy odd-job man of deep space. the movie begins with a star cruiser blowing up after only one escape pod managing to escape. inside that pod are three bimbos who crash land on a desert planet, the forbidden zone of the title. something weird happened in the forbidden zone, medical experiments gone awry and the place is run by a despotic freak named overdog played by michael ironside. there is a reward to rescue the women and that's when our hero enters the scene.

oh boy. lots of cheap fx. the sets look cobbled together from the scrap ends of the sets for the second star wars film, the empire strikes back [1980] and the space vehicles are actual models where you can almost see the hand pushing them just out of frame. oh yes, ernie hudson is also in this pic as strauss' main odd-job man rival cum partner. and i think this is molly ringwald's first movie where she plays an urchin who guides spacehunter into overdog's lair.

i was surprised to read ivan reitman -- director of ghostbusters [1984] and other comedies -- produced this turd. and i'm pretty sure it is harold ramis' voice that announces the reward for the rescue of the women. maybe they were under contract, or maybe they have a fondness for b-movies and wanted to make their own. if it is the latter they succeeded because this is a b-movie par excellence. i remembered this flick as being much dirtier in its sexual imagery. there is an undertone of depravation present, like when overdog commands a minion to undress one of the captured ladies, slowly. or when we see strauss' partner on board his ship, she is supposed to be an android but she is in her knickers with that just out of the shower vibe. as filthy as those might sound there's no sex in this movie at all. it must've been the overheated imagination of a 15-year-old mind when i watched this movie for the first time in 1983.

there's also little violence despite the near-heroic efforts of the filmmaker, lamont johnson who was an unknown quantity to me then, and now, of making an action film. no tension, too, because there is little doubt our hero can get things done. in short, this is a damn fine b-movie. a few months ago molly ringwald was signing her newly published book about being a middle-aged wife and mother at the local borders. our very good friends b. and s. went to the signing, bought her book and exchanged a few words with ringwald. they wanted us to come with them. well, why not. ringwald is to our generation what gena rowlands is to the generation before ours. if i was going to get ringwald's autograph i'd want it to be on something unique and fairly rare. i thought of tracking down a copy of this flick and asking her to sign it. then i thought better of it. ringwald might not even list this flick on her c.v. anyway. i mean if i was ringwald i'd most likely not own up to this movie. but i'm not ringwald and i'd be damn proud to have my name in the credits. if it were me i'd sign away whatever piece of crap memorabilia that is thrust before me. because in the end what matters is that the love you take is equal to the love you make. dig.


At 1:26 PM, Blogger Allen said...

This movie fulfills b movie junkiness yet the way it scoops into half-hearted depravity makes it compelling. Ringwald was in her fresh mouth youth here, before becoming teen princess. The tension between her and the fatherly Strauss sort of adds a layer.


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