Friday, June 18, 2010

Revenge of 3-D: SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983)

Damn, how did I get stuck with another long-ass title to review? I’m surprised I didn’t get STARCHASER: THE LEGEND OF ORIN too! Believe it or not, I actually got to see this one in the theater. Unfortunately, like most 3-D films from that era that I saw (PARASITE, JAWS 3-D, AMITYVILLE 3-D) it was projected flat, so no extra dimensions for my 8-year-old brain. In fact, for the sake of total disclosure, I will openly admit that the first 3-D experience I had was the last 15 minutes of FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991). Like they say, you never forget your first (unfortunately).

Intergalactic garbage man Wolff (Peter Strauss) heads to a virus plagued planet to rescue three Earth chicks whose escape pod landed there after their ship randomly blew up. Wolff normally wouldn’t be bothered, but the promised 3,000 mega-credits (the future!) reward would help pay his debts and satiated his ex-wife. He lands on Terra XI with his droid Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci) and locates the women. Unfortunately, the ladies are quickly abducted by minions of The Overdog (Michael Ironside), a former doctor sent to the planet that has mutated into a half-man, half-machine ruler. After losing his robot in the chaos, Wolff teams with teams up with scavenger Niki (Molly Ringwald) and former friend-turned-rival-hunter Washington (Ernie Hudson) as they follow the yellow brick road to Overdog’s command center.


That’s it for the plot. But you can’t fault it for being misleading as you do get a spacehunter and, indeed, we see his adventures in the forbidden zone. There are lots of weird encounters including retarded Molotov cocktail launching children; amphibious women who have a fire-breathing dragon; and some fat cannibals that look like John Candy on a bad day. What it lacks in plot in makes up for in fast action and excellent production design. The film features some great vehicles and "The Maze" (a torture obstacle course that Overdog sends victims into) is a sprawling set. It is funny because SPACEHUNTER was obviously inspired by MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR but you can see "The Maze" clearly inspired the Thunderdome and Bartertown in MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME. The 3-D effects consist of lots of folks pointing weapons at the camera and firing their laser beams. With a poster declaring, “The first movie that puts you in outerspace” there is surprisingly very little time spent there (maybe 10 minutes max) and they never fully exploit what could have been done there in 3-D (hyperspace anyone?).

The acting is good all around. Strauss is handsome and witty enough for the heroic lead. Hudson acquits himself well in the thankless “We should be partners” buddy role. Ironside is appropriately psychotic and I really pity him for having to get in and out of Overdog’s complex costume – which involved him wielding big claws and being leg locked in a hydraulic lift – every day. I’m sure Ringwald’s character grated on lots of people’s nerves. I guarantee you that script described her as “spunky.” The relationship between Wolff and Niki is questionable as the filmmakers always show her cuddling up to him while they sleep. Add in the filmmakers giving her a skimpy costume and having Wolff wash her in said tank top (Ringwald was 15 when this was shot) and you get a film that Chris Hanson approves of.


It is surprising SPACEHUNTER even made it to the screen as it was a troubled production that saw the budget balloon from $4 to $12 million. They started shooting in October 1982 with a different director under the title ADVENTURES IN THE CREEP ZONE. The original script title was ROAD GANGS (where on earth did that get that concept?). Anyway, after two weeks, the production was halted and the footage by original director Jean LaFleur (ILSA THE TIGERESS OF SIBERIA) was deemed so bad that it was all scrapped. Ivan Reitman, the producer, fired him and hired TV vet Lamont Johnson to come in and finish it starting in November 1982. Given that tumultuous history, it is surprising the film even made it to theaters. Yet the film hit theaters on May 20, 1983 and did pretty decent, debuting in the no. 1 spot that weekend (it was the only new film opening). The adventures in the forbidden zone didn’t last long for audiences though as some film called RETURN OF THE JEDI debuted 5 days later and Overdog proved to be no match for Ewoks.

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