(1993, Fantasy-Sword & Sorcery, color)
In a nutshell:
An androgynous middle-schooler must find the lost technology of Atlantis.
Let us travel back in time to the reign of The Mannerjay (Olivia Hussey), a sultry dominatrix who rules the whole of medieval Europe with an oiled leather fist. Her goals are vague but evil; mostly they involve sending her feathery henchman, Lord Vultare (David Warner), to rave about spies and slaughter caravans of peasants more or less at random. One such caravan includes a muffin-hatted child named Travis (Corbin Allred) or “T” as he prefers to be called. Vultare’s Viking/Gypsy/Saxon warriors wound T and sell him into slavery. The opening credits cycle through the interminable slave market scenes, during which we meet high-chested fellow slave Thena, who helps T ward off the market’s larger and hairier denizens.
T is brought to the auction stand, but no one wants to buy a crippled girl/boy. Finally the town beggar, Baydool (David Warner…again) takes pity and buys him at a steep discount. He tends the boy’s wounds and gradually gains his trust with a false beard and a pot full of urine (sadly, I did not make that up). Finally, he teaches T to be a beggar like him. T’s begging skills are paltry at first, but eventually he learns to prance around like an idiot. Passers-by pay him to stop, and soon his daily take exceeds that of his master.
Now it’s time for the dramatic revelation—Baydool is actually an agent of the Delta Knights, a secret organization rather vaguely dedicated to the forces of good. There’s some stuff about a prophecy and a flashback or two about a famous Greek (recast in this film as an ancient Atlantean defense contractor) but I didn’t really follow it, owing to the fact that it’s convoluted gibberish. The upshot is that T is the “Chosen One” of prophecy, foretold as the one who will find the lost storehouse of Archimedes. Which will be, you know, good for the world or something.
Naturally, The Mannerjay will oppose them at every turn, so T must be trained in the traditional weapons of a Delta Knight—the flintlock, the blowgun, and the stick. Baydool dies near the beginning of a barrage of short subplots that involve a stolen map, an unsuccessful prison break, the reemergence of Thena as a brothel worker (who somehow recognizes T as male and hits on him despite the fact that he’s practically prepubescent), and the acquisition of an arrogant, rock-stupid sidekick named Leonardo Da Vinci.
You’d think they’d get back to the main plot now, but no. The landslide of non sequitur subplots rumbles onward with the capture and rescue of Thena for no apparent reason; an acrimonious love triangle; and a nonsensical escapade with the forest acrobats of Prince Jump Jugs (sadly, I did not make that one up either) who somehow identifies Thena as his long-lost princess sister and welcomes her back to his forest kingdom. She settles into a princess costume of even greater constrictive buoyancy than her prostitute costume and bids the boys farewell.
Bigger, deeper sigh.
Now that all the subplot silliness is over, T and Leonardo can concentrate on finding the lost storehouse, which they finally succeed in doing after a scrutinizing the prophesy for one last scrap of convoluted gibberish. They wander into an old mine filled with half-hearted booby traps, eventually discovering a room containing blueprints, models and crystals, many of which look suspiciously like Leonardo Da Vinci’s later work. And did I mention that Lord Vultare has been right behind them this whole time? Because apparently he has. He and his Elizabethan/Arabic/Cossack minions follow T through the passageway and take possession of the storehouse. Vultare gets excited and starts twisting crystal knobs at random. A vague Atlantean superweapon goes off, killing one guard and forcing the others to flee. T and Leonardo escape through a side tunnel, fight off the Moorish/Pict/Hun soldiers, and collapse the cave system with some handy explosives. Thena shows up to shoot the last guard; T mumbles some conciliatory gibberish about how “the world isn’t ready;” and they all wander off into the sunset.
Mike accidentally left Crow out in a hailstorm. Gypsy hauls away the hail-damaged Crow and gives Mike a loaner Crow. Loaner Crow isn’t much of a conversationalist, and he emits huge clouds of oddly colored steam, but he has a rockin’ sound system. Mike and Tom tell loaner Crow to shut up while they listen to his radio.
Host Segment One:
The newly repaired Crow returns to send Loaner Crow back to Gypsy. Apparently some other guy’s Crow was run over by a semi, and his services are needed again. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl calls for Mike’s semi-annual checkup. Mike responds that despite some minor anxiety about bottle caps, he has been feeling extraordinary well lately. “Why!” Pearl cries. “I work my fingers to the bone trying to make you miserable…” She switches places and costumes with Mike to see if she can discover the problem. This leads to her spending the first film segment in the theater.
Host Segment Two:
Pearl has finished her calculations and is ready to return to Castle Forrester, especially eager to escape the aggressively affectionate ‘Bots. (They love her for giving them an aged mint from the bottom of her purse during the first film segment.) Down in Castle Forrester, Mike, Bobo and Brain Guy smoke cigars and drink beer while they trade good-natured insults and talk about Pearl behind her back. Pearl finally gets their attention, and Brain Guy switches Mike and Pearl once more.
Host Segment Three:
Mike introduces Sir Thomas Neville Servo’s Consort of the Middle Ages Just After the Plague Singers. A quartet of Servos in Elizabethan garb sings a madrigal about the Delta Knights, including such phrases as, “They look really good in fake hair,” and “I’m proud to declare I like pie.” Mike tries to usher them off stage when their next song turns filthy.
Host Segment Four:
A mobbed-up Leonardo Da Vinci arrives via his famous flying machine to declare that the young man portraying him is a mook. “And I’m not a mook,” he says. “I just want you to know that.” Tom infuriates him with a series of innocuous questions about where he lives, what he does now, and how he’s managed to stay alive for so long. Mike intervenes before Leo can whip some sort of Servo-killing device out from under his robes.
Host Segment Five:
The ‘Bots have built a shrine to Pearl; they return to their memories of the mint-giving incident over and over again. Mike helps them come to grips with their loss. Down in Castle Forrester, the Delta Knights have booked Castle Forrester’s main hall for their annual pancake breakfast. “Good news!” declares one. “Thanks to this year’s pancake breakfast, we’ve raised enough money for next year’s pancake breakfast!” They celebrate by pelting the guests with hard candy.
One of the forest acrobats shouts, “I’m coming!” after taking a few too many hits from a helium-filled bong.
This movie was created according to the “big pile of stuff” school of filmmaking. Whatever we’ve got lying around, let’s just toss it in. Vikings? Sure. Elizabethan courtiers? Great. Sultans? Gypsies? Southern belles? Floppy hats? Feathery capes? Unnaturally contorted breasts? New Jersey accents? (Actually, that one was kind of funny. Mad About You’s Richard Kind plays Voltare’s befuddled wizard in one of the best parts of the film.) Olivia Hussey? David Warner? How on earth did we get David Warner in this movie? David Warner of Time Bandits, Freakazoid, and Forgotten Realms: Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn? (I don’t know why I only remember him in those three roles when he’s played supporting characters in numerous seminal, influential films like Tom Jones and Straw Dogs. You now have my permission to question my taste.) Now let’s see, we don’t have any castles available, so let’s use a 19th century Mexican barracks made out of adobe. Shoot the exterior scenes at night and no one will know the difference, right? Now what have we forgotten? Oh, yes! Leonardo Da Vinci! Just to mix things up, let’s make him an irritating moron.
Actually, what they forgot was plot. Oh, there’s one in there—Archimedes, the “Chosen One,” and all that—but when I try to sum it up in one sentence, it comes out like this: “A mincing child of indeterminate gender, a creepy plagiarist, and a high-born nymphomaniac prostitute accomplish absolutely nothing through a series of meaningless adventures.” The whole thing smacks of something a group of three to six fourteen-year-olds would make up as they went along at a tabletop gaming session. It ends about that abruptly, too.
(The host’s mom pops her head around the door to call, “Seven-thirty, boys! Time to break it up!” The kid who’s role-playing T remembers that the latest Bruce Campbell fantasy adventure show starts at eight, so he stuffs his twenty-sided die and his painted miniatures into his backpack as fast as he can. “I-blow-up-the-storehouse-‘cause-the-world’s-not-ready-bye!” he yells while he pounds up the basement steps to run home.)
As fans, critics, and viewers in general we’re always more forgiving of the genres we love, and as a fantasy enthusiast I might almost have forgiven this film if not for that ending. I don’t mind so much that it was arbitrary and clichéd—those two adjectives describe nearly the entire film, after all—it’s just that it effectively renders their entire quest completely and utterly without consequences. The Delta Knights do not take advantage of the Atlantean technology. The Mannerjay still rules all of Europe with an oiled leather fist. The David Warner characters die, but that’s one lost on each side, so they balance each other out. (Besides, judging by their skills and accomplishments, both Baydool and Vultare strike me as easily replaceable.) Granted, it’s implied that Leonardo will eventually go on to claim all of Archimedes’ best ideas as his own, thus lifting the known world out of the dark ages, but this is an alternate universe where all the amalgamated countries and time periods of Europe have been squeezed into southern Sonoma County, so I refuse to believe that this opportunistic slimeball version of the famous Italian will ever amount to anything.
And speaking of Vinci’s most famous native, the best host segment features Bill Corbett interpreting Leonardo as a touchy and violent Mafioso. Corbett seems to be channeling Joe Pesci as he picks his friends and enemies more or less at random, interpreting his chosen enemies’ most harmless statements as mortal insults. I laughed hardest when Leonardo explained his longevity by proclaiming, “I watch my back; I stay alive.” The ‘Bots slavish devotion to Pearl is all right, but the best part of the switching places sequence is Mike’s bonding session with Bobo and Brain Guy, during which the phrase, “Ask your girlfriend,” is employed a number of times with varying degrees of appropriateness. The rest of the host segments work well too: The beater Crow is a neat idea, the pancake breakfast is amusing, and the Sir Thomas Neville Servo etc. Singers prove once again that Kevin Murphy has a fantastic singing voice.
We’ve never heard a woman’s voice in the theater for the film segments before* so Pearl’s comments are a little jarring at first. Still, she gets off some good jibes, such as, ““His underwear and his hat are interchangeable,” referring to the slave auctioneer’s costume. Later, as Baydool asks T his name in a series of languages, Crow says, “Je m’appelle Bite Me.” When Voltare’s multicultural thugs ride after him into the night, Mike says, “Sir, are we Saxons or Vikings.... what are we? Let’s settle on that.” When T and company ride away after finishing one of the less lucid subplots, Tom says, “Well, the movie’s lost me. It’s lost me, and it’s trotting off without me.” The movie has a lot of motion and color, the commentary is mostly funny, and the host segments are decent, but the arbitrary, disorienting qualities of the film seem to rub off on the show as a whole. It’s a big, bright mess of an episode that will end with you scratching your head as you ask, “What, if anything, just happened?”
*Well, except for Gypsy in Hercules and the Captive Women (Episode 412), but she’s an arbitrarily female robot voiced by a man, so she doesn’t count.
(1993, Fantasy-Sword & Sorcery, color)