(2009, Action/SciFi-Postapocalyptic, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
Are those donuts?
In a Nutshell:
A postapocalyptic revolutionary rescues the teenager destined to impregnate his mother.
Wow. Looking back at what I wrote for the “In a Nutshell” section, it seems kind of inappropriate and creepy. Yes, I was going for sarcasm (I usually am), but still, that one-sentence summary is in no way misleading or incomplete. For better or... Okay, just for worse, this is the subject of the film. Did the filmmakers intend it that way, or were they oblivious to the basic stupidity of their movie’s central conceit? Given that Terminator Salvation was directed by the one-named “McG”—a man who no doubt chose his own moniker for its supposed coolness factor—I’d say the latter scenario is not just possible, but probable.
I guess I ought to start with the backstory. Way back in 1984, cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger went back in time to kill Sarah Connor, mother of the resistance leader who would eventually defeat our post-apocalypse robot overlords. She was rescued by the charming time traveler Kyle Reese, whom she rewarded in true action movie fashion (shortly before his heroic death) and conceived the hero of every subsequent film in the series.
This is not part of Terminator Salvation, by the way. When Michael Ironside dramatically says “Kyle Reese” on the submarine of doom, he doesn’t explain himself. When the young Kyle Reese (played by Chekov stand-in Anton Yelchin) appears to tell our secondary hero, “Come with me if you want to live,” everyone assumes we already know what they’re talking about. Basically, if you didn’t know going in, you’re screwed.
And now I’ve gone on for three paragraphs without touching on the intricacies of this movie’s plot. Let me get to that now: There aren’t any.
Okay, so legendary resistance leader John Connor (Christian Bale) fights the good fight after the robot apocalypse until his squad gets blown to pieces by... something, after which he jumps into the ocean to argue with Michael Ironside on a submarine. Meanwhile—this is to say, both way before and a little after—a pre-apocalypse death row inmate named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) smooches a bald Helena Bonham Carter before donating his post-execution body to science. He wakes up after the lethal injections in the crater caused by the explosion of Connor’s squad, and wanders until he finds the aforementioned Kyle Reese. Marcus, Kyle and a magical mute girl wander more or less aimlessly until the latter two get captured by robots.
Marcus tries to follow on foot, but gets sidetracked by the beautiful Blair (Moon Bloodgold), a fighter pilot shot down in an altercation with the machines. They hike back to her base, where he sets off a robots-only mine. His flesh partially burned off, he discovers that he is metal underneath, a source of some consternation to Blair and her commander, John Connor. Connor orders him destroyed, but Blair sees that he thinks he’s human and lets him go. Connor tries to chase him down, but lets him go anyway because... uh... I think it’s because Kyle is in San Francisco and something about a frequency, but really, your guess is as good as mine.
Marcus goes to San Francisco, after which Connor goes to San Francisco, after which Michael Ironside’s submarine blows up for some reason, after which everyone else goes to San Francisco. Digi-Helena Bonham Carter fills Marcus in on the plot in true Talking Villain™ style. It doesn’t make any sense, so I won’t bother repeating it here. Connor wanders the halls looking for Kyle—so that he can send him back in time to shtoink his mom, naturally. Digi-Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up to wreak havoc. In the end, Kyle is saved, the machine base destroyed, and Connor mortally wounded. But it’s okay, because Marcus still has a human heart, and apparently it’s a Snap-Lock™ now. Marcus gives up his life (because it’s, you know, a battlefield, and there aren’t dozens of better—i.e.: nearly expired—potential donors just, you know, lying around) so that they can bolt his heart into Connor, allowing him to continue leading the resistance.
The more I think about this film—a painful experience; I can’t wait to finish this review so I can stop—the more I wonder what kind of film our three-letter auteur thought he was making. In the early “escaping the explosion” sequences, he’s clearly trying to ape the continuous action sequences of Children of Men. In that film, the lengthy takes ramp the tension up to near-unbearable levels, often ending with the emotional equivalent of a gut punch. By contrast, Terminator Salvation doesn’t think we need to know what the hell’s going on, where the hell it’s happening or why the hell we should care, leaving its audience with a vague sense of confusion and motion sickness.
Also, according to Wikipedia (so take this with a grain of salt) “McG” instructed his actors to get into character by reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Road, two of the grittiest, most eloquent apocalypse books ever written. Christian Bale, of course, turns in an intense, art house-worthy performance, but he always does that regardless of what kind of film he’s in. More remarkably, the rest of the cast follows suit, entirely populating this film with the glowering and desperate. This is a serious movie, people! A deep, profound film in which every line of dialog falls into one of three categories: 1) action movie clichés; 2) quotes from the previous films; or 3) gibberish.
McG (should I call you “Mick” or would you prefer “Mr. G”?), the Terminator films are cheese. That’s what series originator James Cameron makes. He’s a great director because he knows he makes cheese. He embraces the cheesiness and churns out some of the greatest cheese in Hollywood. I’m not saying you could have made a good Terminator film—after watching this ugly turd, I’m reasonably certain that’s beyond your ability—but if you’d lightened up a little, you could have at least made it fun. As it is, you’ve made your film both stupid and depressing, and that’s a lethal combination.
Of course, Mike, Bill and Kevin have to spice up the commentary with many, many references to Bale’s famous rant at the lighting guy, including a general crowd scene admonition to “Get out of Christian Bale’s light!” (Mike) and Connor’s dying words, “We... are done... professionally....” (Bill). Other observations have to do with the rather dim machine enemies, as in Bill’s, “They wiped out most of humanity despite having the aim of a stormtrooper with Parkinson’s.” Regarding Blair’s, um, “interesting” eyeshadow, Mike says, “She puts on her eye makeup with a big rubber stamp.” When Connor rescues Kyle and sends him on ahead, Kevin shouts, “Just be sure to make it with my mom!” Many, many inappropriate head-turns prompt the riffers to say, “Is that donuts?” each time it happens. It’s a brutally stupid film and the riffers punish it mercilessly. My viewing was often entertaining and sometimes cathartic, but not always pleasant.
(2009, Action/SciFi-Postapocalyptic, color)
(1968, SciFi/Postapocalyptic/Political, color)
When animals attack! With rifles!
In a Nutshell:
Charleton Heston is imprisoned by intelligent apes.
Astronaut George Taylor (Charleton Heston) narrates a lot of portentous nonsense to the stars and then joins his crew in suspended animation for the rest of his year-long journey home. He and two of his three crew members wake up with beards, having crash-landed in a lake on an unknown planet. The survivors stumble around groggily, making it outside to a life raft with supplies before their ship slips to the bottom.
They swap more pretentious, long-winded speeches while they cross a nearly interminable desert, during which we learn that the time dilation/relativity shenanigans inherent in traveling at the speed of light have caused more than two thousand years to pass on Earth since their departure. Finally they arrive at a lush waterfall to strip and bathe. Upon returning to shore, they find that their supplies and clothing have been stolen. They don the scraps of fabric the thieves left behind and follow the trail, eventually finding a group of mute, primitive humans stealing produce from a cultivated field.
Gorillas on horseback arrive to break up the mass crop theft with nets and rifles. One astronaut dies, another is captured, and finally Taylor himself is brought down with a nasty throat wound. This prevents him from speaking to his captors, chimpanzee scientists Zira and Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), but he eventually proves his intelligence with his ability to read and write. An orangutan scientist/priest named Dr. Zaius finds out as well. He attempts to have Taylor castrated and lobotomized, but Taylor overhears the guards’ plans for him and makes a run for it. He’s eventually captured, but not before his throat has finally healed enough for him speak to the soldiers in public as they arrest him.
Taylor, Cornelius and Zira are summoned before a high council of orangutans for a hearing. Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, they accuse Zira and Cornelius of creating Taylor by surgically granting him the gift of speech. (During the proceedings, Zaius produces Taylor’s only surviving astronaut cohort, lobotomized of course). Afterwards, Zaius summons Taylor to his office. Taylor is still up for castration and lobotomy, but Zaius will spare him if he reveals the secret location of his intelligent human tribe. Taylor repeats his story about arriving from another planet, which Zaius dismisses as absurd.
Later, a young chimp named Julius rescues him from his cell. Taylor rescues a primitive human female named Nova on his way out. They meet up with Zira and Cornelius and travel into the Forbidden Zone (the desert from the beginning) to search for evidence to clear their names. Basically, they need proof that humans were intelligent in this plant’s distant past. Zaius and a small army of gorilla thugs catch up with them just as they reach an archaeological dig near the ocean. Taylor holds Zaius at gunpoint and demands that he consider Cornelius’s evidence. They discover ancient human remains next to bits of eyeglasses, artificial heart valves, and a human doll that squeaks “mama”.
Zaius eventually admits that intelligent humans predate intelligent apes. He also admits that he knew this all along, and has been following the instructions in secret scripture to keep this evidence hidden. (His reasoning is vague and flowery; something about humans being too violent to be trusted). Taylor takes food, water and a weapon and rides off along the beach with Nova. Zaius lets him go, but orders the cave with the evidence in it to be dynamited shut.
A short ways along the beach, Taylor discovers the shocking twist ending. (A twist you already knew about if you’ve seen any science fiction movie parody ever, or if you looked at the picture on your DVD cover). The ruined Statue of Liberty proves that he’s been on the Earth of the distant future all along.
Planet of the Apes has a Very Important Message to impart, but I defy the viewer to figure it out. Not that it’s ambiguous; the moralizing in this film is about as subtle as a skillet to the head. The problem is that it’s approximately as helpful. Humanity is overly violent by nature, it says, so... Information suppression and a degree of strictly enforced primitivism are necessary for the good of the state? Or is that meant to be a bad thing too? They keep saying it’s a good thing, but the supposedly utopian society it protects has a rigid caste system with an administration that combines the bureaucracy of communist China with the zealotry of the Spanish Inquisition and the racism of South African apartheid. So yeah, the movie’s overall intent is a bit hard to read.
That said, there are two things that make this movie great:
1) The Rod Serling script. The lines might clank from time to time, but Serling’s television experience is very much in evidence, with the same fusion of horror, science fiction, philosophy and film noir that made The Twilight Zone a classic.
2) Mr. Heston’s, er... Well, for lack of a better term, I’ll call it a “performance”. Was there a bigger ham ever in the history of science fiction films? Not even Shatner comes close.
It works though. Mr. Serling’s lines are sometimes pithy and always memorable, but they don’t sound anything like something a reasonable, normal person might say. Fortunately for him, Heston doesn’t sound anything like a reasonable, normal person. Put these two together and you’ve got a happy, cosmic accident that turns what should have been self-righteous dreck into some of the most delicious camp Hollywood has ever produced. Usually entertaining, always fascinating and certainly memorable, Planet of the Apes is well-known even to people who haven’t seen it. Go ahead. Intone, “A planet where apes evolved from men?” at someone you know. You’re likely to get, “It’s a mmmaaaadhhhoooouuuusse!” or “Damn you all to hell!” or even (if the respondent is confused) “Soylent Green is made of people!” in reply.
Matthew Elliott takes on a highly quotable film with a commentary filled with highly quotable lines. A few examples: Shortly after their arrival, “There’s a very persuasive theory that NASA faked the landing on the Planet of the Apes.” When gorilla hunters net Nova, “If her name was Annette, I’d have something to work with here.” After at least a dozen condescending speeches from Taylor, “I’m starting to suspect he was bitten by a radioactive asshole as a teenager.” As is always the case with Mr. Elliott’s riffs, Mystery Science Theater 3000 references abound. He’s even got some prior Rifftrax references mixed in there. When the endless “marching across the desert” scene gets him really bored he starts riffing Casino Royale out of the blue, just to pass the time. As a whole riff/movie experience, I didn’t like it quite as much as his last commentary (for Die Hard), but it’s very close in quality and still well worth seeing.
(1987, Action/SciFi/Postapocalyptic, color)
Matt Sloan, Aaron Yonda and Chad Vader
The eighties of the future looks worse than the eighties of the eighties.
In a Nutshell:
A falsely accused man must fight for his life on a reality game show of the future.
Armed Forces helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses an order to fire on the food-rioting masses of the dystopian future. His Armed Forces passengers subdue him and gun the crowd down anyway. The corrupt future government blames the massacre on Richards and shuts him away in a prison/work camp.
Some time later, Richards conspires with members of the resistance to break out of the foundry/explody-head prison. He and his best two resistance buddies (played by Yaphet Kotto and Marvin McIntyre; their characters’ names escape me and aren’t that important anyway) flee to an outdoor fair of some kind, where they get their exploding collars removed by a Dumbledore wannabe in khakis.
They go their separate ways. Richards heads to his brother’s apartment, only to find it occupied by a shapely Latina named Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso). Richards interrupts her lingerie workout routine to tie her to a weightlifting bench and ask after his brother. Amber tells him the previous owner was taken away by the government a month ago. Richards steals her money and forces her to help him escape to the foreign country of Hawaii. Amber gets away and turns him in when they get to the airport.
Richards wakes up in a holding cell, where he’s greeted by game show host Killian (Richard Dawson). Killian hosts a show called “The Running Man” in which convicts are given a chance at freedom if they will run a gauntlet of Stalkers (i.e. crazed killers). Richards agrees, on the condition that his resistance buddies (also recaptured) not be included in the show. Of course Killian goes back on his word and sends all three convicts into the Running Man arena. They survive the first Stalker—a, er, big-boned hockey player with a sharpened stick named Sub Zero—when Richards strangles him with barbed wire.
Meanwhile, Amber has noticed that the official account of Richards’ capture doesn’t seem to match the one she experienced. They invented a body count, for one thing. Curious, she uses her position as an employee of the state-run media to break into a restricted area and find undoctored footage of Richards’ supposed helicopter rampage. The authorities catch her, suit her up, and throw her into the Running Man arena as well.
Richards isn’t exactly happy to see her, but there’s no time to argue; two more Stalkers have appeared. A chainsaw-wielding motorcycle psycho named Buzzsaw chases Richards and Kotto, fatally wounding the latter before getting yanked off his bike and chainsawed up the crotch by the former. An opera-singer with lightning bolt generators on his hands named Dynamo chases McIntyre and Amber. Dynamo kills McIntyre, but not before he finds a switchbox with The Code in it. Amber memorizes The Code (whatever that is) and runs away. Richards gets Dynamo to chase him up an embankment and flip his Dynamo buggy. Though his foe is trapped, Richards refuses to kill a helpless opponent.
By this time, the viewing audience’s sympathies have shifted to Richards. (I guess they’re suckers for murderous, misogynist a—holes.) Starting to get nervous now, Killian sends in his last Stalker, the flamethrower-equipped Fireball. While Fireball stalks Richards and Amber through whatever industrial basement hellhole they’re currently in, Amber stumbles across the remains of the show’s previous winners. She realizes what every viewer has already guessed by now—the Running Man game is unwinnable. If you make it past all the Stalkers, they’ll just murder you after the show.
Fireball catches up, but before he can roast her, Richards catches up with him and pulls the fuel hoses out of his flamethrower. He drags Amber from the room and then burns Fireball alive with his own fuel. So, that thing he said earlier about not killing helpless opponents? I guess he didn’t really mean it.
Desperate to bring the show to some sort of closure, Killian brings a former Stalker called Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura) out of retirement. Captain Freedom kills a couple of stunt doubles in a rigged match. Killian’s crew digitally alters the unfortunate doubles to look like Richards and Amber.
The real Richards and Amber somehow wander into the secret resistance base, a hideout run, of course, by Dumbledore Wannabe. Amber gives Dumbledore Wannabe The Code, which he uses to take control of the government media satellite and broadcast subversive videos. Richards leads the resistance fighters into the studio, gunning down the guards and chasing out the audience. Killian tries to talk his way out of getting killed, but Richards straps him into an explosive rocket chair and blasts him through a billboard. So, that thing he said earlier about not killing helpless opponents? I guess he really, really didn’t mean it.
Amber kills Dynamo with ceiling sprinklers and makes it back to the studio in time to smooch Richards. The subversive broadcast ends. The oppressed people of the dystopian future realize that they’re oppressed, and are implied to overthrow the corrupt government.
For a big, dumb, loud action movie from the eighties, The Running Man isn’t half bad. The broad, stupid plot is easily followable, the action never slows down, and each kill is followed by an appropriately groan-worthy post-kill pun.
But then, it isn’t half good, either. Two of the three main characters don’t speak English all that well. (The third, Richard Dawson as a sinister and weasely Killian, is a fantastic villain.) Not to mention the awful, self-defeating social satire. What’s that you say? The sleaze-and-violence-loving masses and the cynical entertainment companies that feed them are degrading our culture and, indeed, the nation as a whole? I agree, though I’m a bit puzzled as to why you felt you had too say this in an amoeba-brained film that glorifies sleaze and violence. And did I mention that Ben Richards, our supposed hero, is a murderous, misogynist a—hole? I did? Can’t be mentioned enough, really.
The doughty men of Blame Society (Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda) take on the commentary for this film, along with their fictional creation Chad Vader. Chad only shows up intermittently, but always has something funny to say. A couple of my favorites: “These guards attended the storm trooper school of marksmanship” and, upon the appearance of Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, “They should call this The Running-For-Office Man.” Matt and Aaron both have perfect timing all the way through. A few of my favorite quotes from those guys: (Since I’m not as familiar with Matt and Aaron’s voices, I’m not able to tell you who exactly who said what.) Re: the game show about Dobermans eating people who want money, “The Michael Vick Rope-Climbing Hour.” Re: Fireball walking through his own jet of flame, “He’s flame-retarded.” Re: a conversation between Schwarzenegger and Maria Conchita Alonzo, “Can we turn the subtitles on?” Throughout, there are many references to Dungeons and Dragons, video games (most notably Fallout 3), and other purely nerd-specific topics. They follow up every kill with at least half-a-dozen of the worst puns they can muster. Oddly, no matter how bad they try to make them, they’re always at least a hundred times funnier than the one Schwarzenegger just spouted. Can you tell I loved this commentary? I hope so, ‘cause that’s what I was going for. If you can still stand to watch Schwarzenegger (insert sarcastic political comment here), it’s worth your time.
(2005, SciFi-Postapocalyptic, color)
Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy
She’s dropped a cherry bomb in the toilet of Utopia.
In a nutshell:
A sexy assassin of the future turns out to be the reincarnation of her target’s former wife.
In the near future, a killer virus wipes out 99% of the Earth’s human population. The Goodchild brothers invent a cure, and then gather all the surviving people into the city of Bregna. Seven generations later, they still rule that totalitarian Utopia with an iron fist.
In the meantime, a resistance movement called the Monicans struggle to return freedom to the human race. Their top assassin is a leather-clad gymnast named Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron). One day her pleasantly domestic sister Una is shot as a suspected Monican. The next day Aeon’s imaginary leader (Frances McDormand) pops into her head to give her news and instructions—Monican agents have found a way into the government compound, and now she must break in and kill the city chairman, Trevor Goodchild. Aeon jumps at the chance for revenge.
With the help of her trusty sidekick Sithandra (a woman with four hands instead of two hands and two feet) they evade the aggressive guardian shrubbery and break into the Goodchild’s stronghold. Aeon tracks her target into an empty auditorium, but passionate, blurry flashbacks keep her from her objective. She is arrested and imprisoned.
Of course she escapes easily. She blows off her perturbed Monican superiors when she receives Trevor’s message to meet him in his secret underground lair. They fight, and make love, and fight again while having cryptic conversations about something vague. Aeon strangles Trevor within an inch of his life and gets away with a stolen recording from his laboratory.
Meanwhile, we learn that Trevor’s brother Oren is behind the assassination plot, using the Monicans to achieve his fratricidal ends. He is naturally disappointed by Aeon’s failure, but a surveillance tape of Trevor’s dalliance with his would-be assassin is enough for him to discredit and depose his brother. He orders Trevor’s immediate arrest and execution.
Also meanwhile, Aeon listens to Trevor’s recording and learns of something vague and secret hidden in the city’s memorial to the victims of the killer virus. The memorial in question is a jellyfish-esque blimp that orbits the city in a continuous loop; inside, she meets the elderly Keeper (Pete Postlethwaite) who offers her access to the super-secret gene computer. Poking around a bit reveals that her sister Una is not dead, merely “reassigned.”
She runs off to the proffered address, where she breaks into the home of a young couple. The person she’s looking for turns out to be an infant version of her sister. Trevor, who’s been running from his brother’s goons and tracking Aeon at the same time, arrives to explain the intricacies of the plot, which are as follows:
The cure to the killer virus also made mankind infertile. There have been no new births in seven generations, only implanted clones of the same people who have been around since the city’s inception. This is why the people of Bregna are so discontented; they keep having flashbacks to their former lives. (“Cloning” is another word for “reincarnation,” isn’t it?) This is also why Aeon couldn’t kill Trevor; she’s a clone of the original Trevor’s wife. Trevor and Oren are seventh generation clones of the scientists who originally discovered the cure, and have spent all this time trying to restore human fertility. Trevor had finally succeeded with Una—apparently the first woman in centuries to conceive without having a cloned embryo implanted—but Oren had her murdered because he doesn’t want the current Bregnan way of life to end; he wants to go on being cloned and recloned forever.
With the exposition out of the way, the movie devolves into a hail of gunfire as Aeon and Trevor battle Oren’s henchmen, run away, and then battle Oren’s henchmen again. Oren catches them; one standard Talking Villain™ speech later, he reveals that Trevor has not cured infertility after all. The infertility cured itself, as young women have been conceiving without scientific intervention all over the city. Of course Oren will do anything to stop it.
Sithandra and the other Monican extremists come to the rescue, nobly sacrificing themselves to save Aeon and Trevor as the movie collapses into random gunfire once more. Finally, with all the bad guys dead and Trevor reinstated as chairman, Aeon climbs back into the memorial blimp and crashes it through the city wall. The movie ends with a non sequitur flashback to Aeon and Trevors’ former lives.
Aeon Flux is gorgeous and surreal, two adjectives that can be applied both to the movie and the star. The setting and people are beautiful, strange, and brightly colored, like a Dr. Seuss book filled with underwear models. Too bad the dialogue is laughable and humorless (adjectives also applicable to the former Oscar-winner star’s performance), the editing is epileptic, and the plot makes nothing that even approaches sense.
(If cloning is the same as reincarnation, then how can Trevor and Oren train their younger selves every generation? And even if we accept that a reincarnation clone can exist at the same time as his/her original, it still doesn’t explain why Una’s clone is a three-month-old infant the day after her death. If you add in the gestation period, that means Oren had to have anticipated her assassination by an entire year.)
The last shot (before the final meaningless flashback) is of Bregna’s supermodel inhabitants gathering to hold hands and gaze in wonder at the broken section of city wall, while Aeon delivers a parting speech about “moving forward into the unknown.” It’s the kind of pretentious movie moment that says, “If you haven’t learned a valuable lesson by now, then you haven’t been paying attention.” Well, I’m sorry movie, but I was paying attention. In anticipation of this review, I was, in fact, taking notes, and I find no evidence of any ethical dilemma that could realistically be applied to my own life. As far as I can see, you spent the last hour and a half showing me how Charlize Theron can do backflips and crack skulls between her thighs, and while these activities are certainly interesting, they don’t really entitle you to any degree of moral superiority.
Mike Nelson is joined by Kevin Murphy for the Rifftrax commentary, and while they often express their fervent appreciation for Ms. Theron’s voluptuous physique, mostly they’re just as confused as we are. Several references are made to the movie’s numerous similarities to video games—when Aeon descends into a rustic underground library, Mike says, “She’s in level nine of Myst,” while Kevin warns her to be on the lookout for bearded men asking for magic pages. Later, during the interminable closing gunfights, Mike says, “You know why video games are so popular? Because people actually get to play them.” Also funny are Mike’s observation about Aeon’s gymnastic entry into the Goodchild compound: “A laundromat has less tumbling than this,” and Kevin’s footnote to Aeon’s first failure to kill Trevor: “John Wilkes Booth was almost undone by a desire to make out with Lincoln.” Their competent send up of an incomprehensibly surreal film is a pleasure to watch.
(2000, SciFi-Postapocalyptic, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy.
Was there ever a time when we were not watching Battlefield Earth?
In a nutshell:
Irradiated cavemen battle large, smelly aliens for supremacy of the Earth.
In the year 3000, mankind has been enslaved for a thousand years by a cruel extraterrestrial race known as the psychlos. The last free humans must eke out a meager existence in select irradiated deserts, where the psychlos can’t follow. Not that any of the human survivors know this; they’ve long since devolved into fur-wearing tribalism.
One day, our hero Jonnie Goodboy (I did not make that up) decides to reject this irradiated, desert-dwelling lifestyle to look for greener pastures. He finds lusher lands and more fur-clad explorers almost immediately. His new companions show him the artifacts left behind by their departed gods (i.e.: statues, mannequins, and fiberglass mini-golf replicas of famous landmarks) and they share a rabbit supper.
And then the psychlos attack. (Think of the Harkonnen, crossed with the Klingons, crossed with the most offensive Jamaican stereotype you can imagine. Now put the result in huge prosthetic boots and a bifurcated nose catheter. Be sure to avert your eyes.) They use their stun guns to throw the intrepid explorers through plate glass windows and random street signs. Then they gather their groggy captives into cages and fly them back to their dome city.
At the dome, we meet mankind’s chief tormentors, Terl and Ker (John Travolta and Forrest Whitaker). There’s some intrigue about Terl and a senator’s daughter and a Byzantine code of corporate law, etc., etc. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. The upshot is that psychlos are filthy, murderous gold prospectors who will do anything to dig up another vein. Ker finds a new vein, but cannot dig it up because it’s in an irradiated area, and for some reason, even a small amount of background radiation means instant death for a psychlo. Training man-animals for this purpose would be against all regulations, so of course Terl wants to do it anyway. If only they could find a man-animal smart enough to learn how to use the mining equipment...
Jonnie, in the meantime, has been rabble-rousing amongst his fellow prisoners, righting wrongs, standing up for the oppressed and downtrodden, meting out social justice, and generally making an ass of himself. Terl rescues him from the guards during a particularly ill-advised escape attempt and hooks him up to a “teaching machine” that zaps the entire sum of psychlo knowledge directly into his brain.
There’s a half-hearted attempt at intrigue here, but it’s nonsense involving an exploding head and the consumption of a live rat, so I’ll skip it. Jonnie and his pals end up in the irradiated zone with a bunch of psychlo mining equipment. Instead of mining, however, Jonnie decides to break into a bunch of top-secret military installations from the old days. Soon, he and his fur-clad cohorts have gathered a nuclear bomb, numerous more conventional explosives, and logged in several hours on an apparently solar-powered flight simulator. They return with gold lifted out of Fort Knox; Terl comments on their delivery of refined gold instead of ore, but apparently does not think the discrepancy worthy of investigation.
In the interminable ending sequences, the humans rise up against their psychlo captors, lure them out into the dome, and then burst it with the recovered explosives to asphyxiate their opponents. More fur-clad humans fly in to fight the psychlo spaceships with ancient fighter jets. A noble revolutionary sacrifices himself to teleport a nuclear bomb back to the psychlos’ home planet. This inexplicably destroys the entire alien world. They imprison Terl, hire Ker to work for them, and then, I guess, the Earth is saved.
L. Ron Hubbard both wrote the Battlefield Earth novels and founded the oft-reviled celebrity religion, Scientology, so it’s difficult to review one without mentioning the other. The movie, however, does not seem to espouse any kind of doctrine, Scientologist, Christian, or otherwise. Exactly what it does espouse, aside from contempt for its audience, is difficult to say.
Simply put, this movie hates you. It thinks you are a credulous, slack-jawed moron whose suspension of disbelief can be stretched infinitely, like a quantum rubber band. It thinks you are a gullible fruitcake, easily distracted by shiny objects, breaking glass, and sixteen-inch alien tongues. It thinks you are a borderline schizophrenic incapable of perceiving reality as a continuous whole, and thus willing to accept even the most disjointed of narratives. It’s badly acted, poorly written, haphazardly put together and more, but aggressively so, like a calculated insult to moviegoers everywhere.
Of note: John Travolta. He plays a seven-foot-tall alien with a prosthetic forehead, matted dreadlocks, platform boots, and a nose catheter, and then affects the nasal whine of an effeminate bureaucrat. It’s a very strange character choice, completely incongruous with the rest of the film, and though I cringed at his eccentric performance, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him. I mean, no one else even attempts to act. It’s like he reluctantly agreed to participate in Goofy Dress-Up Day at work, and then found out he was the only one who remembered when the day arrived. (Sadly, this has actually happened to me.) Poor thing, at least he tried.
Also of note: Oblique camera angles. They upset our sense of cinematic balance. Most directors use them sparingly to contribute to a scene’s sense of wrongness. I’d say that Battlefield Earth director Roger Christian uses them because one of the legs on his tripod is six inches shorter than the others, but that would not explain why all the crane, helicopter, and CGI shots are tilted as well. By the time you reach the end of this turkey, the camera work alone will have made you nauseous.
Mike has assembled his old MST3K companions Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett for this track, and while I have enough faith in Mike to say that he could have pulled it off on his own, I honestly don’t see how. The Coleman Francis films hurt more than this movie, but not much more. Frankly, the fact that they made it watchable at all is a miracle. My favorite bits include Kevin’s pitch to Mike on how he wanted to make a movie with an endless action sequence through a nearly opaque blue filter, Disembaudio’s addition of a sitcom laugh track to one of John Travolta’s sillier performances, and Bill’s reading suggestions when our heroes stumble into the ruins of Library of Congress (Tom Robbins, Captain Underpants...). I’m glad I watched it, but I’m not going to watch it again.
(2002, SciFi-Postapocalyptic/Horror, color)
Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy
Gentlemen, begin flexing!
In a nutshell:
Filthy survivalists save what’s left of the world from fire-breathing dragons.
A school-uniformed youngster named Quinn breaks safety regulations left and right as he strolls into hardhat-only construction site and descends a shaft to find his civil engineer mother. His bad grades have lost him a scholarship, a source of consternation and potential financial strain to his mom. I was curious why a junior high kid would need a scholarship (last I heard pre-college education was free, even in England) but then a dragon bursts out of a previously undiscovered cavern to kill everyone but Quinn, effectively rendering the scholarship issue moot.
A grim radio and magazine montage chronicles the dragons’ ascent to the position of dominant species on the planet. Now among the last surviving vestiges of humanity, a grown-up Quinn (Christian Bale) has organized a band of grimy survivalists into a castle-dwelling colony somewhere in Northumberland. Against Quinn’s express orders, various colony members go harvesting at the castle’s tomato patch, and are roasted by a marauding dragon. Quinn drinks himself into a morose stupor, underscored by another dismal montage.
Next day, a contingent of American tanks arrive, led by the megalomaniacal Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) and a lovely helicopter pilot Alex (Isabella Scorupco). Van Zan asks Quinn to let them in so they can resupply. Quinn doesn’t trust them, but eventually obliges.
All the new folk predictably draw a dragon. Alex’s skydiving helicopter squad attempts to bring it down with a lot of improbable aerial stunts, but fails. Quinn steps up at the last moment to lure it close to Van Zan, who kills it with a giant harpoon. The colonists’ celebration of the dragon’s demise is short-lived, as Van Zan declares that the dragon’s death cost him three men and thus cannot be considered a victory. (Or, words to that effect. What he actually says is, “You all disgust me.”) He accepts volunteers from the colonists to replace them, and then forcibly recruits several others. He savagely beats Quinn when the latter attempts to intervene.
The company drives towards the dragons’ original lair in London, intending to wipe out the draconian scourge once and for all. (The laughable faux-science explanation for this is that they’ve determined there’s only one male dragon in the whole world, and if they kill it the rest of the species will die out.) The male dragon is much larger, fiercer, and more intelligent than its offspring; he fries the whole company rather easily, then backtracks to the castle and flames it as well. Quinn saves most of his colony by hiding them in the castle’s sprinkler-laced catacombs.
Van Zan and Alex are the company’s sole survivors; they return to the castle aboard the helicopter, dispirited at their failure. Their arrival triggers Quinn’s memories of childhood. “I know where he lives,” he declares (meaning the dragon, I assume), and the three of them embark via helicopter to London. They sneak into the shaft from the movie’s beginning (i.e., the male dragon’s lair), hoping to shoot it in the mouth with an incendiary arrow, thus exploding its presumably flammable head. After several setbacks and Van Zan’s self-sacrificing death, Quinn finally succeeds. She-dragons must have really short lifespans, because some months later, the dragon menace has ended.
If you had a choice as an actor, which would you rather be: competent or entertaining? I would have said competent every time, but after watching this steaming pile, I think I may change my mind in certain circumstances.
Of the two leads, Christian Bale is clearly the better actor. He is fiercely defiant but occasionally self-doubting. He feels anguish over the deaths of his friends but works hard with the survivors. Overall, he turns in an art house-worthy performance that is far more nuanced than this dreary, hopeless little B-movie deserves. Which is to say that watching him depressed me.
On the other hand, Matthew McConaughey shoots his performance so far over-the-top it’s a wonder he can even see the rest of the movie below him. He only knows one note and that note is “homicidal cracker,” like Foghorn Leghorn gone psycho. I snickered at him every time he appeared, affording me welcome relief from the rest of the movie’s bland, depressing weight. Thank goodness he was in this turkey, because I don’t think I could have stood to watch it without him.
Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy do what they can to lighten the mood for us as well. Upon seeing the tunnel-digging machine’s odd shape, Mike calls it an “overlapping automatic swastika machine,” inspiring Kevin to sing a little jingle for it. When it becomes clear that no one knows how to stop the fire-breathing creatures, Mike suggests, “Why don’t you try ordinary table salt? That seems to work in most B-movies.” During Van Zan’s big entrance, the very first thing he does is flex for the colonists, inspiring Mike to say, “Got any chicks in there that want to scale Mount McConaughey?” For the most part, the movie’s a hopeless gray sludge with dragons, but Mike and Kevin (and McConaughey) salvage it enough to make it worth watching.
(1999, Action/SciFi-Postapocalyptic, color)
Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy
The future is very retro.
In a nutshell:
Heroic kung-fu hackers set out to save the world from their evil robot overlords.
The vinyl-suited Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) has been engaged in undefined illegal activities on an ancient monochrome computer in a squalid, unfurnished apartment downtown. Her line is traced. The cops burst in. Outside, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his perfectly groomed co-agents arrive to chide the local authorities for attempting an arrest without them. Their reason for caution becomes clear as Trinity breaks several basic laws of physics—kicking chairs, walking on walls and freezing time itself—to slaughter her would-be captors and flee the building. The preternatural agents defy gravity and wreck garbage trucks to pursue her. She makes it to a nearby phone booth and is schlurped away through the receiver.
Meanwhile, super-hacker Thomas Anderson, a.k.a. Neo (Keanu Reeves), has dozed off at his computer in his apartment. His computer wakes him up with a message about The Matrix, and gives him instructions to “follow the white rabbit.” Presumably illegal computer-related dealings ensue, during which he meets a girl with a white rabbit tattoo. He follows her to a club.
Trinity meets him there to tantalize him with vague information about a man named Morpheus and something called the Matrix, but he doesn’t get anything specific until the next day, when Morpheus himself (Laurence Fishburne) calls him at work. Agents have entered the building to arrest him, and the only way to escape is down a window-washing scaffold. Intimidated by the wind and the height of his building, Neo allows himself to be arrested.
The agents seek his cooperation to hunt Morpheus. He refuses, so they seal his mouth shut and drop a tiny metallic squid into his navel. Trinity and her kung-fu hacker cohorts pick him up that night. She removes the squid with a highly complex belly button vacuum and takes him to meet Morpheus. After some standard “last chance to get out” banter involving multihued pills, Neo chooses to stay. They strap him into a chair and ply him with drugs and halter monitors. Then a mirror melts on his hand.
Several special effects later, Neo wakes up bald, naked, and trapped in a pod filled with wires and goo. He sits up to see huge dark poles hung with pods just like his. A giant spider-ish robot unplugs his wires and then dumps him into a sewer. A hovering airship recovers him soon after. A blurry, semi-comatose montage ensues as Neo’s pale, weak body is refurbished by some kind of futuristic electric acupuncture device.
When Neo finally wakes up completely, he is aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, a grungy futuristic vessel populated with less stylish versions of the kung fu super-hacker squad. Various reality-bending sessions of exposition explain about the ancient robot-human war. Humans attempted to win by polluting the sky, thus cutting the solar-powered robots off from their energy source. The robots struck back by enslaving mankind, hooking their brains to a reality simulation machine called the Matrix, and using their body heat to fuel their generators. Neo has been chosen to join their crew because a prophecy names him as “The One”, i.e.: a human born with the ability to alter the Matrix at will.
Neo is skeptical, so they download a lot of kung fu directly into his brain and reinsert themselves into the false reality of the Matrix to meet someone called The Oracle. The Oracle turns out to be a middle-aged matron with a compulsive baking disorder and a foyer full of underage psychics. She slathers Neo with a rather thick layer of vague metaphysics, which he interprets to mean that a) he is not really The One and b) Morpheus will soon die unless he sacrifices himself to save him.
Neo tries to share what he’s learned, but Morpheus refuses to listen. Thereafter, the treachery of adjunct kung fu super-hacker Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) leads to Morpheus’ capture and the deaths of most of the squad. Neo confesses the Oracle’s revelation to Trinity, and they decide to rescue Morpheus.
Bullets fly fast and furious, simulated cops fall like dominoes, and various explody things explode while they invade the agents’ stronghold to free their captured leader. At a crucial moment, Neo finds enough super strength and speed to reveal that his is The One after all. (Apparently, the Oracle told him a lie calculated to get him into a situation where he’d discover it for himself.) He defeats Agent Smith in a subway and attempts to flee the Matrix. He almost makes it, but gets a chest full of bullets just before the chosen phone receiver can schlurp him back to reality. Several minutes of false tension later (c’mon, after all this, did anyone seriously believe he was actually dead?) he rises again to see the world in monochrome green. The agents’ bullets stop in mid-air in front of him. Smith makes a desperate attempt to re-kill him by hand, but is killed himself.
Neo returns to the real world to smooch with Trinity. Mediocre sequels ensue.
The Matrix is a near-perfect example of the “show, don’t tell” method of story-telling. Here’s a conceit so heavy with its own ludicrous weight that most methods of exposition would simply collapse beneath it. “Remember that one Keanu Reeves movie?” people would be saying, had the story been presented even slightly differently. “The one with all the metaphysical nonsense, you know, where the robots used people as batteries...” Fortunately for the Warner and Wachowski brothers, this is not what people say when they talk about The Matrix. Instead, they talk about the stylized violence, the villainous agents, the shiny black outfits, the ways the movie bent its own reality. And well they should; these are the movie’s strengths. Its genius is that it flaunts those strengths while leading us by the hand from one tidbit of plot information to the next, so that by the time it unleashes its full silliness upon us, we’re already hooked.
Kevin Murphy joins Mike Nelson once again on the commentary track. Comments about the faux technology abound. Mike calls Neo’s operating system “Fake-intosh Version 9,” for instance. When Trinity starts climbing the walls during the opening sequence, Kevin says, “She had one too many cans of Rockstar.” Later on, with the full weight of the metaphysical stupidity pressing down, Kevin wonders if he ought to be making fun of a movie that’s worshipped by geeks everywhere. Mike tells him not to worry. “This is intensely stupid,” he says. Also included are many, many comments comparing the formally dressed agents to Mormon missionaries, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of Best Buy’s Geek Squad. The movie’s entertaining enough on its own, but the commentary punctures its serious façade to make it even better.
(1983, SciFi-Postapocalyptic/Bikers, color)
LEAVE THE BRONX!
In a nutshell:
Heavy metal biker Trash defends the ruined Bronx from violent corporate encroachment.
In the distant future (the year 2000, I think) the Bronx has become a wasteland of broken buildings and trash-strewn streets. As is eventually the case with all civic eyesores, it attracts the interest of a greedy development company, the General Construction Corporation. Heavily mustached GCC President Clark (looking like a cross between Richard Dreyfuss and Martin Mull) orders ex-convict Lloyd Wrangler (looking like Charles Grodin after bobbing for anvils) to “deinfestate” the ruined New York neighborhood—i.e. lure away the scruffy but trendy Italian hobo inhabitants with the promise of new homes in New Mexico. They’re actually leading the deceived populace away to be killed, while flamethrower-wielding corporate soldiers wrapped in aluminium foil toast the last few holdouts.
Two such holdouts are the parents of a hard-rocking, heavily armed young man named Trash (looking like a somewhat effeminate version of Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash). Trash rides the wasted Bronx stairwells on his Japanese motorcycle, running guns and ammunition for the underground Italian glam-rock brigade, headed by the lusty Dablone (a cross between Richard Montalban’s Khan and Henry Winkler’s The Fonz). Upon finding his extra-crispy parents, Trash slaughters a bunch of random looters and leads a group of hairy ne’er-do-wells to exact revenge on their shiny antagonists. More senseless slaughter ensues, captured on film by go-getting reporter Moon Grey (looking like a cross between Valeria Golino and a narrow-faced rodent). She flees underground when foil-wrapped villains toast her photographer.
Trash, Moon, and Dablone put their heads together and somehow determine that the best way to stop the deinfestation would be to kidnap GCC President Clark. To this end, Trash and Moon head deep underground to the lair of expert thief Strike (looking like a more masculine version of Steve Guttenberg) and his pint-sized Asian munitions expert son. Together they mine the entire New York sewer system, popping up near one of Clark’s public appearances. Moon gets herself killed creating a distraction while Trash grabs the GCC President and forces him underground. They navigate a maze of booby traps while explosions throw beleaguered cops and shiny henchman through the air behind them.
They end up back in the Bronx where, to their dismay, they discover the GCC Vice President has taken over the company and ordered Wrangler to kill all the insurgents, regardless of Clark’s safety. They pump poison gas into the tunnels, forcing Dablone and his band of music video refugees above ground for a final battle. Guns blaze, flamethrowers throw, and vans explode as foil-wrapped soldiers and trendy hobos fall by the dozen. Clark escapes, only to be gunned down by the traitorous Wrangler. Wrangler rides through the Bronx, killing heroic glam-rockers left and right until Trash blows up his van. Apparently this ends the conflict, as Trash, Strike, and his Asian munitions-expert child are left alone in a Bronx littered with garbage and corpses. The kid invites Trash to come live underground with them. Trash refuses, and the end credits roll.
Crow begins his annual auction to raise money for Sad Kids With Hurt Puppies and the Hungry Rainforests. No one bids on the first two items, a penny and a nickel, but he sells a dollar to Tom for seventy-five cents. Calculating the proceeds of the auction combined with the cost of the items and his tuxedo’s rental bill, Crow determines he’s lost somewhere over three hundred dollars. He urges us to tune in next year, when “we’ll lose even more!”
Host Segment One:
Crow ignores Mike’s remonstrance about his irresponsible auction to concentrate on frying an ant with a magnifying glass. Of course it just happens to be crawling over his collection of oily rags. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester has had to put his mother in a home. The “home” in question is one of those plastic toy houses built to fit toddlers. She peeks out of the tiny window to demand that he release her. Up in the Satellite, Crow succeeds in setting the oily rags on fire. Soon the entire Satellite of Love is ablaze. They rush into the theater while Gypsy activates the emergency sprinklers.
Host Segment Two:
Mike hooks Crow up to a biofeedback machine to help resolve some of Crow’s tension. Tom casts aspersions on the process’ effectiveness while the machine simultaneously relaxes Crow and sets the entire Satellite of Love ablaze again.
Host Segment Three:
It’s men’s night on the Satellite of Love. Mike and Tom smoke huge cigars and talk in manly jargon. Mike runs out of beer and asks Crow for another in a series of inscrutable masculine expressions. Crow doesn’t understand any of them, offering condolences for Mike’s “dead soldier” and filling his throat with snot when Mike asks him to “snag him one.”
Host Segment Four:
Dr. Forrester’s ratings have plummeted. He decides to rectify this by adding an adorable child to the cast. Enter Timmy Bobby Rusty (Paul Chaplin with a teddy bear), a giggly youngster who doesn’t actually do anything. Ratings do not rise, and Dr. Forrester discards him.
Host Segment Five:
Tom arrives by helicopter, just in time for Mike to read a letter. He’s airlifted out again when Mike finishes. Down in Deep 13, Pearl is still complaining about being locked in a tiny house, and also about the odd barking laughter from next door. Dr. Forrester bangs on the wall and shouts for whoever it is to keep it down, only to be confronted by his loud Italian neighbor, Dablone. Dablone tells a lot of bad jokes, frees Pearl, and whisks her away.
Dablone spits and laughs.
No one does awful Fantasy and SciFi quite like the Italians. Not even the Japanese can match their filmmaking gusto. Take Dablone, for instance. Here’s a man who not only leads a ragtag group of subterranean punks against hopeless odds, but does so with bravura, inspiring his warriors with a top-volume laugh that resembles the bray of an insane donkey in heat. So what if it sounds forced? So does the rest of the movie.
Escape 2000 has the kind of arty, unresolved ending that’s supposed to “make you think.” When the end credits began to scroll across the screen, I felt the movie urging me reflect on the characters, the meanings of their relationships, and how the lessons learned could be applied to our lives. Does Dablone’s unwillingness to face Wrangler directly symbolize a fear of commitment? Does Strike’s inattention of his Asian kid to make out with Moon demonstrate how each relationship supplants the next? What does it mean when Trash discovers his mom crisped but her sweater unburned? What does it mean for our souls?
Actually, all I could do at the end was wonder about the body count. The movie is ninety percent killing, after all. Do they even have that many cops in New York? Maybe the Bronx is safe at the end because there’s no one left to bother them. Certainly, the only survivors we know about for sure are Trash, Strike, and the Asian kid. Even the mighty Dablone’s fate remains ambiguous.
My favorite moment in the host segments is seeing Pearl Forrester peek out of that tiny window to yell at her son. Dr. Forrester’s attempts to justify his actions, citing the many “crazy” things his mom had started to do, are pretty funny as well. The auction and the men’s night sketches work well. The whole “setting the SOL on fire” thing is okay. I found myself wishing they’d taken the running gag all the way and set fire to Satellite in every host segment. Timmy Bobby Rusty and Tom’s helicopter ride are funny ideas, but don’t actually go anywhere. Mike Nelson is great as Dablone. He’s got that barking laugh down pat.
The film segments are hilarious. The satellite crew echoes the foil-suited deinfestors’ cries to LEAVE THE BRONX loudly and often. When one of them flames a helpless hobo, Mike says, “Here’s a little taste of the weather in New Mexico.” As they broadcast their evacuation message over the loudspeakers, Tom announces, “The Bronx has hit an iceberg, and is sinking.” When we meet Moon for the first time, Crow says, “she looks like Shelly Duvall after a drinking binge.” During the lengthy chase through the sewers, everyone moans about how much they miss Dablone. I missed him too, but that didn’t stop me from liking the episode as a whole. I’d watch it again.
(1983, SciFi-Postapocalyptic/Bikers, color)
Do you have any fruit?
In a nutshell:
Postapocalyptic mystics enlist a rebel biker to save them from Donald Pleasence.
The backstory flies past us into space like a blurry Star Wars introduction in fast-forward. I only caught a word here and there. “Omega” and “superbike,” I think. It’s all we need to know for the purposes of the plot, anyway. Later, a lone warrior rides through the lush, green, postapocalyptic countryside on his sentient motorcycle, randomly killing evil cops in spiky patrol cars and grimy punks with exotic hair. Then he crashes into a wall for no apparent reason.
Toga-clad mystics chant in the fog next to a heavily mustached man in military fatigues. Flashlights shine out of their sleeves, healing the warrior’s wounds. The singularly ungrateful Warrior refuses to go on a rescue mission for them, relenting only when the captive professor’s hot daughter offers to not kill him in exchange for his help.
They make their way through a vast underground complex filled with squeaky spiders and loudly hissing snakes. They sneak into a futuristic discotheque/leather bar, wandering past zombified workers and an extremely unenthusiastic sadomasochistic interpretive dance troupe.
They find the professor in a futuristic parking garage, steal some guns, and shoot down the surprisingly inept guards. They steal a helicopter, but the hot daughter falls down just as they’re taking off, and the surly warrior refuses to go back for her. She falls into the hands of the evil government’s dictator, Donald Pleasence, who brainwashes her by wrapping her in plastic and high-voltage tinfoil.
The professor convinces the warrior to raise an army of multi-genre thugs by defeating them all one at a time in single combat. He wins and takes his not-so-elite cadre of road warriors down the highway for an interminable chase scene/road battle. They defeat the evil spiky cops, but are suddenly confronted with Megaweapon—a flame-spurting dump truck with a hobnailed cowcatcher welded to the front. The sentient bike sacrifices itself to get warrior underneath it, where he disarms Megaweapon and sets it to explode.
Predictably, the futuristic parking garage falls easily to the eclectic paramilitary force. Warrior and the professor rush to Donald Pleasence’s office, where they discover the daughter holding a gun to her head. They stupidly drop their weapons. The brainwashed daughter happily shoots Warrior, but turns to fire on Pleasence rather than kill her father.
The mystic toga people rise to power, holding a soft-focus rally in the discotheque/leather bar. Hot daughter apologizes for shooting Warrior by fixing his sentient bike and then giving him a long sloppy kiss. Meanwhile, it turns out that Donald Pleasence was just an android, planted by the traitorous mustache guy from the first scenes to decoy them from the real Donald. Or is the real Donald Pleasence an android too? Who knows?
Tom gives a formal introduction for the show from a pulpit marked the “Prologue Room.” Crow pops in at odd intervals to distract him. Finally, the distraught Tom gathers the pages of his speech and forces Crow to eat them.
Host Segment One:
The Mads have invented the Squaremaster, which is a cardboard square that you can sit on while working out. Dr. Forrester does the infomercial voiceover while a tank-topped TV’s Frank practices his Shemp Howard impersonation. Joel has invented Bittersweet Hearts—heart-shaped antacids with things like “Bite Me,” “My Needs,” and “You’ll Do” written on them.
Host Segment Two:
Joel turns Tom and Crow into Hot Slot Bots, like slot cars. Crow is apprehensive at first, but once he gets going he maneuvers jumps and high-speed turns with ease. Tom can’t wait to join him, but he can’t seem get started. Once he finally does, he derails at the first jump.
Host Segment Three:
Joel and the ‘Bots reenact the film as if the warrior had never gotten his driving permit. A surly and barely intelligible Joel (as the Warrior) fails the driving test and then slumps in the back seat, begging Crow (as his mom) to take him to the lost world while his friends wander past and laugh at him.
Host Segment Four:
Inspired by the lush green landscape of the lost world, Joel and the ‘Bots think of fun things to do after the apocalypse. These include walking around naked carrying nothing but a Terminator 2 big gulp cup, and spinning donuts in front of the Taj Mahal. Joel reminds them to always carry around an extra pair of prescription eyewear, so that they won’t end up like Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone.
Host Segment Five:
Joel and the ‘Bots discuss how much they hated everything in the film—everything but the übercool Megaweapon. Megaweapon calls up from his sister’s house to chat about the film. They read a letter. Down in Deep 13, the Mads exercise with the Squaremaster.
Warrior looks bored and surly.
Mel Gibson’s Mad Max is the untouchable standard for lonely postapocalyptic warriors, and far better actors than Robert Ginty (a.k.a. the Paper Chase guy) have failed trying to imitate him. Ginty doesn’t even look like he’s half-trying. At one point Joel refers to him as “Sad Max.” He plays every scene as if he just woke up with the great-great-grandmother of all hangovers. Donald Pleasence, on the other hand, turns in his usual top-notch performance as the lost world’s evil android overlord. It’s too bad that the muffled sound and awful cinematography make him look stupid anyway.
I read that the Italian producers of this film had the movie posters printed and then hired a director to make it. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but watching the film, it certainly looks true. The plot is simple, the characters are cardboard cutouts, and all the elements have been borrowed from better, more successful films. The opening backstory font is taken from Star Wars. The sentient bike is shamelessly KIT-esque, except for the squeaky voice that dispenses tinny 1980’s slang, like “tubular,” and “really bad mothers.” The recruitment scene looks like they put out a casting call for SciFi thugs, and then hired everyone who showed up (kung fu thugs, punk thugs, dwarf thugs, biker thugs, trucker thugs, nazi thugs, sexy female thugs, etc., etc.), regardless of sub-genre.
My favorite host segment is the introduction, where Tom gets more and more flustered until he finally forces Crow to eat his speech. Mike Nelson does well as the voice of Megaweapon. I liked the realistic sounds of his sister’s children in the background. The “things to do after the apocalypse” and “the apocalypse without a driver’s permit” sketches started off promisingly but didn’t end well. The latter just sort of abruptly ends, a fact that Tom acknowledges at the beginning of the next film segment.
The film segments are full of great, quotable lines, most of them from Tom Servo. My favorite comes every time the black-suited omega policemen lean out of their booths and Tom cries, “Do you have any fruit?” When Warrior conquers the multi-genre thugs, Tom says, “Now he’s the mayor of Loserville.” During the interminable road battle, Tom says, “Chitty, chitty, kill, kill.” During the end sequence, Tom gives each blurry face in the victory rally audience a celebrity name. It’s a bad, cliché, nonsensical film with average host segments, but it pulls together for a decently funny episode.
(1985, SciFi-Postapocalyptic/Bikers/Teen, color)
You got ideas, Lee?
In a nutshell:
Postapocalyptic biker kids battle an evil corporation that wants to enslave them.
“Fifteen years from now” (which, according to the original video tagline, is 2003) a nameless, Los Angeles-ish city is divided evenly between two rival motorcycle gangs. They’re all young people, since the adults were killed off by a grownups-only plague, which I assume was meant to occur “somewhat less than fifteen years from now.”
Youth biker Lee brings the remnants of his gang home to his parental figure, Albert (James Earl Jones). Albert welcomes them home with a warning shot before allowing them inside. He narrates the backstory for us in a voice that almost dips below the range of human hearing
Albert raised Lee after the grownups-only plague, and then sent him off to find adventure with a souped-up dirt bike and a sheep-skull helmet. Lee spends most of the opening credits in a water tower, making love to a nubile young lady he found along the way. Eventually he arrives at the city to find that mythical band of motorcycle heroes, the Clippers. He accidentally follows a convoy of trucks into the warehouse of an evil corporation, lifting his sheep skull to smile shyly at the winsome Dr. Wickings (Kim Cattrall) before stunt riding out again.
When he finally finds the Clippers (who dress like 80s glam-rock groupies) they are less than thrilled to see him. Apparently he killed a biker in the rival gang (who dress like 19th century fops) during a confusingly edited sequence that happened on his way into town. Still, Lee’s a loveable lug, so Yogi (Rae Dawn Chong) and a guy named Whitey convince the Clipper leader Mick to set up a “trial by combat” with the rival gang, in accordance with the inviolable comic-book laws that they live by.
The rival gang (whose name escapes me—the Lakers, maybe?) agrees and sets up the motorcycle duel in the ruins of an old natural history museum. Representatives of the evil corporation show up and ask them to help them restore essential services, such as electricity and medicine, to the city. Mick refuses, over the objection of the foppish rival gang leader, and the duel goes on as scheduled. Lee gets unseated almost immediately, but wins by jump kicking his rival from her bike. The gangs welcome Lee as a full member of the Clippers.
Afterwards, Clipper spy Whitey climbs into the evil corporation warehouse and overhears the evil corporation enforcer tell the reluctant rival biker leader that they’re going to crush the Clippers with guns, which are outlawed by comic book law. He catches Whitey and shoots him with an illicit pistol. Dr. Wickings sees the execution and complains to the corporate leader, Carver (Robby Benson). He blows her off with a vague train metaphor, so she complains by email to the evil home office. They put her off too, so she runs away to warn the Clippers.
Meanwhile, some confusing editing has informed the Clippers of Whitey’s death, so they hold a rockin’ funeral. A bereaved Mick tenderly asks Lee if he “got ideas.” The enforcer’s goons show up and gun them down. The corporation captures the surviving Clippers and forces them into slavery. The rival gang leader helps the wounded Mick escape the city with Lee, Dr. Wickings, Yogi, and several other guys. They go out of town, back to Albert’s place, where we end up at the beginning of the movie.
They mourn their losses with gratuitous sex and the manufacture of bulletproof motorcycles. Lee proclaims that he does, indeed, “got ideas,” and they head back to town to put those ideas into action. He breaks into a prison facility and takes a gunshot to his chainmailed chest to convince the captured Clippers that they need not live in slavery. They rush the guards and take back their bikes. Joining up with the rival gang, they attack the main corporation compound, taking down jumpsuited evil guys left and right. It’s an even fight until Albert shows up with a bunch of model airplanes packed with explosives.
They all head inside to confront Carver, who delivers a stock villain speech to the effect of “if you kill me, another will come” before the rival gang leader crushes him against the wall with his desk. Kim Cattrall emails the evil home office to stay out of their town, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Tom and Crow trick Joel into saying “ping-pong balls.” Ping-pong balls rain down on his head, Captain Kangaroo-style. Quoth Crow, “Those have been up there for months.”
Host Segment One:
Tom’s head is full of ping-pong balls, including Crow’s eyeballs. Down in Deep 13, Frank sings, “I sing whenever I sing whenever I sing,” until Dr. Forrester interrupts him with a large hammer. Joel has invented various meat-based dolls, including Mr. Meat-and-Potato-Head and Sir Beef Wellington. Dr. Forrester has invented pop star Tupperware, for keeping aging pop stars fresh. He demonstrates its effectiveness with depressed pop singer Morrissey, who’s very keen on reminding everyone how much he cries.
Host Segment Two:
Crow sings a little song about how much he loves Kim Cattrall. “I like your smell / You’re really swell.” Joel, Tom, and Gypsy help him perform a short scene from the movie Mannequin.
Host Segment Three:
Joel and the ‘Bots think of a new superhero group called The Fantastic 85. Members include Manman (all the powers of an ordinary man), Lumberman (controls the supply of lumber to different parts of the country), Papercutman, The Pheasant Plucker, and The Pheasant Plucker’s Son.
Host Segment Four:
Joel and the ‘Bots change their idea to The Fantastic 185 so that they can keep the list going with such new heroes as Perfect Paul and his Magnetic Spleen.
Host Segment Five:
Joel and the ‘Bots play the City Limits Trivia Game. Tom and Crow can’t even answer the question, “In the movie City Limits, what was the name of the movie?” They read some letters. Down in Deep 13, Morrissey whines and sniffs Dr. Forrester’s shoulder. Quoth he, “Did I mention that I cried?”
The evil corporate enforcer screams like a little girl.
While there’s probably no way to make a good movie about the 80s glam-rock bikers of the postapocalyptic future, it should have been fairly easy to at least make it entertaining. It’s so close. If the editing were a little clearer, or the script a little more cohesive it would have been a lot of fun to watch. As it was, I was constantly distracted by such missing elements as Lee’s initial adventure with the rival biker, and the unintelligible discovery of Whitey’s body. Also, as far as I can tell, Lee and Dr. Wickings exchanged smiles at the beginning of the film and then never spoke to each other again until the scene where she jumps into bed with him. Being able to tell what was going on and why wouldn’t have made it a cinematic masterpiece, but it would have made it the kind of film you wouldn’t flip away from on late-night cable.
Also, where do postapocalyptic biker kids get fuel for their bikes? Did the adults-only plague somehow miss the entire oil industry?
Mike Nelson as Morrissey highlights the host segments. He whines and cries convincingly as a washed-up pop star. Listing weird superheroes is always a good idea, and I liked the homage to Captain Kangaroo. Crow does a credible job as Kim Cattrall’s obsessed stalker/fan, but he can’t take that role to the same manic depths as Tom Servo and his various obsessions.
Joel and the ‘Bots do their best to mock a mostly unfollowable film during the movie segments. They start off the opening credits with Joel opening an umbrella in the theatre to strategically block a naked young woman’s naughty bits from view. Tom has a couple of songs, including “Pull my finger,” set to the music of “Goldfinger,” and “Born to Be Wild” at a very slow tempo, sung during the biker funeral march. Crow declares the prison for the trendily dressed Clippers to be “Stalag 90210.” He also belts out “This is CNN,” whenever James Earl Jones is on screen. This is only mildly amusing until the end, when the fur-clad Jones is flying explosive model airplanes around with a big goofy grin on his face, inspiring Crow’s comment, “This is F.U.N.” Good host segments and some good comments make this episode worth watching, but much of the movie is incomprehensible and difficult to watch.
(1986, SciFi-Postapocalyptic, color), with:
Commando Cody in Radar Men from the Moon: Chapter Nine, Battle in the Stratosphere
(1952, SciFi Serial-Children, b&w)
Yoo an yoah daatah ah dooommmd!
In a nutshell:
Short: Cody steals some Lunarium and gets away.
Film: A telepathic outsider rescues postapocalyptic factory workers from evil robots.
In our last exciting episode, we saw Ted escape in the flying suit while Cody's tank exploded. Commando Cody in Radar Men from the Moon: Chapter Nine, Battle in the Stratosphere begins at this point, once again with a trick of deceptive editing. Instead of the usual “he escaped while we weren’t looking” bit, however, this time we discover that Cody’s tank did not blow up after all; it was actually the identical enemy tank the Moon Men were driving. You see, Ted flew over and dropped a grenade on them as they were aiming. After a bit of gunplay, Cody fixes their stolen tank and they escape back to the spaceship with the box of Lunarium that Cody stole in the previous episode. After a brief exchange with the Moon Man prisoner (see the previous episode) that ends with the Moon Man pouting and stomping off to his room like a sullen teenager, they take off and then…the film breaks, to be replaced with a picture of Dr. Forrester and Dr. Erhardt. How will it all end? Who cares?
In a bleak and distant future, Robots have risen up against their creators and enslaved them, forcing humans to provide them with energy. Mankind’s only hope is a gifted young man called Neo, destined to defeat the mechanical menace…
Sadly, this is where any similarity to the story of The Matrix ends. In one of the most amazingly non-sequitur plots I’ve ever seen, Neo arrives in a building in the city of New Terra, where scantily clad dancers, or air slaves, wrestle for the privilege of going to the Power Station to get killed. The omnipresent Dark One turns the air poisonous when the crowd gets unruly; Neo notices that two people are unaffected by the noxious air. (Now, all of these people have names, but I could never figure out what name went to who, so I’ll just use my own names for them.) Science Dad and his daughter, Science Girl are fitted with devices that make them impervious to the poisonous air. Neo is unaffected as well, for some unexplained reason, and he’s telepathic, though I think he can only communicate telepathically with robots. Fortunately, the Dark One is rather unobservant. He only notices Science Dad.
Science Dad gets arrested by the Dark One’s robot henchman Torque (who looks like a humanoid elephant seal with an exoskeleton). In the aftermath, Neo, Science Girl, and a clumsy robotic pickpocket who I will call Robot Sidekick band together to rescue him. A pair of leather-clad brothers from the slave building joins them. During a jaunt through central park (in a clearly present day and fully functional New York City) the group runs into a band of post-apocalyptic Amazons led by a warrior woman I’ll call Man-hater. They’ve tied a man to a tree, cut out his tongue, slept with him to breed a new generation of women warriors, and now they’re about to execute him. The heroes free the Tongueless Stud, and one of the Leather Brothers defeats Man-hater in single combat. Neo forces him to spare her life so that she can guide them to the Power Station.
So Neo, Science girl, Robot Sidekick, the Leather Brothers, Man-hater, and Tongueless Stud all set out to free Science Dad from the Dark One in the Power Station.
In the meantime, the Dark One (actually a steam spouting light fixture in a rusty industrial basement) has his other henchman (the lovely and incomprehensible Valeria) torture Science Dad to learn the secret of his poison air immunity. Also in the meantime, the air slaves decide to rebel by only pretending to bring the Dark One fuel for his power reactors, hoping that the hopelessly unobservant bad guys won’t notice. Also, also in the meantime, Neo and his intrepid band have to go through a tunnel infested with slime-coated, flesh-eating Muppets. Hacking along with Renaissance Festival swords, they win their way through, though Leather Brother One is wounded in the process. At an oasis on the other side they are attacked by a band of rejected Star Trek aliens. The mutants finish off Leather Brother One, but are driven back by the less-than-special effects of Robot Sidekick. They all descend into the Hall of Beasts, where the Beast of the Web (a fuzzy mechanical arm) is quickly and easily dispatched. Leather Brother Two sneaks away and quickly falls to another killer Muppet. Robot Sidekick gets them through a poorly locked gate and voila! They’re in the Power Station, dealing with booby traps. Also, also, also, in the meantime, the Dark One gets increasingly annoyed with Valeria for allowing them to get this far and she sets out to head them off herself. There’s a fight where Neo takes on Torque while Guardbots take on the rest of the crew with swords and morningstars. In the confusion, Valeria kidnaps Science Girl and takes her back to the Dark One. He’s pleased but burns Valeria’s face off anyway, revealing her to be a robot as well. In one of the longest, most confusing fight scenes ever, Valeria starts the self-destruct process and then quickly apologizes, poisoning the air slaves instead. Tongueless Stud and Man-hater nobly die, inexplicably halting the self-destruct process. Neo kills Torque somehow and then shoots the Dark One, just as he is revealing to Science Girl how he turned her dad into a giant avocado. Also, also, also, also in the meantime, Robot Sidekick saves the air slaves, who rejoice.
Joel sings the blues.
Host Segment One:
Joel has invented a pipe made from a toy monster truck that spouts flames. The Mads demonstrate a ski mask specifically designed for bank robbers. It has remote control eyebrows.
Host Segment Two:
The ‘Bots form a fur-clad post-apocalyptic tribe and force Joel to do tricks before crossing their territory.
Host Segment Three:
Joel and the ‘Bots engage in weird sitcom-esque banter while Cambot punctuates every joke with an obnoxious laugh track. It quickly gets out of hand.
Host Segment Four:
Joel and the ‘Bots form another fur-clad post-apocalyptic tribe. Tom narrates until Joel and Crow start grilling him about the origin of their furry garments.
Host Segment Five:
Joel and the ‘Bots read letters and invite the viewers to “Name that avocado guy!”
The host segments in this one are decent, but nothing special. The Mad’s invention was pretty cool with the ski mask that allows you to emote while knocking over banks, but by now I’ve gotten tired of the whole “spurting flames” routine. The flame spurting Godzilla was cool, but with the addition of a flame spurting flower, whoopie-cushion, and now pipe, the inventions start to lose that "new idea" smell.
With this episode the MST3K run of Commando Cody is finished, and I’m not really sorry to see it go. It was fun in the beginning, but watching the plot endlessly circle the drain episode after episode was getting old. If you want to know how it ends, I suppose you could track down the rest of the episodes in their original state, but I’d hazard a guess that, at the end of the last episode, Cody defeats Moon Men and everyone lives happily ever after.
The movie’s cast seems to have consisted entirely of professional dancers. They dress sparsely in leather and fur, are lithe, lean, muscular and graceful, as well as inarticulate, inexpressive, and unable to act their way out of a wet paper bag. I liked it anyway. I like this genre as a whole, actually. You want to dress in fake fur and wander through modern day Central Park with Ren-Fest swords? Sure, go ahead. You want vicious, bucktoothed sock puppets to stick out of the walls drenched in slime? Why not? You want to be threatened by a sixty-watt bulb and his gorgeous mechanical sidekick? Be my guest. It’s like they filmed someone’s lame childhood fantasy; you can almost hear them humming the theme music during the chases and making the sound effects with their lips while they fight. The SciFi/Fantasy journey film is, in my opinion, the best fodder for the kind of treatment that Joel and the ‘Bots give a film. This one includes the “six flags over Armageddon” quip and observations about Neo’s “telepathetic” powers, as well as numerous human vegetable jokes at the end. Okay, I’m biased, but this is my favorite kind of MST3K episode.