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Review – Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone

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spacehunter

Director: Lamont Johnson
Starring: Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, Andrea Marcovicci, Michael Ironside

This review by A.D. Barker.

When I was a kid, the video shop down our road was, to me anyway, a haven of wonder and uncharted mysteries. The window would display the latest releases, and although this confession probably won’t win me many female fans, I used to ride down there on my BMX (a Raleigh Burner no less!) and stare at the video covers.

Titles and posters would fuel my already overactive imagination, films such as Creepshow, The Monster Squad, Explorers, Weird Science, The Unnamable, Angel Heart, The Invisible Kid, and countless others, would fill me with such a delicious patchwork of textures and colours, that, I realise now, I would not have traded for all the tea in China, as they say. I was a child who somewhat lived mostly in his imagination, and still do to a certain existent. I liken it to how kids from the 50s and 60s would thumb from issues of EC Comics or Forest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. Movies just gave me that same kind of kick.

One such film arrived in the video shop window in 1983. I was eight years old then, and all I had in my head that year was going to see Return of the Jedi. But this one film did spark my interest, mainly because of the title and that fact that guy on the cover had a cool gun. Spacehunter, or to give it its full title, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was, at eight years old anyway, all I wanted it to be. Those were the days when, if my sister and I were allowed to get a film out at the weekend, we’d probably watch it on the Saturday night, then again the following morning. With Spacehunter I seem to vaguely remember watching it about three or four times on that single weekend. My Dad even had to pirate it for me!

You see, my favourite films at that time in my young life were Star Wars, Mad Max, and err, Smoky and the Bandit (nobody says a bad word about Burt Reynolds around me), and the fact that Spacehunter was a mixture of at least two of those flicks, made me love it all the more.

The movie stars Peter Strauss as our hero, the bounty hunter Wolff, queen of the original brat pack, Molly Ringwald, as his tomboy sidekick, Niki, B-movie favorite Michael Ironside as the somewhat ridiculous villain, Overdog, and Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson as Wolff’s old partner, Washington. The entire plot surrounds the crash landing and subsequent kidnapping of three beautiful maidens on the plague-ridden planet, Terra Eleven. With 50,000 ‘mega-credits’ up for grabs, space cowboy, Wolff, wastes no time in pursuing the reward.

Strauss’ Wolff is very obviously riffing off Han Solo, and indeed it does appear to be a role Harrison Ford could have played in his sleep. Back in the day that is, before he became Harrison Bored, and began churning out one drossy political thriller after another and slept-walked his way through the latter half of his career (just watch Indy IV for evidence of his boredom). Strauss, on the other hand, does his best with the material, clearly having fun with such a roguish character.

Wolff lands on Terra XI and drives out across the barren desert world in his large 4-wheeler which he lovingly calls the ‘Scrambler’. He races straight into the film’s first big sequence which involves a galleon-like train, complete with sails and armor, coming under attack from Overdog’s minions. The scene, in fact much of the film, immediately brings to mind Mad Max. Yet, even though the flick was obviously influenced by The Road Warrior (1982), much of the imagery, flavor and set-pieces own more to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which at the time, wouldn’t surface for another two years. Curious.

On viewing the film over 20 years later I was struck by how much of it I remembered. It brought back strong memories of my childhood, of a certain time in my young life, much like a particular smell would, or an old song. The film itself, although still enjoyable, was by no means the classic my young self thought it was. It seems too riddled with Sci-Fi clichés, many of which come straight from the George Lucas songbook – you want funny little midgets in awkward outfits? What about a sexually perverse bad guy who is part man/part machine? Well, Spacehunter’s got it all.

When this flick had its brief run in theatres in 1983, it was in glorious 3-D! There was somewhat of an ill-fated 3-D revival in the early 80s with such films as Friday the 13th Part 3 and, perhaps the most famous from that period, Jaws 3-D. Spacehunter may have suffered at the time from being part of that fad (well, I call it a fad, but James Cameron keeps banging on about it).

Spacehunter was helmed by veteran television director Lamont Johnson, one of his few big screen ventures, and produced by Ivan Reitman, who went onto direct big ( and mostly poor) fantasy/comedies such as Evolution, My Super Ex- Girlfriend, and of course, the overshadowing masterwork that is Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, regardless of all best intentions, I can sort of see why Spacehunter has ended up being sort of forgotten. The story eventually meanders to a predicable conclusion involving a deathly maze and a lackluster showdown between Wolff and the Overdog.

Sometimes I think back to that old video store and remember the sense of wonder the titles within instilled in me. I think of how many of those films now lie forgotten and unloved; films like Spacehunter, which, although by no means a classic, I still can’t help feel it deserves a little love. So take a chance… give it a viewing!

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