Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Thurs. the Looking Glass: ELIMINATORS (1986), THE TIME GUARDIAN (1987), Long ago... before CGI

1986 - ***
"There's no gold... this is some kind of science fiction thing, isn't it?" 

This question asked by ELIMINATOR's Handiana Jonesolo river guide (the irrepressibly mellow Andrew Prine), explains in a snap the magic of crappy 80s sci-fi movies: if the cheap 'science fiction thing' masquerades as gold, well we love it for trying. We can enjoy spotting all the 'influences' on its sleeve, those footsteps so eagerly tread in--as if a son following his ALIEN-TERMINATOR-STAR WARS-ROBOCOP dad's overflowing pocket change-sprinkled tracks-- if, in addition to the look and plot elements of those movies, they add engaging characters, dialogue that's witty and wry (rather than winky-leery and slapstick-spastic), strong female leads who aren't just eye candy, imaginative special effects that aren't CGI, bad cops and stingy bartenders getting their idiocy thrust up their noses like yakuza chopsticks, and good 80s synthesizer music.

And lo, here is one with all, or some, of that: a CROCODILE DUNDEE OF THE LOST ROBOCOP TERMINATOR CLASHING WITH TITANS, with Denise Crosby (PET SEMATARY) as a foxy robotics engineer recruited by an amnesiac Robo-Lancelot named 'Mandroid' (Patrick Reynolds, of the R.J. Reynolds clan) who rides an attachable half-track and wants her help destroying the rogue scientist whom everyone thought was dead, who bootlegged her designs. Turns out Mandroid was once sent back in time by this same evil guy to kill a bunch of Roman soldiers. If he could only remember why.

Rounding out the team is the above-quoted charter boat captain of African Queen / Millennium Falcon-style shabbiness, Harry Fontana (Prine), who has a great gift for delivering meta commentaries without breaking the narrative flow: "we got cave men, we got robots, we got kung fu." Prine's California face oscillates pleasantly between David Carradine, Joel McRae, and Kevin Sorbo in a way that makes him easy enough to endure, and he's crafty enough to reduce his rival riverboat captains to a bunch of smoldering wrecks along the shore as he's pursued by both an Emma Small-style butch rival riverboat guide and the evil mastermind's fat and sassy wildman security team (led by the infectiously merry Peter Schrum) as they wind their way up the alleged Amazon into our out of Mexico ("What does "Quo Vadis' mean?" asks the floundering Emma Small, reading the gold-embossed name of Scrhrum's slick red boat. "It means," Schrum yells with a hearty maniac good old boy laugh, "we kick ass!"). In the eleventh hour, a skilled martial artist (Conan Lee) joins the hearty band and there's even a reasonably tolerable robot mascot/R2D2 substitute. The scenes where it's allegedly floating above/behind the shoulder of the Mandroid, though you can see it bouncing around on its attached coat hanger are pretty endearing... maybe not in the way they intended but way cooler at least than that irritating Bobo the Owl from CLASH OF THE TITANS.

Alas, this being kid-friendly there's some bad faith nonlethal assurance: "You didn't have to blow them up!" - "They only jumped over the side!" - Oy Vey.. here we go again, safety-first Sarah Connor. As expected the tone rocks unevenly but if you're like me you didn't come to this Charles Band-engineered claptrap for even tones. In my case I come to laugh., and relax and even fall asleep while enjoying a narrative with no CGI, fake breasts, leering geeks, bad puns, or triteness  I was hoping for widescreen anamorphic on the DVD but this seems meant to be full frame anyway, so I'll get over it. Rest easy gentle robocough.... 

1987 - **1/4

ELIMINATORS only looks Australian, TIME GUARDIAN is, yet its cast includes Carrie Fisher. Why? Is this her cocaine binge era? She seems to be hiding in the opening action scenes' many dark patches like she doesn't want her mom to see how low she's sunk on the career ladder. Then there's Dean Stockwell, sleeping through his role as the elected official leader of a time-traveling electric city that's being pursued across the cosmic spectrum by a group of evil "half machine, half human" combinations of Cylons and Shogun Warriors.

Remember the Shogun Warriors? I forgot all about them until this movie. I'm still not sure why the Transformers weren't sued by the Shogun people, unless their companies merged or something. 

Anyway, the big time-traveling city is coming--where else?--to the outback in present day, to duke it out with these monsters once and for all. Carrie Fisher and the rugged hero, Ballard (Tom Burlinson)-- a frowny-faced warrior who goes by his own code doncha know--are rocketed ahead on the time surf as scouts for the new location. Carrie is almost immediately wounded, and thus allowed sit out most of the movie while Ballard tussles with paranoid local cop stereotypes and falls for a hottie anthropologist who's been examining ancient cave drawings that represent the very same domed city. They've been here before, and the local Aboriginals remember them, and the nonchalant way they welcome Carrie and Ballard when they suddenly emerge from a small lagoon during a dreamtime ritual is easily the highlight of the film. I mean, how cool that these two futuristic weirdos appear out of nowhere and the Aborigines don't even blink an eye? I would have liked to hear some didgeridoo added to the soundtrack, and maybe some explorations of these 'ancient astronauts are future time travelers' tangents. Instead there's the whole tweaked and disbelieving trigger-happy sheriff thing which has been done to death, and the battle scenes are, well, incoherent.

Costumes are--as with the finest Ozploitation--a fusion of the macho and emasculating
But hey it's got a lot of Ozploitation-style craziness, admirably deadpan integrity, and no CGI. The lead women fight like braves and the geologist is cute and can handle her lines like a pro. I enjoyed it, though I skipped through some of their more idiotic run-ins with the law which I could see coming a kilometer off, and I'm painfully aware that it gets no love from the press: "an example of Australian cinema at its most derivative and dull," notes the NY Times. Well, they should know!

Both films are on a 'Sci Fi Marathon Four Pack' from Shout! which I acquired for like $5. Each looks pretty good though is clearly remastered from a 16mm full frame print. Maybe neither ever was ever wider. Neither film looks particularly cropped. The other two films in the set are ARENA (a terrible but imaginative Charles Band styrofoam packing helmet fusion of the bar scene in STAR WARS and ROCKY) and AMERICA 3000 (the best of the four). They may not be good on their own, but toss 'em together, and the 80s 'dying drive-in / thriving-home video' era doesn't seem so suddenly long ago.

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