Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) / Sci Fi-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and scary images (would be PG-13 today)
Running time: 90 min.
Cast: Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside, Andrea Marcovicci
Director: Lamont Johnson
Screenplay: Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, David Preston, Edith Rey
Review published May 28, 2007
I'll preface this review with a personal anecdote. I originally saw Spacehunter in a theater when I was just a kid, attracted by the fact that it was showing in 3D. I had never seen a 3D film before, and here was one that was not only 3D, but a space adventure, which, in a period when Return of the Jedi ruled the box office, meant it was "must see" in my eyes. Worst movie-going mistake of my young life up to that point.
Spacehunter not only proved to be a terrible movie, I had to take off the 3D glasses due to giving me a splitting headache, and without the glasses, it was not pretty to watch either. For years afterward, it was my personal choice for "crappiest movie I've ever seen" whenever the subject would come up.
Of course, over the years since starting my site, I've seen worse, though it's hard to believe. Since getting hi-def cable channels, I've taken to watching more old movies lately, and Spacehunter recently reared its ugly head again. I said to myself, "Hmm, here is my chance to see this film without the headache of the 3D experience, but also in hi-def!", and once again, I find myself in a situation of watching a movie purely on the basis of its technical attractions (3D vs. HD).
I no longer have to wonder if my bad experience at the theater was the result of having to watch bad 3D or if Spacehunter was just a bad movie. It is truly terrible. It's not the worst film I've ever seen, but I'm at a stage in my life now that I can at least find humor in just how bad it is. Hint: being of drinking age makes a huge difference.
Spacehunter starts off with a space luxury cruiser in peril, and its passengers must escape in pods that will lead them to the closest destination that features an atmosphere as livable as Earth's. One escape pod carrying three women land on Terra Eleven. Wolff (Strauss, xXx: State of the Union) is a "space hunter" in search of the women (who have a reward for safe return), also trying to make a few bucks on selling whatever he can find worth selling. Upon arriving, he finds himself on a world inhabited by scavengers and mutants, with the "forbidden zone" ruled by a mysterious and vicious leader called Overdog (Ironside, Top Gun). It is there where the three women have been taken. With the help of a young orphan named Niki (Ringwald, The Breakfast Club) and an old friend named Washington (Hudson, Two of a Kind), Wolff sets about trying to rescue the women and escaping the vile planet in one piece.
The easiest way to describe Spacehunter would be what would happen if a character like Han Solo found a world similar to the post-apocalyptic one you'd see in a Mad Max flick. Like Han Solo, Wolff is a do-for-self kind of guy, with an acerbic personality and would rather settle arguments through the use of his laser pistol than through more diplomatic means. The rest of the film resembles a campy, futuristic version of The Road Warrior, with strange allies and a nasty totalitarian villain, plus low-tech vehicles like hang gliders, armored tractors and weird-looking motorcycles to have to avoid.
There are two big reasons I dislike Spacehunter. The biggest reason is that the last half of the film is repugnant, with little in the way of humor, intrigue, or intelligence. Although only PG-rated, I find the look of the film distasteful, and Overdog and his brethren difficult to watch just from an aesthetic level alone. It's just ugly. The second reason is that the film seems like it's trying to play for camp value, but it never comes off as truly funny, even on that level. Sure, the characters are quirky and comical, but the script itself doesn't have that creative comic spark necessary to deliver solid laughs. Terrible costumes, z-grade special effects, and cheap-looking sets don't help.
In essence, here is a film that no one involved seems to take seriously, but they also never quite clue us in as to just what's supposed to be fun about it. Ringwald as Niki is meant to provide some comic relief, I suppose, but she comes off as whiny and shrill. It's unfortunate that Spielberg didn't see this film before The Temple of Doom as he would have seen just how annoying to the audience a whiny, shrill sidekick can be. Michael Ironside goes completely over-the-top (as usual) in his hateful villainy, and any scene involving him sucks the life, what little there is left by the time he appears, right out of the production.
My advice: unless you love schlock sci-fi at its trashiest, it's far better to re-watch the original Star Wars and Mad Max trilogies for the umpteenth time when you're in he mood for space adventures or crazy desert battles featuring vehicular carnage. If you're wanting to see this for the 3D experience, here is more advice: Don't, Don't, Don't.
©2007 Vince Leo