Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone

These were the good old days of 80s sci-fi
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1983
Director: 
Lamont Johnson
Starring: 
Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Michael Ironside, Ernie Hudson
The Setup: 
Space rogue goes to rescue three women for a bunch of megacredits.
Discussion: 

Ah yes, the 80s were a golden time for science fiction schlock, with so many movies coming out trying to ride the coattails of Star Wars, but before computer effects, so special effects were still ingenious and exciting, and you could admire them for their ambition, even if the reality turned out to be less than special. This movie was notable for being released in 3D, long before the current 3D processes, where it was still one red eye and one blue eye. I actually saw it (twice) in this dingy theater in Detroit, presented in 3D, and can attest that it looked godawful. Not to mention that there was barely anything in the film that put the 3D to any effect. Anyway, now it's just 80s sci-fi schlock and though it gets a ton of affectionate reviews on IMDb, I wonder what anyone who wasn't raised on this kind of thing would think. I suspect they'd be appalled.

So we open in space where we find a planet, well, I have no idea what happened, but it is creating this giant cloud spiral in space that is clearly created with red-dyed cotton. We descend into the cloud and find a model of a spaceship, a very, very cheap and poor model of a spaceship, that suddenly, for no reason, explodes. We hear a voice directing people to the escape pods, but only one of them makes it away before the rest of the ship blows up. They land on this desert planet and open their golden helmets to reveal--they're three supermodels! They also seem to have been stuffed in with something akin to packing peanuts, which you have to love. Anyway, they are soon captured by sandpeople.

Meanwhile, lovable unshaven space rogue Wolff (see, it's like he's akin to a wolf, but not really, because it has two f's) is cruisin' with his robot space ladyfriend, when he receives word that these three supermodels have crashed on this nasty planet, and there is a reward of several million "megacredits" for whoever rescues them. Really, the word "megacredits" is enough to make you like this film. So he goes, lands on the planet, and takes off in his desert land-rover-thingy. Say goodbye to space, folks! No space battles here!

He soon happens upon a train/Chinese junk that has the supermodels (I never knew what they actually were, I assume princesses or something?) and there's this long trainboard battle when these guys come out of the sky on hang gliders, hook on to the supermodels and whisk them away. It looked pretty clearly like each of them had been killed with a crunchy neck-snap, but apparently that only rendered them unconscious. Then Wolff finds that his robot ladyfriend has been killed in the battle, and sets her to face melt, which was pretty awesome, and I can't believe I didn't remember that part.

He happens upon this mound and while investigating inside, Molly Ringwald as Niki, space orphan, tries to steal his land-rover thingy, but she says she can guide him to the supermodels in exchange for food and he agrees. We now endure several scenes her being hyper-annoying (her voice alone could be used to strip paint) and them coming to a grudging partnership. You can see it coming a mile away, every last bit of it, but it's like comfort food. That has a super-grating voice. We are also introduced to Wolff's rival, Washington, played by Ernie Hudson, who rides around in a giant snowplow. By the way, Wolff is one of those post-Raiders of the Lost Ark guys with one days' stubble that never grows, despite his never shaving. And who also used to have a sex robot on hand for his manly spacehunter needs, but now feels all protective and hands-off with his new, nubile teen female companion. He does, however, throw her unceremoniously into a puddle of water and force her to wash herself.

SPOILERS > > >
Periodically we return to the supermodels as they are presented to the Overdog, played by who other than Michael Ironside. He is big, bald and mutanty with massive iron claws for hands. He is told that these supermodels will please him in ways the previous captives didn't, making you wonder just how many batches of supermodels land on that planet. Back to Wolff, he approaches the forbidden zone (didn't quite catch why it's forbidden... maybe it's the birthplace of the Lambada?) and drives his buggy into this waterlogged chamber waist-deep with water and with numerous pipes and tubes. Soon they are surrounded by scantily-clad space water sirens, who grab he and Niki and try to pull them to their watery doom. You will notice that the water is waist deep, allowing one to walk and drive in it, but when one goes underwater, it is about twenty feet deep. Such are the mysteries of this enigmatic planet. They fight off the sirens, and narrowly escape, having to leave the buggy behind, and walk through the toxic landscape, bickering. Soon Niki is unconscious with thirst, and just in time Washington shows up and agrees to help, if they can split the big megacredits reward. He has also, it would hap, found Wolff's buggy and towed it to safety.

Back snug in their buggy, Wolff and Niki find a seemingly-abandoned tower and head in to bunk for the night. They are considerately left unmenaced until the morning, after a good night's shut-eye, when suddenly obese mutants start oozing out of the pipes to attack. I have to admit it was a fairly good, creepy image to have these creepy people literally oozing out of pipes. Once free, they continue their journey, hooking up with Washington again, as well as these two guys from the train / Chinese junk from the beginning, to repine for the evening in a canyon filled with abandoned vehicles. They're unable to get some restorative rest, however, because sandpeople show up to throw grenades at them. At least the oozing mutants let them get some rest. Some mutants simply show better breeding.

Well now, time for the climax. They go to the big compound where Overdog is busy over-doggin', about to have his wicked way with the young lovelies. Wolff and Niki are captured, and thrown into this giant mecha-obstacle course. Wolff is rescued just in time by Washington, who does seem to show up at the most helpful moments, and he's free to escape with the space ladies and collect his megacredits, but chooses instead to go back to save Niki, still stuck in the obstacle course. I think you'll see that this once fiercely independent space rogue has now come to care about another, and think about more than megacredits and value true human companionship, and all that. He ends up fighting mano-a-mutanto with Overdog, and it's looking like curtains for him when he gently touches some random tube, issuing harmless smoke, to Overdog, which for some reason causes him to convulse and eventually explode. Wolff and Niki get into the buggy and narrowly escape, just as the entire compound explodes and collapses around them. Here you're treated to fun footage of a model exploding, shooting out debris that clinks down all around the remote-controlled model buggy driving out of the wreckage.

We wrap up with Spacehunter about to jet off toward further adventures in space, when Niki gets all pouty and defensive, causing Wolff to accept her as his new partner and jet off to infinity and beyond with her in tow. Yes, one is aware that his former partner was a robot sex toy, and now he's going to be all alone for the foreseeable future with a girl we're not even sure is eighteen, in a quasi-protective, quasi-romantic relationship, but as they movie is about to end, we politely shelve our concerns. Then a big red The End zips out of space, and it's over!
< < < SPOILERS END

I had held off on watching this for a while, thinking it might just be too stupidly, cheaply cheesy, but it's actually super-fun cheesy, with much higher production values than I had remembered (evidence of how totally shitty it looked when projected in 3D). I was not surprised later to find numerous people on IMDb regarding this as a delightfully fun guilty favorite they can watch again and again. It's just super-silly fun, and has reasonably unusual things to show you, like marauders on hang-gliders, supermodels in bizarre gleaming gold spacesuits and shipped with packing peanuts, and creepy obese mutants oozing out of tubes. The tone is one of lighthearted adventure and peril, like Raiders of the Lost Ark in the Star Wars universe. It's a good time at the cheesy sci-fi corral.

It is a little bizarre to see Molly Ringwald as a grimy space urchin, but a little research reveals this to have been made prior to her big teen hits. I'm not sure, but I believe it was released afterward, as I definitely knew who Molly Ringwald was before seeing this originally. This is crucial, as you're sort of sitting there like "WHY in the world would she take this part?" [But alas, I guess it was released before her big films]. Peter Strauss maintained a low level of TV and movie stardom that extends to this very day. The director, Lamont Johnson, worked mostly in TV and died in 2010.

Anyway, if you love that 80s sci-fi feeling that nothing else can quite replicate, here's a really fun one for you/

Should you watch it: 

If you like 80s sci-fi.