Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: SPACEHUNTER starring Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald and Ernie Hudson

Tuesday's Overlooked Films is the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at SWEET FREEDOM. Don't forget to check out Todd's blog to see what other films and/or audio/visual entries, other bloggers are talking about today.

Peter Strauss is an odd duck. He had such a relaxed screen presence that it's always surprised me he never became a Big Movie Star. In SPACEHUNTER, he was the perfect action hero; confident, engaging, good looking and as I said, very relaxed on screen. He also had a gleam of intelligence in his eyes.(What good is a dumb hero?) Who doesn't love that combo in a leading man? In my opinion, Strauss should have had a similar career to Harrison Ford.

But stardom is a funny, chancy thing. There's no accounting for the combination that will catch fire onscreen. Maybe Strauss didn't have the 'everyman' quality that Ford did/does. Who knows?

SPACEHUNTER, directed by Lamont Johnson, is definitely not a great movie (though it appears to be a cult favorite). Surprisingly, it has an Elmer Bernstein score, but a decidedly lackluster one. I saw the movie in theater many years ago and just recently watched it again and thought, hey, it's not so bad. (It does have six writing credits. Two for story and four for screenplay. Not usually a good omen.) Or maybe it's that it's so bad it's good - that sort of thing. I know I've definitely seen worse.

If you're in the mood for a space/western that doesn't need to make too much sense and has some interesting sets, aliens and costumes and you like Strauss's screen presence and don't mind Molly Ringwald's teenager in outer space routine, then you shouldn't mind spending some 90 minutes or so watching SPACEHUNTER. It really does hold up considering it was made in the ancient days of 1983 and released in flat as well as 3-D.

The story:

Three space bimbos crash land on a planet that looks like Arizona desert and are instantly taken captive by some decrepit looking aliens.

Later it appears they've been handed over to other aliens and soon after that they'll be kidnapped by still other aliens flying about in some wind-gliding type contraptions. But I'm getting ahead of myself. There are a lot of conflicting sorts on this planet  (mostly looking like humans) and I had trouble telling who was who and why and what.

A reward is offered for the girls' return (sorry, young women) and a space message sent out to nearby ships. Peter Strauss as Wolff, a kind of space soldier of fortune picks up the message and lands on the planet along with his shapely android, Chalmers, played by Andrea Marcovicci. (She doesn't have much screen time, since she's zapped during a fracas and her body melts down before our very eyes early in the film.)

Anyway, Wolff is soon involved in said fracas between some aliens on a conveyance that looks like a sailing clipper ship but runs on tracks along the rocky ground, and a bunch of other aliens including some wind surfing types who scoop down and grab the three bimbos and sail off to their leader's hideout. The leader is an ugly space creep called Overdog- a humanoid/metallica man attached to some ominous looking black machinery.

This is a white faced guy (played by Michael Ironside) who loves looking at pretty girls and does a lot of heavy breathing while doing the looking. Yuk! (He has a machine which enables him to inhale energy from the bodies of unwilling humans or 'earthers' as they're called in the movie - but that comes later.) He also runs an obstacle maze which no one can traverse without being stabbed, burned, plunged into a vat of acid or ground up like chopped meat by cleavers and other assorted spiked machinery. Since Overdog and his shouting minions don't appear to have television, this is their daily source of entertainment. Far as I can tell, at any rate. But again, I'm getting way ahead of myself.

Just as soon as Wolff and his rough and tumble desert vehicle leave the one group of aliens behind, he stumbles onto another. Then for no reason that I can figure, up pops Molly Ringwald as Nikki, all dirty and scuzzy. She claims she can lead Wolff to Overdog central. Wolff grudgingly takes her along, though soon her stench forces him to take a detour. He gives her a bath, dunking her in a convenient desert pool. "Why you're just a kid," he says.

We say, "Uh, oh."

Okay, night time. Wolff and Nikki look for shelter in a cave and are soon on the run from some chubby pupa looking aliens (kind of like icky Michelin tire men) who plunge out of hanging chrysalis and holes in the roof of the cave. THEN Wolff and Nikki fall into a craggy cave pool which is soon populated by Amazons from the deep (with spears and sexy costumes) and THEN an ugly sea monster shows up. It's so hard to get a good night's sleep in outer space.

Oh, meant to mention, that at some point, Wolff runs into an old friend/adversary/fellow soldier of fortune named Washington (played by Ernie Hudson) who arrives on the scene in giant bucket of bolts vehicle with a front that looks like an earth mover/snow plow combo. They have a falling out but later join together to share the reward money should they find and rescue the three bimbos.

Okay, those are the basics.

Of course, there's all kinds of zapping and fighting and rescuing and maze traversing (by Nikki) and overthrowing of Overdog who is attempting to drain Nikki of her energy/life force - the usual.

Lots of stuff blows up and for some reason, the three bimbos survive all this and in the end they are all saved and brought back up to Wolff's ship which, somehow, remained unmolested somewhere on the planet or - it's not made clear - up in space.

All along, as we clearly were meant to suspect, Nikki and Wolff have grown closer - he does save her life after all - and though he is very grudgingly drawn to her throughout the movie, he makes no moves except for a hug. He still considers her a kid. In the end they take off on his ship, for parts unknown. How long she'll remain a kid, who can tell.


  1. Yvette,

    Thanks for reminding me of this one--I think.

    It is a great flic for a evening when all I want to do is get some beer, chips, and dip, turn on the DVD, and turn off the brain.

    Hmmm, think I'll add it to my queue at netflix and move it to the top.

  2. One can see quickly from the photos that this doesn't rise above being a cult film!

    You raise an interesting question about the nature of fame. I've always thought that the most beautiful or handsome people have had a little quirkiness mixed in. If one focuses on the individual features of a Sophia Loren or Robert Redford, one realizes that the sum is greater than the parts!

  3. Yes, thanks for reminding me too. I am pretty sure I have seen SPACEHUNTER — the scenes look very familiar. There's only one way to find out: see it...again. As a newspaperman with considerable experience in tabloid journalism I like the way you intersperse photographs with text. I guess that's what makes personal blogs more interesting than professional websites.

  4. I'm definitely in the mood for a good Space Western. Adding this to my Netflix que!

  5. Fred: Yeah, perfect for a lazy, popcorn night. :)


  6. Mark: You hit it right on the nose. The sum is greater. Perhaps the people who don't become Major Stars despite their beauty, don't have parts that fuse together interestingly well on screen for whatever reason. The sum doesn't add up.

  7. Prashant: Thanks! Yes, when I learned to place photos in between type it was a happy day. :)

  8. jenclair: It's lots of fun. Doesn't make too much sense, but who cares? Make popcorn.

  9. Yvette,

    Hey, I'm easy. Popcorn's fine by me.

  10. Patti: You'll have to play catch-up when you're in a Space/Western kind of mood. :)

  11. Fred: I'll actually be having some tonight when I re-watch for the umpteenth time: THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER. :)

  12. Yvette,

    Depending upon when I get home tonight from a F-T-F SF book discussion group, I may have some with _Strangers on a Train_.

  13. Ford had the good fortune of two ridiculously popular franchises behind him (eventually three, when he inherited Clancy adaptations from Alec Baldwin), allowing such non-franchise items as WITNESS and FRANTIC to get at least some of that other audience's attention and patronage.

  14. This was a lot of fun, Yvette! I KNOW I saw this movie because the pics and some of your description sound very familiar. I was unfortunately getting a divorce in 1983, so my memory of things then is fuzzy (too much brain room being given to other stuff!). I know I saw it, though.

    I like Peter Strauss, always did, since Rich Man, Poor Man, the first TV miniseries. He is like a Kevin Costner type to me, the guy next door you really like (although I never had a guy next door who looked like Strauss!) He was so popular on TV, but just never made the movie big time. I had forgotten how young Molly Ringwald was.

    The movie is space silly adventure, but those are fun, even if they aren't great classic material. You'd be surprised at how many movies I like that don't come anywhere close to classic OR great!

    Love your writing style Yvette. You made this a lot of fun (particularly liked: "He also had a gleam of intelligence in his eyes.(What good is a dumb hero?" LOL! Good stuff!

  15. Todd: Yes, Harrison Ford has had much good fortune in his career.

    There's that old maxim:

    Two actors get struck by lightning. One drops dead. The other becomes a star.

  16. The eighties were fuzzy for a lot of us, Becky! Ha. I went through that same 'fussiness' in 89/90.

    This movie is probably edge of the radar for many of us. I only remembered it recently. If all we ever watched were 'great' movies, we'd run out of film rather quickly. :)

    So glad you're liking my writing, kiddo. It's nice to be appreciated especially when all I'm doing is having fun. :)

  17. I know I've seen this one, but I don't remember if I like it or not. I think I put it in the same catergory I do Enemy Mine, Krull, and Barbarella. They are fun cheesy space movies, but don't have much substance.

  18. Ryan: It definitely belongs in that category. Not great, but fun to watch when you're not in a mood for anything deep. :)

  19. I would agree with _Space Hunter_ being in the same category as _Krull_ and _Barbarella_, but I must most respectfully disagree about _Enemy Mine_, which I think is a more than few steps above the others.

    _Enemy Mine_ is a story that illustrates the paradox of war in which two military forces struggle to destroy each other for socio/cultural/political/whatever reasons, but at the same time, the individuals in actual combat frequently have no other reason than survival.

    This leads to some interesting situations in which the individuals learn to overcome their differences and to see the enemy as a being like themselves.

    Thomas Hardy's poem, "The Man He Killed," ends with:

    "Yes, quaint and curious war is!
    You shoot a fellow down
    You'd treat if met where any bar is,
    Or help to half-a-crown."

    The film _Enemy Mine_ is based on a novella written by Barry Longyear titled _Enemy Mine_, which was later expanded into a novel. But, I think Longyear's story is actually an updated version of a long forgotten film which came out in 1968--_Hell in the Pacific_--starring Lee Marvin and Japan's greatest film actor, Toshiro Mifune.

    The film tells the story of an American pilot and a Japanese navel officer who, during WWII, find themselves stranded on a desert island.

    Thanks, Ryan, for mentioning the film. I think I will head over to Netflix and grab both films.

  20. Never seen it before but I can see why it is a cult hit - Michael Ironside!!! Need I say more.

  21. Fred: I remeember the WWII film you mention and also I did see ENEMY MINE which I liked at the time and remember fondly.

    Both make a strong anti-war statement. So there are definite ideas behind these two particular stories.

    No deep ideas behind SPACEHUNTER. :)

    Now that I think on it, ENEMY MINE also reminds me of the story behind one of my favorite STAR TREK The Next Generation episodes.

    More on that coming up later today.

  22. iluvcinema: Ironside was something else. Ha! Not a guy you'd want to meet in a dark alley.

  23. Yvette,

    Yes, _Spacehunter_ is a bit short on deep or serious ideas. [g]


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