Viking Night - Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
By Bruce Hall
August 23, 2017
For a movie called “Spacehunter,” very little of this movie takes place in space.
In fact, after maybe four minutes among the stars, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (I’m going to call it “Spacehunter” from now on, if that’s okay with you) settles onto a planet that alternates between looking like Scottsdale, Arizona and an S&M theme park designed by robots. I’d heard of Spacehunter, but I’d always kind of subconsciously avoided it, possibly because it sounded like the cinematic equivalent of receiving a prostate exam via crowbar.
You see, a long time ago, everyone in Hollywood was scrambling to throw together something just like Star Wars, only cheaper and more indifferently made. History is littered with vomitous misfires like Starcrash (1978), Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and the uniquely horrific Krull (1983). For a while though, if your idea had any kind of space-related title and it could be made for less than the cost of a five bedroom ranch house, then absolutely anyone would listen to your pitch. So no, I was not eager to wade back into those waters.
But my last column was about an abomination that went direct to VHS (the thing before DVDs) during the Clinton Administration. As such, a friend of mine suggested I was in no position to turn my nose up at a $14 million major release starring Molly Ringwald and the guy who played Winston in Ghostbusters. I knew he was right, so I bit the bullet and dove in - and you know what? Something struck me as I powered through the first few minutes of Spacehunter, and it wasn’t nausea.
It was relief.
I’m not saying that Spacehunter is a good movie, because it’s not. And I would fight you to the death for describing it as a Star Wars knockoff. Oh God, no. Spacehunter is a knockoff of SO many more things than just Star Wars. There’s a LOT of Mad Max in there, and just a dusting of Spielbergian whimsy. In fact, just when I thought I’d lost track of Spacehunter’s shameless pilfering, I spotted Ernie Hudson and Peter Strauss walking around in crude approximations of those corny gold-trimmed capes from Battlestar Galactica.
I still can’t deny, though, that it was better than I was expecting. And when that kind of mediocrity represents a 300 percent improvement over what you were expecting, that’s sure as hell worth writing about. Spacehunter begins with the destruction of a galactic cruise liner, which for some reason was on a sightseeing tour of two slowly exploding stars. The ship model was highly detailed, but still somehow preposterously cheap looking, to the point that it unsettled me. I wouldn’t have wasted this much time describing it except that the ship’s captain cheerfully blames the incident on an “unexpected condensation of molten gases.”
Not only is that one of the most brilliantly stupid lines I’ve ever heard in a film, but it’s also the excuse my cable company gave me the last time I lost service.