• Spacehunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: May 2, 2017
    Directed by: Lamont Johnson
    Cast: Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside, Andrea Marcovicci, Cali Timmins, Aleisa Shirley, Deborah Pratt, Hrant Alianak, Deborah Pratt
    Year: 1983
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    The Movie:

    Ostensibly the Guardians of the Galaxy of its day—though without the budget or smart script… or appealing actors… or cool special effects… or savvy direction—Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is one in a long line of early 1980s sci-fi exports seeking to exploit both the genre boom in the wake of Star Wars (1977) and the renewed interest in 3D.

    Set about a century from now, the film begins when a spaceship is struck by nebular lightning (apparently, it’s a thing out there in the great big matterless void of space). An escape pod escapes, only to crash land on a rocky planet that looks mysteriously like Earth with red tinting. Out of it pops three beautiful ladies (unharmed for all their travail) with names such as Nova (Cali Timmins), Reena (Aleisa Shirley), and Meagan (Deborah Pratt). Unfortunately, they soon find the planet inhospitable when vicious aliens take them hostage.

    A junk collector named Wolff (Peter Strauss) learns that there’s a reward for the women’s safe return. Unable to pass up easy money, he and his assistant, Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci), make their move. It isn’t long before they’re embroiled in planet politics (which means: a civil war between raiders and wanderers). They are unable to stop the raiders from raiding the wanderers’ women and taking them back to Overdog (Michael Ironside). In the melee, Chalmers, who is really a robot, is disabled (okay, killed if you prefer). Not to be womanless, Wolff soon captures a boyish teenage girl named Niki (Molly Ringwald) trying to steal his vehicle. Master Wolff and Tricky Niki develop an uneasy alliance that is tense and funny and everything you can imagine if this movie was predictable, which it is, so your imagination is probably correct. The two have a number of exciting serial-like adventures that involve androids, cyborgs, alien technology, mutants, amazons, dragons, and a deadly maze. In the end, the three women are… well, we can’t tell you that because we’d be spoiling it for you, but if you assume that all ends happily, you’re right, because this is predictable, and predictable means you know what’s going to happen long before it does.

    Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (not to be confused with Adventures in Babysitting because, you know, the title) is not really original, or all that interesting, but it isn’t really boring either, and that’s saying something. A few of the special effects are very good, including the integration of miniatures and location work during the opening scenes on the red planet. But most of them stink in a peculiarly ‘80s way; if they were music, they’d be Starship, and if they were a specific song, they’d be “We Built This City.” Because you don’t get more ‘80s than that. Anyway, back on point: The futuristic technology is naturally antiquated, but so are the computer screens in 2010 (1984), so one can’t complain too much. The performances are pretty good, so no complaints there either (we’re talking leads here), while the makeup is bad in a ‘high-school theater production of Frankenstein’ sort of way. Regardless, you could do a whole hell of a lot worse than Spacehunter, but you could do a whole hell of a lot better, too. So, do you want and don’t let others judge you.


    Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is not Mill Creek’s finest hour. Placed on a BD25 with an MPEG-2 encode in not-so-glorious 1080p high-definition and an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the image is weak from the start. Now, some issues are to be expected; this is, after all, an early ‘80s movie (have we stressed that enough?) heavy with optical special effects. Opticals rarely translate well in the digital zone, and those in this film are no exception. Still, much of the film should look good but doesn’t. One can only conclude that the transfer is an ancient one not helped by Mill Creek’s use of older tech. In general, the special effects shots hold up well, particularly when practical, but the opticals fare poorly compared to the surrounding material. Dirt and debris is more prevalent than usual, and noise is thick and heavy, which will no doubt mislead some into believing it’s film grain: it isn’t. There’s some crush in darker scenes, and the application of artificial darkeners to day-for-night shots don’t help. The film was originally part of 1982-83’s 3D craze that also brought us Friday the 13th Part III and Amityville 3-D. The three-dimensional effects in Spacehunter were allegedly adequate to good, but you won’t be able to tell from this presentation, as it’s 2D only. There are a few shots with some striking detail, but the detail is spied through the noise, and these shots are not the norm. The result is a film that’s soft about 4/5ths of the time and sharp about 1/5th of the time. Bitrate hovers around 30 mbps, so a mix of bad source material provided by Sony and a weak and outdated encode by Mill Creek explains the suffering image. That said, precisely because this is Mill Creek, the BD’s price will soon drop to practically nothing for anyone who desperately wants to upgrade. To see an ‘80s sci-fi/fantasy film done right on Blu, however, check out Mill Creek’s release of Krull (also 1983), which is a beautifully organic and detailed presentation.

    Audio fares better than the image, though there are some issues here, too. Presented in lossless LPCM 2.0, Elmer Bernstein’s bombastic score, which frantically emulates John Williams’ classic composition for Superman—The Movie (1977), sounds surprisingly good, as do most of the sound effects. Dialogue is front and center to the mix and well prioritized. The only issue that arises is that some sound effects, mostly explosions, are a little too loud in the mix, and when they occur, you will likely need your remote (unless you enjoy disparities in sound levels). On a positive note, Mill Creek does include optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.

    There are no extras. The film begins playback when the disc is inserted into the machine. It is divided into 12 chapters, with a 13th chapter taking viewers to an animated menu screen. This screen features two options: to play the film or to turn the subtitles on or off.

    The Final Word:

    Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is pretty typical of its era’s interest in science fiction. It has its moments, and at 90 minutes, it doesn’t really overstay its welcome. It’s fairly well paced, with some fun (and some boring) sci-fi action. Unfortunately, the transfer used for this Blu-ray release leaves a lot to be desired, and there are no extras to support the endeavor.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Lalala76's Avatar
      Lalala76 -
      I'm sure it looks a lot better than my Memorex E180 VHS tape, recorded from the tv that I overplayed in the 80s.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Ha! Yes, I'm sure it DOES look better than that. And if you wait a month or two, you'll be able to upgrade for around five bucks...