The Summer of '83: Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone -

The Summer of '83

Mania Grade: D

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  • Starring: Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside and Andrea Marcovicci
  • Written by: David Preston, Edith Rey, Daniel Goldberg and Len Blum
  • Directed by: Lamont Johnson
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '83: Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone

"Chemist, prepare the Fusion Tube!"

By Rob Vaux     May 21, 2013

 I’m a fan of Molly Ringwald, having come of age in an era when she bestrode the Earth like a colossus. Before that, however, she made a movie called Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone which plays like a parody of itself. She apparently opted to make her mark in it with a shrill, piercing tone of voice that feels like a dentist’s drill burrowing into your soul. Lots of other things happen in the film too, but it’s hard to remember what they are once she gets going.

The weird thing is, I don’t think recasting it would have helped. The film delivers a pastiche of swashbuckling space opera clichés, trusting in its use of 3D to sell us where its plot, action, effects and characters couldn’t. Even worse: the producers in their infinite wisdom decided to release it five days before the single most anticipated science fiction epic of all time. And audiences stayed away in droves you say? Knock me over with a feather!

The apparently irony-free script posits a Han Solo clone named Captain Wolff (Peter Strauss) who sets out to rescue a trio of human women stranded on a far-away planet. Said planet bears a suspicious resemblance to Ventura County, and is inhabited by the kind of mutant scum created by raiding the abandoned Star Trek wardrobe department with cannibalistic efficiency. On the other hand, Michael Ironside is there too.  He plays a villain named Overdog McNabb, and if you don’t see the secret joy of that equation, you’ve been missing out for far too long. Ironside makes efforts like this tolerable, if only for the divine glee he expresses when chewing on every piece of scenery he can find.  It ain’t Shakespeare, but with movies like this, you take what you can get.

McNabb sets his sights on the Earth women, which means that Wolff sets his sights on him. A wretched series of set pieces and challenges follow, which Wollf dispatches alongside stalwart buddy Washington (Ernie Hudson), copilot Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci) and shrieking waif Niki (Ringwald). Director Lamont Johnson doesn’t bother with subtle build-up or fast-paced energy. Instead, he tries to imitate the pacing of old Republic serials… which means a lot of disjointed scenes and false climaxes with no sense of progression at all. The 3D effects do little to help – rendering everything a muddy brown, much like it does today – and while you can see signs of the technique in subsequent video and DVD releases, the film certainly doesn’t miss it.

Which beggars the question of why they bothered with making it at all. It carries nothing to distinguish itself, no interesting hooks or clear ideas to separate it from the legion of Star Wars rip-offs choking the theaters at the time.  It developed no clear vision, its hero didn’t display a single viable character trait and once you get past Ironside’s B-movie vamping, the remainder of the cast shows no ambition to do anything besides cash a check. Not even the resurgent 3D craze could save it, since other science fiction films of the era sported similar grindhouse sensibilities. (We’ll get to Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn in good time.)

 That leaves the audience dangerously vulnerable to Ringwald’s nasal intonations, since we have nothing else to distract us. The actress redeemed herself with Sixteen Candles just one year later. Spacehunter, unfortunately, has no such excuse. It arrived hoping vainly to ride on Return of the Jedi’s coattails and suffered ignominious dismissal as a reward. Those of us who were children at the time may remember it fondly, and its unmistakably 80s atmosphere does evoke a certain nostalgia. Sadly, that’s all an illusion. Beneath it lies a justly forgotten piece of sci-fi flotsam, too tired and derivative to earn even footnote status.  


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SinisterPryde 5/21/2013 12:05:09 AM

I enjoyed this as a kid.  I must have rented it half a dozen times from the video store when nothing else looked particularly interesting.  Being honest, though, I couldn't tell you a damn thing about it now.  It has slipped into the ethereal realm of vaguely remembered rainy afternoons and it should probably stay there.

ElBaz13 5/21/2013 5:54:06 AM

LOL! I had forgotten about this flick until now. I remember seeing it too. Back then, when there weren't many sci-fi choices, as a kid, you appreciated anything that was shown in theatres.

As I said in the RotJ post, summer of 83 was my "coming of age" for movies. Meaning I was old enough to go with friends and we could choose what we wanted. We saw so many movies that summer and this was one of them.

Ah...the memories.


monkeyfoot 5/21/2013 7:24:19 AM

My strongest memories from that movie are that I really wanted an android as pretty as Chalmers at my beck and call. I was pissed that she didn't last long.

Also it was my first 3D movie and I wasn't impressed.

Hulkfan4ever 5/21/2013 7:42:11 AM

I remember seeing this in the theater as well but the only the thing that I can remember about it was that it was in 3D.

DarkXid 5/21/2013 8:24:48 AM

 A "D"? For SpaceHunter?  Really?  Have you no taste?  No decency?  This movie is not a "D".  It needs a new rating.  Like a "D "    We have Ernie Hudson and Michael Ironside.  Ernie Hudson!

This movie is excellently bad.  Gads, go with what it is, a fun and horrible movie, where the hot android dies and the shrill teenager lives!

Give me this and Yor: Warrior of the Future and you have a double header of dumb that is oh so fun!

DarkXid 5/21/2013 8:26:15 AM

Hey, my plus didn't come through!!  This movie is a D-Plus .  Or barring that a DD!

momitchell7 5/21/2013 10:16:34 AM

I loved this movie as a kid and I've watched it a few times since then and it'w not that bad at all.

However, it's hard to imagine that it came out in the same year as ROTJ... It blows me away at how far ahead the SW franchise was of everyone else in terrms of scope and sfx, it's no wonder that George Lucas' franchise became so massive.

flyinroo 5/21/2013 10:57:27 AM

 I loved it as a kid, and I still get that same feeling when I watch it now. Its definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. I remember as a kid wanting a sequel soooo bad.

blankczech 5/21/2013 11:45:33 AM

 I was an adult when I saw this.  Didn't see it in a theatre so I missed out on the 3-D.  It was garbage but I find that I often enjoy watching garbage movies (just as I enjoy occasionally eating junk food)...sometimes I'll inexplicably watch movies like this more than once.  I think some movies shouldn't be reviewed as we all know what they are before we sit down to watch them.  It's not necessary for some egghead to put the viewing experience into words.  

metalpause 5/21/2013 12:47:33 PM

I was certain that this was actually Metalstorm until it was mentioned later in the article. Too funny.

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