Saturday, 22 February 2014

Lorca and the Outlaws

Director: Roger Christian
Writer: Roger Christian, Matthew Jacobs
Producer: Michael Guest
Cast: John Tarrant, Donogh Rees, Deep Roy
Country: UK/Australia
Year of release: 1985
Reviewed from: UK VHS

Dear Lord, this is poor. This is really, really bad. What’s worse, it’s British. Oh, the national shame. A pisspoor, sub-sub-Star Wars piece of semi-juvenile rubbish which is nothing more than a scrappily assembled mishmash of clichés and lazy film-making.

I didn’t enjoy it. No, sir.

Right from the start, we know we’re in trouble because the very first shot is of a communications satellite which has the words ‘Communications Satellite’ painted in big red letters on the side. A caption tells us this is ‘El Jadida - The 21st Century’ but what is El Jadida? One would naturally assume, since we are looking at a planet, that it is the name of said planet.

However, we then get a very brief aerial shot of a settlement at night and another caption: ‘A mining station on the planet Ordessa.’ So if the planet is called Ordessa, what is El Jadida? Is it the town? Why have we got a caption telling us the town’s name on a shot of the planet and a caption of the planet’s name on a shot of the town?

Because this film is a big stinking pile of crap.

Despite the word being plainly spelled ‘Ordessa’ with an R, an incoming spaceship which identifies itself in a voice-over radio communication as ‘Police Transport Zebra’ speaks to a ground controller called ‘Odessa 5.’ So is it Odessa or Ordessa? Who knows? Who cares? What is more interesting is that the spaceship looks very much like the one from Nightflyers. I don’t know if it’s the same model or a revamped model or just my memory playing tricks, but it doesn’t half look similar.

Captain Jowitt (Ralph Cotterill, one of the few British actors in the cast, though he has evidently been based in Australia for some time, where he has appeared in the Australian Ultraman series and Howling III: The Marsupials) has come to quash a rebellion on behalf of the ‘Droid Government’ using squads of robot soldiers or ‘droids’, one of whom asks another what Jowitt is like and is told: “He’s more like one of us than human.”

El Jadida, if that is the town’s name, is represented by various graffiti-covered alleys down which wander a lot of extras in awful 1980s fashions. Someone with a loudhailer starts chanting pro-human, anti-droid slogans and this is taken up by the crowd, led by a young blonde lady who is named, we shall discover, Abbie (Donogh Rees, who played three different roles in various episodes of Xena and Hercules). Lorca himself is a young chap who isn’t actually blonde, he just has blonde highlights in his hair - so it’s good to know that this remote mining colony still has functioning hair salons. He is woodenly played by the astoundingly uncharismatic John Tarrant from Aussie soap A Country Practice.

Beyond the basic principle of ‘human rebels’ there is very little attempt to explain what is actually going on, either politically or personally. There is no indication of whether this ‘rebellion’ is some sort of organised movement or just a simmering discontent. If there is actually a rebel organisation, where do Lorca and Abbie fit into it? How do they know each other? Do the authorities know about them? In what way are humans actually being oppressed? Who or what is the Droid Government? Where does Ordessa fit into the galactic economy? Who is Captain Jowitt? None of this is explained, none of these basic questions are answered.

Because this film is a big stinking pile of crap.

This is a chaotic and inept movie which seems to think that in a science fiction film it’s enough to say people are ‘rebels’ without indicating what they are rebelling against. Badly lit scenes are cobbled together in an almost random order and we never learn anything at all about our protagonists or their situation. For example, early on there is a scene in which ‘the children’ are hidden anyway. But who are these children (and whose are these children) and why must they be hidden? Where are they hidden? Why are they never seen or referred to again?

The children are being told stories about Earth by a short robot named Grid, played by Indian midget actor Deep Roy. He is Lorca’s sidekick though it is puzzling quite what use a midget robot would be to anyone - Lorca is constantly having to lift him up to reach things. Roy occasionally remembers to exhibit a slight stiffness to his movements but for the most part he just looks like a midget in a helmet.

Let me pause here to describe the expensive special effects techniques which are used to bring both Grid and the Droid Police to life. Each of the police wears a jumpsuit and a crash helmet and has, over his face, an immobile human mask, a creepy black metal mask apparently modelled on a black man (which gives the film an intriguing subtext). They look like dolls, frankly - Grid even more so since his mask is more cherubic and hence more creepy. Aside from their immobile faces, no attempt at all is made to give them any sort of robotic appearance. They don’t even carry ray guns, being armed instead with M16 automatic rifles, which are obviously still a popular weapon in the spacefaring 21st century.

I’m not saying that these are the crappiest, cheapest, stupidest robots in cinematic history. But they certainly rank up there with the worst.

Anyway, stuff happens but it is impossible to tell what or why, partly because everything is really badly lit but mostly because this was obviously made from a script where a lot of explanation was in the stage directions, leaving those of us with nothing to go on except dialogue and action scratching our heads. About half an hour in I wondered whether it was just me. Was I being thick and not following a simple plot? No, it really was a nonsensical jumble of ideas and scenes. I challenge anyone to work out what is happening without first reading a plot synopsis. (I didn’t even read the back of the video box - I wanted to come to this story with an open mind.)

Somehow - don’t ask me how - Lorca and Grid end up at a big open-cast mine with giant lorries, the sort that have tyres 20 feet in diameter. This futuristic setting with its futuristic vehicles is represented by a big open-cast mine with giant lorries, the sort that have tyres 20 feet in diameter. There is no attempt whatsoever to disguise this cool but badly-used location.

For some reason, Lorca’s mother is here. How? Why? Christ only knows. There has been some talk of Lorca’s father who may have been a rebel leader or something. Anyway, from behind a giant lorry Lorca sees some Droid Police shoot his mother. He responds by lobbing a hand grenade. The resulting explosion very impressively reduces to neat piles of cloth and metal about a dozen droids standing around over an area of 40 or 50 square metres, while leaving his mother’s body entirely untouched. Lorca puts his mother - and another body, whose identity escaped me - into the back of a normal-sized truck and takes them into the desert where he buries them.

On returning, he is captured by Danny (Hugh Keays-Byrne: Mad Max, Les Patterson Saves the World, Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars and the 1999 version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth), a grimacing, unkempt bounty hunter employed by Captain Jowitt (tick another cliché box, folks; heck, tick a bunch of them) who has already captured Grid and uses him as bait. The two rebels are thrown into the back of a giant truck with a single droid guard who is easily overcome. There follows a deeply unthrilling ‘fight’ between Lorca and Danny which ends with the truck rolling gently into a wall of earth with a small explosion to suggest that it has crashed in some way (they couldn’t actually damage the thing of course, on account of how much those trucks cost). Danny is thrown into the earthbank but we later see his hand emerge so he’s - gasp - not dead. Lorca repairs Grid, whose head has come off.

Back in El Jadida, Abbie (whom Lorca believes to be dead, for some reason) has hooked up with a cute brunette room-mate named Suzi (Home and Away actress Cassandra Webb, who gets an ‘And introducing’ credit). After the sequence in the open-cast mine, which was rubbish but at least could be followed, the scenes back in the township plunge us once again into random actions by unidentified characters. Lorca and Grid come back to town, Lorca meets Suzi who hides him by stripping to her undies and pretending to snog him in some sort of sex cubicle when the Droid Police come looking for him. There is also a girl with very blonde hair (blonder than Abbie) and a red leather jacket who is a friend or comrade of Abbie and/or Suzi but I don't know who she is or what she does.

For some reason, Abbie and co have to get aboard a spaceship called the Redwing which looks like the one from the start of the film (Police Transport Zebra) but that may just be the production saving on effects footage. This used to belong to Lorca’s father (I think) but the significance of this ship, though clearly important, is never explained.

Because this film is a big stinking pile of crap.

Grid has his own little adventures, frequently being referred to as a ‘Nissan model’ (well, that’s what it sounds like) and we learn very late in the day that he is an SDU, a Sentinel Defence Unit, designed to protect a spaceship while the pilot is away doing other stuff.

Lorca, Abbie, Grid and Suzi somehow get aboard the Redwing, although Suzi isn’t in the actual boarding scenes, she just magically appears when they’re on the bridge. Then it turns out that there is another SDU aboard, also played by Roy, who kills Abbie. Let me stress that everything I’m writing here should be taken with a great big dose of ‘I think this is it but I can’t tell.’ Abbie’s death scene is not shown, only Suzi screaming from behind a window in a door, which she makes no attempt to open, and frankly it looks at first like it’s Suzi being attacked.

Grid stands over Abbie’s body, covered in blood, while the other SDU seems to be completely spotless - which is confusing. but no more confusing than anything else in this plotless, sci-fi-by-numbers mess - and he begs Suzi to activate his attack mode. This evidently involves tapping a five-digit code into a previously unmentioned keypad on the side of his head. We then have the extraordinary spectacle of two midgets in crash helmets and doll masks throwing each other around a spaceship corridor. In fact, they throw each other through various walls, which are clearly made from painted sheets of expanded polystyrene and then they throw each other through the floor! What sort of spaceship has walls and floors that flimsy?

A spaceship in a film which is a big stinking pile of crap.

The massive overhead doors of the docking bay where the Redwing was parked are locked, but Lorca and friends break out by repeatedly banging their spaceship against the doors until they break open. They then fly off, just as another spaceship is coming in. Some sort of bomb is activated and there is a series of explosions, culminating in aerial shots of mining blasts at the previously seen open cast mine. Wait a minute, are we expected to think that blasts in an open cast mine are actually a township, complete with massive spaceship docking bays, blowing up? Quite possibly. Nothing about this piece of crap can surprise me any more.

Grid tells Lorca and Suzi that Abbie did not die in vain and a radio voice from somewhere says that Abbie’s mission has been accomplished and all that is needed now is a transport, but it looks like the inhabitants of El Jadida - if any of them survived those explosions - are out of luck because the Redwing is heading off into space.

I don’t think I have ever been so relieved to see the words ‘The End’ appear.

So who was responsible for this pile of dross which is badly directed and staggeringly badly written with pathetic production design and laughable special effects (although the spaceship shots aren’t bad)? Step forward, Roger Christian. This chap is sometimes referred to as ‘Academy Award winner Roger Christian' but don’t let that fool you. He was part of the team which received the Oscar for Best Set Design for Star Wars; he hasn’t won any awards for his direction apart from a big fat Razzie which he won for Battlefield Earth. Oh yes, it’s that Roger Christian. (There is another one, a musician, who released a few records in the early 1990s. He was the brother of the guys who were actually in The Christians.) This Roger Christian also directed Second Unit on The Phantom Menace, which possibly says even more about him than Battlefield Earth.

Co-writer Matthew Jacobs hasn’t got much to be proud of either, his greatest hit being the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, which he also co-produced. To be fair, he also wrote Paperhouse, the enjoyable Jim Henson TV special Monster Maker, Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove and a number of episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. But let’s face it, if somebody asked you to imagine a sci-fi movie directed by the guy who made Battlefield Earth, written by the guy who wrote the Paul McGann Doctor Who movie, what sort of film would you conjure up?

A big stinking pile of crap?

Also in the cast are Rod Zuanic (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) as ‘Lorca’s friend’, Tylor Copin (Mad Max 2, Peter Benchley’s The Beast) as a ‘Detective Droid’, Rebekah Elamaloglou (Home and Away, Paradise Beach, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) as one of the children and John Rees (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sky Bandits) as a holographic priest. But among all the soap actors and Mad Max bit parts the only interesting member of the cast is Deep Roy.

Roy is one of those incredibly busy short actors, like Warwick Davis or Phil Fondacaro, who seems to turn up everywhere. He was Droopy McCool in Return of the Jedi, the Tin Man in Return to Oz, Princess Aura’s pet in Flash Gordon and all the Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact he has become part of Tim Burton’s rep company, appearing in Big Fish and the dire Planet of the Apes remake and even lending his voice to one of the characters in Corpse Bride. He has also acted, or performed stunts, in Freaked, The Grinch, Howling VI, Alien from LA, Greystoke, The Dark Crystal, Poltergeist II, Van Helsing,Matilda, the brilliant Retroactive, Hook and Leprechaun. He is certainly not the only person to have appeared in both Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 but he could well be the only person to have done both those shows and The X-Files.

Reading this review back, I may have been unfairly harsh to a relatively harmless little film, but the hell with it. This is an inept piece of movie-making and if Roger Christian’s career had been nipped in the bud he would never have inflicted Battlefield Earth on us. There’s a lesson there for us all. It’s not even clear who this is aimed at. The packaging makes it look like a kids’ film but there’s no entertainment value to it that might interest kids: no whooshing spaceships, no zapping ray-guns, no chases and only one really, really crap fight (between two doll-faced midgets surrounded by polystyrene walls).

I really doubt that producer Michael Guest is the actor from the 1960s and 1970s who appeared in Doctor Who, Dixon of Dock Green and Pathfinders in Space, but I suppose he could be. He has produced a few other films including Codename: Kyril and recent British horror flick The Toybox. Effects man John Cox, now the creator of animatronic monsters for films like The Host, Pitch Black and Rogue, worked on this film when he was just starting out.

Many sites list Tony Banks (from Genesis) as composer of the score for this film. Although Banks did contribute some music, the main composer is actually Craig Huxley, who started out as a child actor - he was in two episodes of Star Trek - before becoming a composer (he invented a massive musical device called the Blaster Beam which allegedly caused women in the audience to have spontaneous orgasms and which was used for the sound of V'Ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture). But the score by a Star Trek child actor who gave women orgasms with a musical instrument isn't the oddest thing about this film's soundtrack. The oddest thing is a holographic music video machine on the street of El Jadida; at one point this plays a Peter Gabriel video and on another occasion a Toyah video is briefly seen. Wow, their careers must have really taken off over the decades...

(Apparently, Banks did indeed record a soundtrack for this film, using music from his rejected score from 2010. The Lorca music and his score for another film called Quicksilver were released on an album imaginatively titled Soundtracks. The odd nature of the film credits here would suggest that Banks' music was removed at a very late stage. My thanks to Insiders director Steve Lawson for this information.)

This pile of tosh is also variously known as 2084 and Starship. Quite hilariously, the movie’s page at the Inaccurate Movie Database is illustrated with a video sleeve featuring the rock band Starship! However, even the IMDB cannot be blamed for the extraordinary cock-up in the film credits, where the character of Grid is listed as ‘Kid’ (or possibly Xid, as the video transfer is abysmal - no, I think it’s ‘Kid’).

That sums up perfectly, for me, this awful piece of junk. There really is almost nothing to recommend here. I’ll try, I really will. The spaceship effects aren’t bad and Cassandra Webb is quite cute (and can act, which is a rarity among this cast). But these plus points are not enough to make up for one of the most amateurish, hopeless scripts ever filmed, awful direction, crappy production design, those staggeringly rubbish robots and a wooden leading man. And frankly the inclusion of a Peter Gabriel music video is the final nail in the coffin.

MJS rating: D-

13th November 2005

No comments:

Post a Comment