Friday, December 27, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Life After Deth

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody watches a torch be passed and dropped.

TRANCERS 6 (2002)

Sometime after Trancers 4 and 5 were filmed back-to-back for release in 1994, head of Full Moon Features Charles Band and Tim Thomerson, star of the Trancers series and Dollman, had a falling out. It looked like these two would never work with each other again. But that didn't stop Band from giving the greenlight to another Trancers sequel, hiring C. Courtney Joyner, writer and director of Trancers III, to write the script with one mandate - the character of Jack Deth was to become a female in this sequel.

As established in the first film, in the world of Trancers there is a method of time travel called "going down the line", in which the consciousness of a person from the future can be sent back to inhabit the body of an ancestor. In the 1985 original, Jack Deth, a cop from the year 2247, was sent back into the body of an ancestor named Phillip Deth, who was living in 1985 Los Angeles. Deth remained in the past for so long that his own body calcified in stasis and he ended up stuck in Phil's body, but eventually returned to the future within a TCL Chamber, a more traditional time machine.

The sixth installment in the series begins with a man named Jennings, a senior member of the High Council of the Western Territories, witnessing a shocking sight on the time belt during a routine session of monitoring the time continuum. He's so concerned by what he's seen that he immediately contacts Jack Deth, with Tim Thomerson briefly interacting with the actor who plays Jennings through the use of stock footage from the previous films that is cut together and shown on a monitor screen. Jennings ignores Deth's complaints about being bothered, teleports him into his control room (an unconvincing stand-in lies unconscious on a gurney), and zaps his consciousness back down the line...

Back to Old Los Angeles in the year 2022, at a time which a titlecard tells us was 300 years, 1 minute, and 49 seconds before Deth's consciousness was sent back. Now, that means that Jennings sent Deth down the line from the year 2322. As I said, the first film told us that Jack Deth was from 2247. For part 2, the future segments were set in the year 2253, since six years passed. But then, a continuity mistake was made in part 3, and suddenly Deth's home time was changed to 2360, and he's taken from 1992 to 2352. In Trancers 4 and 5, he was living in 2353. Yet somehow, the events of Trancers 6, though happening after 4 and 5, begin with Deth in 2322...

The two movies with the messed up years have something in common. They were both written by C. Courtney Joyner (he used the pseudonym Gene Yarbrough on this one). The characters may care about timeline continuity, but Joyner does not give a damn, and nobody else catches it.

In 2022, Jack's consciousness arrives in the body of a young woman named Josephine Forrest, a character who we've seen in the series before - when Jack visited the year 2005 in Trancers III, he met a little girl named Jo, the daughter of the woman he met and married while he was living in the late '80s/early '90s. Jack didn't realize it at the time, but Jo was his daughter. She was a baseball playing tomboy at that time, but she's grown up to be a geeky hippie type; a cheery, tofu-eating, carrot juice-drinking brainiac. She's not like her father at all, but now she is him. Or he is her.

With the Thomerson issue dealt with and Jack Deth now being portrayed by actress Zette Sullivan in the role of Jo Deth, Jennings is able to come back down the line himself to brief Deth on his mission (and equip him with another long second watch, the famous gadget from the first film). Arriving at Jo's apartment in the body of his great-great-great grandmother, who was a prostitute, Jennings reveals what he saw on the time belt: images of Jo in a struggle for her life, being threatened by someone with a knife... someone who may be a trancer, one of those sci-fi zombies Deth has dedicated his life to eradicating. If Jo loses the fight and gets killed, her father/descendant Jack Deth will be wiped from existence. Deth needs to inhabit her body long enough to make sure she stays safe, and to wipe out this new trancer threat.

There have been different sources for the trancers throughout the series, and this time around the power generated by certain fallen meteors is behind it all. Being an employee at the Los Angeles Meteorological Institute puts Jo right in the middle of this situation, as she and Doctor Paul Malvern from the local observatory have witnessed meteor showers that have been denied by her tranced out boss Mister Castle. Castle and his right hand woman Shauna Wilder need the suspicious Jo out of their way... but with Jack's mind in his daughter's body, she's not going to be quite so easy to dispose of.

Castle and Wilder's ultimate goal is to replace those with positions of power in L.A. with trancers, taking over the city. They're currently in the experimental stages, testing out the transformative powers of the alien rock on homeless kids. While Malvern is forced to work for Castle and Wilder, trying to perfect the trancing process, Deth is kept in captivity for the majority of the film, biding time, waiting to make his/her move. When Deth finally springs into action, the result is a lengthy climactic gun battle... and the fight that Jennings witnessed on the time belt.

Directed by Jay Woelfel on a budget of approximately dirt cheap, Trancers 6 is unfortunately not a very good movie, and its poor production value is primarily to blame. The story isn't all that great, keeping Deth locked up for so much of the running time isn't the most exciting scenario, but at the end of the day it's how unappealing the movie is to look at that really impedes my enjoyment.

Some would say the lack of Tim Thomerson is the film's fatal flaw, but while I wish there had been even more Trancers films with Thomerson in the lead as Jack Deth, if he was going to be replaced the "down the line" set-up was the right way to do it. The conceit of this film, putting the mind of our hard-boiled, manly man hero in the body of a female, is also a fun and clever approach.

I find Zette Sullivan in the role of Jo Deth to be perfect casting. She delivers a great performance, wonderfully emulating the attitude that Thomerson had as Jack Deth, and she handles the action well. What makes watching her act like a badass even more entertaining is the fact that she is tiny, having a petite build and standing five foot nothing. Other characters tower over her, villains can pick her up and toss her around... but Deth still gets the job done.

The ending of the film leaves the door open for sequels. Deth finds that there are hundreds, maybe thousands more trancers out there for him to eliminate, and he sets off to do so, choosing to remain Jo Deth until the job is finished. I would've loved to see the series go on with Zette Sullivan in the lead for at least one more installment. It just wasn't to be. Oh well... This isn't the only time Full Moon has left me hanging. Not only was she not in any more Trancers movies, but this was Sullivan's last acting credit, period. That's a shame, as far as I'm concerned.

As time has gone on, Band and Thomerson have patched up their differences, and there has been talk over recent years of another Trancers being possible with Thomerson returning as Deth. At one point, most Full Moon movies were being shot in China, and a Trancers 7 was informally announced, said to have the subtitle Deth in Shanghai. That never happened, either... But hope for Deth springs eternal.

1 comment:

  1. It's good to know there's someone else who digs Zette Sullivan's performance in this! It's a shame she was only ever in a couple of movies.