Friday, September 27, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Unrelenting Terror in the Dark Zone

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 doubles down on Deth.


Viewers familiar with the previous three Trancers movies will notice that there's something different about the fourth installment as soon as it begins, as the music playing over the opening title sequence is not the series' synth theme that had been composed by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder for the first film, but rather something entirely different, and darker, by composer Mark Fry.

Directed by David Nutter, who's best known for his work on The X-Files, from a screenplay by famed comic book writer Peter David, Trancers 4 picks up with our hero, Trooper Jack Deth, in the year 2353, sticking with the continuity flub made in part 3 that put the era Deth calls home a hundred years further ahead than the years established in parts 1 and 2. It's been a year since the events of the third film found Deth returning to the future after living for seven years in the past ('85 to '92), and he has finally accomplished the goal he's dedicated his life and profession to - trancers, the super-strong, single-minded zombies that were the threat of the previous films, have finally been completely wiped out, once and for all. Now Deth's job consists of going on missions up and down the timeline in a TCL Chamber (a time machine) to preserve the correct chronological order of things, "Time is fluid and I'm the guy who makes sure the glass doesn't get knocked over."

Deth has just returned from a mission to 2093 to quell an invasion of plant creatures called Solenoids, a mission during which he lost his partner, the hulking robot Shark. Fans who, like me, enjoyed the presence of Shark in part 3, will be disappointed to find that all that remains of him by the beginning of this film is his severed head. To memorialize his fallen comrade, Deth has Shark's head turned into a bedside lamp.

Since being forced to leave his second wife Lena behind in the past, Deth has been hoping to reconnect with his first wife, fellow Trooper Alice, a woman he once thought dead but who was saved from that fate due to time travel shenanigans. Unfortunately, Alice has moved on to a relationship with Deth's boss Harris. After hearing this news, Deth goes to a bar and makes himself look like a dope while attempting to hit on the icy Doctor Lyra Surrel... who, he discovers the next day, is his new techie quartermaster, as she provides him with the equipment he'll be taking on his next mission: - The long second watch, which allows its wearer to experience ten seconds within what is only one second for the world around them. The watch has been improved since it was featured in 1 and 2, rather than being a single-use device, it now has a self-regenerating power cell and can be used indefinitely. - A butterfly knife. - The RBG7 plasma pistol with an atomic distillation chamber in the gun butt. It doesn't require ammo, it breaks down anything that is stuck into it, whether it be sand, rocks, twigs, etc., and turns it into plasma. "All you've got to do is shove it up your butt... so to speak."

As Deth sits in the TCL Chamber preparing to take it down the line to check on a time distortion detected in 2160, he's suddenly attacked by a monstrous Solenoid that has regenerated itself in the chamber. The ensuing scuffle screws up the controls, and the TCL Chamber zaps Deth not into the past, but into a completely different dimension.

Climbing out of the TCL Chamber wreckage, Deth finds himself on a world called Orpheus... a world that's similar to our own during the Middle Ages, but which has been overrun by a class of humanoid creatures that refer to themselves as Nobles. They just appeared in Orpheus one day and lay siege to it, taking over the land by killing its leader, the benevolent wizard Oberon, and replacing him with one of their own, Lord Caliban. While the Nobles live the decadent high life, the people of Orpheus live as peasants, good for only one thing in the eyes of the Nobles... To be fed upon.

A Noble feeding on a peasant girl is one of the first things Jack Deth comes across as he traverses the Orpheus countryside. When Deth sees the ugly mug of the Noble, he recognizes it for what it is - a trancer. And indeed, the Nobles do call the physical change they go through during the urge to feed "trancing", but they are different than any trancers we've seen before. The Nobles are very much like vampires in the way they feed on people and cast no reflection, although they're not bloodsuckers - rather, they feed on and absorb a person's glowing lifeforce.

Like trancers are different in this world, so are Deth's weapons - his plasma shots have no effect, the long second watch works against him rather than for him (allowing actor/comedian Tim Thomerson to really be goofy for a moment and act like he's moving in slow motion). He can't rely on them here, so he has to team with a sword, crossbow, and boobytrap-skilled group of resistance fighters called The Tunnel Rats - one member of whom is a fortune teller who has foretold of Deth's arrival - in hopes of overthrowing the Nobles and finding a way back to his own world.

Along the way, Deth encounters a potential love interest - an uneducated peasant girl who looks identical to Lyra Surrel. While he had complained that Lyra was too smart for her own good and he found it annoying that she had "a body that won't quit and unfortunately a mouth to match", he's equally bothered to find that her Orpheus counterpart is so simple and subservient.

With Deth's presence encouraging the Tunnel Rats to step up and fight harder, swordfights and forest-set scuffles ensue as a strange prophecy hangs over Deth's head.

Trancers 4 is not really a complete movie, the story is split in half and continues on into the fifth film in the series, which was shot simultaneously with this one. Jack of Swords consists primarily of set-up, character introductions, and exposition. Though very different than the other Trancers movies, it is entertaining in its own way, especially once it gets to the action of the finale, it's just not particularly fulfilling to watch. Things rush into an awkward, abrupt ending which makes little sense. Deth magically (literally) finds a way to defeat Caliban, does so, and yet Caliban apparently returns from the dead within seconds so the film can close out on a very silly cliffhanger.

To get the resolution, you have to immediately pop in the sequel that was released nine months later -


After seven minutes of opening titles and recap montage narrated by Caliban's right hand man Lucius, the continuation of the story commences and we find that the cliffhanger ending of part 4 wasn't such a cliffhanger after all - despite Caliban's post-death, ghostly laughter that was heard booming from the sky, the villain did not actually immediately return from the dead.

Caliban's resurrection doesn't occur until one month after the events of part 4, when Lucius lays out a painted portrait of his leader on the floor. With a magical flash, the portrait is replaced by Caliban himself, in the flesh and out for revenge.

Jack Deth has spent that month continuing to help the Tunnel Rats take Orpheus back from the Nobles. Standings have been reversed as a result of their ongoing battles, the people have taken back control over the land, the Nobles are now on the run and in hiding, their numbers substantially reduced.

Having taken over Caliban's castle, and thus gaining access to his library, Deth manages to find the answer to his "trapped in a different world" problem within a book. To perform the interdimensional travel necessary to get him back home, he'll have to travel into an area called The Heart of the Storm, infiltrate the infamous Castle of Unrelenting Terror, a place even Caliban at the height of his powers feared to enter, and find inside it a jewel talisman called the Tiamond, with which he'll be able to open a dimensional vortex to any time and any place in the multiverse. Caliban knows that Deth will seek the Tiamond, and isn't displeased - if Deth can retrieve it, Caliban has his own plans for the talisman.

Sudden Deth consists almost entirely of Deth's quest for the Tiamond, which is for the most part a rather lackluster journey through the Orpheus countryside, during which he gradually bonds with Caliban's rebellious son Prospero, who has always been sympathetic to the plight of the people and against killing. As he tells Deth, "Killing is not always the answer." Our hero replies, "It's usually a pretty good guess."

This odd couple does eventually reach the Castle of Unrelenting Terror, which does not appear to live up to its reputation... but there is evil magic at play.

Meanwhile, there's a subplot that allows Stacie Randall, the actress who plays both the techie Doctor Lyra Surrel and the simple peasant girl Lyra (and who had an impressive B-movie run in the '90s with these movies, Puppet Master 4, Ghoulies 4, Dream a Little Dream 2, and Excessive Force 2), to play a third variation on the character. This time, the Tunnel Rats' fortune teller passes on his powers to her, making her wise and gifted with second sight.

At 62 minutes between opening titles/recap and end credits, Sudden Deth feels like it's packed with filler. There isn't much excitement, nothing really seems to go anywhere, there's not much to it. It's much less fulfilling to watch on its own than 4 was, and not particularly fulfilling to watch back-to-back with 4, either. Discounting opening titles and end credits, part 4 ran for 69 minutes, so it and 5 would run around 131 minutes if they were to be cut together, and less once the filler of 5 and repeated exposition were removed. I think this project would've been much better if it had simply been released as a single 100 minute to 2 hour movie instead of spreading the story thin over two separate releases... But cut into two shorter movies it was. I suppose because having two movies on video store shelves makes for double the rentals.

Trancers 4 and 5 were an interesting attempt to do something completely different within the series (something reminiscent of Army of Darkness), and although it doesn't quite work as well as I would like, there is some good stuff in there. The character of Jack Deth is still awesome, and the depiction of him in these two films is very strong. Tim Thomerson is as entertaining as always to watch in the role, kicking ass, delivering one-liners, and spouting some hard-boiled life philosophy. The biggest problem with these films is that they were the last time to date that Thomerson played Deth, when I'd prefer if Full Moon had continued churning out sequel after sequel.

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