2021/05/03

OG #StarWarsNotStarWars

Spacehunter starwarsnotstarwars

Now that #StarWarsNotStarWars has secured its place at the apex of newpub, it's worth looking back at what made the original Star Wars successful. I've long maintained that George Lucas achieved his genre-redefining opus by solving old storytelling problems in fresh and exciting ways. Specifically, he presented refined expressions of the pulp tales that had thrilled audiences for over half a century.

That's what the slew of Star Wars imitators that popped up to chase Lucas' puck all missed. They only looked at the surface and mistook Star Wars for a paint-by-numbers pastiche. The studios were sure they could cook up a blockbuster by bashing space opera and Westerns together - and do it on the cheap.

The results ranged from the campy to the grotesque. And tellingly, Hollywood producers always concluded that the one missing piece of Lucas' wholesome formula was gratuitous smut.

As you'd expect, Hollywood's Star Wars imitators are now forgotten. Perhaps the most forgotten, and the least deservedly so, is 1983's Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.

Produced by a pre-Ghostbusters Ivan Reitman, Spacehunter suffered from a troubled production. Rumor has it the original director was fired and filming restarted from scratch. Nevertheless, the movie stars some name talent like Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside, and a young Molly Ringwald.

The writers kept the plot of Spacehunter simple, which is another element everybody else who aped Star Wars ignored. Three girls are kidnapped on a savage planet. A down-on-his-luck freelancer sets out to claim the reward. That's the whole setup.

And it's worthy of any Western or Lester Dent pulp yarn.

Rich and Jay from Red Letter Media recently sat down to review this forgotten 80s time capsule. Their take on Spacehunter makes for entertaining and informative viewing - in large part for what they don't mention.


What somehow goes unremarked-upon by Rich and Jay is the main antagonist's back story. The zone into which Wolff must venture is off-limits because of a plague outbreak shortly after the planet was colonized. Earth dispatched a team led by three scientists to cure the disease.

The medical team succeeded in producing a serum for the virus. But instead of curing the whole populace, the team's leader betrayed his colleagues and leveraged the cure to become a global dictator.

If that's not topical enough, Spacehunter depicts its main villains restricting travel depending on who's received the serum, running biological weapons labs, and experimenting on their own people.

The result is a species of Mad Max in space, with a warlord whose power base is medical technology instead of oil.

Which raises the question: Was Spacehunter forgotten, or memory-holed?


For a fun read that does for Gundam and Battletech what Galaxy's Edge did for Star Wars, check out my hit military thriller saga!


Combat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier

14 comments:

  1. While it wasn't exactly Empire Strikes Back, it's certainly watchable. Peter Strauss had spent the 70's competing with Richard Chamberlain for the title of King of the TV miniseries (he came in 2nd place), so you had a leading man who could carry a movie. The rest was entertaining enough, though I still think Ringwald was too young for her role.

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    1. Richard Chamberlain has rubbed me the wrong way since Shogun.

      And yes, Ringwald's part was written a few years older than her casting.

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    2. We watched it this evening. I noticed, as the credits were rolling, that I didn't feel like we had just watched an 85 minute movie. It felt about 45 minutes long. The writer, director, and editors did their job well in that respect.

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    3. Spacehunter is far more tightly edited than a knockoff B movie had a right to be.

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  2. Chamberlain himself alongside a young Sharon Stone is in a fun Indiana Jones ripoff “Kim Solomon’s Mines”. Much better than the SW ripoffs IMO :)

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    1. Ah, yes, the Indiana Jones ripoffs. Those may warrant some attention.

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  3. I've never heard of ANY of these movies. I watched a lot of The Last Starfighter and Ice Pirates growing up, so I figured the trailers for Battle Beyond the Stars, Galaxy of Terror, and Spacehunter would at least rekindle a few old, forgotten memories. But they weren't familiar at all. It was like watching movie trailers from an alternate timeline.

    Old forgotten movies with practical effects are far more interesting than what's being churned out by Hollywood these days, so you just gave me more stuff to watch. Thank you!

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    1. You're welcome. Thanks for reading!

      That movie Mandela effect is interesting. It really is like they tried to bury some of this stuff on purpose.

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  4. Well, whoever marketed this back in '83 had my number. I might have begged my parents to take me. I seem to remember mom trying to repress scoffing while watching it. Might have to give it another look for nostalgia's sake.

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  5. My wife introduced me to this one several years ago. I think we found it in a bargain bin in a kmart or target in Pennsylvania. I hadn't heard of either of them. It's in a double feature with Krull, which chased the puck and missed in different ways.

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    1. You can get Krull and Spacehunter bundled in a DVD 2-pack:
      https://amzn.to/2Rrkjeg

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    2. That's what's in the DVD player right now.

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    3. I had forgotten that Wolff makes Han Solo seem respectable.

      Overdog bears a marked resemblance to the early Borg.

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  6. This was my first 3D movie in the theater. What I mostly remember about it is that there were indeed very few 3D effects in the movie - I only remember a single bit with asteroids seeming to come off the movie screen - and the Overdog scared the crap out of me. In retrospect it was probably because he was played by Michael Ironside, but it rarely hurts to make a villain seem so powerful.

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