Retro Review | Spacehunter – Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

Retro Review | Spacehunter – Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)


A bounty hunter must traverse the dangerous forbidden zone to rescue three female hostages in Spacehunter.

I had the chance to rewatch the 80s sci-fi film, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone for the first time in quite a while. It was only after listening to a recent episode of the podcast, Do you still like this movie?, that I was spurred on to watch it again, the first time since my early teens.

I first encountered this film as a poster. Our parents took us away on holiday, I think somewhere in Wales. We were staying at friends of our parents as I remember sharing a bedroom with their teenage son.

Now this would have been sometime in the mid 1980s and his room was covered in full size film posters and not the famous big name films either. I distinctly remember the huge poster of Vamp with a topless, green Grace Jones trying to attack me.

There may have been a Fright Night poster as well but the other title I remember was for Spacehunter. This was where I first learned of the film and wasn’t until many years later that I rented it from local video shop when I recognised the cover.

Released in 1983, more specifically, just a few weeks before Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in order to cash in on the sci-fi craze, this $14 million film managed to make those costs back in US box office totals but then disappeared from the public minds.

The film begins with a shot of large cruiser flying through space, presumingly the holiday home to hundreds or thousands of creatures. We never know because we never get to see inside. 

The ship succumbs to a bolt of nebula lighting and starts to explode and break apart. We witness just one lifeboat that manages to launch and get away before the entire space cruiser explodes. 

As a side note, this is probably the worst effects work of the whole film and it really sets a bad precedent which is a shame as it improves pretty much in the next scene and for the rest of the film.


Wolf in his Scrambler. Where can I get one? (Especially in this pandemic!)

The lifeboat crashes on the nearest E type (E for Earth) planet where the inhabitants are revealed to be three beautiful women. The planet seems dry and barren and the women are clearly unprepared. 

The planets inhabitants soon make themselves known and the three women are soon captured.

Now we meet the Spacehunter himself, real name Wolf (Peter Strauss), he is some kind of freelance bounty hunter but with the looks and attitude more along the lines of Han Solo. He also has a female companion, Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci).

A radio broadcast in his ship (voiced by Harold Ramis) reveals that a reward of 3000 mega-credits is available to anyone who can rescue the hostages. Wolf sees this as a way to clear all his debts in one fell swoop. He sets course for the barren planet.

Spacehunter is an average sci-fi film of its age and one of its strengths is its lean running time of around an hour and a half. However, I feel this has been made at the expense of excised story material. Many titbits of plot are brought up by characters but it is never expanded on.

For example, on his adventure, Wolf will encounter Washington (Ernie Hudson). When they meet its quite clear that they share some kind of military past but that’s all we get.

The same goes for Nikki (Molly Ringwald). Apart from the fact she is an inhabitant of the planet, we learn nothing of her past. She does play the part of an irritating brat very well and you know that Wolf will come to view her differently by the films end.

The worst to suffer this lack of character information is the villain of the piece, Overdog (Michael Ironside). Now Michael looks great as the evil overlord of the planet but does seem wasted and underused. He feels rather generic as he just shouts orders to his minions.

Of course, we can’t forget Wolf himself as played by Peter Strauss who was pretty good in this film and makes for a decent action hero.


spacehunter

Michael Ironside as Overdog. Great costume and makeup but so underused!

Spacehunter is aesthetically great. Coming two years after Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, it obviously owes that film several favours. The look of the vehicles and clothing is very much in the vein of Mad Max but with a sci-fi twist. Where else would you find a metal pirate ship on rails!

A special mention must go to Wolfs vehicle of choice, the scrambler which is probably the best piece of design in the film. Also, I don’t think you’ll ever see another film where someone is kidnapped and transported away by hang glider!

The musical soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein was a quality of music I wasn’t expecting for this forgotten film. The only setback was the first major action sequence doesn’t have any music at all and it which doesn’t help and feels severely lacking.

The sharp ones amongst you may have noticed a Ghostbusters connection to this film. So far we have Ernie Hudson, Harold Ramis and composer Elmer Bersnstein. The final link is executive producer Ivan Reitman who of course would direct Ghostbusters which was released the following year.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, in my opinion, is okay. It has great looks, a decent cast but a story that’s too simple. It feels like its lacking that final something to knock it up a few notches.

Also, watch out for Whose Line Is It Anyway’s Colin Mochrie in his first film appearance!


3 out 5

Spacehunter wasn’t quite as good as I remembered and unfortunately just falls into the OK category. 3/5

 

RELATED |   What Could Have Been #33 | Rat Bastard


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.