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Space Truckers (1996) Blu Ray (Second Sight)

A secret consignment

Charles Dance plays Nabel, a Corporation scientist who develops an advanced combat robot on Triton, one of Neptune’s moons. In a demonstration of its firepower, it wipes out a whole battalion of Corporation troops. However, when Nabel hands the robot’s remote control device to the company’s CEO, Saggs (Shane Rimmer), the latter decides to ensure “maximum deniability” on this top-secret project by ordering it to kill its creator.

We then fast forward sometime later to another part of the galaxy as space trucker John Canyon (Dennis Hopper) delivers a consignment of square pigs (!) to a space station run by his client, Keller (George Wendt). However, when the latter refuses to pay him his full fee due to his delivery being late, Canyon responds by refusing to hand the pigs over to him. Back in the station bar, he spies his girlfriend Cindy (Debi Mazar) being friendly with a younger trucker named Mike Pucci (Stephen Dorff). When Canyon also discovers that Keller has decided to hijack his shipment and pass it onto Pucci, it only increases his animosity towards this younger rival.

However, the pair soon form an alliance after Pucci decides to take his side in a bar brawl against Keller - which ultimately results in a window being broken by a bullet and their unscrupulous employer being sucked through to his death in the vacuum of space. Canyon, Cindy and Pucci beat an escape via a secret passage in the toilets. They then reach the hideout of a shady contact who proceeds to offer them an alternative job, carrying what are allegedly “sex dolls” to planet Earth. The fact that she tells them not to attempt to examine their consignment should have raised their suspicions - but when the pay is good, who cares, right?

They quickly leave the station with their mysterious haul, but soon fall afoul of a band of space pirates who are keen to appropriate this shipment for themselves.

Watch a trailer:

Gordon does sci-fi

Director Stuart Gordon is a director who has spent much of his career with one foot in horror and the other in science fiction. His first two films, the two well-received H.P. Lovecraft adaptations Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986), focussed mainly on semi-comic splatter horror but also had a whiff of Frankenstein-style mad science about them. Others, such as Dolls (1987) and Castle Freak (1995) leaned more firmly in the direction of straight Gothic horror. However, three of his other films fell squarely and unashamedly into comic-book sci-fi: Robot Jox (1990), Fortress (1992) and Space Truckers (1996).

Space Truckers cost $27 million, fairly low for a 1990s science fiction adventure with a heavy reliance on special effects, yet still the highest budget of any of Gordon’s films. However, while he undoubtedly fancied his chances of using this opportunity as a stepping stone into the Hollywood big leagues, it sadly wasn’t to be as it bombed critically and commercially. Nonetheless, I remember catching it on TV many years ago and enjoying it for what it is.

Weak space action-comedy

Unfortunately, it appears that the geek in me for all things pulpy sci-fi got the better of me on that day. Space Truckers is pretty bad; a loose amalgamation of rough ideas which could have added up to something if the end result wasn’t so half-baked. Part of it wants to be the 1990s equivalent of a film like The Ice Pirates (1984), making up for its obvious budgetary shortcomings with a certain droll charm and some idiosyncratic genre homaging (in the case of The Ice Pirates, the swashbuckler and in this case, the trucker B-movie). Another part of it is clearly more focussed on following up the action-orientated approach to sci-fi seen in Robot Jox and Fortress. It also wants to have its cake and eat it in terms of viewer demographics as it features some firmly adult-orientated subject matter (sex/rape jokes and dismemberment-heavy violence) but then tones it down to make it suitable for 12-year olds. By this, I mean that severed limbs are cauterised with a censor-appeasing multicoloured goo, sex is always interrupted just before it actually occurs and breasts are left firmly covered throughout.

In a nutshell, it’s a film that tries to please everyone but ends up pleasing no-one. The comedy, one great gag notwithstanding (it involves a villain with a motorised penis which repeatedly fails to start up) is more silly and corny than funny. There’s even a scene where Debi Mazar’s character passes herself off as the aforementioned villain by wearing his trench coat, hat and shades. With this lame disguise, she somehow manages to fool one of his lackeys despite the fact that, physically, she couldn’t possibly look more different to the character whom she impersonates - who is male and sports both a peg leg and a half-disfigured face! Yes, this is the level of humour which we’re talking about here. In the action stakes, there’s some well-handled mayhem during the opening and climactic sequences but the plodding midsection coupled with the goofy atmosphere tend to nullify the excitement.

Some imagination has, admittedly, been put into the visual design here, with the colourful diner-style space station interior set being a classic example. The lithe, graceful killer robot creations also look great and add a genuine touch of the sinister when they appear. However, the effects in general (a mixture of practical work and CGI) are very uneven. Sure, some of the outer space scenes are pretty decent given the budgetary limitations, but we also see an actor flying around in a zero-gravity environment on clearly-visible strings early on and an embarrassingly awful computer-generated spaceship explosion towards the end.

Dennis Hopper in Space Truckers

The best thing about Space Truckers is Dennis Hopper, who is at his brassy and hardboiled best here. We get the sense that he believes he’s in a better movie than what we actually get since he puts in a sincere performance, as opposed to venturing into the over-the-top territory of some of his other efforts during this period (such as Super Mario Bros. in 1993). He far outshines his co-stars Debi Mazar (whose one-note broad act wears thin long before the film ends) and Stephen Dorff (who comes across as nothing more than a bland pin-up boy). Charles Dance is certainly a talented actor but here he seems decidedly disdainful of the lowbrow material rather than trying to make the most of it. Still, his delivery of the line "If I had an anus, I'd probably soil myself” has some dry amusement about it. Fans of Stuart Gordon’s other films should also keep an eye out for cameos by two actresses who popped up in a number of his other films: his real-life wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon and Barbara Crampton.

On the whole, Space Truckers is a truly annoying film which casts some promising elements in amongst a sea of pointlessly goofy ones. It never really reaches its destination.

Runtime: 96 mins

Dir: Stuart Gordon

Script: Stuart Gordon, Ted Mann

Starring: Dennis Hopper, Stephen Dorff, Debi Mazar, Charles Dance, George Wendt, Vernon Wells, Shane Rimmer, Barbara Crampton, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

While the colourful visuals do look wonderfully garish in the high definition format, the extra resolution is a double-edged sword as it exposes the rough edges in some of the special effects. The actors’ voices are also too far down in the audio mix, making the dialogue a little difficult to make out without turning the sound way up.

Extras

Space Trucking with Stuart Gordon

This interview with the film’s director is plagued by the truly awful audio quality. It’s all the more of a shame since his anecdotes are a lot of fun. Stephen Dorff hated the script’s original name Space Truckers and had it written into his contract that he got to choose its final title. However, on the last day of shooting, when Gordon approached him, he suggested a very similar one: Space Trucker. Gordon ultimately persuaded him to change it back to Space Truckers plural as there was more than one trucker character in the film!

He also discusses the film’s robots, which were designed by a Japanese artist named Hakime Sorayama who specialised in a “sexy robot” concept. They were played by female fashion models wearing metallic suits.

His discussion on Hopper’s participation is the highlight here. He reveals that the actors is always best on the first take because his style relies heavily on spontaneity. He also recounts a story he told him about working on a film with John Wayne. When the latter saw a white powder on Hopper’s clothing, he initially refused to work with him because he thought it was cocaine. However, it turned out that it was sugar from a donut!

The Art of Space Truckers

The curse of the piss-poor interview audio returns as art director Simon Lamont (nephew of Peter Lamont, who worked on a number of the Bond films) discusses his involvement in Space Truckers. It’s an interesting enough 8 minutes with a few glimpses of the production’s original concept art.

Scoring Space Truckers

Surprise, surprise, the audio is dreadful here, too. Composer Colin Towns is almost indecipherable at times, especially when the interview is overlapped by some music from the film’s soundtrack. He talks about his first big break, working as part of the Ian Gillan Band, as well as Space Truckers itself. He explains that he approached the movie by following the characters rather than by deliberately emphasising the jokes.

Overall:

Space Truckers is a lame space comedy that’s paradoxically worth watching once for the sheer imagination on display and for Dennis Hopper’s fine performance. The extras would have warranted three stars if it weren’t for those blasted audio issues.

Movie: ☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆1/2

Audio: ☆☆

Extras: ☆☆1/2

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