Monday, August 31, 2009

Movies Christian Loves, But Shouldn't #2: Trancers



In the mid-90s, my roommate Rich Berman introduced me to a number of wonderful geek entertainments I might otherwise have overlooked. It is because of him that I am such a big Wing Commander (the video games) fan and it is because of him that I am buying the reprint editions of the Lone Wolf Books that Mongoose Publishing is slowly but surely getting out the door. These products have provided me with untold hours of entertainment and continue to do so years after they were initially released.

For the most part, if Rich recommended it then it was worth the time and effort. As much as I trusted Rich's recommendations, there was one recommendation I had ignored for almost fifteen years. There was a series of movies that Rich enjoyed that I just couldn't quite talk myself into watching. That series was the Trancers series of films by Full Moon Video. I don't know if it was anti-D2Video snobbishness or Full Moon's association with the Puppet Master series that prevented me from listening to my friend's advice and plopping the film in the VCR to enjoy the ride. More than likely it was the Puppet Master, since any anti-D2Video bias I might have didn't prevent me from watching, and enjoying, classics like Full Eclipse starring Mario Van Peebles. It wasn't until last week that I finally got around to watching Trancers and found yet another one of Rich's recommendation's to be enjoyable.

The film's plot is simple enough. Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) is an Angel City (Los Angeles) police officer -- they are called Troopers in the future -- in the year 2247 who is obsessively hunting down and "singe-ing" Trancers. As Jack's opening film noir-esque monologue put's it:

"Last January, I finally singed Martin Whistler out on one of the rim planets. Since then, I've been hunting down the last of his murdering cult. We call them 'Trancers:' slaves to Whistler's psychic power. Not really alive, not dead enough. It's July now, and I'm tired. Real tired."


Just when Jack thinks he's defeated the last of the Trancers, he discovers that Martin Whistler -- the psionic head of the Trancer cult -- is still alive. Whistler has traveled back in time to 1985 where he is murdering the ancestors of those who opposed his rise to power in the 23rd century. By eliminating the ancestors Whistler is eliminating all of his enemies as well. It is up to Jack Deth to travel back in time, eliminate Whistler, and prevent all of Angel City from becoming members of the Trancer cult.

The film has noir elements, a psionic powered mastermind, psionically influenced "zombies" who spontaneously combust after they die, time travel, a future Los Angeles completely submerged under water, and a young Helen Hunt. The film is an enjoyable romp that spawned a number of sequels, but it is a film that oughtn't have its narrative scrutinized to closely. It really falls apart under the microscope.

Here are some examples of the "ragged edges" of the film:

  • When told he has to go back in time to stop Whistler by the Council. The Council openly talks about the one Council member Whistler has already eliminated. Given that that Council member has now -- at this point in the plot -- never existed, that is quite a feat of metatemporal memory.
  • Your physical body cannot travel back through time -- your consciousness must possess that of an ancestor -- but physical objects can be sent back for your use.
  • Jack Deth killed Whistler on one of the "rim planets," but there is no other mention of planetary travel.
  • Time travel is a "condition" that can be given an antidote vaccine which brings the person back to the future.


One could probably write an entire book about the flaws of the film, or write a snarky "better than thou" review of it. Such efforts would be misguided though. Trancers is one of those movies that if you watched it on Mystery Science Theater, you would want the guys to shut up because you were having a fun enough time without the snark.

Trancers doesn't pretend to be something it isn't. It doesn't put on airs or quote philosophy. The movie is a straight forward action romp where a future cop hunts down psionically controlled zombies in "modern day" Los Angeles -- a city he only knows about because of his frequent scuba diving excursions.

Can you really ask for more than psionically controlled zombies? I can't -- especially when one of those zombies is a "mall Santa."
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