Saturday, April 7, 2007

Iceberg Arena: Greatest Double Feature Ever?

No, my title doesn’t refer to “Grindhouse” (2007) which I neglected to see on its opening night. Instead, I spent my time watching a Rutger Hauer double feature: “Blind Fury” (1990) and “Omega Doom” (1996). Rutger Hauer, once the toast of Hollywood (sort of) as the villain in films like “Nighthawks” and “Blade Runner” fell into the slums of B-movie trash in the early 90’s. Still popular despite the awfulness of his films, Columbia Tristar apparently decided he was worthy of a double feature DVD and chose two films related only by ridiculous stories, wince-inducing dialogue and Rutger Hauer’s implacable ability to eliminate foes.

“Omega Doom” is a post-apocalyptic version of “Fist Full of Dollars” (1964) (which in turn is a remake of “Yojimbo” from 1961) with an all-cyborg cast. Rutger Hauer plays a cyborg who pits a cyborg gang called “Droids” against another cyborg gang called “Roms.” Also the love interest is a cyborg. A severed robotic head provides comic relief.

Continuing the trend of stealing from Japan, “Blind Fury” enters in as an American remake of “Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman” a long running series about a blind Zen warrior. Updating the plot into the context of the 1980’s, director Phillip Noyce makes the protagonist a blind Vietnam vet (who still wields a sword, mind you) and gives the entire cast mullets.

Neither film can be judged in conventional terms of quality or taste, so I will have them compete in terms of screenshots and provide assistive comments.

Omega Doom:

In the distant future, a killer robot named Omega Doom (left) fights hand-to-hand with a human rebel (right) on a mountain of corpses.
Struck by a laser from a neaby foe, Omega Doom is dazed and suddenly benevolent. It is time for him to set out and play all the cyborg factions against each other in a massive civil war (actually there are only seven enemy robots ever shown but you get the idea).
Programmed with his new mission to kill, Omega Doom enters a war torn city. As the map at the right of this screenshot shows, he is surprisingly close to mideval Japan. This date is surprisingly fitting since in the distant future no one has any guns and so swords and laser-ninja-stars are used for combat (just like in mideval Japan). A treasure consisting of guns is burried in the city, but neither rival cyborg gang knows where and both refuse to dig because "they have no tools."
Here we are introduced to the comic relief sidekick: a severed robotic head with a wacky attitude. The director shows his clear familiarity with Italian Neorealism by making the character exactly as funny as a severed head in real life.
"Roms," the stronger of the two gangs, look like bad Carrie-Anne Moss clones from "The Matrix." In an intriguing compositional decision, the director always places strong vertical elements between Roms when they are onscreen at the same time. Hmmm...
The "Droids" look a lot like regular people but with bad hair. One has a metal face but she disappears after delivering about two lines. To fully complete the illusion that they are cyborgs the sound effects team adds "robot" noises like whirring, buzzing and metallic clanking every single time they move their necks or take a step. These sound effects can be heard at the same volume no matter where the characters are on screen.
The love interest (left) is a Droid who runs a local cantina. Only the cantina has just four customers (the other Droids) and sells only water. Except that the water is free. Also, why do robots need water? This situation soon makes it clear why the cyborg economy has not reached the point where they can't dig or build guns. The bartender's hope for a better life is symbolized by her snowglobe (I'm not joking) which has somehow managed to escape the ravages of nuclear war unharmed.
The main Droid tries to anger Omega Doom by banging the severed head against a wall while it screams and makes bad puns. This random act of violence angers neither Omega Doom nor the audience. However, when the evil Droid attempts to crush the bartender's snowglobe, the duel is on.
This horribly blurry "special effect" explains why you should never engage a cyborg named Omega Doom in a duel: he has laser-ninja-stars.
After a convoluted triple feint, Omega Doom soon finds himself in another duel, this time with a Rom. The Rom throws a laser-ninja-star but Omega Doom catches it (the whole laser concept is dealt with rather loosely) and throws it back, killing his foe.
Another battle later, Omega Doom punctures a hole through the chest of the braided Droid. Her chest cavity is shown here. In a line of dialogue that demonstrates the screenwriter's complete lack of computer knowledge, she claims that she can "feel the megabytes seeping out of her." Omega Doom, apparently disgusted by her technical idiocacy, leaves her to a slow death.
A flashback reveals that after suffering the laser injury in the first scene, Omega Doom gained the power to "see whether robots were programmed as good or evil." His mission is to destroy all evil robots and make the world safe for humans to return. The word "cyber-messiah" is never explicitly used, but you get the idea.
After a boring final battle in which Rutger Hauer's stunt man kills the remaining cyborgs in a cantina showdown, Omega Doom returns outdoors to find it snowing. Sadly, in the haunted Christmas of nuclear winter, the only gifts are the poisons of radiation; the only Santa is the specter of Death. On a more up-lifting, but entirely inexplicable note, an American Bald Eagle flies overhead, reflecting an Emily Dickenson quote that Omega Doom laughably delivered early in the film.
Sadistically unable to let the awfulness end, we are given a final moment of comic relief. The severed head attaches itself to the body of a decapitated Rom and delivers a speech about how he'll "take care of the body better than she ever did."
Oh, but wait! It still isn't over. Omega Doom returns to the dying braided Droid from halfway through the movie to grant her a dying wish. She asks to have her head turned towards the fading sunset backdrop. In a moment of tear-jerking tenderness, Omega Doom and the braided Droid share the final rays of setting sun, with only Omega Doom left alive to greet the new dawn of human freedom. The audience is left weeping, their emotions exhausted by the virtuoso performance.
*
*
End of Omega Doom
*
*
Blind Fury:

In a rapid montage of backstory, Nick Parker (Rutger Hauer) is shown getting blinded by an explosion in Vietnam. A tribe of natives train the blind war vet as an expert swordsman so that he can slice fruit for the starving populous. This screenshot shows the first of a long succession of uncomfortably intimate moments throughout the film.
Twenty years later (but with no visible change in Parker's appearence), Nick is seen entering Miami, Florida to visit his old war buddy, Frank. A gang of thugs trick Parker into putting spicy sauce on his burrito. Revealing his cane to be a sheath for a samurai sword, he disposes of them in a flurry of blows.
As Parker approaches the Frank's house, his friend's son accidently drops a pink toy dinosaur out of the window. Magically, Parker catches it.
Never let anyone who looks like this into your home, even if he claims to have fought in 'nam with your husband. That being said, you probably shouldn't let anyone with reflective sunglasses into your home.
Five minutes later, gangsters bust into the house and fire a shotgun blast into Frank's wife. She had creepy eyes anyway. Incidently, I read online that the actress was a graduate of one of the world's most exacting acting academies. She must have enjoyed her three minutes of screen-time.
Responding with lightning reflexes (not fast enough to safe Frank's wife), Nick whips out his sword and severs a gangster's hand. The finger twitches and fires a shot that shatters the family portrait. Symbolism never got more subtle or poetic.
An excruciating cross-country journey toward Las Vegas ensues wherein Nick Parker and Billy (Frank's son) become unlikely, mismatched buddies in typical cinematic fashion. One highlight involves a shootout in "Kansas" as represented by an endless corn field. Shown here, one of the gangsters poses leisurely for a calendar spread.
A female damsel in distress is introduced without any backstory or development and is kidnapped along with Nick and Billy. The villain, relatively new to the art of sadistic torture, forces the woman to lick the cut on his finger. I don't think the scene serves any purpose whatsoever.
After the trio escape, the inevitable chase occurs with the action contrived such that the blind Nick has to drive. The screenshot above capture the moment in the chase when the pursuing car is flipped over by a barely hidden ramp, a scene which appeared by FCC mandate in every action movie between 1978 and 1999.
Nick and the others arrive in Las Vegas still looking for Frank, who is now working as a chemist manufacturing drugs (that look like blue detergent crystals) for a corrupt casino owner. As he calmly plays roulette his ear detects the electronic beeping of a device to control where the ball will land. He whips out his sword and slices the roulette wheel into the air.
No one is the least bit fazed that a blind man just pulled out a sword and slashed it through the air in close quarters, but the woman shown here is really pissed to discover she's been cheated. Note the red LED on the underside of the wheel as proof of the trick. Shocked and betrayed to discover that a casino might conduct its operations unfairly, a riot breaks out.
Nick, now teamed with Frank, traces the villains to a mountain resort accessible only by gondola. Waiting for them at the top is a bevy of negative racial and regional stereotypes who were unable to get any two matching weapons from the props department.
In an outrageously ill-concieved action set-peice Nick finds himself in the world's most awkward combination: He is simultaneously surrounded by armed killers and is the only one on the dance floor.
Battling his way to the supervillain's den, he appears to be almost at his journey's end. Suddenly a random Japanese samurai, who has not been in the film in any way up until this point, comes out of nowhere to commence in a duel around the rim of an electrified hot tub. Anyone familiar with action films will have seen this one coming a mile away.
The supervillain is simultaneously slice in half and pushed off a cliff, two kill moves which would initially seem mutually exclusive.
Finally Nick Parker is reunited with his love interest. No wait... where did the blonde woman go? She disappeared about seven scenes back and is never mentioned again. We are left with yet another drawn-out uncomfortably intimate moment. Finally Billy returns to his dad, Frank, and they live happily ever after as drug manufacturers.
*
*
End of Blind Fury
*
*
Winner: Omega Doom (cyborgs unable to dig trump swordmen unable to see)
*
Afterwards: See comments for dissenting opinions.

5 comments:

Kathryn said...

I can't believe you chose Omega Doom! Blind Fury was clearly the superior movie. THE OPENING LINE WAS "I can't see..." (and for those out there who were not present, was followed by an audience comment of "...and I'm really furious!")

Also, for some reason the comic relief was so much more bearable in Blind Fury, because it doesn't involve the headless guy spazzing around for five minutes at a time.

Lastly, I'm pretty sure every single character in Blind Fury had mullets - which you did mention. Isn't it more enjoyable when they didn't purposefully give everyone funny hair?

Anyway, an excellent night overall.

Elaine said...

I can't believe you chose Omega Doom either. Blind Fury clearly deserved to win.

Unless you were judging by the amount of times Katie threatened to pull the Oscar chain, in which case I suppose Omega Doom does win.

Also, I think the earlier intimate boy/man moment was more awkward and uncomfortable than the one you chose.

Walrus said...

I appear to be outvoted, but allow me to defend myself. After initially finishing the double feature I felt as if Blind Fury had been better, but on further thought it was just that we had made fun and tore into it more savagely. If I had to watch one over again, I'd definitely choose Omega Doom.

Also, did you notice that Blind Fury's condescending comedy and cheesy drama was clearly aimed at kids, yet the violence and cussing got it an R rating. Exactly who is the target audience?

Mad Dog said...

Go. See. Grindhouse.

Patrick said...

Clearly I missed out. Also, where did the love interest in Blind Fury come from, exactly?