Friday, 11 May 2018

Space Truckers

Cast: Dennis Hopper, Charles Dance, and Debi Mazar  

Director: Stuart Gordon

96 minutes (12) 1996
Second Sight
Blu-ray region B
[Released 14th May]

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton

Sci-fi comedy is very hard to do effectively, properly, or even fairly. Created by Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, in its multitude of forms - the radio show, the novels, the TV adaptation, and the cinema version - remains the pure gold standard by which almost everything else can be judged as lacking. Hitchhikers is an affectionate parody of science fiction themes, postmodern tropes, and genre traditions that obviously breaks its own rule-book and transcends the framework of ‘spoof’ to become a genuinely impressive deconstruction and reconstruction of its varied genre ideas. High-concept SF is radically mixed and matched with whimsical humour to become something more than the sum of its parts. By comparison, the cult TV series Red Dwarf is less friendly towards its subject matter. It simply takes the piss out of sci-fi, without much care for its usually strictly rational frameworks or beloved pulp adventuring in time and space.

The styling of Alien (1979) was partly identified as ‘lorry drivers in space’ and Space Truckers, in which the great Dennis Hopper’s grouchy but loveable hero John Canyon hauls GM square pigs from Mars, is basically a sci-fi version of road movies like Convoy (1978), meets off-world colonial western Outland (1981), offering a very different sci-fi aspect unlike the usual naval design ethos of Star Trek or the air force looks and fighter pilots modelling of Star Wars. Canyon is a decidedly old-school rebel who does not ‘buy options’ of customised comfort for his rig. Desperate waitress Cindy (Debi Mazar, ‘Spice’ in Batman Forever) needs a ticket from the space Hub to Earth, and so along with novice pilot Mike (Stephen Dorff, S.F.W., Blade, Feardotcom), she hitches a ride on Canyon’s freighter. Shane Rimmer (world president, named Saggs!) and George Wendt (playing a ‘company man’ to his core) make the most of their welcome guest-star roles, and Sandra Dickinson is Betty, the voice of Canyon’s spaceship-computer.

Mostly bright and cheerful, Space Truckers delivers a dose of lively humour with plenty of witty satire in a fast-moving storyline. A vengeful space pirate Macanudo (Charles Dance) is a cyborg menace, especially to sexy Cindy, in one of the movie’s rom-com sequences. However, the primary threat here is a shipment of rogue robots, war machines designed to destroy any military force, essentially re-programmed for the invasion and conquest of Earth. 

Coming from Stuart Gordon, the director of celebrated horrors Re-Animator (1985), and Lovecraftian classic From Beyond (1986), this space movie might have seemed like an unusual choice, but Gordon had previously also made cult sci-fi romp Robot Jox (1989), and the internationally successful Fortress (1992), and to Space Truckers he brings an expert understanding of subgenre concerns for a modestly budgeted production, knowing just how to honour and subvert fandom expectations and re-work clich├ęs into something far more entertaining than typical genre fare.

In addition to Alien, this picture also pays obvious tributes to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Roger Vadim’s pulp-inspired Barbarella. It hardly matters that, viewed here in glorious hi-def, we can see harness wires during some of the ‘flying’ in zero-gravity stunts. Most of the big special effects sequences are still pretty good though, and contribute so much fun to a highly amusing adventure giving the heroes a happy ending, one that’s blatantly corny and yet remains a satisfying conclusion.

Disc extras: new interviews with Stuart Gordon, composer Colin Towns, and art director Simon Lamont.

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