Tag Archives: science fiction

Hands of Steel (1986) | Sergio Martino



Hands of Steel is an Italian-produced film obviously influenced by James Cameron’s The Terminator if combined with the basic plot of First Blood. Set in the near future, we find a beefy thug (Daniel Greene) has been brainwashed by the evil head of a pollution-spewing corporation called the Turner Foundation, headed by John Saxon’s Francis Turner, we soon learn, to assassinate a popular ecological guru leading an environmental movement that is set to make major radical changes to the drastically worsening country. But he’s no ordinary thug; Paco Queruak is a war veteran that was left for dead before getting his body used for a radical cyborg assassin experiment, rendering him with an electronic mind and a body of hardened steel, underneath his very human-like exterior. However, at the last second, his human side begins to question what he’s doing, leaving him on the run from the organization that made him in order to hide their tracks. Paco goes on the lam to his old stomping grounds in Arizona, where he meets a lovely motel and bar owner named Linda who offers him room and board in exchange for doing some chores around the property.  Meanwhile, he engages the locals in arm wrestling contests he can easily best them in. Meanwhile, he’s being pursued by a world-class hitman, and also the FBI.


Cyborg (1989) | Albert Pyun



In the future, New York, after the dreaded nuclear holocaust, is a wasteland of lawlessness and gangland thuggery. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a skilled martial arts warrior named Gibson Rickenbacker, a “slinger”(aka, a mercenary for hire helping refugees), who fights for and rescues a woman named Pearl Prophet from a horde of marauders. It turns out that the woman is a woman no longer, but rather, a cyborg transformed in order to gather information and transport it to Atlanta in the hope of turning the tide on the widespread plague that has threatened humanity with extinction. However, the leader of the marauders is the fearsome psychopath, Fender Tremolo, a man who has history with Gibson and has ruined his life in the past. Fender steals her back because he wants the cure for himself, and it’s up to Gibson, along with his newly found tag-along Nady Simmons, to become Earth’s last hope.


Batteries Not Included (1987) | Matthew Robbins



Real-life married couple Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy star as Frank and Faye Riley, the owners of a small diner in a dilapidated building that also houses their apartment in the slums of Manhattan.  The rest of the tenants of the building are being paid off to evacuate ASAP, so that greedy land developers can take over and demolish the building in order to erect some high-rise corporate edifices.  Those that refuse are being threatened with injury “or worse” by some local thugs that are also on the corporate payroll to scare the bejesus out of the remaining tenants.  Without anyone to turn to, a desperate plea may have saved the day, as a couple of miniature flying saucers arrive, consuming metal materials and then fixing up damaged parts of the building.  The saucers befriend the remaining tenants, although the thugs and land developers are determined to put an end to this new development even if it costs lives in the process.  Steven Spielberg produced this quaint sci-fi fairy tale.


Dreamscape (1984) | Joseph Ruben



Dreamscape stars Dennis Quaid as a psychic enlisted into a top-secret government experiment that puts him into the nightmares of another person in order to cure them.  However, when the President of the United States becomes the subject, he finds himself embroiled in a plot to assassinate the world leader in his sleep.  Kate Capshaw, Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer co-star in this low-budget but high-concept sci-fi/thriller that would be the precursor to a great many genre films, including THE MATRIX.


Brainstorm (1983) | Douglas Trumbull



Christopher Walken stars as a scientist out to protect his project, one that involves being able to experience the senses and emotions of another person, from getting into the wrong hands.  Natalie Wood, in her final film role, co-stars as the wife he is about to lose, if only they could remember the love they once had.  Special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull directs this troubled but still intriguing science fiction exploration that was, perhaps, too ahead of its time to transplant what he envisioned into our own minds.


Explorers (1985) | Joe Dante



Joe Dante’s Explorers marks the big screen debuts of two future stars, Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix, who, along with Jason Presson, make up the three young boys with a thirst for adventure and scientific exploration.  In their dreams, the boys have a connection to a circuit board that they eventually use to build their own little hovering spacecraft, thanks to the help of a strange spherical energy capsule in which they place an abandoned tilt-a-whirl carriage that they use their computer to control.  The makeshift spaceship gets them into all sorts of adventures, before culminating in a close encounter with aliens in outer space.


TRON (1982) | Steven Lisberger



Disney’s first big foray into the realm of computer animation would prove to be a box office disappoiuntmen in 1982, but garner a legion of fans over the years for its revolutionary design work and the influence it still continue to have in science fiction today.  Jeff Bridges stars as Kevin Flynn, video game programmer, who is ripped off of several ideas by an unscrupulous power hungry man named Ed Dillinger. Dillinger soon starts a meteoric rise to the top of a powerful global corporation, Encom, while the computer that runs it has become so powerful that it is a life-force unto itself, thinking and talking (not to mention plotting world domination). Flynn tries to hack into the computer to get evidence of Dillinger’s theft, when the Master Control Program sucks Flynn into its own cyber-world, dubbed “the grid”,  where programs in the voice and form of the programmers that created them are mere toys by which Master Control Program uses for its own enjoyment. Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan and David Warner also star in this film by Steven Lisberger.


Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) | Sidney J. Furie



Although he had claimed to be done putting on the red cape after SUPERMAN III, Reeve is lured back to make a fourth entry with a different studio from an idea he had written himself to bring back the series to respectability.  Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way in the end. Superman makes a decision to meddle in Earth’s affairs by getting rid of all of the nuclear missiles, but Lex Luthor has his own super-powered being to take the Man of Steel down before he interrupts the business of war that Lex relies upon for his riches. In addition to Reeve, Margot Kidder returns to a sizable role, and Gene Hackman returns to the series as Luthor.  Where did it all go so wrong when so much seems so right?  Vince takes a closer examination on this episode.


Supergirl (1984) | Jeannot Szwarc



Just as Kal-El was sent by his parents to Earth from a dying planet in order to save him, so too did Alexander and Ilya Salkind try to save their dying franchise by trying to spin it off with a new character with Kara, Superman’s cousin, better known as Supergirl!  Things didn’t quite go according to plan, however.  Helen Slater is fetching in the title role, and Faye Dunaway suitably sinister, in the best of ways, as Selena, the sexy and scheming sorceress out to conquer the world. Is it fun? Is it dumb?  Is it dumb fun? Yes, yes, and yes!


Superman III (1983) | Richard Lester



Gone is Richard Donner, gone is Gene Hackman, and gone is the epic feel of the SUPERMAN series with SUPERMAN III, in which the creators finally wrest the controls away to make what they’ve been wanting to make all along: comedies!  Richard Lester returns as director, as Superman, once again played by Christopher Reeve, has to battle a genius computer hacker played by Richard Pryor from assisting megalomaniac businessman Robert Vaughn from taking over the economic future of the world through computer dominance.


Superman (1978) | Richard Donner



The granddaddy of the modern-day superhero flick, 1978’s SUPERMAN put together a truly epic experience befitting a popular hero on the magnitude of Superman. Richard Donner directed DC Comics’ legendary property from his infancy on the planet Krypton all the way to donning the cape and costume to right wrongs wherever he may find them on Earth as savior of humanity.  With treacherous mastermind Lex Luthor out and about, no one is safe, even Superman, if he has his way.  Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando star in this grand action-adventure with lots of soaring sounds from composer John Williams and fun character touches from a capable cast.


The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) | Jim Wynorski



Seven years after Wes Craven’s original adaptation of the DC Comics superhero, Jim Wynorski takes a stab by sending the whole thing up as a campy b-movie sci-fi/horror hybrid. Swamp Thing (Dick Durock again) is back as protector of a hot babe in the form of Abigail, portrayed by Razzie Award-winning actress Heather Locklear, to thwart the nefarious plans of her mad scientist stepfather, Dr. Arcane, once again portrayed by Louis Jourdan, who wants to take her perfect DNA to make himself live forever. It’s a bad film, intentionally, and in some of the best ways.


G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987) | Don Jurwich



Rounding out this trio of Hasbro toy-based films put out by Marvel/Sunbow in the mid-1980s, “GI Joe: The Movie” has the dishonorable distinction of being funneled straight to video and subsequently syndicated on television due to the lack of success for the “Transformers” and “My Little Pony” movies at the box office the year before.  But does that mean it’s a bad film?  Well, some might argue yes, others hell no, and many more fall under the category of loving it because it embraces its flaws and plays them up to maximum entertainment.  Don Johnson and Burgess Meredith provide voices for this completely off-the-hook action-adventure-science fiction extravaganza that serves as a precursor to the dumb-but-fun action blockbusters people either love or love to hate from the 1990s.


The Transformers: The Movie (1986) | Nelson Shin



The first of four feature-length ventures between Marvel Productions and Sunbow Entertainment that centered on toys made by Hasbro, THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE would make for an ambitious way to not only sell toys and entertain fans, but also to set for a new course for the animated TV series, in this bridge between the second and third seasons of the show.  A critical and commercial misfire, the film has gained cult status among Transformers property aficionados and lovers of cultural oddities of the 1980s, not only for its bold story choices, but also for its eclectic voice actors (Orson Welles, Judd Nelson, Eric Idle, Leonard Nimoy, Casey Kasem, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, John Moschitta Jr, and Scatman Crothers), as well as its driving hair-metal soundtrack.


The Dark Crystal (1982) | Jim Henson & Frank Oz



Jim Henson conceived of this elaborate realm of fantasy in which two competing races vie for the destiny of a faraway planet, as the evil Skeksis try to thwart the Gelflings of prophecy from uniting the planet yet again and bringing equilibrium to life there for those enslaved.  This imaginative film had been a disappointment on early release but has gained a rabid following among fantasy fans.  Frank Oz co-directs this film done entirely with puppets, and is a rare film that doesn’t a human character in sight.