Monday, July 6, 2009

Apocalypse Later, Week One: Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn

3-D movies have been making a comeback the last few years: Monster House, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Nightmare Before Christmas, Bolt, Up, Hannah Montana, Jonas Brothers, My Bloody Valentine...Hell, National Geographic has even started releasing their documentaries in 3-D. The reason for this is quite simple: the studios feel like they need a gimmick that can only work in theaters to draw in audiences who might otherwise wait for the DVD or illegally download. Plain and simple, it's a money-grab that lucked into happening at the same time the technology it's based on is taking great leaps and bounds, the new RealD digital 3-D offering better imagery and more comfortable glasses than the 3-D movies of old. It's synergy at it's finest.

This isn't the first time this has happened, though. Go back about thirty years to the early 80's, and you find the same trend: the 3-D technology improved, and the studios capitalized by cranking out hokey movies that existed solely to exploit it by the dozens in hopes of taking some drawing power away from that newfangled video tape technology that was bringing cinema into the living room. The result was a flood of some of the worst movies of all time. A short list of examples would include Friday the 13th Part 3D, Spacehunters (a Molly Ringwald sci-fi epic of all things), Jaws 3D, and today's subject: the one and, thank God, only Metalstorm: the Destruction of Jared-Syn. Metalstorm has the unique status of not only cashing in on the 3D trend, but also cashing in on the simultaneously popular “Post-Apocalyptic” trend. You know, those movies that are filmed out in the desert with the cast wearing lots of leather and face paint and which are supposedly set in the year 2112 or whatever. Stuff like Yor, The Hunter of the Future.

Indeed, July is dedicated to Post-Apocalyptic films from the 80's, but I thought there was no better way to kick things off than with a movie that crossed that shitty gimmick with another, even shittier gimmick. So strap in, put your red and blue glasses on and get ready to duck some flying shit as we dig into Metalstorm: the Destruction of Jared-Syn!

The movie makes the fatal mistake of opening with an apparent homage to Manos: Hands of Fate. The first five minutes of this movie are nothing but some guy driving. Driving his tank down a road, driving the tank over the desert, driving into a valley, driving hither and thither. And nothing else is going on. Interminable? You betcha. The tedium is eventually interrupted when the tank is attacked by a bad special effec-I mean a flying speeder bike ala Star Wars. After flying around for a bit like a cardboard cutout on a string, the bike meets it's demise when our man shoots it down and it suddenly turns into an actual physical object just long enough to hit a cliff wall and blow up. And then...the man pulls over to dick around with the engine. Thrill!

Elsewhere, an old geezer and his New Jersey mallrat-looking daughter Dhyana are, respectively, hitting rocks with a pickaxe and zapping rocks with a glowing light-up hair dryer. Dhyana delivers the first line of the film and it seems oddly appropriate: “We're wasting our time”. They're looking for vague, undefined crystals of some sort even though the last owners of this particular mine found nothing there. Dhyana complains of how she hates being in “nomad territory” because them nomads sure don't take kindly to trespassers. But then she unearths a crystal (kinda looks like the exploding crystals from Santa with Muscles) and she and her father are happy as clams in mud because this makes them rich somehow.

Of course, some baddies choose right now to show up and spoil everything. Led by Baal, a man who looks like some bizarre cross between a Power Rangers clay soldier and the cast of Space Mutiny, these bad guys smash the crystal and then spray dad with some Nickelodeon Gak, which seemingly sends him to an alternate dimension where he to death by a crystal-wielding bad guy overlord named Jared-Syn. Jared-Syn looks like Ivan Ooze from the Power Rangers movie, only without the purple skin.

Elsewhere one again, our mystery man is still driving. What the fuck, where is he even going? I don't think he even knows what his destination is. He's just out for an aimless Sunday drive through the desert and having a pleasant time aside from the speeder bike that he disposed of in ten seconds. And what the fuck is he driving? It looks like one of those home-made tornado tanks that storm chasers use to ride into the eye of the storm. Which is to say, it looks cheap and ramshackle and like it'll fall apart at any moment. But on he drives and drives. The only action in this scene is when he opens the window and then shuts it again for no reason five seconds later. Did Vincent Gallo direct these scenes? I feel like I'm watching The Brown Bunny again.

FINALLY, this maroon stumbles upon dad's corpse and hops out of the car to investigate only to find himself at Dhyana's gunpoint. Mystery man introduces himself as Dojan, a ranger (whatever that means), who's patrolling the area apparently to inform locals that the treaty with the nomads has been broken and things ain't safe. Gee, thanks, she never would have guessed from looking at her father's mangled body! The two dunderheads prattle on for a while, Dojan explaining that he is hunting Jared-Syn to stop him from inciting the nomads to more violence, and wow is this some terrible line-reading. I mean, that's all it is. They're not acting, they're just reading the screenplay. Alpha Five (will the Power Rangers references ever cease!?) had more believable emotion than these twits. And that's really too bad for all of us since the next scene is papa's burial, complete with Dhyana's “emotional breakdown” which comes across more like she's on quaaludes. “He...was...a...dream-er...and...I...loved him,” she intones with all the passion of someone asking for the salt shaker at dinner.

Oh come on, even with glycerin tears she doesn't look sad. This woman is hopeless!

Dojan happens to be in possession of what looks like another piece of Jared-Syn's life-sucker crystal thingy but doesn't know what the heck it is and asks Dhyana to take him to her weapons dealer so he can examine it. The test results come back positive: it's a life-sucker crystal thingy, alright. Apparently it sucks out your soul and stores it within the crystal until...I don't know what or when. Weapons dealer man tells Dojan he can find someone to lead him to Jared-Syn in the next town over. Dojan wants to leave Dhyana behind because, you know, she's an icky girl with cooties or something, but she's stubborn and insists on tagging along. And so it's off to drive some more, only this time Baal and his goons pull up in their tanks and they, too, drive around a lot after falling into line with Dojan's tank. Why Baal doesn't start firing on Dojan is beyond me. I guess he really just wanted to go for a nice Sunday drive. Too bad it doesn't last very long, as Dhyana's blood lust bubbles over and she fires on one of Baal's tanks, causing it to hit one of those ever-convenient natural objects that coincidentally happens to make a perfect jump ramp, in this case a sand dune, and then another tank just randomly runs into a wall and blows up like Hiroshima.

Unable to stand idly by and witness this unprovoked slaughter any longer, Baal and his remaining men corral Dojan and Dhyana in so Baal can spray Dojan with, I dunno, a tear-drop's worth of that Gak, which is enough to send Dojan to death's door. Seriously, he got hit with a fleck the size of a booger. But that's enough to send him, and for some reason Dhyana as well, into that weird alternate dimension so Jared-Syn can menace them a little. Yeah, he doesn't just get them with the life-sucker crystal thingy, he just says “I'm coming to get you!” and then vanishes. What, is he the Boogeyman now? Oh, and just to slap some diarrhea icing on the shit cake, Dojan and Dhyana are compelled to kiss like lovers after the vision goes away. Shouldn't you save that for then end? You know, after they've gotten to know each other and they've survived a big adventure and fallen in love? Oh, never mind.

And so Jared-Syn lives up to his promise to get 'em as he teleports Dhyana away mid-kiss. Apparently Jared-Syn's transporter technology isn't quite up to Star Trek standards as judging by Dhyana's screaming, it must be excruciatingly painful to get zapped around this way. And while Dhyana is off in the bad guy's clutches, Dojan is left to fight what looks like a nuclear Beetle Borg. Yet another in a long line of lame special effects. Somehow or another, Dojan intuits 1) that this thing can be killed by water and 2) that he can make water appear just by shooting the ground. And so he does and so it is. Gee, anti-climactic much? I hope Dojan has named his gun the Deus Ex Machina.

With that annoyance taken care of, and his health miraculously restored, Dojan heads off for that town. And then he gets there. And then he walks around. And walks around. And walks around. And walks around. You didn't have to show us this part, movie. Eventually, Dojan wanders into a cantina and finds the guide he's looking for, an old washed up drunk named Roads. Roads refuses to take Dojan to this so-called “Lost City” he's looking for since, you know it's fucking LOST and no one knows where it is. Overhearing the sounds of a whoopin', Dojan heads outside to find two, um, guys beating up another guy, which turns into a Mexican stand-off for no reason other than to have Roads swoop in to save the day and randomly join the mission.

And so they drive off to find the lost city. And they drive. And they drive. This movie is 90% filler at this point. I mean, seriously, look back over the things that have happened so far and then consider the fact that we are past the halfway point in this film. Barely anything has happened except one death, a chase, a kidnapping, and two fights. That would be the pre-credit sequence in any other action film, but the makers of Metalstorm managed to make it the entire first act and half of the second just by padding it out with lots of driving. Unbelievable. The two men come upon on obelisk which warns that they are nearing Cyclopian (who? What? Dunno!) burial grounds and that anyone who enters is a dead man. Roads pusses out and says he's done his end of the bargain since the Lost City is supposed to be just ahead, but Dojan just starts driving again before Roads can get out and he doesn't protest one bit either. It's perplexing how passive this Roads guy is. Your life is in danger! Jump out the door or something! Oh, and the scene ends with the most superfluous 3-D effect ever as the car drives away and the camera closes in on a prickly protruding branch for no reason whatsoever, except to have it pop out of the screen. Seeing the movie shown flat you'd think the cinematographer was just a botany enthusiast.

And so, more driving. You think it's getting repetitive in print? Try watching it. This is the most monotonous, vehicle-obsessed sci-fi movie this side of 2001: a Space Odyssey with all it's long, lingering shots of space ships slowly drifting about doing nothing. But hey, they shake it up with some walking! And they walk and walk and walk over a small hill and walk over some rocks and finally come upon some old statue holding a bucket. Dojan opens the bucket, unleashing the golden glow from the Pulp Fiction briefcase, and reaches inside to find...I dunno, some kind of mask I think. It looks like a piece of Lucite with some twigs glued to it. Which is exactly what it is, I'm sure. Meanwhile, Roads finds himself being sucked down into a hole in the ground which has been following them, as if one of those sand worms from Beetlejuice were about to burst up at any moment or maybe like that homicidal shadow from the X-Files. Dojan's brilliant response is to take Roads' rifle away and then get sucked down himself. Oh yeah, take the weapon so you can save yourself and fuck the other guy over. What a hero. With their legs buried under the sand, the heroes find themselves accosted by sand worms that look like hokey hand puppet versions of Alien Hominid. Dojan zaps one with his rifle and Roads scares the other one away by going “BLAARGGHH!” like someone imitating a monster for the amusement of a two year-old. And then the two men climb out of the holes and calmly saunter away. Wow, such action, such drama, such tension.

Running (or, more accurately, slowly jogging) away, Dojan and Roads run into some Cyclopian warriors. Roads throws Dojan under the bus and blames him for taking the mask, but that actually causes the Cyclopians to say that Dojan lives and Roads has to die because I guess they like being robbed. Dojan credits Roads with the robbery to save his ass, but then the Cyclopians say both men have to die for coming on their land. So why'd you just say that Dojan gets to live because he took the mask? Which is it? Roads, suddenly becoming a blabbermouth, talks the Cyclopian leader into fighting Dojan with their freedom on the line. This epic, two-minute battle consists of some lame sword combat (look out, he's swinging at the camera!) ending with Dojan beating the Cyclopian, but refusing to kill him because he's all noble like that. We'll just ignore all of Baal's henchmen that he killed without provocation earlier on. So the Cyclopians send Dojan and Roads on their way and not only do they let them have the mask, they even give them directions to Jared-Syn's hideout. Wow, how convenient.

The two of them immediately crash into Baal's encampment and smash the place up like their tank is the proverbial bull in a china shop. This isn't a coordinated attack, it's just the two of them driving uncontrollably and accidentally running into shit. Shit which, of course, blows up. You know, I feel pretty bad for Baal. I mean, sure, his dad is the bad guy and he does his bidding, but he hasn't really done much of anything to Dojan to incur all this violence. Baal is a downright beleaguered fella at this point, losing vehicles and minions left and right while he adamantly refuses to fight back. After committing another senseless slaughter, Dojan pulls over and puts the mask on. This zaps him to that alternate dimension again, where he chops down a burning bush and it bleeds. And then he comes back. Uh, what? Back in reality, Baal corners Dojan and Roads to perhaps finally exact some revenge. Well, no. The two-timing Cyclopian shows up to toss a Koosh ball of doom into Roads' face, while Dojan rips Baal's fucking arm off at the elbow. Good God, leave the poor guy alone!

Roads survived but has to be left behind while Dojan heads off to find Jared-Syn. And so he walks. And walks. And walks, following the trail of green slime leaking from Baal's arm stump. He walks all fucking day while the sun goes down and after night fall he finally stumbles upon some tribal council Jared-Syn is holding to sacrifice Dhyana to his magical crystal. Baal and Jared-Syn want to kill him, of course, but the Cyclopian says they're friends and that Dojan should be allowed to speak. Friends? You just tried to kill him! Dojan says that Jared-Syn is the one causing all the land conflicts (?) and that they should stand against him. And everyone takes Dojan's word for it. Too bad for them that Jared-Syn has MAGIC and can ZAP HEEM with magical lasers and whatnot. Dojan uses his mask to deflect the rays and in doing so causes a bush to get zapped and catch on fire, like his vision. If you think that's meaningful, you're wrong. It just happens. Baal smashes the mask, only to get stabbed to death by the Cyclopian for his troubles. Poor, poor Baal.

Jared-Syn uses his magic to teleport away, but Dojan takes a speeder bike and flies off...into the sunset (the magic of editing) find him. Turns out Jared-Syn is on a speeder bike of his own and so the chase is the broad high-noon daylight. The blue screen work here is reminiscent of Ace Hunter's flying motorcycle from MEGAFORCE, which is to say it's Godawful terrible. And it gets worse when Jared-Syn uses some incantation to open a portal straight into the cover of Dark Side of the Moon. What in the fuck?

Jared-Syn gets away by shutting the portal after himself, and Dojan returns to the camp and blows up the big magic crystal. I guess that's supposed to take away Jared-Syn's magical powers? With that pyrotechnical display out of the way, Dojan and Dhyana wander off down the road until Roads drives up in the tank and offers them a ride home. And then the movie ends.

This movie sucks. It's not the worst thing I've ever seen, but is nonsensical drivel. There's barely any plot and it's padded out with interminable driving and walking sequences that serve no other purpose than dragging this thing out to feature length. The acting is wooden, the screenplay is just a list of sci-fi cliches, and the directing is so focused on the 3-D crap that things like framing, timing, and composition get utterly ignored. It's a badly made, boring film that doesn't even work as “turn your brain off” entertainment. It's just that bad.

Oh and one more thing. THEY DIDN'T DESTROY JARED-SYN. What the hell is with the title, then?

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