Give Charles Band credit for chutzpah during his early years as a filmmaker: he’d sell pitches for films before having a script written, start making films before the budget was nailed down and in general hustle as skillfully as any successful producer of exploitation fare.
He really kickstarted his career in the early ’80s when he made a couple of 3-D films that got national distribution, Parasite and Metalstorm: The Destruction Of Jared-Syn. The latter in particular was big business for Band, getting a wide release and a jumbo-sized presale from Universal. The film itself is more of an interesting artifact than anything else but it’s interesting to look at in terms of how it pointed the way forward for his future career.
Metalstorm plays like a fan fiction mash-up of The Road Warrior and Star Wars. Dogen (Jeffrey Byron) is a Mad Max-ish ranger who is on the hunt for Jared-Syn (Mike Preston), a nefarious warlord with supernatural powers who is trying to rile up the mutants in a post-apocalyptic world to join him. Dogen teams up with Dhyana (Kelly Preston), the daughter of a prospector killed by Jared-Syn, and a Han Solo-esque scout named Rhodes (Tim Thomerson). Along the way, he has tangle with a cyclopean leader (Richard Moll) and Jared-Syn’s cyborg son, Baal (R. David Smith). Cue the desert car chases, laser fights, gladiator battles and comic-book mysticism.
As a film, Metalstorm is basically an excuse for budget-priced special effects and 3-D gags. Alan Adler’s script is as generic as it gets in terms of characterization and dialogue and the plot is often impossible to follow. It’s also worth noting that the ending is widely considered to be one of the most jaw-dropping cheats this side of Back To The Future II.
The acting is similarly wonky: Byron and Preston are both game but have little to work with, thus allowing Thomerson and Moll to steal scenes with their more colorful side characters. Band’s work as director is technically competent but suffers from slack pacing between FX gags – and though the makeup effects are rock-solid, the visual FX are wildly variable in quality (the final sky chase looks like Megaforce outtakes).
Ultimately, Metalstorm is most interesting as a forerunner of the kind of movies Band would put out through his companies Empire and Full Moon. Band would soon learn how to scale productions down to a doable size and use actors like Thomerson and Moll to lend more color to the thespian side of his productions. More importantly, Band’s eye for special effects talent would help him find people who could help him refine his effects as he worked his way towards a genre film factory approach where cost-effective FX spectacle would be a key selling point.
In short, Metalstorm is a cinematic footnote but worth a look for anyone who gets a kick out of Band’s Empire or Full Moon films. This is the seed from which those cult movie dynasties grew.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recently issued this title as a 2 blu-ray set, with one disc devoted to the 3-D version and one to the 2-D version. This review covers the 2-D version (alas, no 3-D player at Schlockmania headquarters) and the results are a respectable presentation of . A 5.1 lossless remix is included alongside a lossless version of the original 2.0 stereo mix: sometimes the dialogue can sound a little “hollow in the remix but it really gives a boost to Richard Band’s impressive orchestral score.
There are also a few extras, the big one being “High Noon At The End Of The Universe” (42:13), an excellent new featurette from Daniel Griffith about the history of Metalstorm. Band, Adler, Byron, Moll and Thomerson all appear here alongside several FX guys including Allan Apone and Kenny Myers. It gives an insight into how Band presold the film as Adler was writing it, a breakdown of the challenges unique to shooting a 3-D film in the early ’80s and a neat tale about the film’s 3-D nature made it a lucrative candidate for distribution by Universal.
You’ll also learn about how it was received at theaters, the unproduced sequel and how Moll shaving his head for the film inadvertantly improved his chances when he auditioned for Night Court. All the participants tell their tales in a lively fashion and Griffith gives it all a nice pace and plenty of visual flash.
The package is rounded out by some vintage promotional materials. An animated image gallery (10:26) includes promo art as well as stills and behind-the-scenes shots plus there is a fun hard-sell trailer and a radio spot.