Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe
Today on the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog, we’re going to take a look at the 1990 Jesse Ventura sci-fi movie, “Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe.”
The writer and director of “Abraxas” is one Damian Lee, a B-movie writer, director, and producer who is still working today. His most recent flicks include a handful of smaller films: “A Fighting Man” (2014), “Hit it” (2013), and “A Dark Truth” (2012).
The cinematography on “Abraxas” is credited to three different people, which brings up some questions about the production. The first listed is Curtis Petersen, a veteran camera operator and b-movie cinematographer, who has well over 100 credits to his name (including “Rocky III,” “Rocky IV,” and “Look Who’s Talking”). Also credited are Mark Willis, a now-prolific camera operator working on television series such as “Hannibal,” “Copper,” and “Reign,” and Keith Thomson, another camera operator for whom “Abraxas” was one of his first ever credits. Given that there isn’t much information available about the film’s behind the scenes operations, it is anyone’s guess as to why all three men are credited, but I suspect that there was probably a dismissal at some point.
“Abraxas” features a handful of cheesy and cheap special effects, but they tend to work pretty well for the purposes of the movie. The special effects team doesn’t have a whole lot of credits between them, but I did notice that they all worked on the 1995 Roddy Piper movie “Jungleground,” which apparently features a lot of the same accessory crew as “Abraxas.” I’ve had that movie sitting in my collection for a good while now, so stay tuned for some coverage of that flick in the near future.
The music on “Abraxas” is really odd, featuring a significant number of strangely placed saxophone solos. The composer of the score was Carlos Lopes, who worked on the 1980s revival of “The Twilight Zone,” as well as a handful of smaller features over the years.
Apart from Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the wrestler turned actor turned politician, the cast of “Abraxas” notably features Sven Ole-Thorsen as his rival. Thorsen is fantastic ‘heavy’ character actor who has appeared in films like “The Running Man” (also with Ventura), “Twins,” “Gladiator,” and “Red Heat,” among many, many others. Both men are famously good friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose film “Terminator” was a clear inspiration for “Abraxas.”
The rest of the cast on “Abraxas” is primarily filled out with unknowns, with the exception of the then-married couple of James Belushi and Marjorie Bransfield. “Abraxas” proved to be Bransfield’s only significant film acting role, as she hasn’t any credits since the mid-1990s. Belushi, bizarrely, is credited as “Principal Latimer,” the same name of his character in the 1987 movie “The Principal.” Whether his bit role was meant to be the same character is up for debate, but it certainly makes for an interesting little fun fact.
The story of “Abraxas” follows the title character (Ventura), a space cop, as he tracks down his former partner, the ruthless Secundus (Thorsen), who is fostering plans for domination of the universe. The pursuit lands both men on Earth, where Secundus impregnates a woman with a “comater,” which will apparently hold the key to the “anti-life equation” once it reaches maturity. Abraxas is faced with the decision of whether to kill a child, or run the risk of having Secundus’s plans come to fruition.
As far as criticisms of “Abraxas” go, the attempts at comedy in the film merit a bit of shaming. All of the attempted jokes fall flat, and don’t fit in with the rest of the movie at all. I’m not sure what exactly inspired the attempted inclusion of comic relief in the movie, but I think it would have been better off either leaving it out entirely or committing more fully, and perhaps getting a comedy writer to do a pass on the script. When you just go half-way, you run the risk of having awkward, stilted moments in the middle of a serious movie.
Something that “Abraxas” engages in that is a minor pet peeve of mine is confusion over idioms. Almost any time a robot, alien, or person out of time is featured in a movie, it seems to be mandated for the script to attempt at least one joke about how the outsider doesn’t understand linguistic peculiarities. This isn’t inherently awful, but it has certainly been done to death. Also, particularly with aliens and humans displaced in time, there is no reason for them to not be familiar with the concept of idioms. For example, if I am speaking in another language with someone, and they mention a phrase that doesn’t seem to make much sense, one of the first things I will assume is that it is an idiom that I am not familiar with. People don’t naturally react to unfamiliar idioms by getting exasperated, it just doesn’t happen. And why not have the aliens use their own idioms, poorly translated into English? That’s at least a mildly better way to deal with the issue.
“Abraxas,” in true b-movie fashion, features a number of great, cheesy effects. In particular, there are a couple of solid head explosions scattered throughout the film, as Secundus’s favorite method of execution seems to be overloading people’s brains to the point of exploding. There are also some classic animated lightning / electricity effects that are sure to incite some nostalgia for b-movie fans.
Surprisingly, the central child actor (the “comater”) is actually pretty solid in this film, which may have a direct correlation to the fact that he has almost no lines. Personally, I would be in favor of this being standard procedure for child actors. In all seriousness, the child is really effectively expressive without using his voice, and actually builds up a little bit of an air of menace by the conclusion of the film, as his powers become more honed.
Something that becomes evident very early on in “Arbraxas” is that the film features far too much internal voice-over, kind of like the awful cut of “Blade Runner” taken to a distant extreme. The monologues aren’t even limited to Jesse Ventura’s lead character: at times, both the villain (Secundus) and the love interest (Sonia) offer brief internal thoughts and narration, which is both lazy storytelling and a really confusing way to shift the audience’s POV.
Something that I have seen take a bit of criticism about “Abraxas” is the set and production design. While it is visibly cheap without any doubt, I actually thought that the work was pretty impressive, and made a little go a long way. It even sort of made sense in the story for the aliens to be comparatively only somewhat more technologically advanced, so they still use keyboards and simple computers. The intelligent armbands are a little bit of a leap, but how different could they possibly be from Siri?
If there is anything that I really dislike about “Abraxas,” it is the romantic subplot. Jesse Ventura just doesn’t seem up for the challenge of an emotional role, and he seems awkward and uncomfortable whenever that is what is required of his character. I thought that the story would actually have been more interesting if his mercy had come from a developing compassion for life in general rather than because of a specific attraction for one woman. It seems that would have made him a better foil for Secundus, and kept things from getting too bogged down emotionally.
Overall, “Abraxas” is definitely a fun good-bad movie worth giving a shot. It quite in an elite class of good-bad, but the film is entertaining enough to hold your attention, while also being plenty awful on a number of levels.
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