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Plotopsy Podcast #27 – Waterworld



Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Space Truckers”

Space Truckers


Welcome back to the Misan{trope]y Movie Blog! Next up in the Stuart Gordon Spotlight is 1996’s blue-collar sci-fi flick, “Space Truckers,” featuring the one and only Dennis Hopper.

Stuart Gordon both directed and co-wrote “Space Truckers,” sharing writing credit with one Ted Mann. Mann has primarily done television writing and producing on shows such as “NYPD Blue” and “Deadwood,” with his most recent high-profile credit being the 2012 mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys,” which starred Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.

The cast of “Space Truckers” is undoubtedly headlined by the presence of Dennis Hopper, though it has more depth than you might expect. Charles Dance (“Last Action Hero,” “Game of Thrones”) plays one of the primary antagonists, Stephen Dorff (“Blade,” “Public Enemies”) plays a sidekick rookie trucker, and Debi Mazar (“L.A. Law,” “Entourage”) rounds out the main cast as the quasi love interest. In the background you might spot Jason O’Mara in his first theatrical credit, character actor Sean Lawlor, Shane Rimmer of “Dr. Strangelove,” and George Wendt of “Cheers.”

spacetruckers8 spacetruckers5The cinematography on “Space Truckers” was done by Marc Ahlberg, his fifth of an eventual seven collaborations with director Stuart Gordon. His career included an assortment of B-movies going all the way back to the 1950s (“Arena,” “Evil Bong,” “Trancers,” “Ghoulies”)and he worked all the way up until his death in 2012.

The plot of “Space Truckers,” interestingly enough, revolves around the secret development of a killer robot army intended to overthrow the Earth’s government. Dennis Hopper’s character is unknowingly tasked with hauling the robots to Earth, a trek which ultimately (and fortunately) features a number of unexpected obstacles.

spacetruckers6I initially got the idea of doing a Stuart Gordon Spotlight after seeing “Space Truckers” on a list of killer robot movies when researching potential flicks for my Killer Robot Week, which is why I didn’t cover it last week. Speaking of which, however, the robots featured in “Space Truckers” are much sleeker than what I expected. They were designed and constructed by Cannom Creations, who provided work for movies such as “Cocoon,” “Cocoon 2,” “Cyborg,” and “Blade.” Despite a couple of questionable / cheesy effects work, the robots themselves are pretty solid, and are fortunately mostly portrayed with practical effects. Instead of constructing actual robots like “Evolver” or “Chopping Mall,” the robots in “Space Truckers” are much more similar to the xenomorphs from the “Alien” franchise, in the sense that they are suits that feature humans inside to make their motions more realistic.

spacetruckers1 spacetruckers3“Space Truckers” was a massive financial failure, grossing less than $2 million on a reported budget of $25 million. It was likewise loathed by audiences and critics alike: it currently has a 5.1 rating on IMDb, which looks downright impressive next to the Rotten Tomatoes scores of 9% (critic) and 27% (audience). I am a little surprised at how hated this film was: from my perspective, it is very clearly a b-movie comedy, and I found it to be plenty enjoyable for being that. Just judging from the marketing I saw for the film, however, it appears that this was a difficult movie to pitch to audiences. Particularly in the secondary market, there was a clear attempt to make this appear to be a space drama akin to “Armageddon.” Just check out this DVD re-release cover:

spacetruckers11To be generous, that doesn’t exactly convey the tone of “Space Truckers” accurately. It does seem that people are looking back more fondly on this film in retrospect, as the IMDb score might indicate. Personally, I thought this movie worked pretty well: the idea was to make a blue collar sci-fi film, and I think this pulled off that concept. It isn’t exactly laugh-out-loud funny, and a lot of jokes land flat, but it is a notch higher than your typical television sci-fi movie. However, at a budget of $25 million, perhaps the product should have been more impressive than that.

In general, “Space Truckers” manages to nail the atmosphere it set out for. It conveys a self-awareness without winking, acknowledging its outlandish premise through the set design (square pigs, beet cans in space, etc) and dialogue (“Did you hear something back there that sounds like there’s something back there?”). It could have used a bit of comedy script-doctoring to help with the laughs, but it is still a fun watch in my opinion.

spacetruckers12As far as criticisms go, there are certainly problems with “Space Truckers.” I mentioned the lack of effective comedy in the script, but there are a few other things worth mentioning. First off, the general passage of time is very unclear between the prologue and the main story. The film opens with a demonstration exercise of the developed killer robots, in which Charles Dance’s character is nearly killed. When the main story starts, Dance has managed to turn himself into a cyborg and take over / build a gang of space pirates, which I assume would take some time. However, the killer robots are just then being shipped to Earth as the main plot begins, being hauled by Hopper’s character. How long has it been since that training exercise that nearly killed Charles Dance’s character? Have the killing robots just been sitting in storage for years? What sense does that make? It is later revealed that Saggs (played by Shane Rimmer) was able to conquer the Earth without any help from the robots at all…but why would he do that? Any way you cut it, some explanation of the passage of time should have been included.

spacetruckers7The only other major issue I have with the film is also related to the writing: the love triangle between Hopper, Dorff, and Mazar feels very forced, and makes Hopper’s supposed protagonist much less likable. He is essentially forcing Mazar to marry him in exchange for passage to Earth, which is incredibly fucked up, and is not-at-all made up for by his eventual faux-redemption in the conclusion. The age difference and history between Mazar and Hopper is also a little perplexing: it is established that they have known each other for years, and that Hopper has proposed multiple times to her. When he asks about Mazar’s mother, he is shown a picture of her which is “20 years back,” which was from when Mazar was either very young or before she was born. So…how old is Mazar’s character supposed to be, and how old is Hopper? How long has Hopper been pursuing her? It just gets creepier the more you think about it.

Despite those issues, this is a pretty strong recommendation as a good-bad watch. It is almost certainly one of the lesser Stuart Gordon movies, but it is still quite a bit of fun. I wouldn’t go in expecting “Re-Animator,” because this is a comedy at its core, and that should be kept in mind. There aren’t any huge squib explosions here, and you shouldn’t be anticipating them. It is dumb fun, and might justify turning your brain off for a little bit to get maximum enjoyment.