Trancers (1985)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Trancers 2

Trancers 3: Deth Lives

Trancers 4: Jack of Swords

Trancers 5: Sudden Deth


Lava LampLava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

Helen Hunt walks away from
Tim Thomerson and
towards a better career.
Charles Band had a dream. He wanted to make a big, gritty futurisitic cop movie like Blade Runner. Unfortunately, though the mind was willing, the wallet was weak. So Charles Band, director/producer/perpetrator of such classics as Dungeonmaster (1985) and Crash and Burn (1990), settled for what he could get: Helen Hunt (cheaper than a real actor) and Tim Thomerson (cheaper than most performing chimps) in a Blade Runner rip-off that cuts corners whenever possible.

Trancers tells the story of Jack Deth (Thomerson), who lives in Angel City around the year 2247. Luckily for Band, Angel City consists of a diner, a council chamber from an Elks Lodge, a time travel lab, and a beach with a matte painting in the backround. Also, people dress pretty much the same way they do today, only they all wear clothes two sizes too big.

Deth has 'singed' his arch enemy Whistler, and has been amusing himself by going after Whistler's psychically controlled minions, called trancers. He has just retired, when he hears from the council that Whistler is still alive, and has traveled back in time. Whistler is attempting to destroy the benevolent Council by killing their ancestors in 1985.

Deth agrees to go back in time to 'singe' Whistler again, just to be sure. In this movie time travel is achieved through the use of a drug that transfers your memory into the body of one of your ancestors, which is on the one hand a clever reference to La Jetee, and on the other hand is much cheaper for Charles Band to film than an expensive time machine prop.

Deth travels back into the body of an ancestor of his that has just finished a one-night stand with Leena, played by a pre-op Helen Hunt. The rest of the movie takes place in Los Angeles, mainly so Band doesn't have to spend a whole lot of money transporting his crew around. Naturally, Jack and Leena end up teaming up to stop Whistler, who is now in the body of a police inpector. Whistler has already started turning people into trancers, so they have their work cut out for them.

Here's where the Christmas theme of our little drama begins to surface. Naturally, it's almost Christmas in the past/present (depending on how you look at it), and Leena has a job working as an elf at the mall. When Santa turns out to be a trancer, hell-bent on Jack's destruction, our favorite line is uttered: "Security -- we've got trouble at the North Pole." There's trouble in this 76-minute long video as well (cutting down on those pesky reproduction costs), with a sad punk rock version of "Jingle Bells" and several other lame Christmas jokes rounding out the holiday theme.

Hunt, whose teeth and acting have both improved since Trancers, probably had the most fun while making this film. After all, she got to drive the T-bird, she got to wear the skimpy little elf dress, and she got to drive her motor-scooter through a window. Okay, it only looked like she drove the scooter through the window, but at least she got to take credit for it, asking the window owner to open the door on the other side of the apartment and then wishing him a Merry Christmas.

Our favorite Thomerson/Hunt dialogue exchange:

Deth (watching an old cop show): What kind of a name is Peter Gunn?

Lena: What kind of a name is Jack Deth?

While we're at it, what kind of name is Helen Hunt?

Thomerson, on the other hand, was given the painful assignment of playing Jack Deth, hair greased back, trench coat donned, K-mart plastic ray gun at the ready. He has to talk incessantly about "squids," those people too weak to resist Whistler's mind control powers, and also must endure such blows to his ego as being forced to ride around on a Honda scooter instead of a real vehicle. ("Yessir, Mr Band, renting scooters for the film will only cost half as much as those Harleys the writers wanted.")

In the end, however, Trancers is surprisingly watchable. We first realized that we actually liked this film when we began making excuses for the plot holes.

Scott: If they can send a gun and a watch back in time, why do they have to send Jack Deth back into the body of an ancestor?

Chris: Maybe physical time travel doesn't work on living beings.

Scott: You would think they would explain that.

Chris: Maybe they did and we missed it while you were complaining about Blade Runner parallels.

Scott: Maybe.

This actually continued for some time: every time something silly happened, we went out of our way to explain it for them. So we must have liked this film. We must have. And really, about the only thing we couldn't explain was the boom mike hanging down from top left during the scooter chase. ("No sir, Mr Band, we don't need to reshoot that take. The audience will never notice! Besides, why buy more film?")

Trancers is either a mediocre science fiction film or the pilot to a fairly good sci-fi TV series. Given that Trancers 5 is available and Trancers 6 is probably in the works, the phenomenon has lasted longer than most sci-fi TV series anyway. The plot, while not watertight, is easy to follow and has a good number of action sequences. Helen Hunt is certainly easy on the eyes, and Thomerson is at the best we've seen him so far. We weren't bored, and it wasn't painful. So, in the Christmas spirit, we award Trancers three lava lamps.

Merry Christmas, Jack Deth. Merry Christmas, Charles Band. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Review date: 12/20/1996

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