Review for Trancers
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to believe that I didn’t appreciate video rentals at the time. This was back in the mid-eighties, before the big chain stores arrived, and the only VHS rental came from newsagents which had diversified, and added a videotape library to one corner of their stores. As a pre-teen with a few pounds of pocket money, I had to be frugal, balancing VHS movies with Mastertronic Speccy games and so forth. But, like everyone else, I wanted to see the latest blockbuster movies. They’d be the tapes that demanded a £3 rental fee, which wasn’t cheap at the time, not that I’d ever see them, as everyone wanted to see the latest blockbusters, and they’d be long gone before I ever walked into the shop. No, I had to deal with the year old movies, or the b-movies left behind. On the bright side, they only wanted £1 rental for those, and I’d watch two or three movies over a weekend instead of just one. I hated it at the time, but in retrospect, that’s the way that I discovered so many cult gems and off-beat classics. It’s how I discovered Trancers; one of half a dozen low-budget Terminator clones that popped up after 1984, but one that has a charm all its own.
From VHS to Blu-ray is quite a leap, but I quite belatedly discovered that 88 Films had brought it to the UK in high definition and for quite a while I kicked myself at having missed the opportunity to buy it before it went out of print. But quite recently, stock has started showing up in retail again. Hopefully it’s a new print run, but it could just be a lucky find in the depths of the 88 Films warehouse that has released a few more copies into the wild.
In the 23rd Century, Jack Deth is a hard-boiled cop who earns his living hunting Trancers. A criminal madman named Whistler used advanced powers of hypnosis on the weak-minded to turn them into Trancers, not dead, not alive, but violent and lethal. Deth took care of Whistler, and has been left cleaning up his mess, but one particular job, and a lack of appreciation from his superiors causes him to quit.
His retirement doesn’t last long before he’s summoned by the ruling council. Whistler’s alive, and he has escaped back into the past with a horrific new scheme. He aims to take over the world by eliminating the ruling council, easy to do when all he has to do is find and murder their ancestors. If Jack Deth is to stop Whistler, he’ll have to travel back in time too, inserting his consciousness into the body of his playboy journalist ancestor. The problem is that Whistler’s using the body of his ancestor, a man named Weisling, and back in 1985, Weisling was a cop.
Trancers gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and you have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 English. There are no subtitles though. The blurb on the case makes mention of an HD restoration of the original camera negative, but it’s one of those restorations that has you wondering just how bad it was before. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are good, but the colours are somewhat muted. The print has notable flicker and wobble, and it does suffer from the odd fleck of dirt and the occasional scratch. Given the inconsistent levels of grain, it looks as if the transfer was created with no post-processing whatsoever. Normally this would be desirable, but the film could have used a little restoration. The 5.1 audio has been created for this release, but it isn’t great, comparatively muddy and indistinct, without doing too much with the soundstage to differentiate it from the original stereo track. The stereo is crisp and defined much better, although whether that’s a good thing given the synth score is a matter of personal preference. You can’t downplay the cheesy brilliance of the dialogue though.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray with a reversible sleeve with the original art on the inside. The disc boots to a static menu, and the film comes with a nice assortment of extras (the most recent of them dating from 2013).
The audio commentary from Tim Thomerson and director Charles Band is well worth listening to.
The Making Of lasts 14:29 is a retrospective featurette with interviews with the star, the director and the writers.
The Stills Gallery lasts 1:39 as a slideshow and offers an interesting look at Trancers comics as well.
There are 2:01 of Rare Interviews.
Of most interest on this disc is the City of Lost Angels, Trancers 1.5 mini-feature. It was part of the Pulse Pounders anthology film, which comprised 3 half-hour segments that served as mini-sequels to three Charles Band features. Previously considered lost, City of Lost Angels was rediscovered in the form of a workprint on VHS. The version on this disc may be in 1080p form with DD 2.0 audio, but it’s still of tape quality, although the film has been restored and completed with effects and music. Set a few years after the first film, it sees Jack Deth threatened by an assassin that has escaped from a prison in the future, and who has travelled back to the 1980s. The film cast reprise their roles for this mini feature, and it’s as good as the main feature on this disc.
There is a Premiere Documentary which lasts 7:16 to accompany this bonus film.
The Pulse Pounders Promo lasts 1:22.
The Dungeon Master Preview lasts 1:08.
There are trailers for Trancers, City of Lost Angels, Trancers II, III, IV and V. Yes, there are four feature length sequels to Trancers, and none of these trailers inspire me to seek them out.
Finally there is an 88 Trailer Reel which offers 21:55 of trailers for a lot of horror movies from 88 Films. I now want to see Tim Thomerson in Dollman!
Trancers offers a kind of b-movie fun that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere other than schlocky eighties sci-fi action. The kind of concepts that these films play with now get an infinite CGI budget thrown at them, and delivered with po-faced seriousness in modern summer blockbusters. Back in the eighties, Gemini Man would have been made with Jean Claude Van Damme in both roles, but one guy would have had old-age make up and a grey haired wig; it would have cost maybe $10 million, and it would have been a kebab and lager Saturday night riot. The idea of time travel by inhabiting the body of a blood ancestor is pretty cool (Trancers predates Quantum Leap by five years), and throw in the butterfly effect, erasing the future by killing the past and you have the kind of film that Christopher Nolan would be insisting that audiences ponder for three plus hours. Trancers manages to tell its story in an hour and a quarter, and it’s great fun into the bargain.
The film begins in future noir territory; almost a pastiche of Blade Runner, with Jack Deth the kind of no-nonsense cop you’d expect to be played by Humphrey Bogart. He takes few prisoners, and he certainly takes no bull from city hall. The vision of this future world doesn’t quite live up to the production values, but in a couple of locations the production design does work well to deliver a neon eighties vision of the future. It doesn’t last long though, as we’re soon in the actual eighties, with Jack Deth having a dual layered culture clash, a man with a nineteen-forties' attitude but from the 23rd Century, trying to fit into the late 20th.
Early on he meets Leena, his ancestor’s one night stand, and she becomes his guide to this world, initially reluctantly. His mission is to find and protect the ancestors of the leaders of the future, while at the same time finding and dealing with Whistler. Whistler has the upper hand in his role as a policeman, and he quickly has the force hunting Deth and Leena. At the same time he’s been turning out Trancers in the modern day, so there’s an army of zombiefied people for Jack to deal with as well, beginning with a memorable scene with a psychopathic shop floor Santa. Did I mention that Trancers is another unlikely Christmas movie that you can happily watch alongside Die Hard and Lethal Weapon?
The effects are actually a little better than what you might expect from a mid-eighties B-movie, especially the future drowned LA. But the film constantly wears its low budget on its sleeve in other respects. Still, it’s action packed, quite understandably fast paced, and it has just the right level of tongue-in-cheek wry humour to entertain. The actors clearly had a lot of fun making it; Helen Hunt would sign up again for the first two sequels and the mini despite getting famous in the interim, and the film delights with its fun dialogue and memorable characters.
In terms of quality, this Blu-ray disc just presents the film as-is, with no significant polish applied, and you might have hoped for something a little cleaner, but when it comes to the extra features, especially the bonus mini-film, it really is a nice package. Nostalgia sure ain’t for squids!