Director: Charles Band
Stars: Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani
Shortly after watching this movie, I was discussing it with fellow Geek Juice contributor Fred Fritz, who is a fan of the franchise and a big devotee of Tim Thomerson. He told me about a conversation he had with Thomerson about this movie that went something like this:
Fred: Did Charles Band really direct Trancers?
Thomerson: Why do you ask?
Fred: Because I’ve seen his other films.
I will have to agree with Fred here. For all the shit I’ve talked about the filmography of Charles Band, Trancers is a good movie and one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in a long while. It boggles my mind how much the films of Charles band have changed since original and entertaining films Trancers to his more recent garbage like Evil Bong.
Tim Thomerson stars as Jack Deth – a cop in Angel City (formerly Los Angeles) circa 2247. He has just put away master criminal Martin Whistler and is now going around rounding up Trancers – the psychic soldiers under Whistler’s control. Trancers seem like normal people – but at the drop of a hat they can turn into a creepy, mindless monster with one homicidal goal in mind. We see our first Trancer when Jack (Trooper Deth) stops by a coffee shop for a moment. The kindly woman behind the counter suddenly becomes a blank-faced, knife-wielding maniac only bent on killing Deth. Jack has no choice but to shoot this woman and turn her into nothing but a pile of black ash (a process known as “singing”). Because of his extreme efforts Jack is reprimanded by his superior and Jack responds by quitting his job. “There goes a damn fine cop.”
Jack spends his retirement scuba diving and scavaging through the flooded ruins of Los Angeles. I especially like that there is NO explanation as to why the whole of the Los Angeles metropolitan area is now under the ocean – it’s as if the movie acknowledges the fact that we know this city will suffer that fate eventually anyway. Jack is called back into service for one last job because Whistler is apparently alive. The catch is that Whistler is alive in Los Angeles in the year 1985.
I’m going to break for a moment to say a few words about time travel in movies. First of all, time travel is an efficient device for a filmmaker to tell a science-fiction story based around the future without having the financial burden of creating too many sets and props for a futuristic world. Just a few set pieces for the film’s opening and the rest can be filmed relatively cheap in a contemporary setting because of the wonder of time travel! The only problem with this is that once you introduce the concept of time travel into your story you open it up to a furious world of plot holes. The concept of time travel in this film centers around the fact that both Whistler and Jack are able to send their conscious back to 1985 to inhabit the body of one of their ancestors. The reason for this is that Whistler is killing the ancestors of the members of the High Council in 2247. The council members describe this to Jack, explaining how their friend just vanished – his ancestors were murdered so he no longer exists. TEMPORAL PARADOXES DO NOT WORK THIS WAY! If that fellow’s ancestors were murdered he would have never existed at all – therefore his friends would have NO memory of that man existing at any point in time. How can destroying the ancestors of the council members further Whistler’s plot? If those council members never existed there would still be a council because somebody else would have been elected, right? Or maybe some other form of government was set up, When time travel is introduced as a storytelling MacGuffin – a whole Butterfly Effect of possibilities opens up and riddles the story with holes.
Trancers however, avoids these plot holes by simply never acknowledging them or even attempting to take time travel too seriously. This is not a tech based sci-fi film where the technology and questions of temporal paradoxes are analyzed. Trancers is just a fun action film where the concept of time travel is only quickly introduced in order to move into the story the film really wants to tell.
So Jack’s consciousness inhabits the body of his ancestor in 1985, Phil Deth, who has just had a one night stand with a punk girl named Leena (Helen Hunt). Now I had a little bit of trouble accepting Helen Hunt as a girl who works at the Santa booth in the mall and goes to punk rock clubs at night. This isn’t because of how she does in the role – she actually does a great job – it’s because of the roles she’s had since 1985. It’s hard for me to buy the woman from Cast Away and As Good As It Gets as this character. Anyway, Jack takes a little bit to grow into Phillip’s lifestyle and life in 1985 in general. He follows Leena to the mall, requesting her assistance as a guide through L.A. to help track down Whistler and protect the ancestors of the council members. She’s a little reticent – that is until Santa turns into a Trancer and tries to kill everybody.
The story takes a few twists and turns as Jack tries to outsmart Whistler. He fails to protect one of the council members ancestors but manages to find the other at the last minute. Enter retired baseball pitcher Hap Ashby – now a homeless wino living in an abandoned mill. Apparently there comes a time in his life when he sobers up and sires a child thus starting the bloodline that leads to this council member. There are plenty of great action scenes as Leena and Jack race to save the day – even a great motorcycle chase through downtown L.A. that’s pretty original and exciting given the fact that this was a Charles Band directed Full Moon feature.
Stylistically, Trancers has a very film noir look and feel to it. Jack Deth is really the type of character that would feel at home in the works of Dashill Hammet or Mickey Spillane. The way the story unfolds, the look of everything and the way the characters act all have that hard-boiled noir feel to it. Heck, a lot of the last half of the movie revolves around a loft apartment in Chinatown that Jack and Leena are staying at which just exudes the very essence of noir. Trancers is kind of a rip off of Blade Runner as it is a sci-fi film following this hard boiled style. I imagine that it probably was Band’s intention to make this film as a way to get money from the fans of Blade Runner. Trancers, however, offers enough originality and one hell of a fantastic performance from Thomerson that one never really notices any similarities it might bear to Blade Runner.
I’m really not going to spoil the ending as that will basically happen when I review Trancers 2. The movie leaves itself very open for a sequel – and there are plenty of sequels in this franchise. I never really followed the Trancers series when it came out (because I was 5 years old!) or when I started watching anything from Full Moon in the 90s because, for some reason, I kept confusing it with the Cronenberg film Scanners qand its terrible sequels. From what I’ve heard from friends Josh Hadley and Fred Fritz, however, the second and third installments are pretty good and in the spirit of the first film. As for the fourth and fifth entries in the Trancers saga – and that part 6 is actually an improvement over those two mistakes. I am certainly looking forward to watching this series as I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. After this and Dollman I think it is safe to say that I am an admirer of Tim Thomerson’s acting and look forward to seeing more films with him in them.