Guest writer Rhys Thomas reviews a forgotten gem from the 80's, Def-Con 4.
Def-Con 4 is a film I watched as a child and then subsequently forgot about. I hunted it down a few years ago when I found out it was made by Paul Donavan and Salter Street films who went on to make Lexx which is one of my favourite TV shows.
Fans of Lexx will see a few familiar faces as quite a few of the cast of Def-Con 4 went on to make appearances in the show. Maury Chaykin and Jeff Pustil who played Pa Gollean and Fifi respectively are two of the more recognisable Lexx alumni who made early appearances in this movie.
The first quarter of the film is reminiscent of John Carpenter's Dark Star with nice space station scenes with lots of white confined spaces with the odd corridor shot thrown in for good measure, some good shots of the ship above the Earth too.
Unfortunately the tone set on the station is noting like the actual tone of the rest of the film which has more of a typical 80's apocalyptic B-Movie feel to it, imagine Mad Max, Crash and Burn or Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone only seedier.
A quick plot summary; the late Tim Choate who is probably best known for his role as Zathras in Babylon 5 plays Howe, one of 3 astronauts aboard a space station orbiting Earth armed with nuclear weapons ready to counter any nuclear attack. A Nuclear war occurs below them and they are stranded on the station as the planet below is too hazardous to land on. Then one day the station's computer system is overridden and they crash down on Earth, one astronaut is left unconscious from the crash and another is killed shortly after landing leaving Howe to search for help.
He encounters Vinny (played by Maury Chaykin) who is a kilt wearing paranoid red-neck sexual predator and JJ his school girl prisoner. They later encounter a society led by a spoilt prep school boy and his army of punk rockers. Everyone’s goal is to escape to Patagonia on a sail boat where they think the nuclear fallout will not have reached.
Sounds simple and it is simple which is where this film really falls down because they have to stretch this idea out to cover 80 something minutes. More time should have been spent on the space station and less on the Vinny sub-plot and I say this despite him being the best character in the film because from a story perspective it doesn't go anywhere.
The climax of the film feels like it's from a completely different movie, same characters but completely different set and quite a low key personal ending rather than a big bold exciting ending, that’s not to say the ending is bad, it just feels a little jarring compared tot he rest of the film.
I'm sure this review will come across quite negative but it's not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, I've seen it about 4 or 5 times so I can't think that badly of it but there are far more negative things to write about than there are positive.
This is an enjoyable film but far from essential viewing unless your a fan of Lexx and then I'd totally recommend it. The two may not be that similar but they do share certain characteristics and tones from the frivolous view on sexual deviances to the way the bleakness of the storyline escalates throughout.
With a bold start Def-Con 4 threatened to be a cult classic but a formulaic middle meant it never quite made it. The low key ending may well have worked with a better build up but we will never know.
Writing For The Bearded Trio - Rhys Thomas
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