Well over a decade before DreamWorks played COWBOYS AND ALIENS with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, Charles Band played… well… cowboys and aliens with Meg Foster, Isaac Hayes, Julie Newmar and George Takei (and some lesser known leads) in the 1994 Full Moon production OBLIVION, back on DVD from Shout! Factory.
Reptilian outlaw Red-Eye (Andrew Divoff, XTRO 3) breezes into the town of Oblivion and guns down the Marshall (Mike Genovese, EYES OF FIRE) and incapacitates his android deputy Stell Barr (Foster, THE WIND), declaring the town up for grabs. Together with whip-wielding Lash (Musetta Vander, WILD WILD WEST) and coonskin-wearing degenerate Bork (Irwin Keyes, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES), Red-Eye takes over the town. The town’s undertaker Gaunt (Carel Struycken, THE ADDAMS FAMILY) tracks down the marshall’s prospector son Zack Stone (Richard Joseph Paul, SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, the awful 2000 remake) to return home to attend the funeral. With his Native American Buteo (Jimmie F. Skaggs, GHOST TOWN) – who he had saved from becoming “Scorp” food – he returns, but is reluctant to take the reins despite his hatred of Red-Eye. Cute shopkeeper Mattie (Jackie Swanson, LETHAL WEAPON) and Stell Barr try to convince Zack to stand up for his father’s memory, but Zack is an empath who feels the pain of others and has vowed not to kill anyone ever again. When Buteo kills one of Red-Eye’s men – the one that murdered his family and staked him out in the desert to become Scorp food – and is tortured by Red-Eye and Lash, Zack puts on his father’s badge and takes on the bad guys. He shoots off one of Red-Eye’s arms (which he regenerates, since he’s part lizard) but Red-Eye, Lash, and Bork nab Mattie on the way out of town. Zack, Gaunt, Stell Barr, and Buteo head into the badlands (“A nice place to visit… but you won’t live here”) to rescue Mattie and finish off Red-Eye and his gang.
Although the Shout! Factory DVD release seems timed to cash in on the DreamWorks film COWBOYS AND ALIENS (although the original OBLIVION poster actually did say “it’s cowboys and aliens”), I’m not quite sure what OBLIVION the film was meant to rip off. Isaac Hayes (SHAFT) shows up briefly in an unimpressive cameo. It seems to be just a simple western revenge story with alien villains, android deputies, some stop motion, as well as Takei, Newmar and Hayes reminding you of their better roles (Takei stumbles around drunk asking a bottle of Jim Beam to beam him up). The concept of an empathic, pacifist hero is interesting but it is only used to delay Zack’s intervention. In this futuristic wild west, gold is abundant but worthless. A mineral called Draconium – also cyborg Stell Barr’s kryptonite – is heavily prized. Zack is looking for enough for a one-way trip off the planet, but the script never suggests that Red-Eye’s large stash of the mineral might tempt Zack into action. The film ends with a “To Be Continued” and Irvin and Full Moon did indeed follow up the film with OBLIVION II: BACKLASH (1996) – with Paul once again in the lead and much of the same supporting cast, as well as Maxwell Caulfield (GREASE 2) – although they forget any sort of “it’s not over yet” final shot that suggests that there is anything to continue. The humor also largely falls flat, with perhaps the exception of the memorial service conducted alongside a bingo tournament. The result is some painful viewing despite Vander’s leather and whips get-up and some cute David Allen stop-motion creatures, but it picks up in the second half (there is also some bloodletting in the second half that – I suppose – justifies the PG-13 rating).
Paul makes for a rather bland hero and Swanson (who took the topless lethal plunge in the opening of LETHAL WEAPON) a rather whiny love interest. Divoff’s prosthetic lizard make-up doesn’t hinder his delivery, but his dialogue is awful (although no more so than any of the other characters). He also appears without prosthetic make-up as a manic prospector (Divoff would once again be buried under heaps of prosthetic make-up as the Djinn of KNB effects man Robert Kurtzman’s Wes Craven-produced WISHMASTER). Bork seems annoyingly dubbed, while Vander is all leather and posing. Struycken, also the hulking servant to Jack Nicholson’s devil in THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and THE PREY’s camper killer, actually has dialogue here, although his thick accent does not really help. Foster is good, although her movements are underlined by distracting robotic sounds and her voice is occasionally electronically-processed. Adolfo Bartoli’s cinematography is rather flat-looking, as was most of his work for Full Moon. Milo’s production design looks cheap – most of the film was shot on location in Romania – as do the costumes, but David Allen’s stop motion monsters are always entertaining and Pino Donaggio’s score – performed by The Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra with Donaggio’s usual conductor Natale Massara and his synthesizer collaborator Paolo Steffan – doesn’t attempt to ape spaghetti westerns, nor does it really distinguish itself from his finer work for Band at Empire on David Schmoeller’s CATACOMBS and CRAWLSPACE and Band as a director on Full Moon’s MERIDIAN.
Made during Full Moon’s lucrative partnership with Paramount Pictures in the early 1990s, OBLIVION was released on VHS and laserdisc by Paramount. As with their double feature release of the Full Moon titles ROBOT WARS and CRASH AND BURN, Shout had only the existing fullscreen video master of OBLIVION to work with. Shot with home video in mind, the compositions are unimpeded, but the image is interlaced and softish (to date, PUPPET MASTER seems to be the only Full Moon title to have received a new digital transfer – in high definition no less – for the Full Moon’s own Blu-ray edition). Compositions look tight when zoomed into 16:9 – 1.66:1 would probably be a better framing choice – and the image looks even softer. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo encoding of the Ultra-Stereo audio likely represents the average mix faithfully (some directional sound effects and Donaggio’s score are best served by the mix). Full Moon had previously released the film on DVD first by Artisan in 2002 and then again in 2010 by Band’s Wizard Entertainment DVD sub-label using the same old master. Neither of these editions appear to have included a VideoZone segment (Artisan was barebones, while the Wizard disc featured only trailers for other Full Moon titles). (Eric Cotenas)
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