Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983) -**½
At bottom, 3-D was never anything but a flashy marketing gimmick. But even so, during the first flowering of the technology in the 1950’s, it got used to enhance the drawing power of a fair number of movies that were honestly quite good to begin with. The same cannot be said of the early-80’s 3-D revival, however. In the 80’s, there was no House of Wax, no It Came from Outer Space, no Creature from the Black Lagoon. Instead, we got Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. We got that terrible triumvirate of 3-D part 3’s— Jaws 3-D, Amityville 3-D, and Friday the 13th, Part 3. We also got a few 3-D sci-fi fuck-ups courtesy of the indefatigable Charles Band. From what I gather on the basis of hints dropped in the movie itself, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn was originally intended to be the start of a long-lived and glorious franchise that would wed the modern Road Warrior knock-off to the science-fantasy adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s, but that isn’t quite how things turned out. In those days before direct-to-video, a certain minimal level of quality was still something of a prerequisite for franchise generation, and not even the snake-oil salesmen in Universal’s marketing department could convince most audiences that Metalstorm was anything other than a colossal dud.
I have to give Charles Band credit for one thing, though. Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn foregoes the customary opening crawl or expository narration, and gets right down to business. Are we on Earth, thousands of years into a post-apocalyptic future? Or is our setting closer in spirit to “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away?” We never learn, and it doesn’t matter— and kudos to Band for recognizing that, and for trusting the audience to follow what we’ll call the story, for lack of a better term, without the Cliff Notes to help us out. Out in the desert somewhere, a man dressed in a remarkable bargain approximation of Mel Gibson’s Main Force Patrol interceptor uniform (The Dungeonmaster’s Jeffrey Bryon) intently drives what looks like the subcompact version of the Landmasters from Damnation Alley down a series of winding trails. Every few minutes, he stops the vehicle, whips open the driver’s-side widow, and gazes pensively at the horizon, affording us the chance to meditate upon just what a bad-ass he is. Eventually, though, a one-eyed mutant spies him from a hilltop, and decides that enough is enough. The mutant jumps on what amounts to a flying Harley Davidson, and takes off in pursuit of Pensive Max, strafing the Landmaster Mini in a leisurely manner once he gets within blaster range. (Cue 3-D raygun effects.) The lame and listless battle— which sadly sets the tone for virtually every such scene in the film— ends when the mutant’s Air Harley catches a pistol shot in the power plant, and crashes into a convenient canyon wall. (Bronson Canyon? Why yes, I do believe so.) This, by the way, is one of only two times when a crashing vehicle will have any defensible excuse for exploding into a humongous ball of flame. (Cue 3-D flying debris.) When Pensive Max goes to examine his pursuer’s body, he discovers a little red crystal, inscribed with some kind of emblem.
Elsewhere, a grizzled old prospector (The Space Children’s Larry Pennell, who can also be seen playing the Lone Ranger geezer in Bubba Ho-Tep) and his daughter, Dhyana (Kelly Preston, from Christine and Battlefield Earth), are digging for “crystals” deep in what everyone has assured them is a totally played-out mine. This is a risky proposition for two reasons. First, prospecting for mineral wealth in an extinct mine doesn’t exactly sound like the ideal business venture to me, but beyond that, the mine is in nomad country, and only “the treaty” keeps the nomads from murdering any strangers who turn up on their land. Sure enough, no sooner has Dhyana unearthed a huge piece of what looks like perfectly ordinary quartz than the mine is surrounded by one-eyed mutants in stereotypically post-apocalyptic custom automobiles. The leader of the cyclopes (R. David Smith) doesn’t quite belong. Whereas his followers are all guys with samurai topknots and wrinkly latex prostheses obscuring their right eyes, the boss himself is something more along the lines of a zombie cyborg. While Dhyana hides in the mine, Cyberstiff strides up to her dad, extends his telescoping, mechanical left arm (cue 3-D telescoping claw), and sprays him with some sort of acidic, green slime (cue 3-D spurting effect). This has the startling and counterintuitive effect of inducing a hallucination in which dad finds himself in a cave with a man dressed in a rather ridiculous foam-latex bodysuit (The Road Warrior’s Michael Preston). Hallucination Guy produces a little red crystal like the one the dead cyclops was carrying, which glows brightly when he touches it to dad’s neck. When the hallucination ends a moment later, Dhyana’s father drops to the ground, quite dead.
Pensive Max arrives at the mine just a bit too late to catch Cyberstiff and the cyclopes on their way home, bringing with him a blessed cargo of exposition. His real name is Dogen, and he’s a ranger, finder class. About the same thing as a Main Force Patrol interceptor, I’m guessing. The cyclopes are those nomads Dhyana and her father were talking about; Hallucination Guy is Jared-Syn, a Hasan ibn-Sabah type who has been stirring up the nomads in an effort to incite holy war against their civilized, two-eyed neighbors; and Cyberstiff is Jared-Syn’s son, Baal. Dogen is here to take the wind out of the nomad rebellion’s sails by arresting or killing Jared-Syn. What he doesn’t know is the significance of the red crystals, but Dhyana suggests that the merchant from whom she used to buy her provisions and mining equipment might be able to help on that score. And since she doesn’t exactly have anything better to do now that her dad is dead and the countryside is crawling with homicidal nomads, she figures she may as well join Dogen on his quest to find and neutralize Jared-Syn.
The merchant is named Zax (Marty Zagon), and luckily for Dogen, he’s got a machine in his shop (evidently purchased from the Doozers of “Fraggle Rock”— and I bet it set him back a whole lot of radishes, too) that is capable of analyzing any form of crystalline matter to determine its nature and properties. Turns out the rocks Jared-Syn hands out to his minions are storage crystals, made for the storage of human souls specifically. The emblem carved on them is the seal of the Lost City of Set, long thought to be mythical— although Zax knows of one man who claims to have found it. The man in question is an ex-ranger named Rhodes (Tim Thomerson, of Trancers and Near Dark), who now spends all his time hanging out at the bar tent in the nearest outpost of civilization, making an admirable effort to drink himself under a table so low that its top stands a mere ten inches off the establishment’s dirt floor. Dogen and Dhyana set off to have a talk with this Rhodes, but Dhyana never makes it to the rendezvous. En route to town, they are attacked by Baal and his goons, and a glancing hit from the cyborg’s mescaline sprayer (love that 3-D spurting, yes we do) induces just enough of a head-trip for Jared-Syn to invade Dogen’s dreams without having any real effect on him. Frustrated with his inability to snag the ranger’s soul, Jared-Syn settles for teleporting Dhyana to his cavern headquarters (don’t ask me how) and dispatching some sort of lumbering electricity demon to finish off Dogen. I could think of better ways to carry out that task, myself. Sure, the monster looks plenty mean, is totally impervious to blaster fire, and probably has the power to cause instant death with the slightest touch. But it’s even slower on its feet than the She-Creature, and if you pour water on it, it shorts out and dies. Dogen pours water on it.
The next day, Dogen meets up with Rhodes, and talks him into leading the way to the Lost City of Set. If you thought there might be some point in the two of them making the trek, then you obviously don’t know Charles Band very well. After fighting their way past numerous nomad raiding parties (cue 3-D car crashes), trespassing on a cyclopean burial ground, and nearly being eaten by hand-puppet sandworms (3-D puppet-lunging— aargh!), they come upon the big, tacky stone altar that is apparently all that remains of the city (it looks like a slightly less pathetic version of the title artifact from Band’s later Totem), from which Dogen pilfers the legendary Magic Mask of Set— the legendary Magic Mask of Set which Has Nothing on Earth to Do with the Rest of the Movie. Then they run afoul of a cyclops chieftain named Hurok (Richard Moll, from Evilspeak and The Sword and the Sorcerer) who means at first to kill both interlopers until Dogen beats him in a one-on-one pit fight (3-D jab! 3-D uppercut!), after which Hurok and the ranger become fast friends. Whatever. A couple more clashes with Baal ensue, leaving both Rhodes and the cyborg badly wounded (severed 3-D metal arm sailing right the fuck at you!), Dogen tries on the Magic Mask and has a mystical vision which has nothing to do with anything, and the ranger eventually wanders blithely into Jared-Syn’s camp, where he rescues Dhyana by tricking the Big Bad into saying something calculated to piss off Hurok and the other nomads. Finally, Dogen and Jared-Syn chase each other around the desert on flying Harleys (more 3-D raygun effects!), and the evil mystic escapes by opening up a wormhole to the Dimension of Cheap Special Effects Shooting Directly Into the Camera. Which, as if such a thing needed saying, is not quite the same thing as The Destruction of Jared-Syn.
Well, I guess it’s marginally less crappy than Parasite, anyway. Of course, it doesn’t have Demi Moore in an embarrassing early role, so six of one, half a dozen of the other. What Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn does have is a picture-perfect encapsulation of why most of the movies that tried to ride The Road Warrior’s coattails turned out laughably awful even when they included such hypothetically exciting improvements as mutants, monsters, cyborgs, and 3-D. What we have here is style over substance run amok, except that even the style is frankly pretty shitty. It isn’t just that Dogen fails to effect the promised destruction of the main evildoer— in point of fact, he fails to accomplish much of anything at all. Hurok ends the nomad revolt by proclaiming Jared-Syn a “false chief.” Most of Dogen’s victories over Baal and his flunkies come through the cyclopes’ astonishing proclivity for spontaneously driving either over the nearest cliff or into boulders, escarpments, and each other. (But then, I suppose that’s what you get when you put high-performance automobiles into the hands of guys with no depth perception…) The discovery of the Lost City of Set and its fabled Magic Mask are completely pointless detours from the main conflict. The attempt to do an Indians-vs.-pioneers thing with the nomads is scuppered by the near-total invisibility of the society which Dogen and his fellow rangers represent. The movie also pointedly ignores the question of how a two-eyes like Jared-Syn managed to set himself up as the cyclopes’ favorite prophet, the exploration of which would have been the one way to give Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn a point of meaningful distinction from its competitors. To all appearances, the operative theory here boils down to, “Story? Characters? Fuck that— who cares? It’s in 3-D, man!” It would take about two years’ worth of movies on that model to convince Hollywood that it wasn’t a successful one.