Trancers Blu-ray Review
Directed by Charles Band
Written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo
1984, Region A, 76 minutes, Rated PG-13
Blu-ray released on July 22nd, 2014
Tim Thomerson as Jack Deth
Helen Hunt as Leena
Michael Stefani as Whistler
Art LaFleur as McNulty
Telma Hopkins as Engineer Raines
Richard Herd as Chairman Spencer
Anne Seymour as Chairman Ashe
Jack Deth is a twenty-third century cop determined to take out the last of a criminal syndicate known as Trancers. He's already gotten their leader, Whistler, but not before losing someone from his personal life. Deth continues his pursuit even after his boss, McNulty, orders him to drop it and focus on current assignments. Our hero is stubborn enough that he would rather give up his badge than abandon his mission. Not everything is as it seems, however, as Whistler has escaped justice and managed to travel back in time to begin a new reign of terror.
Deth is given a crash course in time travel and learns that he must inhabit the consciousness of an ancestor in order to move around in the twentieth century. Upon arrival, he is paired with Leena, a gorgeous California girl whom he recruits as his navigator, as Los Angeles is nothing but a sunken relic in his day. Whistler hopes to assassinate anyone whose bloodline will cross him in the future and this includes respected council leaders and Deth himself. Adding further difficulty to the task, in the twentieth century, Deth is a journalist and Whistler is a police detective.
It had been about twenty years since I last watched this movie and I was surprised to find that Trancers is still a lot of fun. Screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo successfully tell a grand story in a small way, keeping the focus on characters, a talent they would later use when writing The Rocketeer. They create a futuristic environment and quickly set up the broad strokes of how things work in a way that gives viewers insight into Jack Deth's dilemma when he returns to contemporary California. The character of Leena acts as an extension of the audience, asking relevant questions and offering genuine reactions to the strange adventure that unfolds. Her behavior is key to keeping the story grounded and she realistically advances Deth's quest without obviously spoon-feeding exposition.
Director Charles Band (The Creeps) is a master at putting every dime of a low-budget production onto the screen. The film looks bigger than it is and his attention to detail shows a creativity that Band exercises to this day. A look at his filmography suggests that he is making the movies as much for himself as he is for an audience. Band appears so enthusiastic in every interview I have ever seen that he comes off as a big kid having honest fun. In Trancers he gets to play with the sci-fi/ noir mash-up that was enjoyable when first released in 1984 but now benefits from the retro '80s spin that time has added to the material.
There are a lot of familiar faces in this movie, starting with Helen Hunt (Twister) as Leena, the helpful sidekick/ love interest. Hunt had already been working in the industry for a while when she made this feature and really is a strong addition to the cast. I was surprised to see that she returned to play the character in two sequels, and further shocked to learn that three more sequels followed her exit. Carrying the lead through the entire franchise is Tim Thomerson (Sasquatch Mountain) as Jack Deth. This craggy-faced man really delivers when given the right material and his willingness to play the role completely straight adds to the performance. Genre fans will recognize Art LaFleur (The Blob) as McNulty, whose gruff demeanor is always welcome. There is a long running joke in which he is stuck using the contemporary body of a little girl (the only ancestor he could find for time travel) that is pretty fun, if you overlook one of her first lines about sneaking past her parents to get out of the house.
Charles Band has made a career of goofy movies that involve puppets and sci-fi adventures and while there are plenty of groaners in his collection, he remains a strong presence in the low-budget industry. An entire generation of genre fans have grown up on his works and swear by his lengthy filmography. Thirty years ago, he made his debut with Trancers and both the film and the filmmaker have stood the test of time. If you have never seen this film or anything from his Full Moon label, you might want to take a look because there are quite a few gems with his name on them.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it is safe to say Trancers has never looked better and the transfer will likely please longtime fans. There is some print damage and “cigarette burns” still mark reel changes, but overall the image is quite strong. Colors and black levels are at respectable levels and remain consistent and there is even a decent amount of small-object detail.
Despite offering both a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as a 2.0 presentation, the tracks remain fairly identical as the surround mix is fairly anemic. The majority of dialogue and music cues remain front and center throughout. Either track is acceptable, but neither is particularly engaging. Dialogue is a bit muted at times and, sadly, no subtitles are provided.
Charles Band and Tim Thomerson are clearly old friends having a fun time watching this film again, as their audio commentary is a relaxed yet enthusiastic conversation filled with anecdotes worth hearing.
Next up is a 14-minute retrospective documentary that covers the general history of the film and how it was made with on-camera interviews with various members of the cast and crew. Lots of ground is covered here and the participants enjoy talking about how they pulled it all together.
Trancers: City of Lost Angels (25 minutes) is a short film that bridges the gap between the first two films in the franchise and features the majority of returning cast members.
A very brief (2 minutes) collection of promotional interviews with cast members Tim Thomerson, Megan Ward and Helen Hunt is also included and likely appeared on an earlier DVD release.
A gallery of production stills offers another glimpse at the making of the film and how it was marketed.
Rounding things out is a collection of trailers for various Full Moon features but, oddly, not Trancers.