Nov 7, 2016
Megaforce (1982): a recap (part 1 of 6)
Ah, the ’80s. It was a magical time, a wondrous time. Kate Bush had her greatest creative and commercial successes with The Dreaming and Hounds of Love. Ozzy Osbourne was coherent. We had Donkey Kong and Pac-Man in our arcades… Oh gawd, the arcades! Where first person shooters and fighting games were exceptions rather than the rule, where you could be a frog trying to cross traffic or a knight on a flying ostrich dueling it out over lakes of lava. On television, all of our heroes drove epic rides, from Michael Knight’s KITT 1000, to the A-Team’s black van, to Magnum PI’s Ferrari 308 GTS. Comics were truly awesome, with DC and Marvel both producing some of their greatest work; The X-Men vied with the New Teen Titans in terms of quality, while the independent comics market had never been stronger in terms of variety and content. And sure, you can talk all you want about how great a musical Hamilton is. But we had Cats.
It was a magical time. If you were white. And male. And straight. And voted Republican.
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Okay, yeah, we had the onset of AIDS and there was that whole Cold War thing, but for a teenager who thought he was immortal, invulnerable, and infertile (i.e. almost every teenager not listening to the Cure), it was a totally tubular time to be alive. And yet this wondrous decade almost peaked as early as 1982. There was the aforementioned Kate Bush album, Star Trek II, Blade Runner, Poltergeist, Tron, Conan the Barbarian, The Thing, The Secret of NIMH, Beastmaster, First Blood, E.T., and The Dark Crystal were all released in theaters, and Eddie Murphy and Glenn Close both made their film debuts. Kimberly McArthur was Playmate of the Month in January.
That year, something else was happening. There was this ad appearing on the backs of comics everywhere:
Me and my friends had no clue what “Megaforce” was, but it looked all kinds of awesome. We got dune buggies, motorcycles with missiles, attack helicopters and… whatever that thing in the lower left corner is. And a guy wearing a headband. Only the coolest guys wore headbands back then.
I didn’t see Megaforce in theaters because the income from my paper route wasn’t good enough to merit casual theater going, especially when I was also buying comic books and Dungeons & Dragons game material (hey, those dice were expensive! And you had to have a lot in your bag or you looked like some sort of rookie). But HBO played the hell out of it some months later (seriously, sometimes it felt like the network could only get its hands on five movies at a time) and we finally got to see this Oscar-worthy masterpiece.
And it did not disappoint. For teenagers, Megaforce is a feast for the senses, full of cool stunts and things that go boom. Produced by Hong Kong production company Golden Harvest, who was at the time trying to break into the American market with films like this one, the immortal Death Hunt (of which yours truly did a video recap of), and High Road to China, with mixed results. The movie was headed up by stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham, who was a guy who loved car crashes and explosions. He was kind of Michael Bay before Michael Bay. If you want to read a good article about his movies, you can find part one here. Personally, it’s one of my favorite reads here at the Agony Booth.
So with this being the 35th anniversary of the movie, I thought it would be a great time to revisit Megaforce and see if it’s every bit as bodacious as I remember. Strap yourselves in, because it’s time for…
The movie opens up with a block of red textm and a voiceover pretty much reading it to us:
This seemed to be a thing in the ’80s, where the movie would deliver exposition up front, full of information we were going to get during the course of the film anyway. We saw it with Blade Runner and Highlander. The Highlander one I didn’t mind so much, because it was read by Sean Connery. Connery could quote Katy Perry songs and make them sound profound.
The opening credits are obviously cheap; we’ve got this negative effect going on…
…and you know what? I don’t hate it. It previews the action without giving away the plot, sort of a teaser while we listen to oh-so-’80s music. If there was one downside to the movies of the time, it was that the synthesizer meant producers could pay a composer fifty bucks to churn out a cheap, cheesy score in their basement over the course of a weekend. You want a good example of a synth soundtrack crippling an otherwise good movie? Go watch the original Fright Night some time.
So the credits tell us the movie was…
…a process that was developed by a guy named John Eppolito, who was a stage magician and hypnotist. I wonder if that means I was hypnotized into thinking this was a good movie when I was 15. Now it says the parachute and flying sequences are courtesy of the “Zoptic special effects system”. That sounds all kinds of awesome; I can’t wait to see how cool the parachute and flying sequences look! The movie is based on a story dreamed up by Robert S. Kachler, whose only credits include coming up with the story for this movie, being a “technical consultant” on the Hal Needham film Stroker Ace, and a “production consultant” on Body Slam… which was direct by Needham, too. I get the feeling he’s Needham’s drinking buddy and ole’ Hal was throwing the guy work. Kachler doesn’t even get a writing credit, not that they needed him, since they already had four guys penning the script already. That’s never a good sign.
Okay, enough prelims, let’s get to the movie! The film opens with what look like a group of blue collar workers being forced to listen to a man with an indefinable accent as he spouts off classic Marxist rhetoric. Ah, the good old days, when the commies were your go-to villains. You couldn’t go wrong with commies; everybody hated them. Well, except for the guy wearing the Che Guevera shirt on campus who never thought about the irony of giving $10 to a capitalist to wear the face of a Communist demagogue.
The speaker goes on and on about how they’re “liberating” these poor bastards, while a man sitting in the turret of a tank looks on. It’s the immortal Henry Silva, and he looks pretty much how these people must feel.
The announcer gets to a point of the speech when he says, “Furthermore, comma,” and it’s an honestly laugh out loud moment for me. The man goes on in this vein for a little longer, and Silva’s had enough. He hops down off his tank and shuts the guy up and for ten seconds becomes the hero of the movie. Then he orders his tanks to fire and they blow the hell out of what looks like a factory or power plant and he’s the bad guy again. But it’s okay, it’s only a model.
Cut to daylight and the tanks are on the move, and they’re suddenly ambushed by another group of tanks. Five minutes in and we’ve got a good old fashioned tank battle in the desert. I can’t wait to see how awesome this is going to pan out. Man, a tank battle so soon? This movie is going to be balls to the wall acti—Oh, Silva cuts and runs, and instead of chasing after him, the other tanks stop and one of the guys pops his hatch and asks if they can chase after them. Scene cuts to…
Hey, it’s Edward Mulhare, of Knight Rider fame. Looks like 1982 was a good year for him. He tells the guy to go after the tanks, but a woman catches his eye and shakes her head disapprovingly.
If you’re having a hard time recognizing the actress, maybe you need to see what she looks like without her hair.
Yes, that’s Persis Khambatta of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and I have to say she looks stunning with hair. Oh, who am I kidding? She looked stunning bald, too. What an amazingly shaped dome she had! She tells Mulhare he can’t cross the border, and she has a stern look on her face that kind of reminds me of my mom when I used bad language. Muhare is pretty upset that he can’t make things go boom. I know how you feel, Mulhare.
The scene cuts to a Continental Airlines 707 landing on a runway, and Mulhare and his disapproving boss exiting the airport. The pair are smiling as they head to their car, and trust me, as a man who’s been on flights halfway around the world and has had to endure the stress of hopping from one jet to another, the only time anybody is smiling like that is when they see their hotel bed. Their car drives through the desert until it reaches an empty patch, and the chauffeur proceeds to unload the luggage. Mulhare asks the man, “Where are we?” And the chauffeur replies, “Where they told me to bring you.” I know it’s early, but I hope we see the chauffeur again; he just became my favorite character in this movie. The chauffeur drives away and I just realized Mulhare didn’t even tip the guy for humping around all those suitcases. What a dick.
Mulhare bitches and complains about the three-hour drive, and the chauffeur, and the heat, while Persis has a seat and is probably wishing she brought a hat. Or a hijab, frankly. I am kind of wondering what her character’s nationality is at this point, judging by the way she’s able to boss men around and how she’s dressed.
I’m guessing she’s from one of those fictional Middle Eastern countries Hollywood liked to invent for episodes of Columbo or something.
Mulhare continues to complain, all while not doing the gentlemanly thing and offering his Rex Harrison hat to her. I know I would. Then again, my mom raised me right. Hey, he’s got a shitload of luggage and he’s a military general of some sort—couldn’t he build a lean-to out of clothes or something? I was making forts out of couch cushions by the time I was four; I’d think the General here would know some basic survival skills. I thought I saw an umbrella in their luggage, so why isn’t she using it? Why isn’t he? Maybe I’m making such a big deal out of this because I burn easily; just looking at this scene is almost making my skin peel. Persis suggests he just sit and chill (figuratively, anyway) and he reluctantly agrees. A snake sneaks up on the pair, probably attracted to all that hot air coming out of the General’s mouth, but before it can sneak up and put us out of our misery by biting the man, somebody shoots it.
Ah-hah! I was right; there is an umbrella! Validation is such a good feeling. A man with a rifle moseys on up to the pair, and hey, it’s Michael Beck, AKA Swan from The Warriors!
Fun fact; Hal Needham owned a NASCAR race team. Three guesses which company endorsed it.
The rifleman tips his hat to the pretty lady, already proving he’s got better manners than the General, and introduces himself as “Dallas”. The cowboy hat, the lever action rifle, the Southern twang and shit-kicker t-shirt; he’s like what I imagine people from other countries think what most Americans look like. Then again, Hal Needham is from Tennessee; Dallas here might be inspired by one of his old next-door neighbors. The General demands to know the man’s rank, and Dallas says, “Ain’t nobody got a rank in Megaforce,” and there are just guys like him and their commander, who they call “Hunter”. Dallas clumsily exposits that Persis is “Major Zara” and he says she’s the kind of officer that “makes bivouackin’ in the woods seem downright desirable.” Smooth as the tobacco ‘tween your cheek and gums, ain’t ya, Dallas? Zara finds Dallas amusing, you know, like a rodeo clown, but the man picks up her luggage like a gentleman and leads the pair to an SUV.
The General wonders why they couldn’t have been met “in more comfortable circumstances”, and Dallas responds by having “Zach” give them a “four dash seven”, which turns out to be a hologram of a girl on a beach:
Ah, holograms. That was the go-to, misunderstood technology of the late ’70s and early ’80s that fascinated producers the same way the internet fascinated them in the ’90s.
Dallas then flirts with the girl in the hologram and then does the Porky Pig “th-th-th-that’s all, folks” as it shuts off. Because yeah, he’s pretty much a living cartoon. Another fun fact: Beck was nominated for a worst actor Golden Raspberry award for Xanadu, but lost out to Neil Diamond for his “performance” in The Jazz Singer (Michael Caine was nominated twice that year for Dressed to Kill and The Island. Talk about an overachiever!). Not satisfied, Beck worked really hard, and two years later won a Razzie of his own for worst supporting actor in Megaforce. You gotta admire his tenacity.
Okay… was that SUV always just sitting there, hiding behind the hologram, and Dallas and Zach were making the pair literally sweat it out waiting for him? Were Dallas and Zach sitting there, giggling like a pair of grade-schoolers, sipping cold beers while they watched the General and Zara sweat it out? Because the other alternative is the General and Zara are stone deaf and didn’t hear this eight cylinder beast coming.
In the SUV, the pair meet Zach Taylor, the brains of the outfit…
…who’s listening to a Walkman. The General naturally assumes he’s listening to Gladys Knight and the Pips, but Zach is one cultured brother and digs his Vivaldi. I love his smile, like he’s used to dealing with racist dicks all day and hides his rage behind a set of perfect white teeth. The General thinks about the names he’s heard so far (Hunter, Dallas, Zachary Taylor) and catches on to them being call signs; nice to see the man isn’t a complete idiot. The SUV heads out and the foursome are on their way, hopefully to an action scene.
Coming up next: Explosions, and buns in spandex. Huh, now that I think of it, that describes half the music videos shown on MTV back then.