Entry #15: Trancers (1984)

For a low budget film, and the first film in a series of six, Trancers is a good old-fashioned cop show!I’ll admit right now that I have a soft spot for Trancers. I think I saw it on cable shortly after it came out. It was during my high school years so I had a lot of time to watch cheesy horror and sci-fi films, and this one was right up my alley. Directed by Charles Band, whose Empire International spawned Demonic Toys, Dollman and Doctor Mordrid, and eventually turned into the B-movie empire called Full Moon Entertainment, Trancers is a neo-noir, hard boiled, sci-fi, time travel adventure that probably owes as much to The Maltese Falcon as it does to Blade Runner.

The protagonist, Jack Deth, is an unlikeable future cop hunting down trancers, which are psychically possessed zombie-like individuals. As with Deckard in Blade Runner, Deth retires these monsters and thinks he has killed their leader, Whistler. Unfortunately, Whistler has “gone down the line,” which is future-slang for time travel to the past. Jack, urged by the council of three to hunt down Whistler before he kills their ancestors, thus changing the present/future, makes his own trip back to 1985.

The method of time travel for this film is relatively unique, with characters only being able to travel back in time into the body of an ancestor. Luckily, all the characters in the future Los Angeles have ancestors in 1985 Los Angeles. Whew! This makes for some fun when Jack’s tough-ass boss McNulty, has to come visit Jack in the body of a pre-pubescent girl (but I’m still not sure why he couldn’t leap into one of her parents…)

Once in 1985, the fish-out-of-water scenario plays out. And since Jack is from 2247 he is unsure what the people in this time even eat for lunch. Luckily he is aided by a young Helen Hunt. This is years before she would star on Mad About You, and go on to win an Academy Award for As Good As It Gets. She of course, dislike Jack, but then grows to love him. Her character even returns for the 2nd installment of this six-part series.

As I mentioned up top, this is a low-budget film, in a low-budget series. But for some reason, this film really seems to strive to be more than that. I think both Tim Thomerson (Deth) and Helen Hunt do a good job acting-wise. Thomerson was playing against character in this role, as he had come from a comedy background. But he really nails the tough, craggy, detective with his line delivery and body language, while not hamming it up. The film also doesn’t fall into some of the usual traps of low-budget films. It doesn’t try to show you every piece of scenery that was created or over-explain the technology. I think those are both hallmarks of a bad, low-budget film, since the filmmakers are trying to squeeze every drop from their budget onto the screen. And while it does use lots of long takes, and limited editing, they aren’t too distracting. I think the actors really help with that aspect.

This film is certainly no Terminator 2, but it’s story, production, and creativity does try to elevate the film, for what it lacks in budget, time or star-power.

NOTE: This entry is the first part of a six-part Time Travel grouping of films or their sequels that are time travel related. The next five entries will be a part 2, a part III and so on, until we get to a sixth film. Think of this as a mini-marathon thru several franchises, showing the diversity of time travel in genre film!

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