Our long-dormant Joe Lara season continues! For those of you who aren’t regular readers, Joe Lara played Tarzan on TV and film in the 90s before retiring from acting to concentrate on country music. Throughout the 90s, he also made a large number of surprisingly decent sci-fi and action movies, and we’ve reviewed some of them here. Check out “Steel Frontier”, “Hologram Man”, “Final Equinox”, and “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior”, both our brilliant and insightful reviews and the films themselves.
A beautiful tropical country, never referred to by name, is a holiday idyll for many Westerners. We’re treated to some magnificent 1990s bikini modelling before bombs start dropping and military vehicles start rolling up (you know how that part of the world was for coups), but luckily a handful of Americans are able to get on an old plane, piloted by Gary Graham – most famous for the “Alien Nation” TV series. They have to ditch in the middle of the ocean but, after a liferaft scene, wash up on the shore of a mysterious island. There’s a weird poisonous octopus-thing, humans mutating after a bite from the weird poisonous octopus-thing, fruit that turns a non-fruit colour then explodes, and a half-buried US Army jeep which leads them to a gigantic abandoned scientific research station.
In film and TV history, there are weird outliers, films that appear to be influences on later, more famous works, even though their obscurity may well mean the creators of the bigger films or shows never even heard of them; or, if you’re feeling less kind, giving the bigger films plausible deniability. The ur-example is 1976’s “Massacre At Central High” being mined for plot ideas by the 1988 classic “Heathers”; but there’s a decent case to be made for “Danger Island” having some very close similarities to “Lost”. Mysterious unnamed island, odd science experiments, conspiracies, “Project Naomi” (Dharma Institute, basically), an unusual flashback structure, people who seem to have some prior history with the island being drawn there…when one of the characters made a reference to them all possibly being dead already and it being the afterlife, I realised the chance of it being accidental was pretty small.
An even stronger case for “Lost” borrowing from it is the fact it was designed as a pilot for a TV series that was never picked up. Credit to the editors for making it feel like a real film, but near the end you start noticing stuff like none of the main characters have died yet, no-one bothers fixing the radio until way too long into the movie, and there’s a heck of a lot of potential storylines which haven’t really been resolved. We get clips from what I assume would have been material from the TV show itself (perhaps they shot a few episodes on spec?) over the end credits too. It’s certainly safe to say that if this show had made it to series, we’d never have had all that nonsense with the Others, the hatch, “we have to go back” and so on.
The film is a who’s-who of B-level 90s TV stars. As well as Gary Graham, we have of course Joe Lara (who’s the Sawyer-equivalent here), Kathy Ireland (the supermodel turned “actress”), Richard Beymer (best known as Mr. Horne from “Twin Peaks”) and, among a surprisingly smart and resourceful group of kids, a very young Nikki Cox.
Nikki Cox could have and should have been a star on an Aniston or Heigl level. She had great comic timing, and was almost unfairly talented as well as being strikingly beautiful. She had long runs on “Unhappily Ever After” and Norm Macdonald’s vanity sitcom, before being given a sitcom of her own. Sadly, this wasn’t the starmaker it could have been (not down to her), and even though she worked regularly after that, she never got the shot she deserved. Throughout the 2000s, she had cosmetic surgery, and a 2008 lip job was very badly botched which completely ruined her career, and just leaves you sad at the Hollywood machine and the pressures on young women. Watch “Norm” to see her in her prime.
This is actually a pretty strong film, and for a TV movie pilot, it’s excellent. Beautiful locations, (for the budget) decent effects, strong cast, offputting and effective music, and plenty of stuff is going on at all times. Our boy Joe Lara shows a hitherto-unexplored knack for comedy, and while you’re wondering about stuff like “how did the generator at that base keep going for 16 years, and who’s been dusting?” you can regret that “Lost” made it and, with its labyrinthine plots and terrible ending, ruined TV drama for years; whereas this, which would have made a great (if fairly lightweight) TV show, didn’t.
Rating: thumbs up