Youtube Film Club – Battletruck (1982)

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Hey, do you remember “Mad Max”? Because the people who made this are sure hoping you don’t. Filmed in New Zealand, before it was cool, starring a Warrior and a Cheers regular, time to drink a bad-post-apocalyptic-movie-appropriate amount of booze and settle down for some fun.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T43ZlY4RLc

An info dump radio broadcast at the beginning sadly poses more questions than it answers. Petrol has basically run out, all the world’s governments have gone bankrupt, etc. Out in the wilds of New Zealand, there’s a fellow called Straker who’s in charge of a Battletruck, and no-one can stop him. But a bit later on we’re told the only radio broadcast the tech guy can find is from Mecca, so who is telling us all this stuff? And why? Why is there only one Battletruck? Why pick such a fuel inefficient method of transport? One day I’m going to write a review made up of nothing but “why did they do X?” questions, and no-one will like it.

Straker and his gang of psychopaths find a nice location to set up a camp, next to one of the last remaining petrol supplies. A woman, Corlie, who manages to make it through the entire film without delivering a single line in an interesting way, escapes from them and finds the awesome loner hero Hunter, who takes her to the nearest village, a democratic commune where they’re trying to live ecologically in this post-petrol world. Straker really wants this woman back, and starts killing people and blowing up the village to get to her. Hunter doesn’t want to get involved, then does, and it’s a big ol’ back and forth battle for the rest of the film, with betrayals and heroism and big fights and all that.

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At about four different points in this, I thought “hold on, I’ve seen this before” but I was thinking of a different film each time. Although there’s a couple of scenes which are definitely lifted, it’s not so much plagiarism as a complete lack of originality – the typical cinematic post-apocalyptic future becomes fetishised without any thought of how that sort of world would operate. For one thing, petrol degrades. It’s not super-quick, but chances are a year after you’ve stopped producing new petrol, all your supplies will be useless. Admittedly, this would render the film even more pointless than it already is, so I’ll let that slide. It’s as if you were making a sport film but had never seen the sport, only other sport films.

So, when you’ve stopped thinking about where everyone is and how far in the future we are (this film’s alternate title, “Warlords of the 21st Century”, sounds stupid now, and only partly because there’s only one person you could call a warlord in this damn movie), you can sort of enjoy the film. It looks beautiful – thanks, nature and thanks Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges – and they clearly spent some money on it, as sets get wrecked, and there’s a few big explosions.

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There’s plenty of fun touches too. There’s a cool story behind the opening radio broadcast: one of the actors recorded it, and the sound distortion was authentic – he broadcast it, via ham radio, from LA to New Zealand. The bike that Hunter rides looks incredibly similar to the one the same actor (Michael Beck, better known as the chief Warrior in “The Warriors”) rode in the awesome movie “Megaforce”. Plus, it’s got John Ratzenberger in it, shortly before he got the job on “Cheers”, and Bruno Lawrence, who fans of actually good post-apocalyptic movies will remember from “The Quiet Earth”. Straker is a pretty decent villain, I guess? He is helped by his truck apparently having hypnotic powers – whenever he announces anything on the truck’s PA, all the people they’ve been fighting become immediately docile.

It’s never going to be on anyone’s “Desert Island Movies” list, and while it’s a trifle slow in places, it’s okay. You could certainly do a lot worse! There have been many, many, uglier, worse acted post-apocalyptic movies than this (most of them made in Italy, because those guys were churning them out at a major rate of knots in the 80s).

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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