Space Kid (1999)

Donald Farmer has long been a favourite here at the ISCFC, as we’ve been covering his movies pretty much since we started. There were a few, though, that seem to have avoided our piercing critical gaze, either because we couldn’t find them or because they’d never been officially released on home video. Well, a future review – “The Strike” – will be coming because I figured out I’d been searching for it under the wrong name (it had a DVD release), and Farmer himself paid for a very limited DVD release of “Space Kid” last year.

 

So now, dear reader, you get to learn about yet another oddball entry into the Farmer-verse. And, I think there’s actually a Farmer-verse! This movie gave me the key, and I think numerous movies exist in the same world. A central part of “Space Kid” is the tabloid TV show “American Expose”, and the same show appears in “The Strike”. There’s also a very similar show in “Vampire Cop”, and Dana Plato plays an investigative reporter in “Compelling Evidence”. Can you imagine that erotic thriller and “Vampire Cop” existing in the same world? I might try writing a script and see if Mr Farmer would like to direct it.

 

But that’s for another day. We’re here to talk about “Space Kid”, which starts in a quarry – er, an alien planet – as Queen Nebula (listed in the credits as “Space Mom”), pursued by rebels, leads her son to safety, while being pursued by agents. At one point, she appears to use her own child as a human shield, but I have to assume they were aiming for something else with that scene. She gets shot while scrambling up a hill, but the kid (who will come to be known as Charlie) manages to beam himself aboard an intergalactic space-ship, ending up on Earth. I feel that bit was glossed over, but it’s also entirely possible I was distracted.

So, he ends up on Earth and then it becomes the sort of thing you may have seen a few times before – Charlie befriends a lonely kid roughly his own age, helps her with bullies, an evil babysitter, doing the dishes, and other problems, but she’s quite honest about the fact he’s an alien. Some people believe her, some don’t, and then there’s scientists and government agents teaming up to track him down (including two Men In Black, played by long-time Farmer regulars Andre Buckner and Maria Ortiz). It’s got a little bit of a lot of kids’ science-fiction TV and movies of the time, but is no worse for it.

 

It’s quite short (55 minutes, with substantial closing credits) but that’s not always a bad thing when it comes to the lower budget end. There’s some decent acting on display – Ortiz is excellent in her brief role, Melanie the TV reporter pitches her performance very well, and Donald Farmer is a decent actor as the producer of “American Expose”.

 

If you’re not already a fan of Mr Farmer, then I’d suggest not starting here, but if you’re already in deep, like me, then come on in and experience another string to his bow – kids’ movies, to go along with civil war, vampire, zombie, cannibal, and demon movies.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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GoBots: Battle Of The Rock Lords (1986) – or, Why I hate childrens’ movies

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This is going to be different from our average reviews, because I’m pretty sure no-one in the history of this or any other universe has gone “hey, I wonder if that Gobots movie is any good?” While I’ll do my traditional extremely light research, and may even mention the movie from time to time, this will be a bit of a rant.

 

I really hate cynical kids’ movies. Normally, I’d just never watch them, but thanks to my friends and our Awesome Movie Monday get-together, I’ve seen both “Ewoks” movies and now this (I presume at some point we’re going to get an animated Transformers epic or something like that forced on us by one sadistic picker).  So’s you don’t think I’m just being an angry adult hipster, I’ll back up what I’m saying.

 

A huge volume of entertainment directed at kids, especially any show with easily identifiable, non-human characters in it, or a new game the characters play, is advertising. Not entertainment with an eye directed towards making money, but straight-up advertising. An example I always use is “Yu-Gi-Oh”, where the characters in the show play the card game you can buy in the shops, and certain episodes have them trying to find new cards, available to you (the parent of the screaming, sugar-addled child) for a nice high price. This is also the entire reason for existence of every “Transformers” show, “G.I. Joe”, “Max Steel”, “Bratz”, “My Little Pony”, (just to show it wasn’t a gender thing), ”Bionicle”, “He-Man”, “Pokemon” and “Street Sharks”, among literally hundreds of others.

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“Surely not,” I can already hear some of you say. “Show X was pretty good!” That might be the case, and at least a few of them bothered to make an effort to make the fictional universes the toys existed in fun (Transformers and Bionicle seem to be most fondly remembered) but their primary concern was always “how do we rip kids off for the absolute maximum possible amount?” Here’s a bit of dialogue from one of those shows, reproduced verbatim:

 

HERO 1: We’ll never defeat McBastard!

 

HERO 2: I’ve just built this super-cool new weapon or vehicle, yes we will!

 

(New thing wins the day, plastic version pops up in shops later that week)

 

This all-encompassing cynicism hurts my soul. The ignor-age of anything that might be entertaining or fun for its own sake is most obviously shown in the quality of the product being offered, and for that the Gobots are a very good example. The animation is beyond crude, with the robots looking spindly and ugly, with the transformations (because this is nothing if not a cheap ugly cash in on the transforming robot boom) being frankly pathetic. In fact, on numerous occasions they just sort of fudge the transformations because it’s difficult to animate, so they do part of it off srcreen. I’d be impressed if it wasn’t all so hollow.

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As a small aside, the actual plastic toys themselves were apparently awful too. My friend Hado is a huge Transformers fan, which means I know more about them than I’d care to, and one thing I do know is that they’re pretty well put together. Gobots, on the other hand, were a joke, with the normal robot form just looking like a squashed or broken version of the thing they were supposed to be transforming into, and a tiny number of moving parts. Seriously, if you want a laugh, there are plenty of articles where brave geek sites have put together lists of the ugliest Gobots, and…well, I feel bad for kids. Did any kids actually like this show? Parents just plonked them in front of it because it sort of looked like it was entertaining, then bought them the toys because that’s what you’re told to do. So the kids get a show that sucks, beyond-simplistic morality tales, and a bunch of crappy looking lumps of plastic.

 

This movie manages to plumb the depths even further. “Rock Lords”. Robots (or whatever the hell they’re supposed to be) that transform into rocks? You know what’s not entertaining in the slightest? Rocks. Especially rocks that are crappy and plastic and break if you throw them at anything. If you remember the Tom Hanks classic “Big”, the scene where he’s a toy executive who rails against the idea of robots that transform into buildings feel like it was designed specifically as a comment on Gobots.

Imagine how excited you'd be to get one of these!

Imagine how excited you’d be to get one of these!

There’s a plot but who cares. Good guy robots, bad guy robots, and these stupid rock lords which I hope didn’t fly off the shelves that Christmas. Someone spent a few quid on the voices, but it feels like they took every person who’d ever been in a genre movie, put their names in a hat and drew them at random. Margot Kidder, Telly Savalas and Roddy MacDowall all join the series regulars (including voice legend Frank Welker, who’s lent his voice to every animated series ever). All names designed for the parents of the kids who’d be forced to attend the cinema, because who cares what kids think?

 

Mercifully, it was done in 75 minutes. That is the only positive I could think of, and I’ve tried hard to think of one. You don’t need to avoid it – it’s almost impossible to get hold of – just pity me for wasting my time on it.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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