THE DAWNING OF AN EMPIRE – METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN (1983)
Many films tried to capture the balance of world(s) building, mythology and special effects that turned Star Wars (and its sequels) into such massive cultural institutions, but most featured shoddy effects (The Shape of Things to Come), were hopelessly derivative (Star Crash) or were totally insane (Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, aka Turkish Star Wars). Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (mostly) succeeds because even in its mulligan stew of creatures, magic and explosions it never seems embarrassed by its own goofiness. Instead, it leans into its mix of fantasy and sci-fi cliches, with a dash of Max Max for good measure, and is gleefully confusing, strange and very entertaining. Of course it all fizzles out well before the end credits hit, but until then there’s plenty of big, goofy comic-book fun.. in 3D!
Jeffrey Byron plays Dogen, a “space ranger” searching for the magical intergalactic criminal Jared-Syn (The Road Warrior‘s Michael Preston) on the desert planet Lemuria. Scouring the wasteland, he comes upon Dhyana (Kelly Preston), who has just seen her father murdered by the half-cyborg Baal, who also happens to be Jared-Syn’s son. The two join forces, but Dhyana is soon spirited away by Jared-Syn magic, leaving Dogen to seek out alcoholic ex-soldier Rhodes (Tim Thomerson) to help him find his way to Jared-Syn’s encampment. Along the way, the pair almost sink in quicksand, are attacked by underground worm-creatures, and Dogen has to battle nomad leader Hurok (Richard Moll) for both of their lives. After Rhodes is injured, Dogen confronts Jared-Syn in a “Skybike” battle with the fate of Lemuria on the line.
Skybikes. Space rangers. Giant murderous crystals. Yeah, there’s all sorts of crazy crap peppering Metalstorm, and that throw-everything-at-the-wall attitude is what makes it a cut above a lot of the competing space fantasy littering the cinemas in the early 80s. For instance, Jared-Syn’s son Baal could have easily been a generically menacing Darth Vader riff, but here he has a retractable robot arm that shoots acid and he speaks through a processed monotone. He also gets that arm entirely ripped off by Dogen in one of those moments that might have helped Metalstorm get a PG-13 rating if it was released a year later. Baal, Rhodes, and Hurok are so much more interesting than our lead characters and their boring relationship, and thankfully the movie seems to realize that and separates our main pair for most of the movie.
The special effects are a mixed bag, with many of the physical effects still looking quite slick, but anything involving flying skybikes appearing closer to Superman IV than Return of the Jedi. But, this is a Charles Band movie, so there’s still plenty of explosions and weird creatures to look at. My personal favorite involves Dogen and Rhodes scouring a desert for an ancient Cyclopian mask. Things appear to be going hunky dory, until the desert sand starts to give way. Not only that, but the quicksand is full of mutant worms intent on eating our two heroes. The pair escape this danger only to fall into the hands of Hurok and his men, which of course leads to a one-on-one sai fight between Dogen and Hurok. These brief, imaginative diversions are infinitely more interesting than the central conflict between Dogen and (bland, hammy) Jared-Syn.
Which is why the film only slows down once it has to focus on its straightforward plot. The final confrontation is underwhelming, not just because of the dodgy skybike sequence, but also because we’re given a thoroughly anticlimactic ending. Despite the title, there is no destruction of Jared-Syn. Instead, he uses his magic to open a strange portal and vanishes into nothingness. While this obviously anticipates a sequel, the less than stellar box-office reception for Metalstorm meant that it was never to materialize. As is, where the film should have been peaking, it completely falls off a cliff.
But perhaps it was all for the best. If Metalstorm was a massive financial success, perhaps Band would have gained a level of cache that would mean that creating his own distribution company wouldn’t be necessary. Instead, this would be his final film released before the creation of Empire International Pictures. Over the next five years he would be responsible for dozens of science fiction, horror, and fantasy films being released into our hot, greedy hands. And he started with a film that was in the can even before 1982’s Parasite – the Robert Ginty-starring The Alchemist.