Sunday, 27 March 2011

Black Moon Rising (1986)

Back to the Future; 'Knight Rider'; Christine: In the Eighties, the Supercar! was king...

Black Moon Rising (1986, Howard Cockliss)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Lee Ving, Bubba Smith, William Sanderson

Tagline: From the mind of John Carpenter comes the towering adventure that thunders across Los Angeles and explodes 30 stories above it!’

Trailers: Two Rifles and a Grave, Sudden Hill, Tabernacle Blue

Cherrypick: “You can’t come in here waving a gun around and expect people to put up with that, son – it’s not acceptable behaviour.”

The Eighties were to strand the American motorist and cinemagoer at the same crossroads in their enduring love affair with the automobile. As Michael Keaton’s slice of unchecked Japanoia!, Gung Ho (1986), made all too clear, the unfeasibly opulent dream machines and streamlined behemoths that the American automotive industry kept rolling off the production lines were all of a sudden under threat by practical, affordable, economical - and above all - Oriental imports. It was a growing concern perhaps most succinctly summed up by the Chrysler Corporation’s misguided, tactless and thankfully unsuccessful attempt to procure the rights to Bruce Springsteen’s plaintive lament for the forgotten and forsaken soldiers of the Vietnam war, 'Born in the USA', to accompany a series of tub-thumping, flag-waving ads that hoped to persuade the public to Buy American or else GET USED TO THE TASTE OF SUSHI, YOU BUNCH OF BACKSLIDING TRAITORS!!!
The quad 'Cheapjack ZX Spectrum Game' poster design
Up on the silver screen, Detroit was having other problems. The Sixties had seen the studio system steadily dismantled and technological advances reinvigorating filmmaking. The advent of independent cinema and lighter film equipment meant that cameras were yanked out of the soundstages, thrust onto the streets and given freewheeling license to create some of the most iconic images of the next twenty years - from Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang pinging around San Francisco in Bullitt to Peter Fonda and Denis Hopper’s affected catwalk hippies getting their choppers blown off in Easy Rider to anything whatsoever starring automotive horseplay supremo Burt Reynolds.

By the time that the curiously misshapen VHS egg began to hatch, virtually any stunt you could pull on two, four or - in the case of flipped-out Gene Wilder kiddie-flick Mike Likes Trikes - three wheels had been done six ways from Sunday. Everything you could conceive of had already been jumped over, driven through or raced into the ground. What was there left to do? Where was there left to go? What race was there left to run?

The answer was as plain as a beige Ford Escort: Supercar!
The wipe-clean 'Heat' DVD packaging
In the Eighties, the Supercar! was king. Back to the Future’s natty but mammy-rammingly retrogressive take on it was to strap a nuclear reactor to the back of a De Lorean (ask your Dad) and go back in time so Michael J. Fox could ‘return to the womb’. TV’s 'Knight Rider' took a different temporal tack and posited a future in which the disembodied voice of a priggish, condescending English butler emanated from your dashboard and everyone pranced around in fake leather jackets. And the chilling psychosexual underpinnings of John Carpenter’s Christine dealt with the very real threat that your car might one day attain sentience, become romantically jealous and then mow down your girlfriend.

The automobile had clearly come to be all things to all men. But in the hands of man’s man’s man’s man Tommy Lee Jones, the only thing a car – Super! or otherwise - can, should, or will ever need to do is go real fucking fast, look cool as a rule and be black as inky night. In Black Moon Rising, however, he finds himself behind the wheel of plasticky go-kart that runs on tap water, looks like an outsize doorstop and is festooned with a meandering tracery of maroon piping. Actually, he doesn’t even manage much of that, because the car is under lock and key in Robert Vaughn’s upscale chop-shop for 99 of the films 100 galling minutes and his interest in retrieving it is only ever incidental.
Swedish 'Roxette' DVD reversible
A top-notch cat-burglar for a syndicate specialising in industrial espionage, Tommy Lee has stolen a common or garden-looking cassette tape containing some top-secret files from the vaults of A Faceless Corporation. Faceless they may be, but ineffectual they are not, and Jones soon finds himself chased down – whilst stopping for gas, mind you - by a pack of Uzi-toting henchman. Desperate to ditch the evidence, he goes all old-school and rams the tape up the exhaust pipe of a nearby car. The car in question turns out to be a prototype Supercar! named the Black Moon, which is being transported across country by its crackpot inventors to the annual Lake Havasu Auto Expo, Tractor Pull and Clambake, where its revolutionary new freshwater fuel system will blow the lid off the petrochemical industry. That this will undoubtedly lead to epoch-ending global drinking water shortages suggests that the beatific beatniks who dreamt up this wheeze haven’t really thought things through to an altogether persuasive conclusion, but there we are.
Well, everyone likes like 'Die Hard', don't they!?!
Fortunately for the sake of all mankind, the Black Moon gets jacked-to-order by Linda Terminator Hamilton’s band of swanky car thieves on its way to the show, and to retrieve his tape Tommy Lee has no choice but to team up with the avant-garde eggheads/deluded longhairs who built the thing and break into the thirtieth floor of the locked-down steel and glass skyscraper in which tight-assed new owner Robert Vaughn has, for reasons best known to himself, sequestered it…

Written by John Carpenter, Black Moon moves through the gears with an agreeably laconic ease and is by no means hard to watch, but a Supercar! picture largely based around breaking into a state of the art office building is, at the end of the day, neither use nor ornament. Anyone expecting hollow-eyed thrills and meditative spills on a par with Walter Hill’s 1978 existential ram-raid The Driver is going to be looking askance at a video cover and blurb that promise an adult spin on Herbie Goes Electro, while those among us hoping to get through life without ever witnessing Tommy Lee Jones indulge in scenes of softcore erotica are apt to be similarly disappointed.

Buy American? Well, we didn’t buy this.

'Stargate: Atlantis', anyone..?

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