Tom Jolliffe on how Dolph Lundgren saved his Christmas…
Christmas is almost upon us. Prepare yourself for constant recurring questions about whether you’ve started your shopping. Furthermore as I speak from a film site, there will also be thousands of Crimbo themed lists fired out across the web. We’ll doubtless be covering our share on Flickering Myth too and I’m now offering my, hopefully unique story about a Christmas film (in fairly loose terms) and why it saved my Christmas.
So before I get into why this film is important to me I will give a little rundown on the film itself. Those who are familiar will know instantly from the headline description, but this is a cult film and a small cult at that. Dark Angel (also titled I Come In Peace in America). This 1990 actioner was a big hit on video for Dolph Lundgren. If you look back on his career as an action specialist, it remains one of his most enjoyable and easily accessible works. It’s not high on subtlety or emotional resonance. It didn’t get any Oscar nominations, it may surprise you to learn. What it did do is take its cavalcade of influences and meld them into this light and breezy action sci-fi film that features masses of exploding cars, constant one liners, a mismatched buddy cop premise, great action, a Jan Hammer (Miami Vice) score and all set at Christmas time (although that is never made a plot point but inferred be decoration and a character tearfully watching It’s A Wonderful Life).
In the loosest terms possible I would identify it as a Christmas film. It’s not particularly festive, but for me, from a key point in life, it now feels like Christmas to me. Everyone has Christmas favourites for one reason or another. It could be a Bond film (they’re always on TV over a festive season) or an Indiana Jones (likewise) or an actual Christmas themed film like Home Alone (which of course is always on without fail around the season).
I’m going to get deeper now, than perhaps an objective film writer should but here’s an admission; 2008 was not a good year for me. It wasn’t the only bad year I’ve had but this one leant heavily on the sucksville signpost. I wasn’t in a happy place generally. I don’t want to overstate my level of depression as it would be a disservice to people who have suffered from the affliction far worse than myself. I’ve never stared over the precipice and found myself with that choice to end all choices. Still, a bad year was made worse in July of 2008 when my Nan died. She was the family centre point. The anchor which settled the ship. She was the captain. She fed me many a bacon sandwich and I in turn opened many a stubborn jar-lid. We had certain things in common which I felt gave us a connection and I suppose to her I was one of the easier grandchildren to deal with (and one most willing to do as I was told). She’d come see me at work (in a supermarket at the time) sometimes, stand in the doorway and shout out “WHERE’S MY GRANDSON!” Even if I was out back in the tea room I could hear and that meant reporting for duty. I’m making her sound a bit like R Lee Ermey’s drill Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, but that’s not at all what she was like.
Anyway, to say she was huge loss to everyone in the family would be an understatement. Furthermore she, like most Nans, was a huge part of Christmas, but perhaps a little bit more so because her birthday also fell on Christmas Day. It happened that a run of years prior to 2008, I wasn’t in a great place and certainly not particularly festive so I opted to “attend” to celebrate her birthday rather than the other part of that day. So that first Christmas without her was crushing, for everyone. But on top of everything else I found myself just wanting to be alone on that day. I couldn’t force festiveness and faking it just wouldn’t help anyone. So I did my own thing and like other points in life I found film to be a great escape.
Having grown up on a heady staple of action films and being particularly partial to a Lundgren special I was leaning toward one of my old favourites to see me through the afternoon. It was either going to be Masters of the Universe or Dark Angel. The former was a childhood favourite of mine and mesmerising in my younger years as a kid who idolised He-Man in cartoon and live-action form. One of the best presents I had when I was younger was Masters of the Universe on VHS (which my Nan bought me). I wore the tape out to within an inch of its life. However that year I felt I’d go for Dark Angel. I realise it’s a contradiction. I was essentially rebelling against Christmas by watching a film set at Christmas. Skipping out and sticking too fingers up at the notion of being festive and cheery even if you feel miserable as sin. However a little positive part of me (probably a little Nan voice in the back of my mind) still wanted to acknowledge the day, and so Dark Angel it was.
By this point in life I’d seen the film countless times. It goes down smooth like a fine nip of brandy and wears like a comfortable old pair of slippers. The entire film, with relentless action, a sharply comic script, and with a pretty solid performance by the underrated Lundgren, all builds up to that climactic moment where the evil drug dealing Alien, who constantly utters the one line, “I come in peace” says it for the last time. It’s at this point Dolph Lundgren can point his gun and finally retort… “And you go in pieces, asshole!”
By the films close a little part of the cloud had lifted. Just enough to see some light come through. The following year I was present and correct, paper hat on, pulling crackers and eating too much Turkey. There was just something oddly cathartic about doing my own thing and allowing a reliable old favourite to entertain me and temporarily pull me away from those morose feelings.
Let us know which films represent Christmas to you, particularly if they’re out of the ordinary like Dark Angel.