Space Truckers, 1996.
Directed by Stuart Gordon.
Starring Dennis Hopper, Tim Loane, Ian Beattie, Charles Dance, Shane Rimmer, Sandra Dickinson, George Wendt, Stephen Dorff, and Debi Mazar.
A space trucker takes on a job to deliver a cargo to Earth, unaware that it is a consignment of killer robots.
Even back in the dark days of 1996 you would have thought that low-budget B-movie schlock like Space Truckers had been consigned to the VHS bargain bins of the previous decade. Yes, sci-fi movies that have the production values of Button Moon are made ironically these days, looking deliberately cheap and naff and usually broadcast on Syfy, but Stuart Gordon’s Space Truckers is the real deal, made with passion and heart and utilising its modest budget – the highest Gordon had worked with, it’s worth noting – to make the best use it could of the then-burgeoning CGI technology.
With a title like Space Truckers it is fairly obvious what the movie is going to be about (in the special features Stuart Gordon tells an interesting anecdote about the title and how one of the actors in the movie had an option to change it) and Gordon’s initial idea to have blue-collar workers going about their daily business but in space hits you straight away as John Canyon (Dennis Hopper – Easy Rider) is introduced, delivering a freight of square pigs (literally – they are pigs that are square) to slimy corporate boss Keller (George Wendt – Cheers) and going about his working life with the anti-authority attitude of a guy who just wants to do his job and get paid for it with as little hassle as possible. Keller refuses to give Canyon another job after an altercation and so gives the next consignment to young trucker Mike Pucci (Stephen Dorff – Blade), which kick-starts a fight that leads to Canyon, Mike and Canyon’s reluctant fiancée Cindy (Debi Mazar – The Insider) going on the run and taking a job to deliver what Canyon believes are sex dolls to Earth. However, things don’t go to plan and soon the trio run into the evil Macanudo (Charles Dance – Alien 3) who insists on helping himself to the mysterious cargo, and that’s when things get really crazy.
On first glance Space Truckers may seem to be something of a joke, a bit of a parody on more ‘serious’ sci-fi epics, and it sort of is but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and you soon realise that what you are watching has been made with no other intention than to entertain, and on that level it does what it sets out to do. The most alarming thing about Space Truckers, though, is the talent involved in it both behind and in front of the camera that elevates the material beyond its sub-Flash Gordon stylings; obviously, Stuart Gordon is well known for getting a lot out of small budgets and here he puts his usual energetic spin on everything but when your cast includes Dennis Hopper playing against his ‘80s/’90s villain type and being a good guy, Charles Dance hamming things up as a mutant cyborg, George Wendt just being George Wendt and Stephen Dorff being likeable for once then you have to go a long way to screw things up and, at the very least, not make it a fun ride. Okay, the visual effects look pretty bad – the filmmakers used a practical prop for Canyon’s truck against CGI backgrounds, and it has not aged well – but the costume designs, make-up and other practical effects – courtesy of Screaming Mad George (Predator/Big Trouble in Little China) – all look great and tonally perfect for what Gordon was trying to do. The performances are all on the nose, as you would expect with such a talented cast, and all bring that sense of manic energy that most of Stuart Gordon’s movie thrive on thanks to his theatre background and tactic of letting his actors rehearse for several weeks before shooting, although, interestingly, Dennis Hopper apparently refused to rehearse and a lot of what we see in the movie are his first takes.
Despite being produced with obvious passion, thanks to its budgetary limitations Space Truckers is unlikely to appeal to a wide audience looking for a realistic-looking sci-fi epic with a message, the cheap feel being charming for B-movie fans but not for those expecting a blockbuster. At 96 minutes it does run a little longer than the material really requires and it does start to feel a bit padded before Stuart Gordon brings it back round for a final shootout but Space Truckers does, for the most part, carry itself on the strength and talent of those making it rather than the quality of the script and is a boisterous romp full of camp and colour with every actor seemingly knowing what type of film they were making. Extras come in the form of a brand new interview with Stuart Gordon, where the director reveals quite a lot about the genesis of the project, and new interviews with art director Simon Lamont and composer Colin Towns, all giving fond memories of making the film. Overall, Space Truckers isn’t the film you need but it is one that you probably will want, especially during those late nights when you don’t need to think and only loud explosions, killer cyborgs and Dennis Hopper will suffice.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★