In the post-apocalyptic ravaged 23rd century, Jack Deth, a brusque and hardened trooper, hunts down Trancers, a group of easily influenced and entranced people turned zombified slaves by a power-hungry hypnotizer named Whistler. With Whistler killed, Deth lives out his raged-filled days vindictively bounty hunting Trancers still beckoning to Whistler’s lingering snake charming after one of Trancers kills his wife, but when Whistler appears to have cheated death and sent his conscious mind to the year 1985 into a Police detective relative to assassinate ancestors of the Trooper council and gain control of what’s left of the future world, Deth gives chase, sending his consciousness into a journalist predecessor with a fast car, a relaxed lifestyle, and in the arms of a beautiful young woman who Deth must recruit and rely on if he wants to survive the past.
Charles Band’s Homeric Sci-fi opus “Trancers” is time-travelling neo-noir at its boldest. With a limited budget and loads of talent, the 1984 future bounty hunter with a grudge actioner, the first of a franchise that spawned five sequels stretching over two decades, was penned by then Band hired screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, whose careers have run the variety spectrum of treatments from the Empire days of WWII soldiers battling aliens in a UFO in “Zone Troopers” in the mid-80s to finding themselves on the same credits screen as Spike Lee in the filmmaker’s post-war Vietnam drama ‘Da 5 Bloods.” “Trancers” has nothing to do with war but has everything to do with a crumbling society, a hardnosed cop, and acrid acolytes with purple chapped lips and a yellowish green tinted complexion. Also known as “Future Cop” in other parts of the world, the Los Angeles-shot “Trancers” is produced by the “Puppet Master” Charles Band and Debra Dion under Band’s Empire Pictures.
One of the aspects I adore most of the early Full Moon productions, before Charles Band even dubbed his Empire Pictures as Full Moon, was the star power behind the pictures. Tim Thomerson is a versatile actor who can star in just about anything from microbudget indie productions (“Dollman,” “Left in Darkness”) to big Hollywood celluloids (“Air America,” “Iron Eagle”) as one of the most recognizable faces amongst viewers. In “Trancers,” Thomerson relishes playing the 5 O’clock shadowed, brooding in a long trench coat, Sam Spade-type detective, Jack Deth, with skin in the game and a gruff attitude to take him to the edge. Thomerson makes for a good grouchy gumshoe as Deth goes plays the cat-and-mouse game with his onscreen nemesis Whistler, played by Michael Stefani in his one and only feature film credit and also marks his last acting appearance. Stefani has the long-ominous stare of a conventional villain, but I yearned for more toe-to-toe action between Thomerson and Stafani that what appears on screen in what was only a brief less than handful of moments that weren’t edge of your seat encounters, even the finale was underwhelmingly brisk. More of the penetrating thrills were held in the future when Jack Deth is ambushed by an old Diner lady wielding a clever or when Deth laser blasts Whistler’s unconscious body to explosive smithereens. What’s nurtured more in the past is the relationship between Deth and the half-his-age Leena, a role donned by a young Helen Hunt (“Twister,” “As Good as It Gets”) as the L.A. 80’s pop-goth girl with a thing for older men. Thomerson and Hunt have chemistry that would turn heads clouded with ageism but they’re cute enough to work, especially when they ride matching mopeds around the city to either thwart Whistler’s plans or escape the police under Whistler’s control. The rest of cast that rounds out “Trancers” is just as inundated with individualism as the principal leads with Anne Seymour (“Big Top Pee-Wee”), Biff Manard (“Blankman”), Richard Herd (“Get Out”), and legendary supporting actor, Art LeFleur (“The Blob”).
With any story dealing with time traveler, undoubtedly, plot holes will exist and will stick out like a 23rd century cop time-hopping to 1985. “Trancers” is no different. When Whistler eventually assassinates an ancestor of one of the future council members, the memory of the slain still exists to those in the future. Though the council member never existed in the 23rd because his ancestor was wasted by a mind-melding maniac, their energy and presence is remembered and so that would suggest the 23rd century and the 20th century timelines coexist and move at the same time rate and once the future is written, the memory of can’t be undone? This transtemporal travel stymie comes early into the story and leaves me to chew on this paradoxical gobstopper for the rest of the film, but my advice to other views is to manage it just like I did with forcing that problematic plot hole into the backseat recesses of your mind and focus more on enjoying the nonstop clash and laughs high of a “Trancers” sci-fi speedball. Production value and location security is key to “Trancers” success and Band and his filmmaking team score multiple locations around Los Angeles that are often small but are neon lit or are crazed dress to reflect an era that offer relatability and style. Composited laser beams and vaporized dead bodies effects are an effulgence of neon layered with digitized 8-bit audio bytes for that futuristics flair. The matte work landscapes and set interiors of a crumbling Los Angeles with a blend of new styles are a thing of beauty. Iconic buildings engulfed by the ocean’s rising tides that never ebbed, the neo-totalitarian architecture, and the retrofuturism of a classic interior diner with a newfangled facade borders a dystopian metropolis on the brink of collapse and only held together by the glue of the council and the troopers who enforce the law.
“Trancers” receives the 4K Ultra HD treatment with a 2-disc release from Full Moon Features with the second disc a high-definition, 1080p Blu-ray, distributed MVD Visual. The 4K comes from a scan of the original camera negative; however, the Blu-ray and the 4K are fairly even in detail and clarity. Each format, presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, decodes at a disconcerting average of 25Mbps and maintain the luminescence, detail repressive glow which tells me a regrading wasn’t completed to counter the intense neon on darker scenes. The glow shouldn’t be emanating half a foot off of characters. Despite a couple of minimally invasive spotty print damage, details are better in the natural lit and gaffer lit scenes though still quite soft around skin textures. Two English audio are available – a DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound and a Stereo 2.0. As soon as the Empire Pictures logo seizes the screen and the soundtrack begins, I knew the 5.1 was going to be worthwhile with a robust multi-channel output that leverages the Phil Davies (“Society”) synth-beat, adrenaline-producing score while still maintaining an even-keeled and appropriately layered ambient and dialogue track. Dialogue remains clear and clean throughout that compliment a range of action track like an exploding body with a short burst LFE explosion, the pew-pew-esque laser shots as discussed earlier, and the scattering of shattered glass when a moped goes through a sugar glass window. Bonus features are identical on each formatted disc with a commentary from Charles Band and Tim Thomerson, a 2013 documentary of the making of “Trancers,” the complete short film “Trancers: City of Lost Angels, Trancers: A Video Essay, the official trailer, archival interviews, and a still gallery. The physical attributes include a blacked-out Blu-ray snapper case with a cardboard slipcover, both the snapper and the slipcover have the same front artwork of Jack Deth pointing a gun out of a floating open door in space. The region free release has a runtime of 76 minutes and is rated PG-13. With a name like Jack Deth, you can’t go wrong with the science fictional film noir that is “Trancers,” a rustling time-travel good versus evil showdown with the future hanging in the balance.