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I guess I just like liking things

Hello! Have you missed me? Of course you have (no need to comment to the contrary). Today’s movie is a classic of Sci-Fi excellence – “Def-Con 4.” Apparently, Defense Condition 4 is “Increased intelligence watch and strengthened security measures.” Since this movie takes place two months after a nuclear holocaust, perhaps “Def-Con 1” would have been more appropriate, as that is for nuclear war. Actually, “Def-con -1” because the thing has already happened. Maybe I’m over thinking this. Let’s go shall we?

The movie opens with a classic white text on black letting us know that the Ultimate Nuclear Defense System has been perfected, and global conflict is unthinkable. Having read the back of the DVD case I know this is very wrong, but I’ll let them say it. Can’t blame the guy who did the graphics for mis-information now can we?

The future is pastel

The future is pastel

The opening credits play under music which sounds like someone is vomiting into a trombone. A tiny cheap model hanging off fishing line swings by the surface of the Earth, and the wife of someone who is apparently on the tiny model is trying to figure out where her husband is. Secret base in the North Pole? Submarine? No one may know the truth of the fishing line model because of reasons. A graphic helpfully explains that this is the Nemesis Mission, and it’s day 407. Considering just moments ago we were assured that Global Peace was now a thing, naming a mission “Nemesis” seems a bit pessimistic. The voice belongs to a lady on a video tape, who is sterlingly 80s. She’s all troubled, her husband could be dead for all she knows. She’s decided to live as though her husband is dead, because that’s easier to deal with than not knowing where or how he is. So sad. In an over-reaction sort of way. The “transmission window” ends and the video is cut off. Howe, the husband of the woman who thinks he’s dead, looks anguished.

The inside of the ship basically looks like a shed with loads of tinfoil wrapped around some of the walls. Walker is having his health checked by Jordan while watching some army based pornography. They’ve also figured out fake gravity at some point. Although personal tapes can’t be transmitted without a time based window, porn can and also the news, where a serious lady with 80s hair is explaining that that the world is in a bit of a conflict state. Russia and the US are basically hauling nuclear weapons all over the place. Global Peace guys! Global Peace!

The following day, everyone is gathered around the teeny TV to watch a remarkably angry looking man explain that yep there were missiles everywhere but no one should worry. The news cuts off as a super important message appears on the screen. “War 2” says the message “This is not a drill.” Everyone dashes around a bit, and they drag Walker out of his bunk. Walker gets on with the job, arming the missiles loaded on the tiny flimsy space shuttle. Howe tries to reach for the switches, but can’t because he’s too upset about the whole war thing. He tells Walker to hold off while he checks the monitors. Conveniently, a warhead explodes right in the range of the cameras. Before deciding to launch, Howe checks the “Earth signals” which means TV. As he flicks through the channels, they go off air. One of the images is a small girl picking up something in a park, how moving. Giggling girls, and a woman washing her neck also go off air. Why these were being broadcast in the first place is not explained.

Howe is freaking out about his kid, but Walker says, without a hint of emotion “Your family is fine, they’re in a remote area. Mine are in Seattle, and I just saw Seattle go.” Jordan asks to see Detroit, and on cue a bomb blasts on the screen. As a missile heads for the station, they launch their own missiles and stuff happens. Explody stuff, mostly.

Day 451. A data feed on the screen projects human survival rates over 42 days. Australia is at 4.1% so I’m mildly offended. South America is getting out of this the best, with a possible 25% of the population surviving. They decide that when they try to land, they’ll land in South America. Walker asks Howe why he keeps listening to the air waves, and Howe explains that his wife has a transmitter she can use to contact him. Which is why she was sending him tapes instead of just talking to him.

All these switches need to be flipped every 18 seconds

All these switches need to be flipped every 18 seconds

Day 456. The crew are sitting around the control station, flicking switches. Howe gets a transmission in his ear piece and freaks out, flicking a lot of switches. It’s his wife! Hooray! She’s crying, a lot of people in the area are blind and now they’re all diseased from the radiation. She’s broadcasting into space to say goodbye. The baby died, the army shot it because of the disease. The transmission crackles out of range.

Walker says the radiation is incredibly high, and Howe says yes it is, so they’re going back to Earth now. He needs to help his wife. Walker tells him his wife is dead and Howe launches at him all angry and punchy. Walker, however, is a big strong manly man to Howe’s nerdy frame, and subdues him easily. Jordan supports Howe and says they need to go back and see if they can help. Howe is happy, that’s 2 against 1 and they can go back. Walker gets all shouty because he is the captain and I suddenly realise why he’s been so broody. It’s because he can’t do any sort of acting unless it’s just scowling around the place.

Everyone’s all snuggly in their bunks when the computers sound an alert. An over-ride has been issued and the crew is to be returned to Earth. Walker blames Howe but he promises he didn’t do it. They jettison the remaining missiles to prepare for re-entry while their little pod detaches from the main ship. Missile 11 is stuck in the launch bay though so that might be a teeny issue later. Who knows? Howe sets it to go off in 60 hours, by which time he figures they’ll be clear of the pod. There’s a lot of camera shaking stuff as the pod plummets to earth and a big camera wibble as they land. Jordan is flung from her chair which was apparently held to the floor with double sided sticky tape. Howe leaps over the rest of the rubble in the pod (this is what happens when you contract the lowest bidder to build your space crafts). Howe can’t find a pulse, but Walker can because he’s a manly man.

Howe and Walker try the door, but it’s firmly buried in sand. They tuck Jordan up in her bunk and start to dig their way out. Howe goes all whiny and Walker offers to dig, but as he moves to the door there’s a knock from the outside. This revitalises him, and although they’d spent hours digging and getting no where, Howe is now able to tunnel out within minutes. He pushes his hand out into the air and it’s grabbed and pulled which makes him panic.

Walker dives in to help him and gets grabbed for his troubles, and dragged out through the sand. There’s a scream from outside, and then Walker’s hand is thrown back down through the door. Howe closes off the door and stares at the wall, looking troubled. He settles down to make a recording for the unconscious Jordan, telling her not to let anyone in. Knowing there’s things outside that will kill people, Howe crawls out of the pod.

Howe wanders the night in a barren sandy landscape until he comes across a group of people who are cooking Walker over a fire. They chase him, giggling, through the woods. Howe triggers a tripwire, which causes a tree trunk loaded with knives to fall on him. Thankfully, he has time to turn onto his back, and the knives miss him – landing on each side of his neck. Also all this night footage is clearly day footage they’ve darkened.

Some guy with a gun wanders up and stares at him. Howe freaks out, he really does go high pitched in a crises. He screams that the pod has 4 months worth of food on it. The guy with the gun also has a kilt. The next shot is of him carrying a blindfolded Howe around, and leading him into a shack. They eat some sludge from saucepans. Howe can’t finish his, so the Kilt Guy throws it into a hatch in the floor. A woman’s voice whispers “Thanks” because he’s keeping someone down there. Probably to eat later.

Kilt Guy offers a deal on the food. He’ll take the food, and in return he won’t kill Howe. It feels like a pretty good deal. Kilt Guy is supposed to be sort of hard core wilderness survival type, but he’s more like Parking Garage Clerk. In a kilt. He explains that by letting Howe live, and leave, Howe will die anyway because the kids will kill him. This thought cheers up Kilt Guy, who almost cracks a smile.

They’re still discussing the deal when a mine is exploded outside. Kilt Guy ties Howe to a chair and rushes out to see what’s going on. As he rushes off into the woods, a girl climbs out from under the door. She ignores Howe, and instead finds a jar of food which she settles down to eat. She’s in a school uniform, but is about 30. Howe asks her to untie him but she declines. Howe says he has real strawberries to trade for his freedom. This pod must be like a supermarket. I would have thought freeze dried beef or something. I would be wrong.

School girl knows where there’s a sail boat, which fits Howe’s plans exactly. He’s going to sail to South America, even though he doesn’t really know where he is at the moment. A man with a (slightly dodgy) plan! The girl unties Howe and grabs some of the guns hanging on the wall. “Okay Captain Walker” she says “Let’s go!” Howe isn’t Walker, as we know. Walker is being digested at this point, but before Howe has time to question this, Kilt Guy is back and he’s pretty unimpressed with the whole escaping thing. He’s also had time for a wash. He tells them to put the guns down, and they do because… no reason I can think of. This guy is holding them hostage, they have guns. It’s not complicated math.

Kilt Guy slips an arm around the girl and gives her a kiss. He shoves her toward the hatch in the floor and she sighs and climbs in. So, just let me state again, he’s keeping her as some kind of sex slave, she had a gun in her hand.  Kilt Guy tells Howe to get outside because he doesn’t want to mess up the floor with guts. This at least makes sense. Howe reminds him of the food, but Kilt Guy doesn’t care any more. Howe says they have marijuana too, but Kilt Guy hates dope and hates people who smoke it. I’d say Howe has no chance of survival at this point, but there’s still just under an hour of movie to go so he’ll probably be okay for a bit.

“You won’t find the food!” screams Howe, “She won’t let you in!”. Kilt Guy is not interested in the food, but he is interested in ladies and he goes all weird about the idea of another lady to keep in his basement. He offers Howe a knife and freedom for most of the food, and Jordan. Howe is pretty okay with this.

Kilt Guy loads the mature age student and Howe into the scoop of a reinforced digger, and drives off into the woods. The music goes all jangly and there’s a flash of a face with blue make up and blood all over it. Well, paint. The road is blocked by branches, and Kilt Guy warns Howe and the girl that there’s Terminals about. The digger, which also has a drill (how long has it been since the bombs went off? Kilt Guy must have worked his butt off to get all this built) rolls over the branches, but the Terminals land on the roof and there’s some exciting green screen action as they’re shot. The digger has guns. One of them is knocked off the roof by a branch and Kilt Guy throws the digger into reverse and backs up to run him over. The digger has no back window, but Kilt Guy is looking over his shoulder anyway. At the wall.

They make it to the beach but Howe isn’t sure if it’s the right beach. Kilt Guy sends the girl, who I can now refer to as JJ, to go up a hill and have a look around. He keeps her on the end of a rope though, in case she has any escapey thoughts. She vanishes over the hill, and the rope moves slightly and Kilt Guy freaks out. He turns around to see a smug guy in a military uniform standing there all smug. Turns out Kilt Guy is named Vinny, but I’m sticking with Kilt Guy because we’ve come this far together And he’s wearing a kilt. The smug guy has a weasily little voice and leather driving gloves. Kilt Guy is shocked to see him. He throws a handful of sand at the guy, climbs into the digger and drives off, leaving Howe and JJ to their fate with a bunch of military types.

The digger, which moments ago ran over some massive tree trunks without a bother, is completely stopped by a wall of sand and branches, and the military types chain it into place. The smug guy climbs up and drops a grenade in through he windscreen. Kilt Guy freaks and climbs out to be captured by the military guys. Smug guy retrieves the grenade, which was a fake. That tricksy guy!

Smug Chap has a sort of chariot, which Howe, JJ and Kilt Guy are tied alongside to jog along like prisoners. Oh, they are prisoners. Night falls, and we see the compound the military types have set up, along with captured people who are chained up in gangs to work for the Smug guy. They’re hauling in the pod as Smug guy arrives with our merry band of misfits. One of the military types is stranding on the carriage they’re using to haul the pod, cracking a whip and screaming his little face off. One of the slaves is too old to be doing this, and slacks off. He gets shot in the belly for his efforts. There’s a close up of the missile, did you forget about that? It’s got 34 hours left on the timer. Gosh, I wonder what will happen.

The settlement is basically piles of junk, but they’ve had the foresight to grab some red curtains for a little brothel. It’s a muddy, messy chaos of tents, sheds and fires in barrels. I know a bunch of bombs went off, but surely there’s a town or something people could use to live in, instead of wallowing in the mire. That’s just me though, I’m picky about my mud and chaos.

Everyone stares at Howe, JJ and Kilt Guy as they’re lead through the town. Except for those three guys scrabbling for potatoes that have fallen out of a sack. Oh, and the guy hanging by the neck up on a watch post, he’s not so bothered either. This is a seriously long sequence. I suppose once they’d built the shanty town thing they figured they might as well show it all. Slowly. For what feels like hours.

Gideon may or may not be wearing lipgloss

Gideon may or may not be wearing lipgloss

Eventually, they come to a a proper building, with electricity and everything. A guy is sitting with his feet on the desk, reading and listening to classical music. Smug Guy pushes Howe inside and tells him to sit down. There’s a bench with a row of neck clamps. Luckily there’s three neck clamps, which matches exactly to the number of new prisoners. Hooray! The clamps are huge, and Howe has a skinny head so he could probably slip out of his if he shuffled down a bit. The guy at the table wants to know how the winds are blowing Patagonia. He has the voice of a 12 year old boy which makes me laugh, but he’s doing some serious acting now so I suppose I should stop giggling eventually. He’s planning to escape to Patagonia, but needs to know if the winds are favourable for the radiation and whatnot. Howe is unable to answer, being too blown away by the fact that this guy knows his name.

Kilt Guy and JJ are shoved into the room. The commander chap (Gideon, by the way. They haven’t said it yet, but it’s on the case) with the little boy voice is pleased to see JJ who he has missed. Gideon orders Smug Guy (Why don’t these people use their names the minute they appear on screen??) to settle JJ and Kilt Guy in with Jordan, leaving Howe still sitting around in his neck brace thing.

Gideon unlocks Howe, and explains that the shanty town has about two months before everyone is contaminated. He apologises for Walker’s death, explaining that the Terminals got him. Smug guy rushes in to say they found “it” and the commander says “Welp, don’t need you any more Howe, go be in prison and stuff.” He’s lead out by a small group of military people, the one with a gun has never held a gun before in his life.

Howe is dropped into a cage from the roof, landing on a well rotted body. A close up reveals the body is made of plaster and wax. The thing that Smug Guy found is part of the pod, a small black box with “Delta S-16” written on it. I’d like to pause for a moment here and say this pod – which has a huge control panel, four bunks and four months supply of food in it, is tiny. It’s a TARDIS, clearly. That should make for an amusing plot twist later on.

Smug Guy (who is named Lacy. No lie) gets to work removing the black box, and we get a close up of the missile which we’re not allowed to forget about. There’s 32 and a half hours until detonation. The team who crawled all over the pod looking for the Delta thingy missed this, I guess.

Everyone’s in the cage box, plus a random old lady. Jordan looks mildly annoyed. The others are on the other side of a wall from Howe, but JJ is singing and he hears them. Within seconds, he makes a huge hole in the metal wall with a key. Stronger than he looks, this one. Jordan is all pleased, and then all annoyed again. JJ explains that the old lady is locked up for stealing peaches. It’s a world gone mad.

Gideon sounds like a teenager because he is one, he’s JJ’s ex boyfriend. Howe is understandably baffled as to why some kid is in control of so many people. Gideon’s dad was in the Navy, and somehow that made Howe land in the right place – look this is all nonsense and all I can think about is how neat JJ’s make up is for a girl who has been living in a basement for weeks. Gideon controls everything, even though he’s a kid. Just.. accept this and let’s get this thing finished.

There’s a guy who is amazing with computers and weapons and stuff – he’s the one who sent up the program to send the pod to Earth. His name is Boomer and he’s paralysed because the helicopter he was in to escape all the bombs crashed (killing Gideon’s parents, who were also on the chopper. JJ and Gideon and Smug Guy survived. I don’t know either, don’t over think it). Gideon has him strapped to a board so he can be sat up. Gideon is, as it happens, a bit of a jerk.

Boomer doesn’t like Gideon, but Gideon knows he can get his own way by barbecuing a slab of meat on a handy little barbecue. Boomer is covered in his own drool, having been kept strapped to a board for weeks. Gideon wants to know where the survival stations are, and Boomer can find out. Boomer on the other hand would rather be shot because he’s pretty miserable living his life strapped to a board. Gideon promises to kill him, if he helps them find the survival stations. Boomer caves, and tells Gideon the password to the whatever the thing is. The password works, and Boomer stares at the steak as co-ordinates appear on the screen. For some reason, they appear to the sound of typing, like there’s a dude in a case somewhere who’s having to manually send the information. Gideon smiles, picks up the steak and holds it right in Boomer’s face before dropping it in the mud. “You’d better go down for it” says Gideon, releasing the straps and dropping Boomer to the floor.

Gideon is back in his office, with JJ in a neck clamp. He releases her and washes her face with a damp cloth. He explains to her that he has the co-ordinates for a survival station, and she’ll be coming with him. She’s not thrilled and refuses to go. Gideon has her sent back to the cage box and tells his crew there’ll be a trial in the morning.

The next morning (after a quick shot of the missile, remember that?) the population of the town are all milling around a set of gallows, which come with a hooded hangman. Limited food and other resources, but someone found time to whip up a hangman hood. Smug Guy wanders along the line of prisoners, all of whom are tied and gagged with what appears to be tin foil. He has a whip, but the sound guy doesn’t understand whip noises, so the noises happen even when he’s not whipping anyone. Gideon appears to preside over the trial, in a natty black robe.

Gideon accuses Howe and Jordan of Crimes Against Humanity for their part in the war. The crowd finds them guilty, possibly because there’s a bunch of guys with guns pointed at them but it might be because they believe it, who knows in this wacky post nuclear world? JJ is accused of Treason, Kilt Guy is found guilty of general naughtiness. With all the prisoners found guilty, Gideon sends them out to be hung.

The crowd is chanting for blood as Gideon and Smug Guy take their seats in front of the gallows. Boomer is dragging himself along the ground. The hangmen (there’s two, both hooded if you were wondering) fasten the nooses around the various necks. There’s a drum roll, and just as the hangman is about to pull the lever, Gideon stops proceedings. He pardons JJ, on condition that she pulls the lever to hang the others. JJ spits at him, but he isn’t good at hints. He offers the others a chance at freedom if they pull the lever. The crowd goes nuts, so no one notices Boomer hauling himself around.

Howe looks thoughtful, and then steps forward to indicate he’ll pull the lever. Gideon tells Howe has has to pull the lever when the drums stop, and if he doesn’t he’ll be shot but since the guys with guns are holding them like they’re bananas instead of guns, he’ll be okay. The drums start, the prisoners look sad. Howe looks scared. More drums. Howe smiles and a shot rings out. Boomer has managed to pull himself up to a platform and has shot Gideon. Boomer is shot, and there’s a kerfuffle as everyone panics. Howe escapes into the woods.

Smug guy grabs Jordan from the gallows because she’s a doctor. She says she’ll only help if the others are released too. Gideon, who has been shot in the leg, realises his time is running out and agrees. Jordan, having saved them, adds a second condition – no hangings. Gideon is now a scared young chap so he agrees.

With his leg patched up, he resumes his arrogance and explains that he’d like to take Jordan with him to the safe bunker zone thing, but there’s no room. He also says that while he promised not to hang JJ and Kilt Guy, he didn’t promise not to shoot them. Then he asks for another shot of painkiller, which feels like a mistake. Jordan says she’s only got morphine which is too strong. Gideon insists. Jordan picks up the morphine bottle, but then changes her mind and does a quick change, filling a syringe with something else. Gideon rumbles her, having Smug Guy hold her down while he injects her. He checks the bottle, somehow knowing which one it was. Potassium. So there’s that.

Howe has found his way to Kilt Guy’s bunker, disarming booby traps on the way. He grabs some guns and also some popcorn. Back at the town, JJ is screaming for Gideon to come talk to her, but the peach stealing old lady says there’s no point, they’re all going to die. JJ says she won’t because she just won’t.

Howe has found the boat. How he found it I don’t know. There’s a couple of soldiers on the boat, so he points the gun at them and screams about getting in the water. They very slowly pick up their guns and after like a minute Howe manages to shoot them.

There’s 12 hours left on the timer as JJ is taken to see Gideon. He’s packing a satchel with bits of weapon, and JJ is about to open her blouse in an attempt to seduce her way onto the boat when she sees Jordan’s body slumped in the corner. JJ goes ahead with the plan, smooching up to Gideon who points a gun at her, but lets her take it off him.

Kilt Guy is taken out of the cage box place and pressed against a wall. A firing squad lines up in front of him. Kilt Guy begs for his life, and as they’re about to fire, Howe turns up in the digger, blasting all the guns and taking out the firing squad but not Kilt Guy, who magically was not hit with a single bullet. Howe jumps back into the digger and takes down some walls, freeing the slaves. Kilt hands out a bunch of guns to whoever wants them, and everyone does. There’s a bunch of random running around and shooting. Howe climbs up on the top of the cages and runs along opening hatches. No one shoots him even though he’s up there with no cover. The old lady tells him Jordan went with Gideon, and so did JJ. Howe talks her into coming with them, but she’s not keen, saying she’d never make it. She’s shot pretty much instantly, so she was right. She didn’t make it.

Howe finds Jordan’s body. Her eyes are open, but in the next cut her eyes are closed, so she obviously had one last blink left in her. The slaves are rounded up and shot by the soldiers, but it’s okay because Howe and Kilt guy have made good their escape so they don’t have to care anymore. They get to the dock in time to see the boat departing. Howe plans to swim out to it.

And he wonders why she broke up with him

And he wonders why she broke up with him

In the boat, Gideon is collecting up everyone’s weapons. With a smile, Gideon shoots the two soldiers he brought with him. Why not, I guess. Smug guy is sent to stow the guns below deck, which is handy because Howe and Kilt Guy are in no way being quiet as they approach the boat. Howe calls out to JJ, who throws him a rope. Gideon emerges from below decks and JJ tries to distract him, but Howe just barges on in, pushing Smug Guy over the edge. Gideon grabs a knife and holds it to JJ’s throat. “Kill her” says Howe, because he’s all tough now and not at all a weedy nerd. JJ starts to cry.

As Gideon slits a shallow cut into JJ’s throat, Howe gives it up and jumps off the boat. JJ however is pretty annoyed, so she pushes Gideon off the boat and sails away. Gideon and Smug Guy get back to the shanty town to see piles of bodies from the uprising bit before. As they stagger into town, Gideon looks at the pod and says to Smug Guy “Wait, shouldn’t all those be empty?” He’s referring to the missile bays, because missile 11, as you will no doubt recall, is still there and armed.

The timer counts down from 4 seconds and then boom – stock footage mushroom cloud. Kilt Guy, JJ and Howe watch from the boat and a caption appears saying “The final victory has been won, Mankind can now rest in peace.” And credits.

The premise of this movie was promising. Astronauts return to a ruined earth. The whole rest of it was ridiculous. I can’t get my head around some teenage kid gaining such control over soldiers, although his father was mentioned as being high up in the Naval command chain which I think was supposed to explain it. Except it doesn’t really, because in a war situation people generally don’t say “Well, your dad was our commander, so you can have a go now if you like.”

I’m also not entirely sure when it was supposed to be set. It was made in 1985 and while I can’t mock the technology (Walker was rocking a particularly chunky walkman there for a while) because there’s sort of no way for movie makers to know what’s coming in the way of flat screens and whatnot, I can totally mock the hair. Eighties hair! Everywhere!

There’s quite a few unexplained things. Like the Terminals, who are a big threat early in the movie for about 90 seconds and then cease to be a danger of any kind. I happen to know that the Terminals are people who are suffering radiation sickness and as such are being driven insane. I know this because it’s on the DVD case, it doesn’t’ come up in the movie at all.

Howe, who was blindfolded on being taken to Kilt Guy’s house in the first place, still manages to find his way there from a completely different location without any issues. He then gets back to the shanty town without a bother. No explanation there. All the timing bits started to get annoying too – just as they look at this screen a bomb goes off, just as Howe turns on the radio his wife is talking, just as Smug Guy and Gideon notice the missile, it explodes.

This isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen, but it’s a long way from anything like good. It’s too long, especially since you know from the moment the missile is shown that the thing will end with a boom, it’s just a matter of getting through the rest of it. Which was a slog.

JJ’s make up, though, managed to stay perfect under all circumstances, so that’s something.


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