Monday, October 21, 2019

"These Truculent Threats Are Just a Brazen Show!" - The Survivor (1998) - Film #157

It is time to tackle the follow-up to Terminal Force (1985) aka Galaxis, which is titled The Survivor (1998) aka Terminal Force II. The Survivor features Richard Moll's return as the villainous Kyla (possibly not the same character) in a classic of post-apocalyptic action and adventure.

Of course, not all critics in your universe revere this classic. Reviewer david-233 writes simply, "You have to avoid seeing it." Reviewer davis2000 writes, "This is a terrible movie in nearly every way....Do yourself a favor and look at an empty aquarium for 90 minutes instead." And reviewer leofwine_draca writes, "THE SURVIVOR is an oddball B-movie which appears to be a badly put-together mish-mash of other, better movies."

Continue reading to experience the post-apocalyptic adventure of The Survivor...

The film begins on a space station orbiting a dead Earth. A prisoner, James Tarkin, is injected with a drug in his neck and taken to trial. In a voiceover, a bureauctrat explains that Tarkin was a surgeon from the “French-speaking colony of Eurasia” who has been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Tarkin is placed into a metal chamber. The bureaucrat asks him if he has any final words. Tarkin responds with a rude phrase that ends in the word “yourself.”

Instead of killing Tarkin, however, the metal chamber is actually beamed to a greenhouse on Earth.

Elsewhere, on a ship traveling through space, the President of the Federation, played by versatile actor Richard Herd, meets holographically with an official who explains that various colonies are threatening war before an important conference.

President Herd replies eloquently, “These truculent threats are just a brazen show. They want everyone to believe there’s still a warrior race. Vikings in space! The key is to grant them some small concessions that allow them to retreat with honor. You leave that to me.”

After the meeting is over, President Herd reveals to his confidants that he is sick. “I look terrible.”

“You look great,” replies one of his men. “For a hologram.”

Also, the President’s young grandson Daniel performs a card trick. After the trick fails, the boy asks, “Grandpa, will I ever have a dad?”

President Herd replies, “Well, you know, buddy, sometimes things don’t work out the way we’d like them to.”

Shockingly, a bomb explodes in the starship. Everyone on board (approximately 12 people) rushes to the two life pods. In the President’s pod, a crewman says, “There’s a planet beneath us. It’s Earth.” (They are indeed fortunate to have plotted a course so close to a habitable planet.)

“Who could have done this?” President Herd mutters as the pods disengage and the ship explodes.

The two pods land in different parts of the same Puerto Rican jungle. Daniel, his female teacher Devin, and some of the President’s men gather in one area, where a man named O’Shack explains in reference to Earth, “About 50 years ago, they converted it into a penal colony, but later they gave up on that.”

We also find out that President Herd will die in 24 hours without his medicine, which Daniel and the others have.

At the President’s life pod, a soldier takes approximately 10 minutes to climb out of the pod and investigate the jungle. Eventually, he is approached by something that growls as it moves through the jungle. However, it turns out to be nothing. The soldier, Beck, says, “I thought I saw something, but the area’s clear.”

Moments later, however, President Herd climbs out of the pod, only to be surrounded by a group of post-apocalyptic villains led by a gas-masked Richard Moll.

“Well, Mr. President,” says Mr. Moll. “How nice of you to drop in.”

The apocalyptic villains all laugh boisterously at the original joke.

“I should have known you’d have something to do with this,” the President says, recognizing Mr. Moll (perhaps from Night Court, or Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn, or possibly The Nightmare Never Ends).

Meanwhile, the other group of castaways runs from natives wearing body paint. Fortunately, they are armed with automatic weapons (the starship-flying Federation has tragically not discovered laser-type weapons). Their odds of survival increase slightly when they are intercepted by Dr. Tarkin from the opening scene. For unknown reasons, all the good guys jump off a cliff into a river, where they are washed away through the rapids.

Once rescued, Devin slaps Tarkin. “You bastard!” she yells. “Who the hell do you think you are anyway? Tarzan?”

Ironically, Daniel, a few feet away, finds a Tarzan comic book at exactly the same moment (Dark Horse Comics' Tarzan #4 from 1996).

Tarkin explains the natives call themselves the Cali, which means “the dead.”

“Oh, great,” says Devin.

Tarkin takes them to a train rotting in the middle of the jungle, where he, naturally, lives.

Meanwhile, in a post-apocalyptic village, Richard Moll tries to convince President Herd to enter a code on a briefcase so a rescue shuttle will be sent to earth.

Back at Tarkin’s camp, Tarkin explains that Richard Moll is not a good person. He wants one thing. “Something everyone wants here. To get off this planet. He’ll keep your prisoners alive long enough to do that.”

Back at Richard Moll’s village, President Herd and Mr. Moll have a somewhat formal, though honest, father-son talk. Mr. Moll explains eloquently, “When a man is young, he does things that when he is older, he regrets. You know, when I was a boy, all I ever wanted was your approval. So I did all sorts of things to try to gain it.”

“You had it. In the beginning.”

“Oh, I know that now. But I needed to know it then. Don’t you understand? I’m trying to apologize. I’ve done terrible things, I know that, but can’t you manage to forgive me?”

“And then what?”

“Take me with you. I’m still your son. Don’t leave me here. Don’t abandon me.”

President Herd, surprisingly, refuses to take his son off Earth.

Mr. Moll, frustrated, throws a cup at a CD player that is skipping.

Back at Tarkin’s camp, the teacher Devin attempts to convince Tarkin to help them rescue the President from the villains. Like President Herd, Tarkin refuses. (However, in the next scene, Tarkin changes his mind and decides to go after the President.)

The film then moves on to something akin to torture porn, as Mr. Moll straps one of President Herd’s bodyguards into a machine that both showers the man and electrocutes him at the same time.

As soon as Tarkin, Devin, and the others leave on their rescue mission, they are captured by the natives (“Outsiders,” as opposed to Mr. Moll’s “Insiders”). The native chief, who does a passable vocal impression of Buddy Hackett, is led to believe that blonde, curly-haired Devin is an emissary of Zuul, some kind of god.

According to the local custom, Devin is forced to fight a native warrior, and if she bleeds, she will be revealed as human, not the chosen one, so the Outsiders will kill all of them. Fortunately, she manages to defeat him without bleeding.

The good guys reach Mr. Moll’s village a few minutes later. They sneak into the village through the obligatory series of secret tunnels and passages. They reach a library of records and infer that the paper records are files on all the people from Earth who left during the final evacuations. (They do not explain why the peoples’ files were left back on Earth rather than taken on spaceships, or why the records were kept in the first place.)

After walking through shelves of paper for a long time, two of Mr. Moll’s henchmen attack the good guys. Tarkin is subdued when he is thrown into a stack of banker’s boxes, but he eventually gets the better of his assailant with the aid of a club.

Devin is also rescued by the Outsider she defeated earlier, who apparently followed them, but who simply runs away as soon as he saves her life.

As they continue through the tunnels, they discover the archive has been rigged with machine guns that fire from the walls, for some reason. After escaping this trap, they inexplicably fall for an odd trap that involves Mr. Moll sitting behind a chain link fence—Devin and Tarkin mistake him for President Herd, for no apparent reason, and one of their own men turns his gun on them, betraying them at the last possible moment, also for no apparent reason, as he could have stopped them at any point in their travels.

Mr. Moll also reveals that President Herd’s own men have been drugging him to convince him he is sick. Mr. Moll says, “Hey, now that the cat’s out of the bag, a little withdrawal never hurt anyone.” He adds, in classic villain fashion, “Take them away.”

In another shocking surprise, when Mr. Moll gathers everyone together, he reveals he possesses a missile (whose tip, curiously, is painted to resemble a piece of candy corn). “A cobalt-salted thermonuclear device. A doomsday bomb, if you will. Once activated, it can never be stopped.”

In the climax, Tarkin is forced to fight three of Mr. Moll’s henchmen to the death in a shallow water tank while all the post-apocalyptic Insiders watch. Daniel, who has been kidnapped and brought to his father, asks, “Why are you doing this?”

Mr. Moll replies with glee, “Because I’m the daddy.”

After Tarkin defeats the villains, Mr. Moll extracts the code he’s been looking for from President Herd by threatening Daniel’s life. Mr. Moll types the code into the computerized briefcase. “Rescue ship dispatched,” says a computer voice.

Mr. Moll says, oddly, “They think of everything, don’t they?”

Daniel, Devin, President Herd, and O’Shack manage to escape and run away, leaving Tarkin to settle his score with Mr. Moll. Fortunately, the native Outsiders arrive just in time to battle the Insiders while the rescue ship lands.

Tarkin confronts Mr. Moll as he goes for the ship. “Going somewhere?” Tarkin says.

Mr. Moll replies eloquently, “Yeah, and where I’m going, you’re not coming.”

Wittily, Tarkin responds, “Because you’re going to Hell!”

With Daniel and Devin’s help, they kill Mr. Moll and make it to the rescue ship, which takes off as the nuclear device explodes, killing all the Insiders and the Outsiders.

The End

For a sequel that reuses the names of two characters that died in the first film, and has no other connection with that film, The Survivor is a film filled with existential mysteries. At the center of The Survivor is one overarching, unsolved mystery: What does the title mean? Who is The Survivor? Is it Dr. Tarkin, the imprisoned doctor who survives on a post-apocalyptic Earth, along with hundreds of other people? Is it President Richard Herd, who survives an artificial illness? Or is it Richard Moll, who survives the goings-on of Terminal Force (1995)? We may never know, and that is one of the film's most pointed mysteries.

In the end, the most important thing is that all the good guys survive and all the bad guys die in a nuclear explosion. And the natives, who were mostly minding their own business, also all die in a nuclear explosion.