Charles Band, the creative force behind Full Moon Productions (Puppet Master, Subspecies), has, throughout his career, conjured up some fascinating cinematic worlds, and nowhere was this talent more evident than in his sci-fi action movie Trancers, which Band himself directed.
This 1984 film opens in the future, the year 2247. Trooper Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) has been on a one-man crusade to wipe out “Trancers”, beings who look like you and I, but are under the control of a ruthless criminal named Whistler, who is intent on taking over “new” Los Angeles (the old city flooded long ago, and is now submerged in the Pacific Ocean).
Deth assumed he had killed Whistler some time back, and quit the force so he could continue to hunt the remaining Trancers (one of whom murdered Deth’s wife). But he is informed by his old boss, Chief McNulty (Art LaFleur), that Whistler survived, and has traveled “down the line”, back to 1985, where he intends to wipe out the ancestors of the current city’s ruling council (played by Richard Herd and Anne Seymour), thus preventing them from ever being born. Ordered to protect Whistler’s intended victims at all cost, Deth is sent to 1985 as well.
And here is where the movie reveals a very cool concept, one of the most fascinating I have ever seen in a time travel film. In order to exist in 1985, Deth must inhabit the body of one of his own ancestors, taking over their consciousness to carry out his mission!
His particular ancestor is a photographer, and with the help of some cool gadgets beamed to him from the future, Deth teams up with his however-many-great-granddaddy’s teenage girlfriend Leena (Helen Hunt) to track down the council’s ancestors and protect them.
But it won’t be easy: Whistler’s ancestor, and the man whose consciousness he now controls, is well-respected L.A. police detective Weisling (Michael Stefani)!
As I said, that’s one of the coolest time travel concepts I’ve ever seen, yet it’s just one of several attributes that make Trancers such a fun movie. Thomerson is perfectly cast as the tough-as-nails Deth, a throwback to the grizzled lawmen of film noir with a bit of Dirty Harry thrown in for good measure (he takes some pretty extreme measures right off the bat to ensure Whistler will never return to the future). Helen Hunt is also quite good as Leena, who, once she realizes what is actually going on, becomes Deth’s perfect ally / love interest.
Along with the way the film handles leaping through time, the Trancers themselves (who, once their identity is blown, look and act like zombies that can talk and even reason) are formidable foes. The opening scene, a surprisingly violent showdown between Deth and a Trancer set inside a 23rd century diner, is matched only by a 20th century battle in a shopping mall (it’s as funny as it is tense). Then there’s Deth’s wristwatch, which can slow down time, stretching one second for everyone else into 10 seconds for him. The world still moves at a regular pace, but Deth’s actions are sped up, allowing him to escape a dangerous situation, but only once (the watch disintegrates after use). The pace of Trancers is also perfect, with its 76-minute runtime feeling half that long.
From the sci-fi complexities of Dollman to the bad-ass fantasy of Doctor Mordrid, Band and his team know how to create an engaging world, then flesh it out with interesting characters and a damn fine story. Trancers is his masterpiece.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10