When I go into a video store these days and glance over the shelves, I get the feeling that the age of direct to video companies is dead. Yeah, they are still out there, but they stick out like a sore thumb and don't hold the kind of promise they once had. In the days when renting movies was novel and new, some film you'd never heard of really stood a chance and there were actually some really great films that made their premieres on vhs. All it took was a decent box cover and you good get duped into giving it a play. As we moved into the digital age, what remains is largely recognized for the crap it is, and, for most serious movie fans, that old naivete of possibly finding some unknown gem in the video store is gone.
Anyway, though its 1989 release date makes it well after the glory days of direct to video, The Last Warrior is one of those films I remember always seeing on the "Action" shelf. I half recall picking it up several times. "Hey, its got samurai!", I'd think. I would read a couple of lines off the back cover, only to realize I'd passed it up before. I guess by the time it hit the shelves I'd seen some more authentic Japanese samurai films and honed my direct to video radar enough to weed out the lesser stuff.
The Last Warrior is about a US solider named Gibb, though I couldn't clearly hear his name the first couple of times it was said, so I decided to call him Gimp- I know, not too hilarious, but it kept me entertained. It is during WW2 and Gibb/Gimp has been stationed on an island with a small group of natives, some missionaries, and a base of some kind, though one imagines it isn't too important since it is covered in rust and he's the only guy guarding it. Gibb/Gimp is played by Gary Graham, an actor most people would know as the human cop in the Alien Nation tv series, but, further proving my point about the age of direct to video, I always think of him as the dude from Robot Jox. Gibb/Gimp's life of napping with monkeys and seducing island girls is shattered when some Japanese soldiers land on the island and scare everyone off, except Gibby and a not-quite-a nun named Katherine, who is conveniently hot like all almost-nun's. Eventually, Gimpy whittles down the invading soldiers to one guy with a death wish (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Planet of the Apes, Showdown in Little Tokyo), who just kind of scowls at Gimp while giving the US soldier a quick kendo lesson in order to make him a worthy advesary.
Any movie fan worth his salt will instantly see the film for what it is, a dumbed down amalgam of plotlines lifted from the John Boorman, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune classic Hell in the Pacific and, equally a classic, John Huston, Deborah Kerr, and Robert Mitchum's Heaven Knows Mr. Allison. I profess a fondness for those movies, both are solid character pieces, with great actors in showcase roles, the Huston film having a delicate charm and classic Hollywood sensibility, while Boorman's film has the more macho and metaphorical edge. So, as far as movies that have WW2 settings with two people stuck on island films go, the Boorman and Huston films leave The Last Warrior well their wake, languishing on some video store shelf, forgotten and covered in dust. And, lets face it, Gary Graham ain't no Robert Mitchum and sure as hell couldn't hold Lee Marvin's jockstrap.
The film makers probably figured their audience was going to be people who'd never seen Hell In the Pacific or Heaven Knows Mr. Allison and were the sort of movie connoisseurs who frequently purchased videos from truck stops and rented whatever action flick caught their eye. Therefore I wouldn't be surprised if Last Warrior was probably often paired as a rental along with Gary Busey's Eye of the Tiger and Rutger Hauer's Wanted: Dead or Alive. Actually, that is not entirely fair. Eye of the Tiger and Wanted: Dead or Alive have a cornball 80's b-action movie charm that makes them fun, whereas Last Warrior does not. I mean, c'mon Eye of the Tiger has Busey and Yaphet Koddo taking on outlaw bikers with a suped up pickup truck- that alone makes it a winner.
The DVD: Pathfinder
Picture: Full-screen. I'm betting this was shot with only a direct to video release in mind, thus a standard ratio/open matte format was used, so the transfer here is most likely not cropped. Further evidence can be found in the fact that the film has imprinted English subtitles for the Japanese parts, and the subs are actually positioned on the screen in the negative spaces at the corners of the frame rather than across the bottom like most subs.
Well, it doesn't look great, but then again, the image is moderately better than it would look on video. I guess considering the quality of the material they had to work with, this is a decent transfer of a low budget film. Still, it is pretty grainy and the colors are not very vibrant.
Sound: An atrocious 2-channel mix. Okay, so the movie starts up and, as expected, we've got this typical low budget 80's movie synth score playing. Then there is some voice-over narration, only it is muffled and completely overwhelmed by the score. My player had the track as unidentifiable, so I tried every option- 5.1, stereo, mono- but no matter what, the music track was killing the voice-over. Folks, that is the mix. It does get better with the actual actor dialogue, but the score is still this oppressive, smothering beast that comes pounding in muffling everything underneath it.
Extras: Trailer, and that's it.
Conclusion: Well, the movie is pretty limp and the transfer is spare. Honestly, I'm not sure why anyone would want to spend an hour and a half with The Last Warrior. At most give it a rental if you're into this kind of generic, sloppy, action film. Or just rent Hell in the Pacific, or Eye of the Tiger, or Gymkata, or...