It can often be a blessing and a curse to have the ability to revisit films from one's youth. As I learned whilst reviewing "Greatest Heroes of the Bible", nostalgia is a dangerous tool; it can instantly suck you into a bygone era and bring forth happy memories of a simpler time, but before the credits roll, have just as easily shattered those memories when you realize what you held so dear, was in fact, quite insufferable. The latest Scream Factory double feature targeted my nostalgia button with the inclusion of creepy memories of "Millennium" a sci-fi offering of the late 80s starring Kris Kristofferson. Along for the ride is another 80s offering, "R.O.T.O.R" (or "Blue Steel" as its title card reveals, likely changed to avoid confusion with the police thriller of the same name). While "R.O.T.O.R" had somehow never made it on my radar, one thing was clear from just cracking this disc out of the wrapper, "R.O.T.O.R" seemed to have no issue borrowing inspiration for its poster design from the original "Mad Max" film. What connection does "R.O.T.O.R" have to "Millennium" and does its curious poster raise justified flags of suspicion?
A relic of 1988, "R.O.T.O.R" on a one-line sales pitch sounds like the unholy low-budget lovechild of "The Terminator" and "Robocop". However, the end result is something entirely more interesting, for reasons I'll make clear. Set somewhere in the future, "R.O.T.O.R" begins in media res with our hero Barry Coldyron (Richard Gesswein) crack detective/robotics expert staggering from the woods, looking like he just finished a fight for his own life with an unknown assailant. Rewind time a few days and "R.O.T.O.R" begins with its first of many lengthy scenes of exposition. Coldyron's boss Commander Bulgar (Michael Hunter) wants Coldyron to activate the mythic R.O.T.O.R program (for those not in the know, R.O.T.O.R standards for Robotic Officer Tactical Operation(s) Research), which according to experts shouldn't be ready for another twenty years. Coldyron being a lone wolf as well as an accomplished scientist/detective naturally refuses as viewers are subjected to boring static shots of the two engaged in a half-hearted argument via phone.
Enter a beatboxing janitor/fellow researcher (the movie never makes it truly clear) and one clumsy accident later, R.O.T.O.R is accidentally activated two decades ahead of schedule. Donning a highway patrolman's uniform and hijacking the motorcycle he was supposed to use (?) and R.O.T.O.R hits the highways, delivering on the film's tagline of being "judge, jury, and executioner." It's not long before R.O.T.O.R does something unheard of in the line of robotic law enforcement and guns down a speeder, before trying to kills his passenger/fiance who speeds away. Finally the game is afoot and the viewer is at the edge of their seat as R.O.T.O.R and Coldyron are on a collision course of epic proportions! Well, if stilted fight scenes and zero planning spell epic proportions to you, "R.O.T.O.R" delivers in spades.
"R.O.T.O.R" is unequivocally a terrible film from start to finish. It's a glaringly low-budget affair that sports a script, I'd argue of being at best, a second draft. Despite being set in Dallas, the film is a barren affair apart from anyone necessary to interact with either Coldyron or R.O.T.O.R. With only one or two exceptions, "R.O.T.O.R" is a painful experience as it drags out a "Twilight Zone" length plot into triple the runtime. In fact, the film's most memorable sequence revolves around Coldyron confronting an armed hostage taker with a racial slur, before gunning him down and cracking wise as his hostage unleashes a martial arts barrage on the assailant's backup. It's a perfect 60-second sequence that sums up how half-baked and tone deaf a film "R.O.T.O.R" actually is.
Confounding matters is the dialogue; no it's not just poorly written, it's poorly delivered with every actor in the film sounding dubbed in ADR with little regard for matching lip movements. I initially thought the film was some strange low-budget European production a la a Spaghetti Western, but no, "R.O.T.O.R" is so inept it can't even get its dialogue in sync. Fortunately, the 90-minute trainwreck despite some excruciating expository filler is an absolute riot in the "bad movie" sense. The title villian is comical in execution and every dismal fight scene keeps building to diminishing returns as R.O.T.O.R stiffly throws slow punches and blocks attacks with his futuristic robot strength. The film eventually runs out of time and the finale is rushed to the point of raising glaring continuity errors with its opening sequences, before outdoing itself with a strange final shot that could only be the work of a madman trying to be socially aware.MOVIE: 0.5/5.0
Odds are, anyone picking up this Blu-Ray are coming for "Millennium" an interesting 1989 sci-fi offering from Michael Anderson, with a screenplay by original author John Varley. "Millennium's" first thirty minutes are just as memorable as it's latter two-thirds, but for tonally different reasons. Following the harrowing opening sequences of a mid-air collision between two jumbo jets, we follow in the shoes of Bill Smith (Kris Kristoffersen) a NTSB investigator assigned to the crash. To Smith, it's not shocking all the bodies are burned beyond recognition, but to the viewer, this fact comes mid air as the cockpit crew discovers just before the opening titles. This chilling line of dialogue propels the film forward as we eagerly await Smith's investigation uncovering the truth.
Enter a strange physicist fixated on time travel, an alluring woman, Louise (Cheryl Ladd) who comes on strong towards Smith in hopes of throwing him off his investigation, and the appearance of a strange otherworldly device amidst the wreckage, and "Millennium" takes a sharp turn from thriller to a sci-fi odyssey that could have only occurred in the 80s. As the truth unfolds and Louise's role becomes more clear, Anderson takes viewers to a future where humanity is on the brink of extinction and the connection between the crashes in Smith's timeline become more clear. In the meantime, the visual setting is textbook "futuristic" from silver tinged jumpsuits to strangely crafted robots and androids serving key expository roles. "Millennium" delivers a visually satisfying experience for its time that still pulls at the strings of nostalgia.
Sadly, as a whole package, time has been slightly unkind to "Millennium" and reflecting back on the career of Michael Anderson who gave us films as fantastic as "The Dam Busters" and "Logan's Run", we are also reminded this is the man who gave us "Orca" and "Millennium" begins to stray into a realm of logic that is more reminiscent of that schlocky piece of killer animal faire than his more accomplished efforts. The time travel narrative is more than a little shaky and Anderson is unable to keep up the sense of wonder that permeates the first hour or so of the film. As the pseudoscience gets laid on thick, the film rockets towards a conclusion that is more smoke and mirrors than logic.
What does make "Millennium" a film worth revisiting is its ethereal view of the future and the performances of Kristoffersen and Ladd, the former in particular who serves as a competent everyman, just as perplexed as the viewer. Chances are if you have any hazy memory of "Millennium" it's going to be a blast revisiting it nearly 30 years after release; if not, there's still enough here to offer a compelling sci-fi mystery, but the cracks in the whole structure are going to be far more apparent, far more rapidly.MOVIE: 2.0/5.0
Presented in a 1.85:1 original aspect ratio transfer, "Millennium" is arguably the sharpest it's ever looked since release day in theaters. The film boasts a healthy, natural level of grain that doesn't obscure the above average detail of the image as a whole. Sequences set in the modern day are more warm than those in the future, while contrast levels look a bit more intense in the present day sequences as well. Color palettes are visually distinct across both settings with cool greys and silvers, dominating naturally in the future.
Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio transfer, "R.O.T.O.R" is a somewhat stunning surprise on the visual front. The film sports moderate detail throughout; some sequences look quite soft, most notably those set in the cheap interiors of the police department offices. Nighttime sequences fare better, although contrast can be a little too intense and obscure finer details. There's much less grain than I'd expect from a film its age and obvious budgetary limitations and overall, there's a few signs of some minor DNR. Overall, "R.O.T.O.R" looks ten times better than I expected as well as it should.VIDEO: 3.5/5.0
The English DTS-HD MA Stereo audio track is a rousing surprise from right out the gate. There's some rich LFE effects work throughout the opening sequence and as Eric Robertson's workmanlike score thunders over the credits. Dialogue is crisp and well-mixed amidst the effects, with surprisingly effective immersive impact. "Millennium" is one of the better HD audio offerings I've heard in awhile. English subtitles are included.AUDIO: 4.0/5.0
"R.O.T.O.R" features an English DTS-HD MA Mono track that really emphasizes the poor sound mixing and sloppy ADR that originally persisted in the original film. The mix for the most part is clear and distortion free; there's not a lot of low-end impact and at times the sound design comes off as tinny. In comparison to the transfer, "R.O.T.O.R" definitely struggles to muster up to anything apart from passable, all things considered. English subtitles are included.AUDIO: 2.5/5.0
Each film features its original theatrical trailer, while "Millennium" features an alternate ending that is likely to divide fans of the film
Although most are going to come for "Millennium", this latest Scream Factory offering is likely going to get more replay for "R.O.T.O.R" on the sheer comical nature of how inept the overall film is. "Millennium" holds up nicely as an average sci-fi offering of its time period; it has definitely lost some luster with age, but is an objectively better film than its counterpart on the disc. Scream Factory earns extra praise with two quite remarkable transfers and audio to boot on "Millennium". It's a shame the extras are sadly bare bones, although I'm not sure anyone involved with "R.O.T.O.R" would be willing to own up to it; in a perfect world the RiffTrax for the film could have been licensed as alternate audio, making this a true must-buy. Instead, it's still worth checking out. Recommended.