Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994)
Film review #479
Director: David Nutter
SYNOPSIS: Jack Deth, an agent of the council, is travelling through time in order to wipe out temporal anomalies, after he eliminated the trancer threat. However, an accident while travelling through time leads to Jack travelling to an alternate dimension, where the trancers are terrorising the people of the land and feeding on their energy. Once again, Jack finds he has to deal with the trancer threat…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Trancers 4: Jack of Swords is a 1994 sci-fi film, and the fourth film in the Trancers franchise. On opening, we see Jack Deth, the protagonist of the franchise, working with the ruling council after eliminating the trancer threat in the previous film, and now travels through time to preserve temporal order. On his way through time for his next mission however, an incident in the time machine causes him to instead land in an alternative dimension or parallel universe (it’s not really explained) where trancers are again terrorising people: this time a medieval kingdom, and Jack must once again deal with them. The Trancers franchise is – as I have said in previous film reviews – a fairly low budget affair that you don’t need to take too seriously, drawing influence from franchises like Terminator and Blade Runner, but never having the polish or just general quality they do, alongside not providing something original that sets it apart. The premise of travelling back in time to inhabit the bodies of your ancestors is a cool premise, but hasn’t really been explored since the first film, with the films falling into very generic action films and away from the cool sci-fi noir it set out with.
With that in mind, let’s look at where Trancers 4 has taken us: while the film begins with it’s typical sci-fi setting, the majority of the story takes place in this alternative dimension with a medieval fantasy setting. This is obviously quite a departure for the series, and it doesn’t suit it at all. The plot is basically a Robin Hood type affair, with Jack Deth working alongside the “tunnel rats” peasants of the kingdom who are rebelling against the lord of the land, who is a trancer…but also a vampire? Since Deth destroyed all the trancers in the previous film, why they’re now showing up in parallel universes feeding on people’s life energy like vampires is never explained and simply makes no sense. This really is a departure for the series, and it is quite odd that it took this direction; although I feel like the series has been running out of ideas since the first one, so just throwing Jack Deth into an unrelated medieval fantasy is one way to solve that problem, rather than building on what has already been established I suppose. The story itself is a typical “fish out of water” affair with Deth coming to terms with the world he has found himself in, and the locals being amazed at his technology and the like. It goes exactly like you would expect, except you would never expect the series to go in this direction.
None of the previous characters return from the previous films apart from Jack Deth, which again shows just how unrelated and disjointed the series has become. Deth himself, Still played by Tim Thomerson, is the same odd mix of action hero, noir detective, and quirky rebel: he’s equally likely to swear and get serious as he is to make a quick one-liner. In one sense, his character is all over the place, partly due to the fact he is an amalgamation of tropes and characters from other (better) films. Alternatively, this unpredictability is strangely endearing, as you never know just how he is going to handle a situation, so you just have to keep watching. Deth is obviously not a great person: he keeps getting his partner’s killed, he is rude to everyone, and is constantly trying to seduce women that are way younger than him. Thomerson does, however, do a good job of making the character flawed, but likeable. The rest of the characters aren’t of any particular consequence, and they are barely worth a mention as they fill out very typical and predictable roles.
The production and design are very much a mixed bag: some of the futuristic props are nice, but the sets in the future seem to just be empty warehouses with no sense of place. The setting of the fantasy parallel universe world looks as you would expect, and offers few surprises. The action scenes aren’t amazingly choreographed, and filled with stock sound effects that are just thrown in without any mixing or editing. Trancers 4 is a strange turn in a series that is already full of strangeness: the story and setting is very typical, and doesn’t fit in with the franchise, and doesn’t add much to it. The character of Jack Deth is still this weirdly interesting centre of attention that is entertaining enough, but everything that surrounds him just is not of interest.
Trancers III (1992)
Film review #475
Director: C. Courtney Joyner
SYNOPSIS: Jack Deth is trying to make a life for himself after being stranded in Los Angeles. However, he is timejacked to Los Angeles 2247, where it turns out a new wave of trancers have been devastating the future. Jack is assigned to go back to 2002, when the trancers were first developed, to wipe them out at the source…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Trancers III is a 1992 sci-fi film, and the third film in the Trancers series of films. In the beginning, we catch up with Jack Deth not doing too well for himself after the end of the last film, as he now works as a private detective that finds people cheating on their partners, while his own marriage is heading to a divorce. While out at work, he is kidnapped by a trancer and taken to the year 2247, where he finds out that a new wave of trancers has been created and is waging war against the ruling council that he formerly worked for. He is assigned the task of travelling to 2005, when these trancers were first developed, and wipe them out at the source. The Trancers films centre around the use of a technology in the future that allows a person to be sent back “down the line” (through time) to inhabit the body of their ancestor. This gimmick was explored with some consideration in the previous films, but isn’t really a part of this film; which is a shame because it was the only really unique thing about the films. These films feel very much like a cheap terminator/Blade Runner venture, and again, Trancers III is no different. With a runtime of just over seventy minutes, there’s not really much time to get anything complex up and running, and the film settles for a bunch of action scenes and mindless violence that never really forms into an overarching story. There is the plot concerning Jack’s attempt to stop the formation of the trancers army, but it never seems to come to the forefront of the film, and everything feels a bit disconnected.
The characters are all pretty familiar, with a mix of the characters from the previous films, and other characters which are very familiar action movie tropes. Jack Deth is still the grizzled rouge-ish hero from the previous films, with his inexplicable ability to have women much younger than him fawning over him. He’s a mix of action movie tropes and doesn’t really offer anything unique in that respect, although Tim Thomerson does a good job of over-acting the role, which is pretty good fun. The villain is Col. Daddy Muthuh (slight play on words of “Daddy Mother” if you hadn’t noticed), who has created this new trancer army, and acts as their parental figure (hence the awful pun name). He’s a fairly over-the-top and clichéd villain, but with a name like “Daddy Muthuh” alongside “Jack Deth,” how seriously can you really expect to take this film? The rest of the characters are again pretty typical, and the constant conflict between the women in Jack’s life makes a silly distraction, and constantly raises the question why they are attracted to this man.
Despite being a low budget production typical of Full Moon Entertainment, there’s some decent effort clearly put into some of the elements of the film. The sci-fi props look good and sturdy, and some of the fight scenes are decently choreographed, and display a fairly entertaining amount of action. It does feel like a departure from the noir-esque style of the first two into a more cut-and-paste action movie, and the film loses much of it’s uniqueness in that transition. There’s a few gory moments too that you would not have seen in the previous films. Trancers III has some decent qualities to it, in particular some of the aspects of its production and some of the acting, but there’s very little substance beyond what viewers will have seen previously. Obviously with characters named Jack Deth and Daddy Muthuh you should not be expecting a super serious story or experience, but the odd pacing, short runtime and the lack of a solid set-up amidst the confusing multiple times makes a lot of the film fall flat. It has some redeeming features to make it watchable, just don’t expect to be fully entertained or get anything out of it.