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.