A film doesn’t always have to be a high-brow, high-concept, award-winning masterpiece, sometimes a movie just has to be entertaining and nothing else. The 1984 science fiction movie Trancers is exactly that – it’s low-budget, it’s tacky, it’s rough around the edges, but overall it’s watchable and it’s fun.
The movie tells the story of a bounty-hunter-slash-cop named Jack Deth (yes, that’s his name) who is tracking a master criminal known as Whistler in a part-flooded L.A. in the year 2247. Whistler, who can turn weak-minded people into zombie-type creatures known as Trancers, travels back in time to kill the ancestors of the cities’ Council in order to take over the town once it’s without any leadership. Jack, the film’s hero, then follows Whistler back to 1985 in order to thwart his plans. The way time travel works in this movie is that only your consciousness is transported back and you inhabit the body of one of your ancestors – Deth therefore is transported into his ancestor (a journalist) while Whistler takes over his ancestor who happens to be a Police Detective (bear with me – it’s not that complicated). Paired with Leena, a one-night stand of his 80’s ancestral-self, Jack and his sidekick-slash-love-interest try to hunt down Whistler in and around Los Angeles which of course makes way for time-based humour and fish-out-of-water high jinks.
Once you get past the start of the film (and its future-by-way-of-50’s-made-in-the-80’s aesthetics) and realise that the cheap-looking sets won’t feature in the main part of the film, the movie gets going and becomes something more than a Terminator-knock-off slash late-night B-Movie romp. Once the lead character Jack Deth travels to to the recognisable past from the tacky-looking future, the film begins to gain momentum and becomes somewhat enthralling.
The plot which is somewhere between Quantum Leap, Bill And Ted, and X-Men: Days of Future Past keeps you watching, and since it pre-dates all of these, it makes Trancers quite interesting. The film has a decent pace, a likeable lead and sidekick (played by Tim Thomerson and a young pre-Mad About You Helen Hunt respectively), and a storyline that keeps you interested all the way to the very end. It also features a pre-Matrix, low-budget attempt at bullet-time, and a tone which makes the whole thing very aware of its rank and standing amongst Science Fiction and films in general. Trancers also features a tongue-in-cheek script and great gags like the one about Deth knowing where he is in an ’85 L.A. because he “used to swim around here”. The film includes a few cartoonish aspects such as the zombie-like Trancers leaving a charred silhouette of themselves once they’ve been zapped, but the movie also features some entertaining scenes including one where Jack’s superior from the future takes over the body of a girl (one of his ancestors I assume) and proceeds to tell Deth off in a man’s voice (this isn’t as dodgy as it sounds).
Because of all these elements, Trancers has gained a cult following and even spawned a few sequels. Now obviously this film isn’t going to win any awards but it’s charming, it’s entertaining, and since it doesn’t take itself that seriously, you shouldn’t either. Sometimes a film can be bad at face value; bad acting, bargain-basement sets, and corny lines – but if the film knows its shortcomings and goes with it, then the end result is pretty enjoyable. Trancers definitely falls into that category.