Millennium/R.O.T.O.R. - Double Feature [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (22nd May 2016).
The Film

The plethora of Scream Factory double features continues, this time with a double dose of madcap futuristic insanity. Ambition runs high for the first film included here, “Millennium” (1989), which offers up a unique vision of a future many centuries removed from our own. It’s a film that has lofty ideas that are not quite fully realized as the filmmakers had probably intended, though it is a well-made piece of sci-fi. But this disc runs right off the chain with “R.O.T.O.R.” (1987), an alternate universe “RoboCop” (1987) that is so awful across the board it must be seen to be believed. The kicker, though, is that every questionable component of the film is so perfectly bad that it is an irresistible watch, shooting it right to the top of Scream Factory’s most indulgent guilty pleasure films. Step aside, “Ninja III: The Domination” (1984), there’s a new robotic sheriff in crazy town.

First up, director Michael Anderson’s time traveling airplane rescue sci-fi feature, “Millennium”. Country legend Kris Kristofferson stars as National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator Bill Smith, who has just been tasked with trying to determine how a 747 crashed a day earlier. The cockpit voice recorder’s audio has the co-pilot stating all crew members are “burned up”, yet there was no report of fire before the plane exploded. Within the rubble Bill finds a digital watch that is going backward, and later a theoretical physicist, Dr. Arnold Mayer (Daniel Travanti) suggests some sort of time traveling paradox may be at play. During his investigation Bill meets Louise (Cheryl Ladd), a stewardess who immediately takes a liking to him. She acts a bit flighty, though, and Bill gets the sense something isn’t adding up. After a passionate night together, she literally disappears the next morning.

What Bill doesn’t know is that he and Dr. Mayer are crucial to the events of the future, from which Louise has originated. Her purpose is to retrieve a stunner that was lost on a plane back in 1963, a plane on which Bill was a passenger. Part of this item wound up in the hands of Dr. Mayer, leading to his lifelong passion with physics. Louise is tasked with distracting Bill from his investigation, worried that his discoveries could have profound effects on the future. The reason the time travellers are abducting passengers from doomed planes is so that they can attempt to repopulate the planet, since a millennium from now pollution causes the human race to be unable to procreate. Each time the travellers go back, however, it causes a “time quake” that affects the future world. Louise must keep Bill off the trail of his investigation while also ensuring Dr. Mayer can proceed with his work, which will eventually lead to the creation of the gate that makes time travel possible.

This is one ambitious movie. It has grand ideas. Unfortunately, despite being a well-made, well-cast picture the script is messy. So, so messy. The movie starts off interestingly enough, with a solid mystery that I felt very invested in unraveling. But once the conceit is revealed and the action shifts to the future, it becomes bogged down by exposition that is surprisingly vague. For instance, we know time travellers are absconding with the passengers of doomed flights, but the film doesn’t explain why until the third act and even then that information comes from about two sentences worth of dialogue. The mission of the future should have been explained much earlier on, because otherwise it just seems ridiculous. These future people even go so far as to create duplicates of those they abduct so that there are bodies left for the eventual crash. Knowing it’s for reproductive purposes might have made their mission seem more dire, adding some additional tension.

The future also looks a little ridiculous. It’s an industrial nightmare straight out of “Dark City” (1998), with people dressed in goth garb while others have mutated into very odd permutations of the human form. There’s also a high council that oversees all future activities and determines the planet’s course of action –it is a consortium of freaks living in glass tubes, one of whom looks like Katherine Helmond in “Brazil” (1985). The time quakes are a nice touch, though, allowing for a physical impact to be conveyed when events in the past are altered to affect the future.

Moving on to the real star of this disc: “R.O.T.O.R.”. How this and “RoboCop” were made in the same year, I don’t know. While Verhoeven’s film is far and away the better of the two, in terms of sheer entertainment value it’s a tight race. It’s a rare film that can be so undeniably terrible, yet at the same time a raucous crowd-pleaser that absolutely deserves to be seen with a big audience.

Also known as “Blue Steel” (the title this print uses), the film focuses on Dr. J. Barrett Coldyron (Richard Gessewein, whose voiced has been dubbed by Loren Bivens), a leader in the field of robotics. He’s been working on a prototype, code-named R.O.T.O.R. (Robotic Officer Tactical Operations Research, because that makes sense), which has been designed to replace human cops. But it isn’t going to be ready for nearly a decade, maybe more. Coldyron’s boss, Commander Buglar (Michael Hunter) couldn’t care less about development time, however, and he orders Coldyron to have the prototype delivered in 60 days or he’s fired. Coldyron refuses and gets handed his walking papers, meanwhile Buglar has the facility’s remaining (bumbling) scientists bring R.O.T.O.R. to life.

They succeed, but instead of fairly meting out justice R.O.T.O.R. decides to simply murder anyone who breaks the law. When the deranged robot makes it its goal to eliminate a couple for the minor infraction of speeding, Coldyron teams up with skunk-haired combat designer Dr. Steele (Jayne Smith) to track down his unyielding creation and put an end to its brief reign of street terror.

This is a film that must be experienced; mere words cannot begin to convey the thrill of seeing every abject element of this production materialize into something immeasurably absurd. It is a whirlwind of ineptitude, where every weak aspect of the film comes together to strengthen its reputation as one of the most enjoyable bad movies ever committed to celluloid. A few examples… Coldyron wakes up at 5:00am, which we know thanks to an insert of his alarm going off. He hits it, it shuts off, and the next shot is a wider angle that shows his alarm once again… with a time of 4:50am. Coldyron’s lab has a robotic assistant with a sarcastic streak named Willard; imagine the robot from “Rocky IV” (1985) but with a personality. A hostage situation facing Coldyron ends when the victim beats up her attacker using kung-fu techniques. Coldyron narrates portions of the film with all the emotion of a man who just found out his dog got hit by a car. A man who is attacked by R.O.T.O.R. has Chiclet teeth – literally. And then there’s Dr. Steele, who looks like Pepe Le Pew in a dress and on steroids. I had to check the credits to be sure it wasn’t a dude in a wig.

Few films can be simultaneously flat-lined and electric, but that’s why “R.O.T.O.R.” is a special breed. Fans of dubious filmmaking are going to fall in love right from the opening frames. There are dozens, likely hundreds, of low-budget atrocities that don’t manage to pack in a fraction of the entertainment value found here. Writer/Producer/Director Cullen Blaine deserves all the credit for pumping this ambitious tech thriller full of outrageous moments viewers won’t soon forget. Toss in a roster of can’t-act actors playing oddball characters – some of which are poorly dubbed – and you’ve got all the makings of a cult classic that has enormous replay value.

“Millennium” film rating: C-
“R.O.T.O.R.” film rating: C+

Video

“Millennium” features a smooth 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image that is very pleasing, much more so than I had expected. Strong detailing is evident in many scenes, allowing visual information to shine through clearly. The cinematography is also very good, with excellent lighting allowing all that detail to breathe. Colors look natural and nicely saturated, though black levels are a bit inconsistent. Film grain appears very fine, never noisy.

“R.O.T.O.R.” is slightly more open at 1.78:1, with a 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image. The print used here looks to have been kept in surprisingly good shape, allowing for excellent definition to be showcased alongside accurate coloration, impressively rich black levels and a fine sheen of film grain. A handful of stylish shots show off unique attempts at lighting and camera work, too. Many bigger films don’t look this good in hi-def, making the appearance of “R.O.T.O.R.” even more impressive.

Audio

Both films feature an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track – stereo for “Millennium”, mono for “R.O.T.O.R.” – with similar results between the two. Dialogue consistently sounds clear and clean, with no audible hissing or pops. Bass response is weak on both titles; there’s barely much of a low end. Separation is slightly above average on both, giving effects some discreet placement. “R.O.T.O.R.” has the odd issue of sounding like a dub track… because most of it is. Levels fluctuate a bit on that title, too, though not enough for it to be an issue. Subtitles are included in English on both films.

Extras

The bonus features here are very light – trailers and an alt. ending for one of the films.

“Millennium” bonus features:

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 42 seconds.

There is an alternate ending (1080p) that runs for 5 minutes and 55 seconds.

“R.O.T.O.R.” bonus features:

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 53 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

While “Millennium” may be the more professional film here, “R.O.T.O.R.” is where all of this set’s value can be found. The former title is worth a watch for fans of time traveling sci-fi, while the latter title is so insanely fun it’s likely to get the most replay value from fans of rowdy midnight movies.

The Film: C Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: D+ Overall: C+

 


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