The movie Damnation Alley should have been much more and it cries out for remake. It is a distant echo of Roger Zelazny's novel on which it is very loosely based and although
it is actually a high budget movie it comes across as a low budget TV film.
Some of the visual effects are unconvincing and do not hit the mark which I could easily have overlooked if the filmmakers had put more of the Zelazny's dark and beautiful story in it.
Review by Wasa
May 17, 2014
Director: Jack Smight
Alan Sharp and Lukas Heller
novel: Roger Zelazny
Jan-Michael Vincent as Jake Tanner
George Peppard as Major Eugene "Sam" Denton
Paul Winfield as Keegan
Dominique Sanda as Janice
Jackie Earle Haley as Billy
Man: "All the dead are dead - and the living are dying."
The movie starts with World War III. Missiles are launched on both sides. Nuclear explosions knock the Earth out of its axis and this shift causes "storms and floods of
unprecedented severity". When things settle down all that is left are a scorched sky and radioactive wasteland inhabited by mutated animals.
The story follows a handful of survivors at a military base who decide, after an accidental explosion obliterates the compound and kills most of remaining crew, to travel to Albany. Tanner, who resigned from commission after the war, and his former commanding officer Maj. Eugene Denton take the first landmaster. The second is occupied by Keegan, painter and former soldier like Tanner, and Lt. Tom Perry.
There are casualties along the way, but they encounter other survivals who join them. Among them are Janice and Billy played by Jackie Earle Haley (You may remember him from Watchmen, he is Rorschach). The question is what are they going to find on the end of it?Landmaster is probably one of the more interesting things in this movie. Jefferies Automotive built a robust 12-wheeled vehicle powered by a Ford industrial engine and covered with 3/8-inch steel plating. (source) It looks amazing!
Damnation Alley was intended to be THE SF movie of the year, but it did not fulfill the expectations. That year, 1977, the Star Wars with much superior special effects
rightfully stole the spotlight.
As far as the special effects go, the giant animals and bugs just do not look real enough, but even if they were the story is so thin that it would not make much of a difference.
The characters just are. There is no backstory and no development. There is a hint of confrontation between Tanner and Denton, who does not approve of Tanner’s laid-back
style, but it is not explained or build upon.
Everybody is too damned (!) cheerful, basically they come across as tourists on vacation rather than people who survived the Nuclear showdown, and lost their families, and every day may be their last. Not to mention that they could easily be the last people on Earth.
Watching the movie I could understand why Zelazny did not like it. Compared to the book, you don't get the sense of a looming catastrophe from the movie, or the harshness of the landscape, or the struggle.
Tanner comes across as a reckless young man rather than a dangerous outlaw, and the quintessential antihero that might have been. This is a shame since Zelazny's Tanner is such as compelling character and the reason (one of the reasons!) why I'm still hoping - in this Dawn of the Age of Remake (think, Total Recall, think …) - somebody will like Zelazny's story well enough to give it another try. And do it right this time! To paraphrase the song, I'm holding out for a (anti)hero!
I am hoping from the bottom of my heart filmmakers will discover Damnation Alley again, fall in love with it and make a movie this novel deserves.
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