We meet Dogen (Jeffrey Byron), a space ranger traveling through the desolate wastelands of the planet Lemuria. In fact, Band wastes the first four minutes just showing the protagonist driving around before we finally get some action as a flying craft of some sort attacks our hero. The purpose of this sequence is to show what a badass Dogen is and one can’t help but notice the startling similarities in what Jeffrey Byron is wearing with Mel Gibson’s black leather outfit in Mad Max (1979), right down to sporting the same cool, unshaven look.
A prospector and his young daughter Dhyana (Kelly Preston) are working in an abandoned mine in Nomad territory and find a big crystal that appears to be very valuable. However, they run afoul of Baal (R. David Smith) and his minions. He is the half-cyborg son of Jared-Syn (Michael Preston), an intergalactic criminal with supernatural abilities. Baal has this cool mechanical arm that extends (in 3-D this looked rather impressive) and shoots out funky green liquid that causes the victim to hallucinate a bizarre dream-state where they encounter Jared-Syn. He possesses a powerful red crystal that kills them upon contact. Fortunately, Dhyana manages to hide but her father isn’t so lucky.
Dogen encounters Dhyana and informs her that a treaty has been broken and Jared-Syn is inciting the Nomads to do his bidding. Band even attempts to orchestrate a poignant moment when she mourns the loss of her father. It is Dogen’s mission to hunt down and stop both Syn and Baal. With her father dead, Dhyana joins Dogen on his mission. However, when she is kidnapped by Syn (and conveniently teleported away), Dogen seeks out Rhodes (Tim Thomerson), an ex-ranger now a grizzled, washed-up alcoholic, as a guide to the Lost City – the bad guy’s lair.
Richard Moll who shows up as the leader of the Cyclops and who challenges Dogen to gladiatorial combat at one point during the film.
For a low-budget film such as Metalstorm, the production values are surprisingly decent with attention paid to the costumes and cool prosthetic makeup effects of the Cyclop nomads. The hallucination sequences are definitely the strongest parts of the film and have a nightmarish quality to them enhanced by Richard Band’s otherworldly music. The special effects actually hold up pretty well because they were done practically with optics and models, giving them a realness even if sometimes they look a little cheesy but given the small budget it is not surprisingly while also becoming part of the film’s charm.
Producer/director Charles Band originally conceived of Metalstorm as a low-budget follow-up to his previous 3-D film Parasite. However, he got excited about the story and decided to expand its scope and budget to $2.5 million, which seems like peanuts but was a big chunk of change for someone like Band. This necessitated more crew members to be brought on board forcing Band and the film’s screenwriter and co-producer Alan J. Adler to give up their salaries in lieu of deferments. This also allowed them more creative control: “If the majors financed this thing, a car full of guys in suits could drive up with some crazy idea, and we would have to do it,” Adler said in an interview with Cinefantastique magazine.
Adler originally saw the film as a western with “a lot of American Indian mythology.” He read everything he could find in the library and wrote a treatment, basing the setting and time on many of his ideas of the legend of Atlantis.” He set out to write as little dialogue as possible because “3-D is a dynamic visual medium, and dialogue seems to stop the action,” which may explain the end result.
Mac Ahlberg remembers that initially the production had a 3-D consultant, “but we got rid of him because he was such a pain in the neck.” Apparently, the consultant wanted Band and Ahlberg to follow the “standard” 3-D rules: long cuts, static cameras and an avoidance of high-contrast scenes. The two men ignored them all and were still able to achieve the results they wanted. However, shooting in 3-D required extreme precision. For example, some shots required multiple cameras and extra care was required for the composition and calibration of convergence in each camera. Ahlberg also had to be aware of how a sequence might be edited while he was filming it. He had to compose the picture so that the audience looked at what they were supposed to, “because if they look at the wrong things they definitely get eye pain.” He tried to have a continuity of convergence so as to avoid this unfortunate side effect. Although, he ultimately found 3-D “so boring, so uninteresting.”
Makeup Effects Labs did the film’s makeup effects, including the creation of Baal. All of the character’s appliances and props took five hours each day to apply. There were seven appliances for the face and skull, which resembled surgically-implanted metal but was actually latex foam painted in silver pigments. Baal was played by accomplished mime R. David Smith who was born without a left arm, perfect for the pneumatically-operated mechanical arm that shoots a green hallucinatory liquid. Three versions of the arm were built: one that extended, one that was rigged to be torn off, and one that shot the green liquid.
Metalstorm’s visual effects included rotoscope animation and complex blue-screen composites that combined up to five elements in a single shot. For example, there was a model of a vehicle flying through the air, going through a background of a shot of a canyon while at the same time there might be a live-action shot of an actor in a vehicle shooting rotoscoped lasers. The challenge came with the 3-D and the precise positioning required of different elements within the frame at any one moment. A lot of the effects work required rotoscope animation for lasers, glowing energy crystals and the climactic hyperspace tunnel. It took a lot of time to achieve them and as a result three different animation crews were brought in during post-production.
After principal photography ended, editor Brad Arensman assembled a 3-D demo reel for film buyers at the Cannes Film Festival with Charles Band and actor Jeffrey Byron accompanying the footage. Band returned to L.A. and screened the reel for several domestic distributors. Universal Pictures took an interest as their executives were worried about the financial prospects of Jaws 3-D. They saw Metalstorm as an inexpensive follow-up that could be screened in theaters that had already altered their projection equipment for Jaws 3-D. However, they wanted Metalstorm to come out three weeks after Jaws opened which left Band and his crew less than two months to shoot some much-needed pick-up shots, finish the optical and to cut, loop, score and mix the film. Weeks before the release, Band had high hopes that his film would be a big hit. Adler began working on a script for a sequel and even envisioned a trilogy. Despite almost recouping their budget over the opening weekend, grosses dropped off quickly. Band was candid about his shortcomings as a director. He spent too much time shooting the dream sequences and a few others and then found he only had half a day to shoot other scenes and raced through them due to the short shooting schedule. The result was a wildly uneven film.
Metalstorm is basically a futuristic western with motorized vehicles standing in for horses and with gunslinger-type characters and shoot-outs in frontier-type towns. Band’s film was one of many at the time that tried to capitalize on the success of The Road Warrior right down to the casting of Michael Preston as Jared-Syn (he was also in The Road Warrior) but he gets little to do except for the hallucination sequences and the final showdown. Like most films that came after, Metalstorm was a pale imitation so it tried to also fuse elements of sorcery and dystopia science fiction onto the story in an attempt to make it somewhat different. It is never a dull film – Band’s B-action movie instincts are good – but it’s not an extraordinary one either. The action sequences are certainly lively and nicely orchestrated with the requisite slow motion shots of vehicular carnage. It’s just that one can’t help but feel we’ve seen this all before and done better.
Wolter, Charlotte. “Metalstorm.” Cinefantastique. Vol 13 No. 6 / Vol. 14 No. 1