Future Cop (1985)
By: Paul Ryan on November 19, 2009  | 
Big Sky Video (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 76 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Charles Band
Starring: Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani, Biff Manard
Screenplay: Danny Bilson, Paul DeMeo
Country: USA
External Links
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Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) is a 23rd century policeman from Angel City, the rebuilt version of a post-mega-earthquake Los Angeles. Having spent the past few years hunting down cult leader Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani), and his zombie-like followers (known as Trancers), Deth is heavily burnt-out. Resigning after a Trancer skirmish in a diner (versus an old lady, no less), Jack is pressed back into duty by the city's ruling council when it is revealed that Whistler – having been believed dead – has actually escaped into the past - 1985, to be exact. His plan is to kill the ancestors of the Councillors, and stop Angel City from coming to fruition. In this world, time travel is achieved by taking a drug which sends a person's consciousness into the body of an ancestor, and Whistler is inhabiting an Los Angeles police detective. Sent after him, Deth arrives in the body of a local reporter (and appparrent pants-man), who has just spent the night with punk babe Leena (Helen Hunt), who notices an instant change in her pick-up. Initally thinking Jack to be mad, she finds herself acting as Jack's only help in an L.A. filled with Trancer Santas, belligerent punk rockers, and brainwashed cops...

Future Cop is a big reason I became fascinated with B-movies, and the ways in which resourceful filmmakers can do a lot with a little. The script, by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo (who later developed the early 90s TV version of The Flash) is tight, witty and full of great little details. Charles Band's direction is the best it has ever been, breezily (and never self-consciously) echoing the visuals of vintage film noir, whilst keeping the action moving at a rapid clip. The cast is the icing on the cake. Jack Deth is Tim Thomerson's signature role, and he is perfect throughout. Charismatic, rugged, vulnerable and above all, funny as hell, it's a truly great performance. A pre-stardom Helen Hunt brings depth and dimension to the role of Leena, which would have been far less distinctive in the hands of a lesser actor. She makes the character's rapid transition from skeptic to genuinely caring partner believable and touching. Michael Stefani (who pretty much vanished from acting after this film) gives the villainous Whistler an eerie, otherworldly demeanor, whilst Biff Manard is great fun as the grizzled fallen baseballer, Hap Ashby. But really, all the performances here are spot-on.

Sure, the time-travel logic is inconsistent, but in a movie this enjoyable, it's not that much of a bother. Known in the States as Trancers (which is still the on-screen title in this version), this spawned five sequels – four of which starred Thomerson, though please steer clear of 2002's Trancers 6 – and was also followed up in a segment of Band's still-unreleased 1988 anthology flick, Pulse Pounders (which I'd really love to see one day). This is still the best of the series, and one of the finest B-movies of all time.

And remember folks, dry hair's for squids...
Oh dear. Oh dear indeed. When this film was released on DVD in the US back in 2001, the release drew instant scorn for being sourced from a late 80s Vestron Laserdisc (complete with lengthy spot of blank video halfway through the film – which comes from a side change, and an "end of side two" screen at the end of the film). When Big Sky announced that an audio commentary would be included on this release, it raised hopes that maybe some effort would go into the video transfer. Sadly, this is not the case. I haven't seen that Region 1 release, but the video here is absolutely, unforgivably dire. Looking from the get-go like it's been taken from an old, dirty VHS tape, this transfer has a massive number of faults. There's colour bleed, analogue tracking errors, video noise, ghosting (so bad at times, that it's hard to make out facial expressions), poor colours, blacks that are more like greys, constant film artifacts – scratches and reel changes markers aplently, and frequent moiré and aliasing. It's open-matte, as opposed to pan-and-scan (as the presence of a boom mike indicates around the 60min mark), and the picture abruptly drops out halfway through the scene in the punk club. To top it all off, the end credits have the trailer for Trancers II overlaid in the vein of a TV show. I've never seen this done to a film on DVD before, and don't ever want to see it done to any other film on disc ever again. The video quality of the trailer is infinitely better than that of this film, which serves to make the atrocious transfer all the more galling. It's entirely likely that this is the best Big Sky had access to (as most of Empire Pictures' library is actually controlled by MGM), but honestly, given this ghastly, crushingly disappointing video transfer, they shouldn't have bothered at all.
The audio here comes in 2.0, which at is, at the very least, less disappointing than the video. While it is muffled in places, it's consistently clear enough. Dialogue is always discernable, though the aforementioned video drop out results in a few moments of blank audio as well.
Extra Features
Audio Commentary (Charles Band and Chris Gore): The one redeeming feature of this disc (and exclusive to this Australian release), this sees Band discussing the film with Film Threat editor Chris Gore (as they also do on Big Sky's release of Puppet Master). It's a busy, fact-filled commentary, with just about everything you could ever want to know about the film – at least as far as Band's memory allows – touched upon. Band delves into the history behind the two titles - the film, the origins of Empire Pictures and his working relationships with Thomerson and Hunt, whilst Gore – very obviously a big fan of the film – teases out a diverse range of additional topics. The two speakers have an easy rapport, and while Band – understandably, given how long ago the film was made – gets some facts wrong, this is a terrific commentary, and will undoubtedly make the disc of major interest for fans of Band's work. Band also hints that he and Thomerson are in early discussions about putting together a new entry in the series. I'll believe it when I see it, but here's hoping…

Bloopers: Strangely, this seven minute-reel of goofs and behind-the scenes footage comes from Trancers II, not the original film, so what it's doing here is anybody's guess. Sure, it's funny to see Thomerson and Hunt blowing lines and mucking about on set (especially when Band surprises Hunt with a sudden pash), but this doesn't belong on this disc. Video (in letterbox widescreen) is often rough, but still way better the main feature.

Filmographies: Basic, IMDB-sourced film listings for Hunt and Thomerson. Why these are included at all in the age of the internet is entirely beyond me. Still, if you're interested to see just how the careers of these two actors diverged, this might be worth a quick look.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Nothing – not even the appalling video quality – can diminish Future Cop's status as one of the best B-movies ever made. This is still a sharp, witty and imaginative film, with great performances and lots of wonderfully eccentric touches. A fine, info-packed commentary makes this the best version available anywhere in the world, but this film deserves a decent, film-sourced video transfer, and the excerable, less-than-half-arsed job here is a massive letdown. Buyer beware.

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