Monday, April 11, 2011

Solar Adventure

I’m afraid I’ve got no profound insights on pop culture history to kick off this particular post. It’s a cheap Korean mecha movie where most of things meant to be “cool” are stolen from something else if you know what to look for. There isn’t even anything “solar” about this “adventure.” Nothing’s solar powered, nothing involving the sun takes place, and they don’t even go to other parts of the solar system. There are aliens, from a planet we never see, but that’s kind of a stretch, don’t ya think?

Would it surprise you to hear parts of this movie showed up in the infamous Space Thunder Kids?

Things open with the credits playing against some surprisingly well-done illustrations of futuristic cities and space stations. Given the animation we’re about to see, probably stolen from somewhere more reputable. And believe me, I was pining for something half as cool as this. I was also pining for the appreciation of music I’d never have again after listening to the most lifeless synthesizer score you ever heard playing on top of these.

After the credits we cut to a school in South Korea. A live action school with real people. The badly-dubbed class greets their teacher, who explains that dirty nasty communists live in the north part of their country and are always trying to take over their peace-loving democratic society. One kid, bored with politics, proposes a nature study and Nice Teacher Lady promises to take the class camping the next day.

We cut to a shot of a forest they hold for an entire minute, even though nothing is happening at all.

Oh, excuse me. It pans slightly to the left to show us nothing’s happening over there either.

That minute of forest footage was actually to establish three guys in green paramilitary uniforms, carrying guns walking through making all kinds of noise.

Something's happening here, somewhere.

They come up to the house of two kids (maybe they’re from the class but if you think I’m going to try to keep all those poorly-dubbed moppets straight when the movie doesn’t, well, sorry to disappoint you) and ask to be told where they are. The kids, or rather the boy while his sister cowers in terror, intuits they’re North Korean spies and says his teacher told them never to help people from the north. Two of them try to play good and bad cop, with bad cop smashing the kids upside the head with his gun. And calling them “capitalist bastards.” This movie’s for kids, you say?

The boy stumbles down the road looking for help, but keeps stumbling because of his head wound. He makes it to the neighbors’ house and tells them about the spies. They call the army, I guess, because everyone’s sitting around the office in camos. Hearing a kid blaming an injury on spies, they immediately scramble their troops. Or rather, a bunch of farmers hear the alert, change into camos too and ride out on motorcycles to look for the spies.

But enough of that, let’s watch the class from before go fishing! One of those military farmer types rides by and jokingly blames their bad luck on catching anything at the fish hiding from the spies, and tells the kids to let them know if anyone suspicious comes along. Nice Teacher Lady asks him if he thinks it’s a good idea to be out there with a bunch of school kids with armed, amoral spies on the loose, but military farmer guy assures her it’s safe because he doesn’t think the spies would come around there. Why, he doesn’t say.

The military farmers find the spies and eight million bullets are fired without anyone getting hit. Meanwhile the kids are playing with toy robots that turn into helicopters, which I guess is supposed to be some kind of counterpoint to what happens next.

As they sleep something weird happens. The movie turns into a cartoon as something crashes in the lake next to where they’re camping. A big yellow helicopter to be exact.

One of the kids swims out to the chopper and finds two green alien kids in the cockpit. He ties a rope to the helicopter and the class pulls it ashore.

Once that’s done, the alien kids wake up and tell the students their story. They fled to Earth from their planet (which has nearly been destroyed by “nuclear waste,” because there had to be an environmental message somewhere) to find help to overthrow the tyrannical Siporta. And they came here (in a helicopter) specifically because he plans to ally himself with the North Koreans.

Who inexplicably show up in force right then and have a shootout with the alien kids. You might think these are supposed to be the spies from before, but there’s way more than three of them. The Earth kids help by shooting one guy in the head with a slingshot, and eventually the alien kids get tired of shooting back with their own guns and turn their helicopter into a robot that blows the North Koreans away.

Cut to a flying saucer where we meet our villains, Siporta and the North Korean military leader who shall be known in this review simply as General Neck Goiter (who some say is a caricature of Kim-Il-Sung) because this movie’s terrible at naming its characters. Oh, and Siporta’s title is “Mr. President,” which sounds weird for an intergalactic despot.

The main obstacle to Siporta’s conquest isn’t the massive militaries of the other countries, though, but the alien kids and Shank, which I think is the name of the helicopter robot and for the sake of my sanity I’ll assume that’s the case. He’s managed to capture another robot, the Canon Robo (I’m going by the spelling on the case), both robots having been built by a scientist trying to overthrow his despotic regime, but can’t figure out how to make it work.

Believe me, this takes way more effort to follow if you actually watch this movie. Like when Siporta kills another minute of screen time needlessly explaining how some of his ships were lost in the trip across the galaxy. If he had so much trouble, why didn’t two kids in a helicopter?

But that’s nothing compared to this next part, where the human kids (all wearing Voltron-ish uniforms now for some reason) have brought the alien kids to explain the situation with Siporta to people from the government. In the middle of the conversation, one of the non-evil government people suddenly turns into General Neck Goiter. I swear on my mother’s grave, he talks about stealing Canon Robo back from Siporta so they can use it to save the world.

The alien kids explain why Siporta can’t use his captured robot: it only works if the pilot has mastered “emotional wavelength.” Despite how that sounds, it doesn’t mean Canon Robo can only be used by someone with pure intentions for it or whatever. It means nobody on Siporta’s side has stuck their head in a bowl connected to a computer with the right kind of blinky lights. The kids get nominated for this, because hey, those Japanese guys did the same thing with nominating kids to pilot incredibly powerful giant combat robots, didn’t they?

Siporta arms General Neck Goiter’s force with space weapons. Human kids, alien kids and Nice Teacher Lady (oh, it’s okay! They have adult supervision!) all pile into Shank to go find the other robot, but not before eating up more time killing some more attacking North Koreans with the robot.

Meanwhile, the alien villain’s scientists are failing to figure out how to activate Canon Robo (and several other robots we’ve never heard about, apparently). He decides to have it melted down and used to make their own robot.

After an extremely plodding, lifeless dogfight with a bunch of enemy fighters (hint to the North Koreans: it would probably help if you fired your weapons once in a while. And didn’t fly your planes into each other for no reason), the kids find Siporta’s base. How did they manage that? Don’t all Korean military installations have giant space donuts parked next to them?

Inside the base slave workers are driven so hard getting ready to melt down Canon Robo it keeps changing from day to night between shots.

The alien kids attack the base with helicopter robot while the human kids sneak inside to commandeer Canon Robo. The alien kids suddenly find themselves under attack by recolors of Tor from Mighty Orbots.

The human kids sneak behind a guard one by one (and we get to watch all of them do this) until he spots the last one going by. He’s so surprised his coat turns brown as he chases them.

The kids are captured except for the weedy one with glasses who hides in an oil drum, and Shank simply isn’t as mighty as so many Orbots and captured as well. President Siporta mocks the “im-buh-siles” for thinking they could mess with him, and gives his right hand man (whose name is, I’m not making this up, Buzzita. He’s never even mentioned again) permission to melt down this robot too, presumably with the pilots still inside.

But they’re evidently in no hurry, because in the next scene it’s night (and actually stays that way), with Shank and Canon Robo still laying around waiting to be melted. After spending thirty seconds watching people’s shoes, the kid who got away sneaks into Canon Robo. After he manages to activate it by making it turn blue and back to red again, one of the guards sees the robot sit up and is so surprised his coat changes color too.

The North Koreans are torturing the rest of the kids, but Canon Robo busts in and saves them. The troops are caught so unawares the 8’s on the robot turn into 6’s. The kids get their alien friends to start the helicopter-bot up again, then commandeer two other robots who were inexplicably out in the field.

President Siporta and General Neck Goiter are toasting their victory. General Neck Goiter’s talking in this cackling voice, and if this movie didn’t have the worst voice acting ever I’d think it was meant to indicate he’s planning on doublecrossing Siporta.

They storm into Siporta’s ship and I have to say it might not have been the best idea to build corridors big enough for giant robots to walk around in. In what I guess is meant to be a touch of comedy, the security guy who spots the robots thinks they’re just going to get melted down even though they’re walking around.

The four non-evil robots walk into a room with the Tors, who make the lights turn red. I have no idea what that means, but find out why it’s called Canon Robo because the three non-helicopter robots combine into a giant camera like the Transformer Reflector (are all three of those considered Canon Robo?). A giant camera that shoots a giant laser, that is. It blows up the Tors and something else important. It must be, as Siporta yells “Damn these robots!” right before he drives away from his exploding ship.

Siporta goes to General Neck Goiter for help, but the General doesn’t care about Siporta’s loss; he’s already got an army’s worth of high-tech alien weapons, and has his boys gun down Siporta before sending his army to attack the south. I love how the kids see the tanks rolling by and declare “We can’t just sit and watch!” When that’s exactly what they do.

They hold this shot for twenty seconds.

They attack in their robots despite outnumbered about twenty to one. Fortunately the North Koreans are idiots and not one of the tanks returns fire until the commanding officer tells them to you know, use all those weapons the aliens gave them. It doesn’t matter anyway, because for the better part of a minute we just see repeated footage of tanks exploding from the robots’ guns. And even though the robots don’t appear to move at all they’re able to destroy the entire tank column, even around a sharp bend in the road.

Elsewhere General Neck Goiter learns his tanks were destroyed and bemoans his fate as the camera zooms in on his right shoulder for some reason.

And that’s it. With Siporta gone and those couple tanks destroyed, the threat of North Korea is apparently smashed forever as the Earth kids give their alien friends a lifeless sendoff as they head for home. That is, their devastated, polluted planet. In a helicopter. Wait, what?

Bye, dummies. Give our best to the nuclear wasteland.

Then suddenly the movie’s live action again and the military farmers are still in an extremely murky forest. They finally gun down the enemy spies and march past the kids as they wake up and have breakfast. Was all the robot stuff supposed to have been a dream?

If they're comfortable having this in their movie they better be comfortable having it in reviews of the movie.

If I made this movie sound at all compelling, it’s only because you actually have to see it to experience the terrible dubbing and cheapjack animation to truly appreciate the horrible production values. I’ve read fanfic by first-time writers that was easier to keep up with. Solar Adventure doesn’t make Twilight look like Shakespeare (as much as Stephenie Meyer probably thought that's exactly what she was creating), but man…It’s a somewhat confusing, mercilessly plodding viewing exercise that made me wonder why I was watching Solar Adventure when I could’ve been watching the real Transformers. But what do you expect from a DVD still bragging about having “interactive menus” in 2006?

At least the plot summary's fairly accurate. Fairly.

I’ve got other knockoff mecha movies produced by the same people like Defenders of Space, which are just as badly animated, boring and hard to follow, but I have to say Solar Adventure is worse by dint of its clumsily-integrated live action segments and being an amateurish propaganda piece (is there any other kind?). To put that into perspective, Defenders of Space would have us believe the phoenix of legend is actually a robot that turns into a fire truck.

Solar Adventure is deplorable, but it’s perfect for getting a bunch of MSTies together for a night of riffing.

If nothing else, the DVD ends with something that makes me long a little for my childhood. That is, it has a series of quick trailers for other movies available from the same company. Like one where a guy sticks an anchor in a cannon.

Many was the night back in the 80’s where my folks would rent me a tape of Transformers or G.I. Joe and then once the day had once again been saved by those cartoon heroes, my friends and I would have almost as much fun watching the snippets of other movies and getting psyched up to see those. Even though none of us would remember any of them by the next morning.

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