In some ways, I think that my fascination with the odd, often terrible things in popular culture starts with Megaforce. I get the feeling that few people know about this particular film and if there are people who do, I would be hard pressed to find some serious fans. It was a total misfire of a film when it came out and hasn’t at all better with age.
I first saw Megaforce on television when I was a kid. Well, to be honest, I saw the last ten minutes of it. Megaforce was one of those movies that netowrk affiliates would show when there was a hole in their schedules on a weekend afternoon because someone else was airing a baseball or football game and we weren’t in the era of all-golf, all-the-time on Saturdays and Sundays when Notre Dame isn’t playing. Saturday is still kind of a wasteland, but back then it wasn’t half bad because you could every once in a while come across The Breakfast Club or Better off Dead on WPIX if your mom hadn’t chased you out of the house already.
It was fine, anyway. Most of my Saturdays were spent at friends’ houses or having them at my house to play Nintendo until mom threw me out of the basement with some sort of speech about playing outside. And if she wasn’t effective, the television was effective because this wasteland of programming would bore us enough to death to cause us to go outside and play wiffle ball in the backyard, eventually getting half of our balls caught in our huge elm tree.
The first time I remember seeing the end of Megaforce was on one of these random Saturday afternoons. Tom Hackett and I had just switched off the Nintendo and rapidly turned the knob on the cheap Sharp Linytron television to see if we could find what was on the ten or so channels my house actually got. The images flashed by very quickly with a thip-thip-thip-thip so I don’t know how we saw the movie but we wound up landing on channel 7, WABC, and spent the next few minutes watching this guy on a soupe-up motorcylce. He was being chased by bad guys and tring to board what looked like a huge cargo plane. His compatriots were urging him on, and after a few moments, he figured out how to work what was obviously an experimental flying feature on the motorcycle, then flew through the air. Overjoyed, he hooted and hollared until he landed on the plane.
We sat dumbfounded. The credits rolled. Then, the guy who was obviously the villain came on the screen and that hero uttered one of the best lines in movie history: “I just wanted to say goobye and remind you that the good guys always win. Even in the Eighties.”
I’m not sure if Tom and I said “What the fuck was that?!” out loud, but we were definitely thinking it. That’s not a good thing considering that we were the target audience, having spent the last few years playing with G.I. Joe action figures and swallowing just about everything that was meant for our age group It was the first time I realized that something geared towards me was lame–and I watched the Go Bots, for crying out loud.
My mom was happy that we got out of the house, though.
I honestly would forget about Megaforce for years. Then, in 2000, I saw an ad for the film in Tales of the New Teen Titans #4. It asked me if I was “man enough” for Megaforce. Well, I was “man enough” to go to IMDb, that’s for sure.
The reviews link led me to Bad Movie Night, a site dedicated to an appreciation of the worst that cinema had to offer, and for which I would write several reviews during the next few years (it is no longer around). The review was basically sarcastic and that was about all I had to go by as far as what the movie was about because YouTube wasn’t around yet and no video store had a copy. I emailed the reviewer and asked if I could get a copy, and even offered to pay.
Sure, although nobody should have to pay for that,” he replied. I sent a blank tape and $5.00 for shipping to this person, who lived in Ontario, and a few weeks later, Megaforce was in my mailbox.
I sat down to watch it and never finished. In fact, I fast-forwarded to the end. It was as cheesy as I remember it … and never watched it fully until a few weeks ago.
The movie is directed by Hal Needham, best known for combining action and comedy in two classic Burt Reynolds films, The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit. Megaforce came out in 1982, so by then Needham was a pretty consistent director. Unfortunately, none of the magic from the two Reynolds films is there.
According to the film’s introduction, Megaforce was “phantom Army of super elite fighting men whose weapons are the most powerful science can devise” and that while it technically didn’t exist, it was one of the best fighting forces in the world. If you haven’t caught the similarities between this and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, which premiered right around the same time, you’re practically blind.
The main conflict, which informs Megaforce’s mission, has to do some sort of desert-nation border war between two completely fictional countries that are supposed to be U.S. and U.S.S.R.-based but are ambiguous so that the viewer doesn’t seem to mind that the entire movie takes place in the same five square miles of California desert. In fact, the setting so rarely changes, I started to wonder how big the budget was. It’s like one of those 1980s-era NBC series where everything is obviously shot on a backlot, as if all villains hide out at loading docks or random industrial parks near Burbank. Devin from Knight Rider as one of the good guys doesn’t help, either.
So about five minutes in, Persis Khambatta shows up. The last time anyone saw her, she was merging with V’ger and Reverend Camden at the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Oh, and she was bald and reciting all of her lines in a monotone. However, here she not only has hair, but she can actually express emotion! Of course, that’s overshadowed by a display of Megaforce’s capabilities, or basically a toy commercial within a movie. The motorcycles driving around, shooting at targets, and generally being awesome practically smacks you over the head and says, “Hey kids! Look at these cool motor bikes! And the guy named Dallas because he’s wearing a Skoal T-shirt and talks like he’s from Texas! That’s right, he’s a real American! Don’t you want his action figure? Buy the toys, kids! Come on, buy them! Seriously, we need to make up the money the studio blew on this crap fest! FOR GOD’S SAKE, BUY OUR TOYS!!!”
I could go on with an even more detailed summary of what’s going on in this movie, but this is getting long enough already and honestly, I think at this point, I turned my attention to the dishes. The plot’s hard to follow, anyway. Not because it’s complicated or anything, but because of Barry Bostwick’s hair.
Bostwick plays Ace Hunter, Megaforce’s leader and all-around awesome hero guy. He spends the entire movie dressed in one of Megaforce’s tan uniforms, which Khambatta probably took with her from the set of ST:TMP (it would have been cooler had she stolen Shatner’s toupee) and wearing a headband around hair that is sprayed out and feathered to an insane degree. Picture George Michael in the “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” but frizzier and you’ve got Bostwick’s hair.
That’s not to say that I don’t like the guy. He was very funny on Spin City as the clueless mayor, and I adore The Rocky Horror Picture Show; plus, I’ve seen enough years of A Capitol Fourth to know that the man has presence. However, he is not an action hero. I think, at points, he’s trying to be tongue-in-cheek with his performance, carrying what is really an awful script. But it just doesn’t work, because Bostwick doesn’t have the ability to know something sucks but takes it seriously like David Hasselhoff (who would have been an awesome Ace Hunter).
Furthermore, the action sequences in which Bostwick is required to be a hero aren’t worth it. There’s a lot of shots of things blowing up and planes and bikes scooting across the desert, but I don’t think anyone actually dies throughout the entire movie. In fact, I half expected someone to pick up an enemy gun and have it shoot a different color.
And then there’s that last scene. Bostwick tries to get the flying cycle to start with the enemy hot on his tail. The rest of Megaforce is in the cargo plane (read: on a soundstage, in front of a blue screen), hoping to God he makes it on board. I mean, really hoping. They’re trying to look upset but often look like they’re either suppressing a laugh or constipated. I think that my friends and I at nine years old, who would fake wounding and scream, “No! Save yourself!” would be more convincing in this scene.
But the ridiculous ending is not even the best part, because what makes it more awesome is the theme song. “Megaforce,” performed by 707, begins playing right as the credits start to roll, featuring footage from the movie. When I first heard the song, something inside me told me that I had to have a copy. At the time, I didn’t have access to iTunes and nobody on whatever illegal download site I was using (Kazaa, I think) had it. I finally tracked it down on vinyl at a record store in Cambridge, Massachussetts. I ordered it and when I received it, I gave it to the only person I knew who could convert vinyl to MP3, my friend Paul.
Paul thought I was an absolute lunatic, and rightfully disposed of the album once he ripped the one song for me. I laughed it off by explaining that the song was kind of a gag—and it was, because I was putting it on a CD I was making for my friend’s bachelor party, which featured similarly awesome 1980s anthems.
The thing is, though, that over the years as I have worked out to “Megaforce,” I’ve come to have an appreciation for it. There may be some rather cheesy lyrics but I’d say on some level it rocks. My appreciation for the movie hasn’t grown, but I can’t help but recognize its impact.