top

Laserhawk
(1997)
 

Director: Jean Pellerin                    
Cast:
Jason James Richter, Melissa Galianos, Mark Hamill


You know a movie is in trouble when the opening narration makes absolutely no sense at all. And you know a movie is in trouble when the story always remains at a constant level of confusion as it progresses. But the biggest sign for me that Laserhawk was doomed was in a throwaway shot of a movie theater, where the marquee proclaims the double bill of the movies Cyberjack (a.k.a. Virtual Assassin) and Xtro 2. Both those movies were produced by John A. Curtis, and these movies weren't exactly great entertainment - in fact, they sucked! Curtis also produced Laserhawk, and it continues his not-so-great tradition of non-entertainment.

Don't be fooled by the fact that Mark Hamill's name is prominently displayed on the front of the video box; he only appears for about 20 minutes in the movie, and a large chunk of that footage is when the central characters are watching a videotape with him in it. Hamill's face looks puffy, and is covered with pimples and five o'clock shadow. He has rings around his eyes, and talks very tiredly, in slurry tones. Though he has given some good performances in the past (like in Slipstream), here he looks and acts so badly, it's tough to watch his scenes. To make matters worse, his role is extremely inconsequential; aside from the videotape scene, his character really isn't needed at all. It seems the screenwriter realized this, and at the end of those twenty minutes, wrote Hamill's character out of the screenplay. This is an example of what makes Laserhawk's screenplay one of the worst screenplays I've encountered for quite some time.

For starters, the story; after having seen the entire movie, and rereading my notes several times, I still can't figure out many of the key elements of the plot. The prologue - some mess about battling alien factions - jumps from 250 million years to fifteen years from the present, without properly establishing who is who, and why they did what they did. As a result, I didn't understand subsequently what was so important about some alien spacecraft that crashes on earth, who the beings piloting it were, or why Bethlehem stars came out of their bodies, flying into the heavens. I'll put all of that aside for now, and concentrate on the present story: Apparently, maverick teenager Zack (Richler) has faked some U.F.O. footage as a prank, and to impress the coolest girl in school - apparently, because all of this is shown so quickly and incompletely, I had to stop the movie there to give myself time to fill in the missing details. Even though this movie runs 101 minutes, there seems to be a lot of scenes missing in this movie. I suppose this movie could have had some problems in its production that forced the producers to edit something together resembling a movie. Or maybe, as I stated before, Laserhawk's screenplay was just ineptly written.

I'll now try to get back to explaining the story. The footage is soon revealed to be a hoax, and Zach is pretty much an outcast. Weird events start happening in the area - Zack sees strange lights coming from the sky at night, and a bus that was filled with teenagers is found abandoned, with the teens missing. The investigating cops - who are so stupid, they don't find an important video camera in the bus, or see that the bus made an impression from being dropped from the sky - still don't see anything wrong, nor do they seem concerned about all these missing teenager for some reason (who trained these idiots?) By now, Josh has teamed up with outcast teen Kara (Galianos), and after an expedition to that bus, they return to town to find that everyone in town has.....vanished.

At this point, it seems the movie, though remaining as stupid as ever, will at least be comprehensible. But almost as soon as we think us, the movie pulls another switch on us, and the movies grows more and more stupid. Some examples: Kara soon pulls out an alien artifact from nowhere, with no explanation of her possession of it here or elsewhere in the movie....the two teens later barge into a mansion past the butler, who does nothing to stop them.....the owner of the mansion is first seen asleep, then in the next scene he is suddenly seen chatting to the teens like they are old friends.....the mansion owner is a millionaire after writing and drawing just two comic books....his mansion is right next to an abandoned warehouse district (so things can be blown up)....a totally unnecessary and out of context scene of a frog getting run over by a car....Kara suddenly knowing things about an important find that no one could possibly have known or guessed....and a climax that not only rips off The Last Starfighter, but Independence Day and Return of the Jedi. Throughout the movie, one is also underwhelmed by the poor level of acting, direction, lighting, set design, cinematography, and imagination in just about every scene. The seeming lack of enthusiasm about making this film also creeps into the energy level; nowhere in the movie is there any feeling, whether it be tension, mystery, fear, or excitement.

In short, there's very little positive to say about what Laserhawk has to offer. There are a few acceptable special effects, like when beams of light beam down from the alien spacecrafts. The computer-generated effects in the climax actually look quite lavish, especially considering how the rest of the movie looks. And I was impressed with the audacity the movie had, with removing and killing (off screen) the kind of characters you usually don't see get that fate in genre movies like this. (I don't understand, however, why the movie took the time to develop some personality for two such characters before suddenly bumping them off.) But as you probably know already, a few asides and some pretty dressing do not develop stories that are comprehensible and interesting.

A message to producer John A. Curtis: With this film, you are now alongside North American Releasing (Act of War) on my "three strikes and you're out" list.


UPDATE: I received the following letter from someone who actually worked on this movie! At the person's request, they shall remain anonymous:

"Hey dude, can you believe it, I was surfing off of the Internet Movie Database Links when I found your page devoted to ... Laserhawk. I read your review all the way through and had to chuckle. Your comments about the terrible script, the retreat concept and the confusing direction were bang on. In fact, these comments already occurred to me as I suffered through the post production of my one and only special effects gig. That's right, I was part of the team that put together all of the computer graphics, which was about the only thing you liked about Laserhawk. We spent nearly a year on the effects if you can believe it and it was 80% agony.

"We were all pretty young but eager to launch into an honest to goodness science fiction film. We had people draw concept art, we were allowed to build models from scratch and come up with a lot of the sequences ourselves. But our enthusiasm was quickly lost when we realized that there wasn't much of a script, that our FX was going to be shoe-horned in without rhyme or reason, and that the people above us weren't very interested in making a good film. This is not to say that Laserhawk was ever meant to be more than B material, but there were a lot of good ideas and sound FX concepts that failed to make it out of our group because our producers were more interested in showing they were big enough to put out a computer graphics show.

"You mention the name John Curtis a lot. He was certainly responsible for the script, but by the time it reached post-production he was out of the picture and we had to deal with a different set of idiots altogether. Our producers did a lot of muscle flexing, liked to show off their 'Hollywood' connections and liked to act like they were experts - which they were not. We would have weeks of work thrown out in one day because certain people wanted to show investors and their friends that they were big studio pricks and could make snap decisions. One fellow in particular was a big name dropper. He had worked with "John Dykstra", was pals with "Doug Trumbull", etc. etc. but somehow ended up working on a great film like Laserhawk. Most of the time he'd walk in, dis your work, and dream up a cheesy shot that had been done a hundred times in Battlestar Galactica. The rest of the time he'd be off spending company money schmoozing 'clients'. That part of film production I hope never to see again.

"All in all, it's incredible we got it out at all. We were weeks late, over budget, and minus half our team who had either left in relief or were fired when they got on the wrong side of management (including our lead who was an Emmy Award winner for his work in CG). I survived until I had finished my part and quit soon after, never believing I'd see Laserhawk in the theatres, much less on TV.

"As for Mark Hamill - never got to meet him. That would have been a consolation."


UPDATE 2: Daniel Séguin revealed to me more information on the movie's troubled production:

"I also can't believe that there is any reviews on this so called "movie" Laserhawk. I also worked on the film as one of the composers. There were 2 versions of the film made; the first one had the very long intro with the spaceship flying slowly for a long time (over 6 minutes, I think it was!!) I worked on the "B" version (the one with the 2 ships chasing each other). I ended up writing the music for that intro (2:20 seconds, to be exact!) and it was hell!! On top of it all, I never got paid in full and I received part of the balance a year after I delivered the music!! The company that took over the film, Motion Works, folded right after the film was complete. Yes, they were a bunch of bozos and total losers!! I laugh about it now but I hope I won't have to go through that again!"

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Invader, Star Kid, The High Crusade

homeindexgenree-mail