May the Megaforce be with you!
Before he was the Mayor of New York city, Barry Bostwick led the armies of Megaforce, in what has become the best example of campy 80s action. A tenuous entry here, Megaforce provides sci-fi adjacent action with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, and its patriotic flag flying.
The trailer is short and sweet. It informs the audience that the director of Smokey and The Bandit and Hooper has a new movie coming out called Megaforce. It’s about an elite combat fighting unit with the most sophisticated weapons ever seen on the movie screen, all while battling the forces of evil. There are some cool looking dune buggies and motorcycles outfitted with rockets, and a spandex clad Barry Bostwick. Yo Megaforce!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
An opening intertitle informs the audience that there exists Megaforce, a “phantom army of super elite fighting men.” Their mission is to preserve freedom and justice by battling “tyranny and evil in every corner of the globe.” General Duke Guerera (Henry Silva), a freelance mercenary, works for the country of Camibia, which is currently at war with the neighboring country of Sardoon. The Sardoon military, led by General Byrne-White (Edward Mulhare) and Major Zara Bindu (Persis Khambatta)–daughter of the country’s President, is flummoxed by his constant raids, and his inability to cross into their borders.
Byrne-White and Zara fly to a remote desert location and are unceremoniously dropped off in the middle of nowhere, to Byrne-White’s disgust. They are met by Dallas (Michael Beck) and Zachary Taylor (Ralph Wilcox), two laid back members of Megaforce, driving a 4×4 pickup. Byrne-White is incensed that there appears to be no ranks or protocol in Megaforce, but Dallas reminds him that they are an elite unit made up of individuals from all countries of the world. The pickup takes the officers to another location where three men on high-tech motorcycles fire missiles at flying targets. One bike jumps over the pickup and comes to a stop nearby. The rider introduces himself as Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick), commander of Megaforce.
Hunter shows the General and Major into Megaforces’s seven-level underground bunker, where they meet MF’s scientist, Professor ‘Egg’ Eggstrum (George Furth), Suki (Evan Kim), and Lopez (J. Victor Lopez). Hunter shows them how they monitor all military frequencies for intel, and store the data in their computers. It also becomes evident that Hunter knows Guerera personally. They served together before Ace joined Megaforce and Duke became a mercenary. Ace outlines the mission, called “hook, line, and sinker,” where they will trick Guerera into crossing the border so the Sardoon military can attack him.
Major Zara wants to join the mission and the team, so her skills are tested. First a ballet-like skydiving encounter with Hunter–which smolders with passion–and then a battle simulator with one of Megaforce’s dune buggies. But in an intimate scene, Ace admits that he cannot take her with them. His team is a close knit group and any outsider would jeopardize that. She understands and they share a brief kiss, before he hops on one of three cargo planes with his 60 man crew, heading off for the deserts of Camibia.
The camaraderie of the soldiers is evident on the plane as Suki, Dallas, Ace, Lopez and Sixkiller (Anthony Pena) all joke around, do crossword puzzles, or play with a Rubik’s cube. On target and on time, Megaforce all parachute from the planes–on their motorcycles or dune buggies. They have a 4-minute plan to attack Guerera’s town under the cover of darkness, to force him to follow them. They use their rockets, machine guns, and even laser turrets to wreak havoc before speeding out. At the refueling depot, Guerera arrives in a Red Cross helicopter and informs Ace that they did too good a job. Sardoon is now concerned that using Megaforce may be construed as an act of war, and Hunter and his men are to stand down. They no longer can escape back across the border. Byrne-White confirms this.
They only way out, and Guerera knows it, is a dry lake bed, surrounded on three sides by mountains, which he has sent all of his tanks to. He bids Hunter a pleasant day, offers him one avenue–surrender, and departs. Hunter and the team realize that they can sneak up behind the tank column, if they can run silent “on electrics” and come in over a small mountain pass. They manage to surprise the Camibian force and get the upper hand, but when their planes try to land, two are chased away. The third makes it down, but has limited space for all the vehicles. Hunter orders everyone to set their units to self-destruct and they institute a rainbow colored smoke screen on the way to the plane. Hunter falls behind but uses Egg’s newest technology, the “one-two,” which launches his bike into the air. His motorcycle flies up to the plane and they all make it home safely, after detouring to blow up General Byrne-White’s favorite helicopter!
“Deeds not Words” – Megaforce Slogan
History in the Making
Megaforce is definitely a unique entry here on Sci-Fi Saturdays. It’s a good example of how a bad movie (maybe, less than average) can retain certain aspects in an audience’s memory and still go on to inspire people. Megaforce is also one of a handful of films that more people may have heard about instead of actually seeing. It was the brainchild of Hal Needham, a stunt man, turned director who was responsible for a number of action comedy films, mostly featuring Burt Reynolds, such as Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and The Cannonball Run. As such, it contained many vehicular stunts and action moments with the vehicles, at the expense of its actors, plot, and coherency. But those action moments are spectacular, especially when there are 30 riders on motorcycles (termed the Tac-Com in supplemental material) racing through a desert, firing rockets, avoiding explosions and tanks, while the dune buggies (the Megadestroyers) race past them.
Released a week after the Clint Eastwood film Firefox, also a pseudo-science-fiction film, Megaforce shares much more with that film than any other sci-fi film released in the summer of 1982. Firefox, as many may know, was about Clint Eastwood’s character sneaking into Russia to steal a super jet plane with stealth technology and advanced electronics. While limited in scope, it was a much more direct action film, with cold war and suspense overtones. With popular and enduring films such as The Wrath of Khan, E.T., and Blade Runner still in theaters, and the sleeper hit TRON looming on the horizon, Megaforce didn’t really stand a chance. And since it shared a technological and military similarity with Firefox (plus the fact that it was a very weak story and plot), it was quickly panned. The popularity, and fondness of many for Megaforce might stem from its repeated screenings on HBO during the mid-1980s.
While other sci-fi films in the summer of 1982 were serious (excepting the charm and humor found E.T.), Megaforce was firmly tongue in cheek. It was a fun and campy action film, light on thinking and heavy on action. A perfect popcorn entertainment aimed squarely at, what would be called today, tweens. It featured no deaths on screen (though three bazooka troopers were supposedly vaporized just off-screen), no blood, no sex, a little bit of kissing (mostly thumbs) and lots of vehicular action. And like Firefox, it showcased the military in a positive light. The early 80s were a time of renewed optimism in America’s future and a strong pro-military stance. Woe to America’s enemies! Many films of the 80s featured strong pro-war stances, or at least put the American (or protagonist) up against impossible odds. The 1984 film Red Dawn, and the 1986 films Iron Eagle and Top Gun, all are pro-military, pro-America films designed to cash in on the rhetoric of the day. Megaforce did it first, but it also was still a bit satirical with its mission. Ace Hunter was so over the top, plus it was not necessarily an American military force, even though a number of the main characters were American.
While Megaforce is not the influential movie that Star Wars or Blade Runner is (heck, it’s not even as influential as Death Race 2000), it still set a high bar for stunts in action films. For the time, the vehicle action and explosions were bigger than anything else before it, sci-fi or not! Hal Needham cooked up several bigger than life sequences using some of the best stunt performers around; and then apparently crafted a film around those moments. Apparently it was enough to inspire Matt Stone and Trey Parker when making their action parody Team America: World Police. That puppet based film, a style parody of Thunderbirds Are Go and other films like it, utilized an international team of soldiers, flying motorcycles and with a multi-level underground base. If you’re a fan of that film, definitely check out Megaforce for some striking similarities.
It would also have seemed to have inspired the storyline behind Hasbro’s GI Joe toy series, which debuted in 1984. The backstory for those toys is the elite fighting force, known as GI Joe, which has specialty soldiers from around the world, must fight the evil COBRA, led by Cobra Commander. They have super vehicles which fire lasers. No one ever dies in their battles. And it’s goofy fun. There’s no proof that GI Joe took anything from the concept of Megaforce, but it’s a pretty odd coincidence. This coincidence is also strengthened by the story that instead of a costume designer, the film’s outfits were designed by Mattel: the toy company. It kind of makes sense if the plan was to sell toys based on the film. Unfortunately it appears that only two things were made (both by Mattel): a vertibird set, which is a helicopter attached to a and arm on a rotating base, and set of six Hot Wheels vehicles, which include the Personnel Carrier (Dallas’ pickup), two version of the Megadestroyer (one in night mode, and one regular), the Tac-Com motorcycle, the Megafighter command base, and one of Guerera’s tanks.
As far as answering the bigger questions of life, Megaforce scores a big zero. It’s just a goofy action flick that plays like a bunch of pre-teen boys playing war in the local park. Where the leader of the good team and the leader of the bad team are actually friends, and regardless of how the battle turns out, they’re going to go get ice cream after the “war.” And while goofy, it also does have some good things to say about friendship and commitment to a cause. Ace is a good leader who relies on the best judgment of his soldiers. He trusts them and they trust him. He also has a karmic way of looking at things. At one point he mentions to General Byrne-White that “it’s all on the wheel, it all comes around,” referring to the cosmic karmic wheel of life and the idea that what you put out into the world will come around and come back to you. The belief is that if you put good things out into the world, good things will be returned to you. The same goes for bad. This notion is played out when Byrne-White will not allow the team to return through his country, forcing Megaforce to fight their way through Guerera’s tank battalion. In the end, Ace blows up Byrne-White’s favorite helicopter as payback for this change in plans. Ace would argue it’s karma. But he’s really just being an ass.
The “joke” in this end sequence is supposed to be funny and it’s a comeuppance that makes you chuckle, but that’s kind of what the film is about. It feels like substance at certain points, but it’s really all artifice. It’s a clever surface painted onto the film to piece together several cool action scenes. As another example, the team is supposedly made up of soldiers from all over the globe. Of those met in the film, Dallas, Zac, Hunter, Egg, Sixkiller and the radio operator are all from the United States and identified by the US Flag patch (except Dallas who wears the Confederate flag–because he’s from the South). Suki is from Japan, and Lopez is from Mexico. The stereotypes of each person based on their point of origin are made, not in a terribly derogatory way, but in that “we have no real characterization for this character.” As an example, Sixkiller is American Indian and he asks someone if they “brought back any scalps.” Oh man! Make a reboot of this film and give the characters some real diversity already!
The Science in The Fiction
The film utilized a real-world special effect advancement called Introvision, which allowed the filmmakers to create sets bigger and more complex through the use of miniatures and shoot it all in camera. This process was used previously on Outland, and would be used to great effect on Darkman and Army of Darkness, as well as The Fugitive. It involved a screen with front projection material (scotchlite), a beam splitter and a projector/camera setup. The projector would display the background elements, shot earlier, and project them as front-projection over the actors. The lighting of the actor and foreground elements would block out the image, while everything else would be reflected at nearly 100% back into the camera. It’s a great look, and avoided the telltale ‘blue halo’ of blue screen matting. But was only used for about 10 years and started to peter out in the early 90s when computer graphics began to be able to replicate the effects and matting process.
In-universe the film contained some pretty interesting future-tech, if you discount the flying motorcycle gag–which was painfully awkward and fake. Holograms on the other hand made for some pretty striking advancements. These were, of course, movie holograms which look like actual objects, and not the sketchy, static filled holograms of Star Wars. Not much is done with it, except distract the bad guys by projecting a “hologram” of a model in the ocean wearing a bikini–in the middle of the desert. Dallas also has a laugh switching up the computer aided tactical map for a Porky Pig knock off, that say’s “that’s all folks,” but in a non-copyrighted sort of way.
Saving the best for last is the color changing paint of the Megadestroyers. Dallas demonstrates early in the film by putting a hat on the hood of one of the vehicles. In darkness, the paint turns black. Then when the hat is removed the tan stripes return. Much like the coffee mugs, where things appear or disappear when hot liquids are put into them, the paint job on these vehicles changes with the intensity of the light. Not a thermographic setup, but light sensitivity. Actually a clever idea for a covert military force. When they attack the General’s base at night all the vehicles are black, and hence, automatically camouflaged.
The Final Frontier
Hal Needham would go on to direct four more films in his career including Stroker Ace and Cannonball Run II. He then directed four telefilms, all based on the character of the Bandit, that aired in 1994. The actors from the film all had varied careers, with many of them being famous for their television roles. Barry Bostwick may be known as Brad Majors from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to some, but made his biggest mark playing the Mayor (of New York) on the Michael J. Fox show, Spin City. Michale Beck’s previous roles included The Warriors, and the Olivia-Newton John vehicle Xanadu, and are still considered his best works. Persis Khambatta is best known for her role in the first Star Trek film as the Deltan navigator Ilia. She unfortunately passed away in the 90s. Finally, Edward Mulhare is best known as the man behind the Knight foundation, Devon Miles, in the long running show Knight Rider.
If you grew up with Megaforce playing on your television set (or at your local cinema) there’s probably a little part of you that looks back on it with fond memories. Sure, it’s got blemishes, but so do a lot of films 40 years later. It certainly is a period piece of that weird, crazy summer of 1982 where some of the most memorable films come from. “Oh, I just wanted to say good-bye and remind you that the good guys always win, even in the eighties.”
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.