Phoenix (1995)

Brad Dourif stars in an micro-budgeted sci-fi film which buries an interesting concept under layers of cliché. UK R2 DVD.

The Film

On the mining planet of Titus 4, the control station is attacked by rebellious androids under the control of their leader Miro. The head of the Rydell Mining Corporation sends for his top agent Tyler McClain, currently in gaol with his team for disobeying orders. Despite his protests McClain is put under the control of Reiger (Brad Dourif), the man he rebelled against, and the team fly out to Titus 4 where McClain is captured by the androids who explain to him that they are not the enemy and that the mysterious minerals on the planet are causing their semi-organic brains to shed their programming and become fully sentient...

Phoenix is one of that great myriad of low budget, unassuming sci-fi films that crop up on suspiciously cheap DVDs or late night on obscure movie channels - the sort you only find after scrolling past all of the normal movie channels, then the HD versions, then the TCM and Lifetime channels and just before you get onto the foreign language channels. These films can be split into two categories, the always entertaining exploitation films (usually with some sort of deadly alien on the loose) and the far more hit and miss variety that try and convey a serious storyline.

Unfortunately Phoenix is firmly located in the latter category and is certainly more miss than hit, but does have a few interesting ideas. The plot is well thought through and provides an interesting explaination to the usual 'androids gone rogue' theme that does deserved to be explored more deeply, a few interesting twists keep things moving and the film boasts a decent if not particularly surprising ending. Unfortunately the rest of the storyline follows the determinedly cliché 'rebellious military group released from gaol for a deadly mission' pattern and certainly in its middle chapters the pacing seems completely non-existent, lifted only by a gratuitous sex scene.

Production is clearly where the project's low budget has struck and while solid if uninspired camerawork and editing keep the film a step above a student movie project, the sets all look distinctly impoverished (most of the time, blue neon lighting just seems to have been added to existing sets) while the scenes on the mining planet are filmed entirely in a boiler room (leaving one to wonder how many pipes and boilers a futuristic mine would require) - the CGI looks like a very dated video game, although fortunately it is used only very sparingly. A few rather odd production choices, unrelated to budget, also throw things off kilter - the androids are repeatedly shown wearing gas masks for no obvious reason and are clearly sporting AK-47 assault rifles which seem completely out of place - the military group at least have generic black weaponry which seems more fitting, although they insist on going into battle wearing nothing but camouflage trousers and T-shirts - no armour, helmets or supplies of any kind.

Surprisingly one aspect of the film that has received a boost is the acting - rather than hiring one big name, the main cast are all cinema or television veterans including Billy Drago (The Untouchables (1987)), William Sanderson (Blade Runner (1982)) and Brad Dourif (Dune (1984)) meaning that the standard of acting is a lot better than it should be and is only limited by the lackluster script.

The lasting impression from Phoenix is that the plot would have made for a decent episode of a television series like Star Trek: The Next Generation as most of the script's problems come in the utterly cliché military-team subplot that would have been replaced by the Trek crew and in the padding required to extend the story to a feature film length. A few good ideas and some surprisingly good acting talent are dragged down by the lackluster pacing and a low budget that clearly shows on-screen. Worth a watch if you stumble across it, but not worth tracking down.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Brad Dourif - one of the great modern character actors, best known today for the Lord of the Rings series.
Directed by anyone interesting? Troy Cook - director of low budget action film The Takeover (1995) he has worked most often as a camera operator on films including DTV horror sequel Amityville: Dollhouse (1996).
Any gore or violence ? A little blood
Any sex or nudity? A brief sex scene with a flash of topless nudity.
Who is it for? Fans of bad movies only.

Visuals Original aspect ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour
The print looks as good as it probably ever has, colours and detail are fine and there is no damage.
Audio English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None
Extras None
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Does not seem to be available elsewhere.
Cuts? Cut status unknown, no apparent cuts. The print used is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 28th March 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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