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Review:
Gunhed (1989)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (0.5/5)
Published:
May 10th, 2004 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Originally titled Godzilla 2, as an entry in a contest to see who would pen the screenplay for the 1989 Godzilla film, Gunhed's script went through numerous revisions, including removing all references to the Godzilla character, before it finally hit the big screen. Unfortunately, the end product is a jumbled mess of lost potential. Gunhed proves to be inadequate in a number of fields including a nonsensical script, astonishingly poor character development, acting which is mediocre at best, and jarring editing techniques; however, the film does feature impressive special effects work by Koichi Kawakita, excellent sets by Kazo Suzuki and an interesting (if not repetitive) score by Toshiyuki Honda.

In the film's defense, the plot of Gunhed is interesting in concept. The year is 2038; a super computer called Kryon5, located on island 8J0, has claimed war on the world after considering humans to be obsolete. The "allies" send a battalion of Gunheds to 8J0 in an attempt to stop Kryon5, but are destroyed by the island's defenses, which include the giant mech Aerobot. Thirteen years later, a group of mercenaries aboard the Mary Ann stumble upon the island while looking for computer chips, which are now worth more than gold. After most of the mercenaries are quickly picked off, the group encounters Nim, who was part of a previously failed raid on the island by the Texas Air Rangers. She reluctantly accompanies the group. After even more deaths on the part of the mercenaries, the surviving pair (mercenary Brooklyn and Nim) stumble across two kids (Seven and Eleven) who have been living on the island, and the new goal becomes to escape the island, with the help of Gunhed, before Kyron wipes out the remaining survivors.

Unfortunately, the concept is muddled in the actual film by the numerous plot holes presented by the script. The foremost of these are events surrounding the Biodroid, who guards the island from intruders, and Eleven. The Biodroid follows an almost stereotypical 'B' movie monster role in the film: alarmingly efficient at killing supporting characters (mostly off screen), and annoyingly incompetent when it comes to handling the leads. The most annoying aspect of the character, though, is its involvement with the mercenary named Babe. After Babe falls in an unknown substance, the two somehow merge, despite being nowhere near each other during this incident. However, what really makes this whole idea just ludicrous is that Babe is able fire her weapons, from what appears to be inside the Biodroid in the movie, which causes the creature harm and eventually becomes its downfall.

Despite the inadequacies of the Biodroid, Eleven, one of the child protagonists, presents an even more overwhelming number of unanswered questions. Going by her introduction by Seven, the audience is lead to believe that she lacks the ability to talk; however, this is proven false by the film's ending, after Kyron5 is destroyed, and Eleven starts talking with the leads like it was nothing. Leading the audience to believe that Kyron5 was somehow responsible for her muted speech, but this is never elaborated or even questioned by the characters. Eleven also displays an abnormal resistance to being fired upon by Kyron5's defenses, leading the viewer to assume that there is a lot more to this character than meets the eye, but, again, none of this is addressed in the movie. Eleven's most confusing scene, though, occurs near the film's climax in which she is discovered by Seven and Nim, almost choking with a odd glowing light emerging from her throat, as Seven comments about how she shouldn't have sneaked up on him. At this point the viewer almost wants to scream at the movie for an explanation, but is once again denied as this dilemma goes unexplained yet is somehow resolved with the destruction of Kyron5.

A poor script might be easier to overlook if at least the characters found in the film were interesting, but that is far from the case with Gunhed. The worst offense the film makes, in fact, is wasting a refreshingly diverse cast, at least for a Japanese production. In the film's opening, the viewer is briefly introduced to the rugged crew of the Mary Ann. I hope the viewer wasn't paying too much attention, though, as all of them, minus Brooklyn, are soon to be killed before the film even hits the 20 minute mark. While quickly killing off the characters does prove the strength of the Biodroid, which as mentioned will be wasted when it fails to even seem intimidating when facing the leads, it doesn't mean anything to the viewer. The audience learns nothing about these characters, and hardly became attached to them during the film's opening, so their deaths are meaningless. What should have been a brutal introduction to Island 8J0 ends up being an unmemorable detail. Ok, so at least with the cast of characters trimmed down the film can more easily develop the remaining Brooklyn and Nim. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We learn nothing about Nim other than she is a Texas Air Ranger, and seems to enjoy scrutinizing Brooklyn's ideas. Brooklyn we learn is a technician, and a damn good one it would seem if he could repair a giant dismantled Gunhed in several hours. He also seems to have a fear of being in the driver's seat of anything, a problem which he overcomes when he pilots Gunhed. I'm sure that this fear was well justified in the head of the writer, a shame he never let the viewer in on this justification, as it just comes across as whiney in the film.

To make matters worse, the acting doesn't help to establish anyone in the film as likeable. Even the usually enjoyable Masahiro Takashima, who in himself is only a mediocre actor, fails to achieve even this because of the bossiness' of his character. Brenda Bakke is cute and intimidating at times as Sergeant Nim, but her acting in the film leaves a lot to be desired. In her defense, this might have been because of the language barrier between her and the crew, like other American actors before her in Toho films she spoke her lines in English. The two children, Seven and Eleven (oh thank heaven that joke was never elaborated on, pun intended), are none too memorable either. Furthermore, the director seems to have thought that it might have been cute if the two kids act out, like pretend they are pulling a rope when telling Gunhed to move, what they are saying. However, the ending effect will only annoy the viewer further.

To top it all off, to add insult to injury, the film also displays poor editing by Yoshitami Kuroiwa, whose faults on the film are many. For starters, the fight with Babe and Bombay vs. the Biodroid becomes impossible to follow as the film cuts to scenes of the two mercenaries, who appear to be shooting at nothing, and inter-splices these with scenes of the Sound Activated Mine, leaving the audience confused by the time Bombay is killed as opposed to satisfied by the battle. Kuroiwa also allows the rebuilding of the Gunhed scene to drag, and one can only assume that his justification was to try and make it seem like Gunhed was repaired in far more time than actually passes in the film. His last offense is a consistent one in the film, as Kuroiwa felt like undercutting the efforts of the special effects crew by including cheesy transitions, such as a "digitizing" fade and "opening slide" style scene changes, to cheapen the production.

        In sharp contrast, special effects director Kawakita is at the top of his game here in Gunhed. Arguably a highlight of his career, Kawakita is given the rare opportunity to develop life-size models of the two fictional characters in the story: Gunhed and the Aerobot. These models, like the mechs themselves, are huge in terms of scale, and allow for some very impressive scenes featuring them. What makes the special effects cohesive, though, is the even more impressive sets decorated by Suzuki. Having to craft numerous sets for the backdrop of the large futuristic island, Suzuki remains consistent in terms of attention to detail, allowing for each to be credible. His most impressive work in the film, when combined with the special effects of Kawakita, would be the gun sentry littered oil field which Gunhed must pass through.

In terms of the soundtrack, Honda's more contemporary score for Gunhed, which now sounds rather dated, is pleasant to listen to in context with the film. It's unfortunate though, that no moderation in terms of its use was made in the film, as the main theme is shamefully overused at every possible given moment, causing it to lose all impact once the closure of the film nears.

Overall, nothing more can be said other than that Gunhed is a bad film that suffocates its large potential with a plot hole ridden script and a large cast of poorly developed characters. Worth checking out if one wants to visit the "bottom of the Toho barrel", as they really don't get much worse than this.