A huge space cruiser moving through a volatile part of the void hits a major problem and only three women are able to climb into one of the escape pods and free themselves before the ship explodes. The pod lands on the nearest habitable planet, but no sooner have the women clambered out and removed their helmets than they receive the attention of an unwelcome welcoming comittee of aggressive locals. A mayday signal is transmitted, and in the vicinity in his own spacecraft is Wolff (Peter Strauss), who only picks up part of the message before his equipment malfunctions. He wakes his companion, Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci), who is handy with maintenance, and soon they have worked out where to rescue the captives. Only when they land on the planet they discover that rescue mission is easier said than done...
Three dimensional entertainment is still seen as the Holy Grail of movie spectaculars, and when someone invents 3-D that you can watch without wearing special glasses the industry will whoop with joy. However, the craze for such films in the mid-eighties proves that simply because you can simulate getting a poke in the eye doesn't necessarily make the production any better to watch, and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is a case in point. With a title like that, colon and all, we can surmise that the filmmakers were hoping for a series of Spacehunter films; alas, it was never to be, and as they don't do much with the 3-D, the odd claw or reptilian beastie thrust towards the lens is about your lot, maybe they couldn't bring much new to the table.
For what Spacehunter is is Han Solo starring in Mad Max. Regard the word "space" in the title and you might be anticipating Star Wars style dogfights though in that you'll be let down. Once Wolff reaches the desert planet it's zooming about in customised vehicles and rag- and leather-clad unfriendly natives all the way, and although he does track the three women fairly quickly, they are swept out of reach by hanggliders and spirited away to meet the dreaded Overdog (Michael Ironside, the Canadian villain extraordinaire). So the rest of the film is taken up with a quest, but Wolff is not accompanied by Chalmers, nope, she turns out to be a robot when she gets hit by a stray bullet and expires. Not to worry, soon he hooks up with bratty teen Niki, played to ultimate aggravation by Molly Ringwald, who promises to take Wolff to Overdog's lair.
Something that has fallen by the wayside since its heyday in the late seventies and early eighties is the PG-rated disgusting moment. You know, like Peter Wyngarde's demise in Flash Gordon, or the Nazis meeting their doom at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, something to make those of less robust composure cover their eyes for a few seconds. You don't get that anymore, do you? Not in PG films, at any rate, but there are a few such examples in Spacehunter, for example when Wollf shuts Chalmers down, she melts for no very good reason. The grungy look of the film suits this kind of thing, and the production design is very well done, especially the vehicles, it's just the story that lets it down, running without much interest from A to B. Strauss copes with Ringwald's tantrums adequately, but every character tends towards the hackneyed, with Ernie Hudson as a rogue turned ally and Ironside practically immobile under his costume also lacking opportunities. Some snappier dialogue might have saved it, but it's too obviously derivative of other genre works. Music by Elmer Bernstein.