No one intends to make a bad movie. Either through studio interference, a difference in vision between the director and the screenwriter, bad or mis-matched casting or a number of other reasons, a potentially good movie can go horribly wrong. But even from those bad movies, some good can come. Sometimes, the toys and action figures that come from these movies rise above the bad and move into the spectacular.
Lost In Space (1998)
Lost In Space is the movie adaptation of the late 60s series of the same name. The film’s plot follows the Robinson family as they embark for Alpha Prime to prepare for the evacuation and resettlement of a soon to be uninhabitable Earth. Their trip is sabotaged and they become literally lost in space where they encounter time distortions, mecha-organic spiders and planetary destruction. The film should have been a slam dunk with nods to the original series, cool effects and (mostly) great casting but it had a few missteps that kept it from being more than a moderate success. One place it definitely excelled is the toy designs.
Pictured above is the Polystyrene 1/6th scale model kit released by AMT/ERTL in 1998.
My personal favorite was the design of the Robot. While wisely retaining the voice of Dick Tuefeld as the “voice” of the Robot for the film, the rest of the look when we first see “him” is a complete overhaul. The design is more versatile than the vaguely humanoid form of the original. He runs on a three wheeled tank base with moving leg joints that allow him to crouch down to ram through obstacles or to grow taller to intimidate opponents. He has two hands with three pincers on them and with a plasma laser in each palm. He also has two additional shorter arms on his torso. He has a smaller, sleeker head that folds into the body. After his destruction, Will Robinson recreates him with the more iconic “bubble” head.
Wild Wild West (1999)
Another remake of a 60s series, Wild Wild West follows two very different Federal agents in the mid-19th Century as they track a mass murderer and uncover a plot to divide the United States back into the colonies and territories. Again they are using, among other “mechanology”, a giant mechanical spider that shoots fireballs from its cannon. There are an amazing amount of Steampunk-esque gadgets and machines in the film. The ones I find most interesting are those used specifically by Dr. Arliss Loveless.
Loveless was a Confederate scientist who lost everything below the waist in an undisclosed action and through the help of a consortium of overseas allies, he is still alive and gets around in a steam powered wheelchair. The piece of tech that I found most interesting, and the basis for the toy pictured above (released in 1999 by X-Toys), are the four mechanical legs that emerge from his support plate. The four jointed legs (although it should be six if we are to follow the spider motif) allow him to kick and stand on Jim West with significant force until the hydraulic line was severed by a single shot from Artemis Gordon. Somewhat easily defeated but still a surprising piece of technology in a time where the steam engine was cutting edge.
The Shadow (1994)
The Shadow started in the pulp magazines in the 1930s and later in a popular radio show, voiced by Orson Welles. The film follows Lamont Cranston, a man dramatically changed by the 1st World War. He became an opium warlord in Tibet until he was forced by the mystically powered Tulku who knew his true identity and decided that Cranston would learn the power to “cloud men’s minds”, despite Cranston’s refusal. After seven years, Cranston returned to New York City. On the surface, he was a shallow and bored playboy (reminiscent of Batman) but at night, he donned a cloak, hat and scarf and armed himself with two pearl handled pistols. Using his power, he altered his features and often made himself invisible to his enemies except for his shadow, hence his new alias. The people he saved became his agents to provide information and special skills. Shiwan Khan, an alleged descendant of Genghis Khan and a student of the Tulku who failed to reform, came to New York City with the intent of creating a bomb and holding the city hostage.
The Shadow calls on the taxi cab of agent “Moe” Shrevnitz to take him where he needs to be to exact justice. It is a typical cab from the early 1940s in the film but the toy that was marketed had so much more going on. Called the “Thunder Cab”, it had a canon that rose from the engine. The roof of the cab had machine guns in the front and a rocket engine in the back. From either side of the cab at the bottom, two serrated “swords” come out, presumably to destroy the tires of fleeing vehicles and hopefully not to cut people off at the knees! The Shadow, by definition, is all about blending in, being invisible and unseen. This cab is anything but subtle.
Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe is the live action remake of the cartoon and toy line of the same name. The film features a low point in the constant battle on the planet Eternia between the good forces of He-Man and the evil forces of Skeletor. The mystical Sorceress has been imprisoned and Castle Greyskull, the source of life and good for the Eternians is in the hands of Skeletor thanks to a device called the Cosmic Key. Overwhelmed, He-Man, Man-at Arms, Teela and the Key’s creator Gwildor are forced to escape through a random pressing of the keys which opens a portal to Earth. With the aid of two teenagers and hindered by a bumbling but abrasive police detective, the heroes battle the invading forces of Skeletor and find their way back to Eternia where they free the Sorceress and defeat Skeletor’s forces.
The film figure of He-Man is the toy from the film line is what I find the most interesting. The figure looks a bit like Dolph Lungren, who played the character, but not completely so. It is more of a generic square-jawed face. What I find most interesting is that the figure is tall and his physique is more proportioned than the He-Man of my youth. The short and bulkily muscled body of the earlier figure would seem to be a staple of the Mattel toy line at that time as I have since found figures for Hercules, Arak and Warlord, none of which are part of the same property, all share similar or maybe even the same body type. Also, the costume for this figure looks slightly more realistic; if wearing little more than leather shorts and a cape into battle can be seen as realistic. The fur, almost caveman like shorts on the original belies the advanced technology of Eternia. Also the leather accents and the sword make more sense then the battle axe that came with the original.
Tomorrowland, named after the futuristic part of the Disney theme park, is a film about an alternate dimension where the best and brightest, the makers and the dreamers are free to create. A grizzled old inventor and a teenage science enthusiast come together and are forced by circumstances to work together to save Tomorrowland from its oppressive leader who is perverting the ideals that the world was built on.
The Funko POP! figure of Young Frank Walker is the most interesting of the figures that came from the film. The typical large POP! head with the big clear eyes under the goggles and the wisps of hair beneath the helmet make Frank look the appropriate age. The accompanying jet-pack is what really makes the figure for me. The idea of the personal jet-pack was the dream of future in the 50s and has never fully waned. The joy of flying without a plane has filled many aspects of pop culture and even the crazy, out of control flight of young Frank looked like the best of fun. It was the Rocketeer meets middle school and it proved one of the better parts of this uneven movie.
Given everything that could go wrong, from beginning to the end of the process, it is amazing that any film is successful. And there are actually a number of people who love those movies that others deem bad. And that idea, and finding toys from these properties that are successful, shows that there is always a silver lining, a bright spot to every cloud. So maybe these films just need time and a fresh perspective before they can be seen in a whole new light.