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Friday, January 8, 2016

Warp Speed

Warp Speed
1981
Robert Emenegger, Allan Sandler

A derelict spacecraft is found with no crew on board. The authorities decide to send a psychic, Dr. Janet Trask (Camille Mitchell), inside to pick up any memories that might be lingering in the confines of the ship. Dr. Trask enters the vessel and soon she is absorbed in the lives of the crew. The story that unfolds tells of Captain Lofton (Adam West), the stiff backed leader of an experimental deep space mission. The crew gets along fine, but tensions mount when an accident slows their progress to a crawl. The crew mutinies and turns the ship around. They are running low on food and fuel and the only answer seems to be deciding what or who to toss off the ship.

"Deal those cards, or I'm going to hot glue the hell out everyone here."
Visually the movie is pretty much what could expect from a low budget made-for-TV Canadian production from the 80s. There are some competent if inexpensive model shots, the interior of the ship looks like someone’s basement. There are also some sequences in a virtual reality simulator that look like a low-end Cinemax softcore movie, minus the nudity. The gloomy atmosphere is helped greatly by the dim confines of the ship, and there is a general dinginess that, whether intentional or not, does play up the tensions among the crew.

Without much in the way of visuals we are reliant on the actors to carry the bulk of the film. Here, I think, everyone does the best with what they are given, but trying to give Adam West anything with real gravitas is a mistake. It’s not that he’s a bad actor. He’s a hugely entertaining and charismatic one, but his strengths are in broad hammy characters, so trying to force him into a role that requires him to basically have a mental breakdown just doesn’t work. The rest of the cast attempt to muddle though some bad lines with minimal embarrassment.

Awkward senior class photos dot com
Despite all of these issues there are two things I really enjoy about this film. One is the music. The Emenegger/Sandler productions are filled some very eerie analog synth music that really hits a sweet spot for me, Warp Speed is no exception. The other element that I enjoyed is when the plot takes a strange third act twist with Dr. Trask becoming more and more physically embroiled in the events onboard the ship. The whole film concludes on a odd downer ending that is never explained and is the stronger for it.

Created by the same production crew that made The Killings at Outpost Zeta (1980), and several other films all containing reused props and actors, Warp Speed’s story is much more grim than its dated appearance would have you believe. Essentially it’s a redressed sailors stranded at sea tale albeit with more psychics and less cannibalism. (Pity about that.) It’s a very slow burn in a film that doesn’t have the scenery or unfortunately, the acting prowess to really pull off.

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