Gunhed: Movie Review

Gunhed is a film that I remember seeing often on TV schedules for the SCI-Fi channel back in the day, but never got around to watching in its entirety. I was impressed by the film’s effects work, but I was never really able to watch enough of the film to really get the plot. At long last, though, I’ve finally gotten around to watching the movie in is entirety.

Movie poster for Gunhed

The premise of Gunhed is, as the film’s opening narration explains, about a decade before the main body of the film starts, the autonomous factory island of 8JO, run by the AI Kyron-5, decided to launch an uprising against humanity, killing many of the small group of people placed on the island to keep it maintained. The battle to stop Kyron-5 ended in a draw. Subsequent years saw both the development of a new power generation material – Texmexium (I’m not kidding) – which could output more power than nuclear energy, and with it a shortage of the materials used for making advanced computer components. This in turn lead to a rise of high-tech scavengers and salvagers, and which also made 8JO a valuable, if dangerous, cold mine.

This leads to the start of the film. The crew of the Mary Ann, made up of leader Bancho, along with Barabbas, Bombay, Boxer, Boomerang, Bebe, and our protagonist – Brooklyn (yes, all their names start with B), are heading to 8JO island to strike it rich harvesting chips – particularly those from the (they think) deceased Kyron-5 as well. At the same time, a bio-droid created by the still active Kyron-5 stole a vial of Texmexium and had fled back to 8JO, pursued by two Texas Air Rangers.

Shortly after everyone arrives on the island, everything goes pear-shaped. The Air Rangers helicopter is blown up and one of the two is killed, and the crew of the Mary Ann get picked off one-by-one by the island’s defenses, until only Brooklyn remains. He, the surviving Air Ranger – Sgt. Nim – and two kids who are the last survivors of the islands maintenance staff have to retrieve the Texmexium and escape before Kyron-5 can carry out their villainous (and unspecified) plot.

So, let’s get this out of the way first. The English dialog in this film is a mess. It’s not super Engrish-y, and going from IMDB there was an English speaker who contributed to the script. However, the English dialog is basically made up of either strung together cliches, clunky dialog with no flo, or both, while the Japanese dialog flows much better.

Gunhed’s strong suit is its production. The environments of 8JO Island feel like a ruined industrial environment – but one that also has an SF feel that fits with the concept of the island being a ruined, fully automated, high-tech science fiction factory, as opposed to being a redress of a ruined steel foundery. It hits the familiar notes of real world industrial environments, while also maintaining a sense of futuristic unfamiliarity.

Similarly, a lot of the miniatures and model work look really good – especially the titular Gunhed, a giant robot used in the attack on Kyron-5, as well as in the film’s climax. The design looks great, with lots of great little details, and with plenty of movement to the figure, without being over-complicated.

All of that put together basically makes this feel like the Cyberpunk equivalent of Hawk the Slayer – the live action film (alongside the Darkstalker movies), that tended to get referenced among D&D fans as a reference for the game (alongside the Conan movies, naturally). Gunhed fits in that same vein, with Blade Runner and Johnny Mnemonic serving as the Conan of the genre. 8JO island is a big Cyberpunk Megadungeon with plenty of material to be mined for a roleplaying campaign, and which undoubtedly was something of an inspiration for Renraku Archology Shutdown for Shadowrun, and for some aspects of the campaign for Cyberpunk Red.

Currently, Gunhed is very out of print, though it did get a DVD release. You can find this on eBay – and buying anything through that link will help support the site.

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