Anchor Bay // 1985 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 3rd, 2001
The last defense.
The last hope.
The battle for the future of the world has begun.
I know about as much history on Def-Con 4 as I do the Aborigine dung beetle. I can recall seeing the video box when I was a kid and thinking that it was a pretty scary looking title (especially that astronaut skeleton laying in the sand). I was pretty hyped when I heard I'd be receiving Def-Con 4 for review as it became yet another chance to catch up on an old title I'd always wanted to see. To my excitement, it even had that ominously creepy picture on the front, a looming spaceship in front of a decimated wasteland, post-nuclear war. How can you not love a movie with that kind of artwork on the cover? However, does a pretty picture make for a good flick? Anchor Bay stakes its radiation-ridden ground with a widescreen version of Def-Con 4.
"It is the day after tomorrow. The ultimate space-based nuclear defense system has been perfected. Total security has been achieved and global conflict is now unthinkable. Or is it?"
That statement is what the back of the case reads for Def-Con 4, and I thought it sums things up pretty well. High in the heavens an American space-station watches as World War III destroys much of Planet Earth. Through some major glitches, the space-station breaks apart and a pod crash lands on earth with three astronauts aboard, including the whiney Howe (Tim Choate), the gruff Walker (John Walsch), and the semi-attractive Jordan (Kate Lynch). Once on Earth, the three survivors learn that much has changed, and this is punctuated with Walker being pulled out of the pod by an unknown entity and being eaten alive. During the middle of the night, Howe is able to escape and snoop around (while Jordan lays unconscious from a concussion sustained during the crash).
In the vast reaches of a war torn planet (which looks conspicuously like a desert in Arizona), Howe is captured by the grouchy Vinny (Maury Chaykin, Cutthroat Island), a war survivor who plans on taking Howe's four month supply of food and leaving him for dead. When Vinny sneaks out to check out some noises, Howe meets J.J. (Lenore Zann), a refugee living in Vinny's cellar. Vinny returns as the two are about to escape, ties them both up, and trots them off to find the food supply at Howe's ship. Soon after they begin their journey, the sinister Gideon Hayes (Kevin King) and his mousy sidekick, Lacey (Jeff Pustil), capture Vinny, Howe and J.J. Gideon is a cruel mastermind (did I just say that with a straight face?) who has nothing but the safety of his own hide on his mind. Gideon has set up a base camp with the idea that a sailboat will be used to escape the horrors of the war. All the while, we watch as a nuclear bomb starts a countdown to zero.
Will our hero's escape certain doom? Can the Def-Con 4 team survive the evil that is...BAD PRODUCTION VALUES?!?
What exactly is Def-Con 4? That's a very good question. Is it drama? A little. A horror flick? Eh, not really. Sci-fi? I guess. I'm not too sure what Def-Con 4 is. I guess the best summation I can give is that it's an "apocalyptic-dramatic-sci-fi tale with a smidgen of comedy throw in." Oh, and there's a severed hand, so I guess there's a little horror there as well. Watching Def-Con 4 I was reminded of many other movies. Waterworld, Armageddon, Mad Max...the list goes on and on. It's not that this film rips-off these movies (some came after Def-Con 4), it's just that many of them did the same thing Def-Con 4 does, only better. I'm going to give any up-and-coming filmmakers a bit of free advice: if you have any plans to produce a film about the end of the world, please make sure you've got a well inflated budget to handle the concept. I find it very hard to believe that WWIII has destroyed the earth when the only evidence visible is a torn up car and people with dirt on their faces.
However, you have to look past that to see Def-Con 4 for the silly entertainment it really is. I read a few reviews that said this was a terribly boring movie, though I didn't really find myself bored during its short 88 minute running time. The actors are all well fitted for their roles, though Tim Choate borders on being the wimpiest astronaut ever shot into space. He grumbles and whines, his voice always reaching the highest hysterical pitch it can fine. The standout in the cast is Maury Chaykin as the dirty, smelly Vinny. He's an interesting dichotomy as an actor; on one hand he's big and menacing, yet on the other he's exceptionally soft spoken. He's a character actor I'd like to see working in more films (why don't producers make a movie filled with only great character actors, like William Sadler and Bruce Campbell)?
Overall Def-Con 4 is not a terrible movie. True, it's not great, but it could have been oh so much worse. The ending is a let down, but when your budget equals $386.45, well...you get the point.
Def-Con 4 is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I'm always amazed at what Anchor Bay does with such cheapie flicks. The transfer is very good, if not great. There was a small amount of edge enhancement present, and the film looked a bit dark at times. Even with these hindrances, the transfer looked good. Colors were normal and sharp with blacks being thick and dark.
Audio is presented in only Dolby Digital Mono. The track runs the middle road with dialogue, effects and music mixed well. Distortion was not present, though there were a few instances where I had to strain a bit to hear the dialogue. Def-Con 4 might have benefited from a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, though being such a small title I can understand why it wasn't produced.
The only extra feature included on Def-Con 4 is an anamorphic theatrical trailer which makes Def-Con 4 seem MUCH more serious than it really is.
Someone is actually credited with doing the special effects for Def-Con 4, though I'm not sure why. There's nothing impressive going on in any scenes, and the only real effects are some outer space shots that didn't look very hard to achieve. All the other effects are minimal, including a nuclear explosion that looks like it was lifted off some stock footage from 1968. Even the gunshots look like they are just caps and blanks. That being said, it's ultimately useless to complain about a movie like this. You could nitpick it to death all day and it wouldn't do any good. Like Popeye would say, "I yam what I yam." And Def-Con 4 is goofy, silly fun.
A decent enough title from Anchor Bay, though I'm not sure it's something I need to have in my DVD collection. Fans will delight in having a first ever widescreen version, though will be disappointed at the lack of extra material. I can't really shoot down a movie that incorporates decomposing bodies, a menacing judge and jury of one, cannibalism, a woman in prison for stealing a can of peaches and some pretty cool DVD cover art.
I'm letting this one slip on by to freedom, though it has some major problems...then again, who among us doesn't? Anchor Bay is once again acquitted on all charges.
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer