By Fred Frederick
World Gone Wild is a perfect piece of Eighties sci-fi pie. In fact, it’s one of my favorites, and you’re already wrong for not feeling the same way. What? You’ve never even heard of it? Don’t worry, I expect to convert you all into rabid fans by the end.
In the Eighties, we got a bunch of Star Wars copycats and wannabes, like Battle Beyond the Stars and Krull, and they all have the same story. There's a bad guy who invades, good guys who can't stop him, the good guys need help to stop the bad guys, and so they call in some questionable characters. These movies are mostly about obtaining that help from a bunch of miscreants who live in the gray area between saint and sinner. Then you have another Eighties trope, the post-nuclear apocalyptic future with Mad Max as it's Han Solo type anti-hero, and no actual hero anywhere in sight. From there, we had a bunch of knock-offs, like Warrior in a Lost World where talking motorcycles and cars with spikes fill a dying world of mutants and 80s inspired punk fashionistas. It may not be the future mankind wants, but this is the future mankind actually deserves, not like in Star Trek where nerds get laid and inherit the Earth.
World Gone Wild lives in that same area of sci-fi/post-apocalyptic/comic book action, but isn't doing it to be another cheap VHS children's flick. The reason I love this film is because I believe in its reality. In films like Robocop or Demolition Man, we see a more accurate depiction of our future in their jokes than we do in the seriousness of films like Blade Runner or Minority Report, which are more “Fi” than “Sci.” It's in the corny and comic-bookish nature of the characters’ actions that the truest truth can be found – the exaggerations of what already is, showing what may come.
And I haven't even talked about the plot yet.
World Gone Wild stars Bruce Dern, a man who doesn't eat any animal with tear ducts – one of those classic B movie actors, like Dick Miller, who will never win an Oscar, but whose performances shine forth as some of the most influential and imaginative out there. From his early work with the cast of Easy Rider in the movie The Trip from '67, and Silent Running in '71, we get the hippie template for his character in World Gone Wild (we'll just skip his '74 Great Gatsby role) which comes out like John Lennon and Jerry Garcia rolled together and living in the 80s…2087, to be exact.
Imagine The Road Warrior meets Star Wars, and throw in a liberal dash of 80's comic-bookishness. I would also compare it to Waterworld, but I actually want you to see this movie so, I’ll spare you the comparison. Adam Ant plays the villain, Derek Abernathy, and like Bruce Dern, you can just watch him enjoying himself in the character.
So Derek rolls into a town that looks exactly like the one from The Road Warrior, only in this movie it's not gasoline they have, it's water. Yeah, that probably is something we care about a little more than gas, (so fuck you Mad Max's Mcguffin, this one is better). Derek does his evil thing, shoots people, has an army dressed in white (lots of Christian undertones there), and if it wasn’t for cool man Ethan (Bruce Dern) flinging a hubcap into one of his men's throats, we'd have ourselves a very short film. And then Derek leaves, instead of finishing off his competition right then and there, because villains are stupid like that. Seriously though, and I apologize for this tangent - I hate when films do this and don't take two seconds like this film fortunately does take to say "why would he do that?" and answer "because the villain and he's crazy." That's all it takes, folks. Need your character to do something out of the ordinary that otherwise puts a huge plot hole in your story? Just remind everyone that they're crazy. From Hal to Gomer Pyle, it makes for entertaining television.
So back to the story (though honestly, you already know it. What you don't know is the characters and the tone). Straight off the pages of a comic book come a bunch of murderous and slimy “heroes” to make this merry band of fools. With names like Exline and Nitro and… um… Hank. You have a former government employee who murders his boss, a biker thief who almost kills an old man for his water, a gunman who cheats, a gay black guy (WHAT?!), and a cannibal wearing an American flag like a poncho. Team assembled, they take to the desert town to defend this little piece of land made special by the supply of water they have trickling out of the ground. I won’t ruin the ending for you (giant asteroid, kills everyone) but I should warn you, if you've ever defeated an army of Adam Ant fans only to have your crazy uncle try to burn himself alive, you may not want to watch the ending. Don’t worry though, because somewhere else on this spinning ball of dust, special agent Dale Cooper has just killed Sting, and this desert planet gets a little surprise.
So why is this 'terrible' movie my favorite? Because it maintains a tone of fun throughout all the killing, starvation, and almost-rape. It's unapologetic and made for comic book fans of a more adult nature. And finally, because I can believe it. I can see this future as being real. No flying cars, no Jason Voorhees on a dune buggy, no spiders scanning your eyes or living in your belly button, just terrible people doing terrible things to each other in a terrible place, that is, sing it with me now… IN A WORLD GONE WILD!