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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - G.I. Joe: The Movie

It's time for this week's edition of Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I go through all the old notes of a segment I was working on for my podcast, and post them to the blog so they don't gather digital dust.  We're into the last of a trio of films that a co-worker gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago, and it just happens to be one of my childhood favourites...G.I. Joe: The Movie.  This review is originally dated January 15, 2011.

So let's conclude the trilogy of Blu-Rays my co-worker got for me with G.I. Joe: The Movie.  My co-worker was stunned to know I didn't own this one on Blu-Ray yet....as I told him, I'm really not feeling this mad desire to go upgrade all my DVDs to Blu-Ray just yet...at least, not  until I finally get my flat screen TV so I can fully enjoy hi-def.

Anyway, G.I. Joe: The Movie!  Again, this is a story behind a film that I've ready many, many times.  It was one of the first things I looked up when I discovered the Internet.  Back in the 1980s, Hasbro was looking to develop four of their hit toy properties/cartoons into animated films:  My Little Pony, TransFormers, G.I. Joe, and Jem.  The first ones to hit theatres where My Little Pony: The Movie and the now-legendary Transformers: The Movie.  Both of those films were colossal bombs, causing Hasbro to decide to get out of the movie biz.  The Jem movie was scrapped altogether, and so much development work had been done on G.I. Joe that the decision was made to finish it at a diminished budget and release it straight-to-video.  Which is why you never saw G.I. Joe: The Movie in your local cineplex.  You probably first heard about it like I did...when you spotted it at your corner store one night and begged your parents to rent it.

First up, we have to give kudos to the spectacular opening credits sequence, where G.I. Joe thwarts a Cobra attack on the Statue of Liberty.  This sequence was obviously animated before the decision was made to go straight to video, because the animation quality in this sequence is significantly higher than the animation in the film that follows.  And it's just a rollicking mini-adventure, where just about every Joe to date gets a few seconds of screen time. 

Then, the movie proper opens, at the Cobra Terror Drome.  Serpentor, the Cobra Emperor, is calling out Cobra's upper echelons for screwing up one attack after another.  And the consensus is the one to blame is the biggest bungler of all, Cobra Commander.  As those goes on, a mysterious submarine surfaces outside...a submarine that seems to be made of a writhing mass of tentacles.  Out of it steps a mysterious half-human/half-snake woman named Pythona.  She easily penetrates the Terror Drome and corners Serpentor.  Serpentor finds Pythona oddly familiar, and Pythona charges him with a quest:  secure our film's MacGuffin, the Broadcast Energy Transmitter.

We now catch up with the Joes, who are deep in the Himalayas, testing out the Broadcast Energy Transmitter.  It's a device than can transmitter limitless amounts of energy to any point on Earth.  The Joes use it to activate their tanks and stuff from a distance as a successful test.  Cobra shows up to swipe the BET, a massive battle ensues.  The Joes capture Serpentor, and Cobra retreats.  Duke sends a squad of G.I. Joes to apprehend Cobra, while the rest take Serpentor into custody.  Cobra Commander leads the remaining Cobras deep into the Himalayas, promising a place where they'll be safe.  The Joes soon catch up with Cobra Commander at the mouth of a massive cave, full of weird organisms.  They are attacked by some weird humanoids led by Pythona.  The Joes are captured, and Pythona orders that Cobra Commander be taken into custody.

Back at Joe HQ, they're starting to worry about the mysterious disappearance of the squad that was hunting Cobra.  Flint volunteers to lead a search party, and they run off.  Hawk starts to worry that their forces are being spread thin, so they fast-track the training of their new recruits, lovingly referred to as the Rawhides:  Tunnel Rat, Big Lob, Chuckles, Jinx, Law & Order, and our main character, Lt. Falcon, voiced by 1980s icon Don Johnson.  Falcon, for lack of a better word, is a slacker.  While the other Rawhides are training, Falcon is trying to romance some young blonde.  Falcon is soon busted, and Duke starts riding Falcon's ass about it.  The young blond is revealed to be the Cobra agent Zarana, gathering recon in order to bust out Serpentor.

The Dreadnoks, along with Pythona and Nemesis Enforcer, easily break out Serpentor and wound three Joes in the process.  Their task was made easier by the fact that Falcon was goofing off again, and being negligent in his guard duties.  Falcon is strung up on charges over this.  As Hawk and other high-ranking generals are about to throw the book at Falcon, the legendary Joe known as Duke steps in.  Duke reveals that Falcon is his brother, and asks for leniency.  The generals confer over this, and decide that, instead of drumming Falcon out of the service, they would send him to "the Slaughterhouse" for special training.  Falcon, however, is upset that his big brother stepped in to save him, and Falcon and Duke have a falling-out.

Meanwhile, Serpentor is taken to the hidden valley where the rest of Cobra currently resides.  Serpentor meets the ruler of this land, Golobulous, and this hidden world is known as Cobra-La.  Golobulous puts Cobra Commander on trial for his gross incompetence, and at last we get some exposition.  The denizens of Cobra-La walked the Earth and were the dominant species on this planet some 40,000 years ago.  But then, the ice age happened, and they were driven underground to wait it out.  But, during the Ice Age, something unexpected happened.  Humans evolved, and quickly claimed the planet for themselves.  Cobra-La was repulsed by the humans, and how their technology consisted of inorganic matter.  Cobra-La technology was all based on nature and genetic manipulation, and hence all the freaky organisms that populate their world.  Cobra-La sought to conquer the Earth and reclaim it.  One young nobleman was experimenting with a biological weapon, when it went off in his face and horribly disfigured him.  Golobulous like the cut of this nobleman's jib, though, and wearing a mask to conceal his disfigurements, this nobleman was sent out into the world to conquer it for Cobra-La.  That nobleman is Cobra Commander, but Golobulous is now fed up with Cobra Commander's incompetence.  Cobra Commander is exposed to the biological weapon he was working on -- a spore that causes those it touches to mutate into a mindless beast.  Golobulous's plan is simple:  launch thousands of these spores into orbit, where they'll cover the Earth and mutate all of the human race.  But, in order for the spores to ripen in the cold of space, they need the BET.  Get it?  Got it?  Good. 

The now-mutating Cobra Commander is thrown in with the capture G.I. Joes, and the Joes seize the opportunity to make a jailbreak.  It doesn't work though, and only Roadblock and Cobra Commander escape.  Roadblock was blinded, though, and now must rely on Cobra Commander to be his eyes.

Hey, let's catch up with Falcon.  "The Slaughterhouse" is a special training facility led by Sgt. Slaughter, and his troops are known as Slaughter's Renegades.  They are:  Mercer, a Cobra Viper who defected; Red Dog, a ex-pro-football player, and Taurus, a loopy circus acrobat.  Falcon is train with them in the hopes it straightens him out.  On a sidenote, I always liked the concept of Slaughter's Renegades.  They strike me as G.I. Joe's Dirty Dozen.  After a bit of training, Duke sends Slaughter's Renegades on a mission:  do some recon at the Terror Drome and find out what Cobra's up to.  So they hit the Terror Drome and find out about Cobra's plans, and Cobra-La and all that good stuff.  They nuke the Terror Drome and take off into the night.  This leaves Serpentor very pissed off, and Cobra mounts a full-scale offensive to claim the BET.

So, we have a massive battle.  Cobra is joined by Cobra-La, which includes giant worms and dragonflies.  It is an intense battle, and it's not without losses.  Duke, the most beloved G.I. Joe of all, is killed.  Well, he's not really killed.  As the legend goes, due to the parental backlash over the death of Optimus Prime in Transfomers: the Movie, Hasbro decided to not have Duke killed but just "go into a coma," and they threw in a few lines to affirm that fact.  So I was spared another childhood trauma.

With Cobra-La now in possession of the BET, they begin ripening the spores in orbit.  Once the clock ticks down, it's the end of the world as we know it.  Now that the BET is transmitting, G.I. Joe can easily track the location of Cobra-La, and they mount a full offensive!

Massive battle, evil is defeated, Duke comes out of his coma.  The end.

(Sorry, but I'm getting tired and tired of writing.)

I love playing "What if?" with this film.  What if it did go theatrical?  Would it have had more celebrity voices than Don Johnson and Burgess Meredith?  Would it have had a soundtrack full of metal like Transformers?  Would the animation have been more consistent?  So fun to play what if.

And what is up with Cobra-La?  It really does seem a little too weird for G.I. Joe.  From what I've read about this film, the makers of the film were very reluctant to use it, but Hasbro forced them.  The creators of the comic books put their foot down and refused to use it AT ALL. 

And Sgt. Slaughter as himself.  He even uses some of his trademark wrestling moves in his final battle. 

All in all, this is just great fun and a fantastic testament to that great period known as the 1980s;

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