21 September 2019

Military Sci-Fi Oddities: MEGAFORCE (1982)

Out of the mists of time and space came a convergence of the military and science fiction genres fueled by the hopefulness of the just begun 1980's and topped with a generous layer of cheese came 1982's MEGAFORCE directed by Hal Needham (Smoky and the Bandit) and starring Barry Bostwick. Yes, dear readers of FWS, it is indeed time to explore and maybe explain this oddity of 1980's Action Movies and Military SF that was MEGAFORCE...and film that my older brother and I subjected my poor father to seeing during its brief theatrical run in June of 1982 at the McClellum Boulevard Plaza 4 in Anniston, Alabama.

What is the Hell is "MEGAFORCE"?
The director of Cannonball Run, Stroker Ace, and Smoky & the Bandit, Hal Needham, turned his talents and money towards the military sci-fi angle with a project in conjunction with Mattel and Golden Harvest that became MEGAFORCE. According to an August 1982 interview with Starlog Magazine, the director and former stuntman explained the origins of the MEGAFORCE film. The man that puts the race car owners together with sponsors that works with Needham was Bob Kachler from California. He came to Hal with the basic idea of MEGAFORCE and thought it would make a great TV series. Hal told him that it seemed more like a movie to him and agreed to develop it for the silverscreen. As he told Bob: "If you go out and sell my cars, I'll sell your movie. And that's how it got started."
With his passion for stunts and vehicles, Needham and William Fredrick designed a number of vehicles for the MEGAFORCE team that cost over a million dollars and all of them were functioning vehicles that were built by a team of four and took nine months. These vehicles and the costumes were all in collaboration with the toy company Mattel. The MEGAFORCE team itself is a special operations multinational rapid deployment combined arms force that uses the most advanced prototype technology like laser direct-energy weapons and holograms, to allow a smaller force to defeat a larger, more conventional force. MEGAFORCE's mission to defend democracy, peace, and justice around the world without the red tape of normal governmental channels. They are headquartered in a vast underground desert mountain base that is similar in construction and scale to the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD facility. Everyone in MEGAFORCE uses first names, no ranks, and it is led by Ace Hunter.
The first film in the planned trilogy had MEGAFORCE defending the weaker "Republic of Sardun"  from raids conducted by their neighbors, the nation of Gamibia, which according to some sources are in the Middle East and this film may or may not be set sometime in 1990's. Fearing all-out invasion and defeat, the Sardun government asks help from the MEGAFORCE by sending Major Zara and General Byrne-White. In addition, the commander of MEGAFORCE, Ace Hunter and the commander of the Gamibian military forces, Duke Gurerra, are former "military academy" friends (and former lover as some sites have suggested).
There is little fleshed out about the political situation and seems like both fictional nations heavily recruit foreign military leadership. The director purposefully designed the conflict in which MEGAFORCE is inserted to be involving fictional nations to avoid any heaviness or political heat. The plot allows for this first movie of the planned trilogy to explain the role and mission of MEGAFORCE and its players as well as its high-tech toys.  During some interviews with Barry "Ace Hunter" Bostwick, the actor suggested that the US government had something close to MEGAFORCE that this why the US military refused to help with planes and equipment for the film...yeah that's it. The box-office is a cruel mistress, and MEGAFORCE came and went in the summer of 1982 as a flop and taking the sequels with it.   

The Historical Context of MEGAFORCE
At times, an entire genre of film can be compressed into a single decade, where it emerges, grows, then dies. That is the saga of the 1980's classic Action Movies that starred well-muscled heroes like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Chuck Norris. While beginning in the late 1960's and the 1970's, the Action Movie genre really came into being in the 1980's with films like Rambo and Commando that spawned thousands of copies that ranged from grade B to Z. They choked the VHS rental store shelves and plagued the cinemas the world over. It even bleed over into the Sci-Fi genre with films like Predator.
By the time of the 1990's, the Action Movie genre began to die off rapidly to over-saturation in the market and a change in tastes in America. It is only now that the Action Movie genre enjoys some modern takes on the 1980's classic with films like the Transporter, the Expendables, and nearly anything with The Rock or Jason Statham. Also occurring at the same time as MEGAFORCE was unleashed on the world in 1982, was the idea born out of the success of Star Wars: spin-off merchandise lines. It is nosebleed inducing to see the steer about of shit that had the Star Wars name slapped on it to make some cold hard cash and everyone else wanted in on the gravy-train.
To do that and pattern themselves after the Star Wars model, companies needed a vehicle to put all manner of branded goods into the hands of the consumer and vehicle needed to excite the buyer into diving into their pocketbook. We have seen this with Raiders of the Lost Ark, ROBOTECH, and Transformers, and oddly, MEGAFORCE was being seen (and planned) as a branded franchise for the kiddies. MEGAFORCE and other films/TV attempted to tap into the Star Wars vain with cool vehicles, great enemies, and dashing heroes as we have seen with the Rambo and Robocop cartoons and toylines along with even the bizarre Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (Yes, we will discuss this film soon). It was into this time, that MEGAFORCE was developed and released, and where it died.       

Why is MEGAFORCE an Oddity?
First and foremost this 1982 film is an oddity due to its mere existence. For those of us that have witnessed this...film...know that it is complete bizarre in every way that even has flying combat motorcycles and tan spandex military uniforms. It is also odd that the film has no sense of itself, its reality, and its universe. At one moment, Ace Hunter is completely serious, then he jumps his motorcycle over the heads of visitors. There can be a hologram briefing on the battleplan for an upcoming engagement that is followed by a cartoon dancing pig... no seriously, that actually happens in MEGAFORCE.
They can invite a foreign female officer to engage in proving herself worthy of going on the mission and in the middle of a skydive, Ace Hunter pops open a rainbow-pattern parachute. While this was the era of the Roger Moore Bond films, Ace Hunter and his cheap dime-store sci-fi commandos cannot pull it off and nor can the writer or director. If it had been one or the other than it would have been fine and maybe worked...but it is oil-and-water in final realization. Other oddity of MEGAFORCE is that there is no costume designer credited and instead, MEGAFORCE credits the toy company Mattel for the costuming!
So, that's were the tan spandex came from! Then there is the vehicles of the MEGAFORCE. It seems that all of the MEGAFORCE is an mounted force  in either high-tech flying armed motorcycles or those heavily armored dune buggies with a command & control vehicle. There is no infantry, close-air assets, and no armored vehicles. These vehicles just drop in, assault, and get out. This idea of near-future war was due to the vehicle-and-stunt heavy thinking of the production team and it makes no sense in actual warfare. If indeed one of the M48A5 Patton tanks of Guerra's force had locked on and fired an 105mm shell, those dune buggies would have been toast. But, MEGAFORCE was relaying on their technology and speed. I found this odd as well and I wonder if these vehicles and tactics were just the "desert" warfare equipment of the MEGAFORCE.
 
What Happened to MEGAFORCE?
MEGAFORCE would be released on June 25th, 1982 on 1,193 theaters in the US and made the lion-share of its domestic take at the box office that first week, making some $3.5 million. In historical context, MEGAFORCE would be released in the same month as BLADE RUNNER, E.T., Star Trek II: TWOK, FireFox, and Poltergeist. Given the terrible reviews and the giant movies coming out at the time, MEGAFORCE died a quick death in the cinema.
The fate of MEGAFORCE was written in its first weekend ranking...9th. By the first part of July, the first dropped in box-office sales by 41% then by 75% with more and more theaters pulling from showings. By July 9th, 1982, only 339 theaters in the US were airing MEGAFORCE. Domestically, MEGAFORCE would pull in $5.6 million verse the $18-20 million production cost. That is sad, short tale of MEGAFORCE in the cinema of 1982. This was the dawn of the rental video store and home video market, and MEGAFORCE would be released on VHS by CBSFOX Video in 1984, along with being aired on cable here and there. For the most part, that concludes the first act of MEGAFORCE...but the story was not over yet. 

The Impact and Legacy of 1982's MEGAFORCE
After flopping hard in the American cinemas, MEGAFORCE was out of theaters before July of 1982 was even half underway, and for a time, MEGAFORCE was dead. However, there always the home video market. MEGAFORCE would be released on VHS around 1984 and it would be there on the store rental and sale shelves in the 1980's and 1990's, temping us to see if it was as bad as we remember or had heard. It would run on TV late at night or on weekend afternoons. While many would think that due to MEGAFORCE's box-office failure that it have no impact, and that is true at the time, but it would later go on as a cult classic with legions of fans.
Some of the fans were creators themselves and inserted references to MEGAFORCE into their works. One of the best examples is 2004's Team America: World Police. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are massive fans of MEGAFORCE and many elements of Team America are directly lifted from the MEGAFORCE.  I've also read the the source for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, was directly influenced by creator Shotaro Ishinomori's love for the 1982 film and that is the reason there is a Power Rangers Megaforce series. I have not found hard evidence of this claim. Another piece of the legacy of MEGAFORCE was the length that some fans have gone to get one of the screen-used vehicles. Some of the Mega-Destroyer dune buggies and one of the only surviving motorcycles have lovingly preserved by fans and shown off at cons.

The Aborted Sequel: “Deeds Not Words”
During the press for MEGAFORCE, director Hal Needham spoke to Starlog Magazine that would appear in issue #60 (August 1982), which was well after the June 25th, 1982 release date. It was during this interview about the marketing for MEGAFORCE that Hal Needham more than hinted at the real possibility of a sequel to MEGAFORCE that he already titled “Deeds not Words”. Amazingly enough, if MEGAFORCE had strong showing at the box-office, as Hal laid out, that the majority of the cast would be returning for filming the sequel in September of 1982. Given this short turnaround from the release of MEGAFORCE in mid-summer of 1982 to filming the sequel just a few months after they had wrapped up the first film that begun in October seems insane…and it begs another question…was the script to Deeds Not Words already completed? Does that mean that somewhere there is a script for the sequel floating around?
It would be amazing to read what Hal Needham was thinking for the follow-up. Alas, we will never know due to MEGAFORCE belly-flopping at the theaters only making $5.6 million verse the $18 million investment in the film. The only hint of  the plot and setting of Deeds, Not Words came from an brief mention in a Starlog Magazine in 1982, stating that the sequel to MEGAFORCE would have been shot in the Virgin Island...insert joke here. Given that the majority of vehicles in the original 1982 film were desert based, we could have seen a more "aquatic" MEGAFORCE gear than in the first film. This would have great to base a new toyline on as well. Maybe a flying Jetski? There has been speculation online that Persis Khambatta's character of Major Zara would become a member of the MEGAFORCE due to her character's return as mention by the director in an 1982 interview.  

The Merchandise of MEGAFORCE
As we've discussed above, MEGAFORCE was conceived as a full-on marketing beast, or as Starlog Magazine #61 (8/1982) in summed it as "MEGAFORCE: a Blueprint for Films, Toys, and Weaponry". One of the major partners for the film and the merchandising of MEGAFORCE (and its possible sequels) was the toy giant Mattel. From the very beginning of the MEGAFORCE project, the producers of the film and the people of Mattel worked closely to design the look of the MEGAFORCE unit to appeal to the toy market.
Larry Wood from Mattel collaborated with production designer Bill Fredericks to design the vehicles of the MEGAFORCE down to the detail of the racy futuristic desert "1990" paint scheme applied to the MEGAFORCE vehicles. When the full-sized fleet of near-future war machines were ready, Mattel designed there Hot Wheels toys around the real vehicles. Sadly, this relationship bore little fruit due to the flop that MEGAFORCE was and Mattel only put six vehicles under their Hot Wheels line along with the "Desert Strike Track Set" that also included the MEGAFORCE "Mega-destroyer" Dune Buggy that all released in 1981. There two other pieces of merchandise that were released for the film: an 20th Century Fox ATARI 2600 video game and a Japanese 1:16 model kit of the Mega-Destroyer assault dune buggy.
The Japanese model kit was released by Bandai in 1982 and called "the MEGAFORCE Mega-Cruiser". This had a limited run and is considered rare, commanding a high price. When reviewing some of the examples of the Mega-Cruiser model kit that have come up for sale, there is some mention of the kit being motorized and a "comic book" designed for the model kit being included. In 1982, 20th Century Fox released an ATARI 2600 single-player side-scroller MEGAFORCE video game. This was not unusual for the film company, they released several ATARI 2600 games based on their properties and MEGAFORCE was one. Modern reviews of the game have spoken highly of it and how it is better than the movie. Much like many other side-scrollers of the time, it is simple and is similar, to me, to the Empire Strikes Back ATARI 2600 game. In the TV ad for the MEGAFORCE video game, actor Bryan Cranston had a starring role. The later Kenner toyline called "Megaforce" was not connected to the 1982 film in any way despite rumors. 

The Rumors of the MEGAFORCE that Could have Been and Never Was... 
In the dark ages before the internet, rumors could be spread like a virus to the point that major magazines printed them and in the geek community of the dark ages the subject of MEGAFORCE was discussed around D&D tables...and I was listening. Before we layout the human intelligence that I heard in the 1980's and 1990's about the-MEGAFORCE-that-could-have-been, take these with a grain of salt because I've been unable to verify much of this.
We know for a fact that the director was planning on a sequel called "Deeds, Not Words" that was DOA and this ended the story of MEGAFORCE...but what if it wasn't? Many have pointed out that MEGAFORCE was like a live-action GI JOE: Real American Hero cartoon and toyline film well before the 2009 "film" and that many of the rumors surrounded that connection. Some have even suggested that the director and creator of MEGAFORCE, Hal Needham attempted to secure the rights to GI JOE and when he was turned down, he made MEGAFORCE instead. I call bullshit on that. GI JOE: A Real American Hero Hasbro toyline was released in the summer of 1982 and the cartoon is a few years after that and well after MEGAFORCE came and went. When Hasbro's GI JOE took off and became one of the iconic toylines of the 1980's, it spawned other toy companies to look at developing there own military toyline like Remco's Sgt. Rock and Coleco's Rambo. It is rumored that Mattel looked at rising MEGAFORCE from the grave and giving it the "GI JOE treatment" that could have finally delivered on the promise of MEGAFORCE action figures mentioned in one of the Starlog Magazine articles from 1982. This would have included vehicles and playsets and even an animated TV series. To me, this sounds like more of a fit for the idea of MEGAFORCE than the live-action 1982 film was and makes some odd sense. I would have loved to mix in MEGAFORCE figures and vehicles into my GI Joes as a kid.Just imagine having Ace Hunter and Duke action figures kicking COBRA ass together in the 80's!         

Next Time on FWS...
Travelling without moving has been a fantasy of man since ancient time. That central fantasy of teleportation has been extended into modern times with fantasy and science fiction works of all media types showing some form of teleportation via magic or technology being able to open portals or breakdown people into energy and reassembly them. FWS will looking at teleporters, transporters, and portal projectors from a more tactical and strategic perspective.

8 comments:

  1. My all time favorite high cheese movie, that anyone who has ever gamed with me has been subjected to! I saw this master piece at the army theater on FT Lewis Wa with a bunch of other GIs (non-stop laughter and thrown popcorn ). It is still a guilty pleasure!

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  2. No wonder the Soviets never started WWIII with Mega Force there to stop them! Actually great write up very 80s loved it

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  3. I must admit, I've used the phase deeds not words in a few staff meetings

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  4. Well all I can say is they predicted combat shirts.

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  5. Megaforce reminds me of an earlier show, The Rat Patrol, on ABC-TV in the mid 1960's. 4 guys, 2 jeeps and 2 MaDuce's meet and beat the entire AfrikaKorp every week! Pure cheese.

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  6. Never seen this one, but those vehicles remind me so much of the Adventure 2000 set from Matchbox.

    https://2warpstoneptune.com/2014/03/03/matchboxs-adventure-2000-1977/

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  7. You are right about the "oil and water" problem with tone. Barry plays his role with a daytime soap level of potential. I doubt the toy-themed film could've approached Road Warrior in substance, but it might have tried to be less cheesy than say, Buckaroo Banzai.

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