Sunday, January 11, 2009

Defenders Of Space (aka Phoenix King) (1984)


(taken directly from the $1 DVD cover)
Nicholas, a hypocritical ruler of the Zinba Empire, wants to expand his territory. His plan is to turn the Earth into his own private colony. His detailed plan starts by cutting off all of Earth's defense forces by destroying the city of Orion.
Meanwhile, a group of youngsters are spending their vacation on Mars. Not until they discover the destruction on Earth do the realize the danger they are in. They find Dr.Han and Fred in an underground Cave. Dr. Han believes that somewhere on Earth, there is an immortal bird called, The Phoenix King. He is said to be the guardian of the Earth and only this mythical creature can defeat Nicholas. Therefore, the adventurer's set off for the Phoenix's alleged home and the Earth's only hope.

That about sums it up in a convoluted (Zinba empire? Phoenix King?) and nonsensical way. The actual plot is simple: Bad guys attack earth, youngsters have to get giant robot in order to fight them off. Works for me.


As a kid I required only two things in my entertainment: a) Robots and b) Explosions. Luckily, I grew up in the 1980s where both were available in huge quantities, and often packaged together. My sugar addled brain was pelted by Transformers, Go-Bots, Wheeled Warriors and the mysterious Japanese Robotech, and I gladly watched it all. Around the world, variations of these cheap (and marketable) programs were made to saciate what appeared to be an unlimited demand, and soon screens were flooded by cheap Japanese cartoons, cheap American rip-offs of Japanese cartoons, and inevitably, really cheap Korean rip-offs of these American rip-offs. Defenders Of Space (originally titled Phoenix King) was one of these.

According to the trailer which plays before this (60 Minute) feature, it's possible that Defenders Of Space actually played in a few theaters in the mid-80s. This is an amazing thought, as often the film barely registers as animation, having more in common with the micro-budget Marvel Comics cartoons of the 60s with barely moving frames being strung together. Characters float across the screen, and you can sometimes see the animation cell (and the dirt on the frame) moving across the screen. This is bottom of the barrel stuff.

As was often the case with cheaply made 80s animation, the dubbing here is pitiful and features a handful of actors covering all of the voices. The dubbing of the enemies (particularly the EVIL ruler, impressively named Nick) is amateurish and often embarrassing. Also, thanks to the needlessly convoluted back-story, these characters alternate between delivering massive amounts of exposition, and trying desperately to fill up the characters open mouths with anything at all. There's also major inconsistencies present, particularly in the look of the Phoenix King robot once he arrives.

Despite all of this, this whole thing could have been saved if the Phoenix King, once uncovered, delivered some bad-ass robot action. It started off well, as Phoenix King shares an impressive resemblance to the Transformer called Inferno. In fact, the resemblance is nearly impossible to ignore, particularly at the film's ending. Phoenix King has (rather easily) destroyed the baddies and saved earth, but after landing in Orion he shows off his greatest power of all. Indeed, after all of that waiting we finally get to see what PK is made of as he TRANSFORMS into a..

Fire Engine. Hey! Just like Inferno!

Yep. This is a future where traveling to Mars is a routine task, and laser blasters are a dime a dozen, and this guy's amazing ability is to turn into a truck that squirts water. The whole thing plays like poorly made Inferno fan-fic written by a painfully lonely geek.

NOT Phoenix King

The Digiview Productions DVD is watchable enough, though the DVD format makes even the most minor flaws easy to pick out. This film is routinely available in the dollar bins, and I picked it up in a package with two other cheaply made Korean films for a couple of dollars. If you're a fan of awful animation and giant robots you may get a kick out of it.

Included on the DVD is a trailer for the film, as well as short previews for other animated films available from Digiview Productions including Nursery Classics, King Solomon's Mines, Captain Nemo Vol. 4, Captain Nemo Vol. 3, The Man In The Iron Mask, The Last Of The Mohicans, Beauty and Warrior, Greatest Fighting Heros (yes, Heroes is mispelled), Girls We Love, Our Funniest Friends, Defenders Of Space, Ali Baba And The Gold Raiders, Space Thunder Kids, Protectors Of Universe, and Black Arrow. Most of these appear to be collections of public domain cartoons, or oddly European animated features based on public domain properties. My personal favorite title is Protectors Of Universe.

The price is right, but there are infinitely better ways to get your giant robot fix.

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