East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Raiders of the Lost Franchise: The Sword and the Sorcerer

Back in the early ’80s, a number of “barbarian movies” came out hot on the heels of John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian, and were considered shameless rip-offs. Of the lot, three remain today with a sort of cult status, to share the dubious title of “best of the crop”. And in fact one of the three was not a Conan rip-off at all, as it came out one year before the John Milius movie.
We’ll save that for last, and tonight (hey, it’s night here as I write this) we start with the one that is arguably the best of the three – the one that was so rushed, it hit the theaters before Conan.

And yes, I mean Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer, from 1982.
Dig that poster…

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Relic/The Relic (1995 & 1997)

Often it’s all a matter of timing. I read Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Relic when it came out in 1995, having read some good reviews. I was in the Air Farce at the time, and that probably did not help me enjoy the book, that I read during one dull weekend while holed up in the switchboard bunker, plus a late-night train ride home. That, and the comparison to The X-Files – a series I did not enjoy very much – did not help putting me in the best disposition. I liked the set up, the setting and the premises, but I found the main protagonist Agent Pendergast absolutely insufferable. I came out of the book with very mixed feelings.

Also, it was pretty obvious one of the authors, that had been an employee of the museum in which the novel is set, had an ax to grind with that sort of environment, and while I can appreciate it – I do have my own set of axes to grind with the world of academia and research – and I certainly approve of using fiction to kill the people we hate, the revenge fantasy element in the novel was to me a little too evident.

So, OK, I sort of liked it but I wasn’t crazy about it – to the point that I have a stack of other Preston/Child books here in my emergency box, and I’ve never been desperate enough to try another – despite the excellent reviews the books had from people I respect.

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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: Gwendoline (1984)

Ah, the French! The whole world is looking around for an Indiana Jones-style screenplay, resurrecting old projects and launching dubious attempts at new franchises? And the French decide that the best way to go is to take an old fetish comic series from the ’40s, and make a movie of it – with lots of nudity, a poor excuse of a plot, and Tawny Kitaen. What could ever go wrong?

The movie makes Bo Derek’s Tarzan look like the real thing, and was distributed in 1984 as Gwendoline or, on some markets, I kid you not, as The Perils of Gwendoline in the land of the Yik Yak.
Some of us saw it back then, on the big screen, and have the scars to prove it.

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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: Sky Bandits (1986)

What was it about 1986 and planes, and adventure movies? Because we just had the time to take stock of the disappointing weirdness that was Sky Pirates/Dakota Harris that we find ourselves back again in the time of Biggles – well, the real time of Biggles, the Great War – for another one of those weird eccentric movies that would have been a great first episode for a franchise, only the franchise never happened, and maybe it’s better this way. The movie in question is the 1986 British independent movie Sky Bandits, aka Gunbus – that I saw back to back with Sky Pirates over the weekend (hence this episode of the series so close to the previous).

Not to be confused with the 1940 Monogram movie also known as Renfrew of the Royal Mounted in Sky Bandits, Sky Bandits/Gunbus is a historical adventure movie with some weird/science fictional elements (not enough to make it dieselpunk or what – just plain weird).
The plot in a nutshell (courtesy of Wikipedia): In the dying days of the old west, two bank robbers, Barney and Luke, find themselves fighting in World War One in France.

Nice and smooth.
Well, not exactly.

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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: Sky Pirates (1986)

The year 1986 was clearly a good one for Indiana Jones wannabes and unlikely first chapters of franchises that never went beyond the first chapter. In the first episode of this series, we’ve seen how in 1986 good old stalwart British pulp hero Biggles was let down by a confused execution and a misguided “update”. This time, we get a movie that features…

  • ancient astronauts
  • Easter Island
  • Stonehenge
  • the Sea of Lost Ships
  • the Philadelphia Experiment
  • space-time distortions
  • conspiracy theories
  • Melbourne (for that little extra exoticism)
  • World War Two (but just a hint of it)
  • and a lead called Dakota Harris

It was shot in Australia, and it is, of course, the 1986 adventure … ehm, classic, Sky Pirates (aka Dakota Harris).

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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: Biggles (1986)

So, the idea was proposed to do a few posts about movie franchises that never started. Movies, mostly shot in the 1980s, that were all set up to be the Next Star Wars, the Next Conan or the Next Indiana Jones, but for some reason (usually a mix of ineptitude, lack of funds and madness) went nowhere, and sometimes entered the legend.

And I like very much the idea, and I think I’ll start with a movie that believed so much in its First in a Series status, that it proclaimed it in the title itself – well, at least in some countries. Today it is considered a cult movie by some, and one of the most ludicrous movies ever by others. The fact that it came with a very well established pulp cred, and it featured Peter Cushing in his last big screen role, only make the whole a lot more painful.

The movie is of course the 1986 Biggles, sometimes known as Biggles, The Adventure Begins (ah!), but also as Biggles: Adventures in Time.

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