Tuesday 15 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Def-Con 4

Def-Con 4 (1985)

Imagine how much it must suck to be in space when an apocalyptic thermonuclear war breaks out on Earth. You'd surely much rather be there with everybody else, down on the ground mucking in with your melted eyes  running down your cheeks and your hair on fire. Nevertheless, this was the situation that the crew of the USS Anal Polyp found themselves in in Def-Con 4.

To be fair, they were not entirely blameless: they were manning a top-secret NORAD defensive shield satellite, so when it all kicks off they're pretty much in the mix. And kick off it does, as a rogue terrorist group hijack a shipment of US Navy Tomahawk missiles and provoke an all-out war. The crew in orbit find this to be particularly trying, especially when one of their wives manages to send out a ham radio message into space with a bleak update of conditions on Earth. In a spellbindingly misguided move, the husband decides to return the craft to Earth to try and get his family to safety.

Unfortunately, a computer malfunction sees them crash land and trigger a countdown to the detonation of their cargo of nuclear warheads in just sixty hours. But the world that they have returned to is quite different to the one which they left 400 days previously: tribal warfare, martial law, food rioting, trading the sexual virtue of ladies, mob justice, summary executions, kangaroo courts and cannibalism are the order of the day; like a Saturday night out in Sheffield.

Def-Con 4. Or Doncaster. I forget which.

The crew's captain having been eaten by pensioners, the second in command finds himself captured by the leader of the main faction, an amoral, sprout-faced military school dropout who has set up a society of sorts in a junkyard where he is attempting to gather the necessary equipment and know-how to lead an escape party by boat to Latin America. But supplies are limited and so any mutiny is quickly crushed in a brutal battle for survival. It's a very reduced rag-tag bunch of survivors who face the new world adrift in the middle of the sea on a fishing vessel as the countdown of the satellite's malfunctioning payload reaches zero and it starts to rain roast albatross.

Def-Con 4 isn't a particularly good film. I found a lot of the finer plot points passing me by, not because it is in any way complex but rather because I didn't really particular care either way who lived or who died. It's very much of its time in terms of its visuals and its content, although it remains admirably restrained for a 1980s sci-fi B movie in terms of using grotesque special effects. It passes the time, but that's about it. Don't be put off watching because you're worried you haven't seen films 1-3. Be put off instead by the fact that there are a lot more engaging and thought-provoking ways to spend however the hell long it takes for this hoop to play out. Def-Con 4 gets a meek, Earth-inheriting FOUR out of ten disaster points.

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