I think I said it once a while back that you can tell a fuckin rare movie it you find it for sale on VHS. Even more so if the price is exorbitant. Case in point is Escape from DS-3. I googled the name of the movie, and second page in I found this! Are you freaking kidding me!? Since that link will eventually die, it sold on Ebay for $100 plus $5 shipping. A fuckin VHS of a unknown 1981 film.
Why? Did I hear you ask that? Well, it's a complex answer but basically two words: Robert Emenegger. Yes, the director of the bizarre Killings at Outpost Zeta is back. I told you I could easily see another of his movies. And am I glad I did. Like I'm also glad I impulsively bought Killings at Zeta just now on Amazon. Fuck yeah bro. These movies are truly bottom of the barrel in terms on budget, but what kind of a movie does that end you up with? The reason I ask and bring it up is that I really, really liked Escape from DS-3.
Bubba Smith would be the only known actor from this sci fi movie, and this was before he got onto Police Academy, he wasn't quite known yet. These were all actors that were usually background extras in movies, or had tiny roles. Yet, they all were great in this movie. A large part of it had to do with the tone of the film, as it's all dialogue and the tone is very planned out, so the atmosphere relies mostly on the tension and the suspension of reality that comes therein.
Taking place in the future year of 2045, DS-3 begins with main character Lavette getting wrongly accused of a crime. He goes through the typical government system: a system that wants to convict, that is corrupt, and that puts on a trial just as a show. This results in him getting sent to prison colony DS-3, a ship somewhere in anonymous space. In the set-up, Lavette learns from the prison guards, from the other prisoners, from dialogue that we hear between the prison wardens, about the prison specifics. He is to be grouped with 3 other prisoners, they each have their own cell, they spend an hour or two together every day, for meals and for exercise, and there is a camera watching each cell.
We watch as he learns that they monitor him every 15 minutes, that they'll allow him access to certain things if he's on good behavior, as he identifies the strengths his co-prisoners have, and how he can use their skills to help all 4 of them escape. It's mostly dialogue, a lot of it is shown as narration, or replaying a conversation from an unknown time and passing it off as "what a character is thinking." One might say that's an excuse to have what's cheap and easiest: actors sitting in a booth recording lines instead of doing it in a scene. True. However, it is also useful, smart, and when it's done right it's a damn effective devise (case in point right here).
The movie continues like this, and it was a really neat experience for me to watch it while high and drunk. This is the kinda movie that really made me wonder where are these actors now? Since they never had a legit acting career, what was the rest of their life like? That's why DVD special features are so great. I'd love to know about the making of this film. There are times where you can practically see the entire tiny sets they had to work with, the limited scope. I'd bet that a lot of this was filmed in people's garages, or some tiny studio somewhere, with about 10 feet of wall decorated as a set and the rest of it crammed with all the furniture that used to be in that room. You can only have one camera angle cause there's only one way it will look good enough. You know what I mean.
There's some dark comedy, and there's plenty of interesting and downright clever dialogue in this film too. At one point I realized why I liked it so much. It's a lot like, again, a play. With some simple swapping out of background sets, this would make a really neat play. A play about the resistance to defeat, the resiliency of our main character Lavette. There's a lot of obstacles he has to overcome, and it's all done effectively right, it's a great character and very strong.
There was one funny moment of dialogue I still remember. Mac is played by Bubba Smith, and in the film he used to be a boxer. So at one point, Lavette says "Mac the ex-boxer", and what I heard it as was "Mac the X-boxer." Did they ever think that word would have a double meaning? What if you heard the work hashtag in a movie from 1953? It would be so anachronistic, but still completely make sense! It made me laugh.
For a interesting, well executed, and well paced film, it deserves high marks. As a low budget, made for TV, and time killing movie high marks as well. It does slow down in the last 30 minutes, which is regrettable, and takes a star or so off, but it was still a great movie I might watch again. 3.5 stars.