Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quest of the Delta Knights (1993) - MST3K Review


Alas for poor Tee (Corbin Allred), not only was his mother mercilessly slaughtered by Lord Vultare's (David Warner) evil marauders, but he was sold into slavery. Luckily he was picked up by the old beggar Baydool (also David Warner!), who decides to raise him. It quickly becomes apparent that Baydool is no mere beggar, but a member of the secret society - the Delta Knights! Their goal is to find the lost storehouse of Archimedes before the forces of evil do. As happens in these questy type movies, Tee finds himself with a rag tag group of heroes including a young man from the town of Vinci named Leonardo (David Kriegel)?!?!? Will they be able to find the storehouse before Lord Vultare does, or will this be the final "Quest of the Delta Knights"?

Movie Review:

You can see what writer Redge Mahaffey and director James Dodson were attempting with this film. They wanted to make a fun adventure with wit and thrills. They had a fairly large Renaissance faire at their disposal. They were able to lure some solid actors to play supporting roles. They aimed it squarely at the youth market, with the young protagonists, and tried to keep things on the lighter side.
I did like that the heroes are not your typical heroic adventurer types. You've got the old beggar, the scrawny but very intelligent kid, the scrawny but very intelligent teenager, and the perky slave girl. No one is particularly good in a fight, and as Mike and bots point out - this group get's captured a lot. But they all use their brains to get out of the situations. The focuses on trickery and cleverness sets this apart from other low budget fantasies seen on this show like Cave Dwellers or Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell.

You've also got some fun turns by some famous faces. David Warner seems to be having a good time playing duel roles. He's a familiar face from the 80's where he usually ended up laying the villain in films like Tron, Time Bandits and even a couple episodes of Remington Steele. This movie was filmed in 1993, so he was still a few years shy of playing the evil bodyguard in Titanic but had been shot full of holes in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Olivia Hussey shows up as the evil queen, chewing scenery and looking nothing like Juliet in her single scene. Sarah Douglas, another veteran of 80's fantasy flicks (Superman II and Conan the Destroyer) plays a catty noble woman during the slave auction.

But all these good points just don't add up to a good movie. The script is a culprit. The movie can't seem to decide if it's a fantasy or a straight adventure. There's no real magic per se, but Tee can sense when danger is approaching. I can buy the fact that he's a wunderkind of some kind with his ability to quickly learn, but his spidy sense seems a bit out of place. Even the most magical element in the film, the strange war machine of Archimedes, is supposedly based on science (even if it makes magical rainbow sparkles). But I think this type of movie actually could use some magical occurrences or even a few monsters to really make it fun. Instead you get a set of rather mundane villains, and typical booby traps. I think budget restrictions are the real issue here - but it does make the film seem less than the sum of its parts.

The other problem is the very light feel to the film. There is a lot of comedy here, not all of it that successful, and most of it on the pedestrian side. This isn't a spoof, but it's not terribly serious either. The performances reflect this from Olivia Hussey's overblown performance to Warner's not the least bit threatening Lord Vultare. You've got some Star Wars style bickering between Leonardo, Tee and Thena (Brigid Brannagh). And then there’s the over the top comedic performance of Richard Kind as the bumbling scholar Wamhool. It's all in the name of fun, I suppose, but it makes the whole quest endeavor feel not too vital in the least.

Quest of the Delta Knights isn't a horrible film. It's just not very good and not as entertaining as it should have been. Maybe more of spoof or a comedy would have worked better. But the fusion of a heavily Star Wars inspired story with Renaissance Faire sensibilities just makes the whole thing fall flat.

Episode Review:

As the final episode of Season 9, you expect something a bit on the special side. Although MST3K never went all out for their season enders, it seems like they crew had something like that in mind. Most of this occurs in the host segments. Things start off with Crow sustaining hail damage, and Mike and Tom working with a back-up Crow. It's pretty funny actually. Then Pearl calls in to check on the pain levels Mike and the bots are experiencing because of the movies. When they claim to be doing fine, she worries and decides to re-evaluate the experiment. So she switches places with Mike! Pearl ends up riffing with the bots for the first movie segment, while Mike hangs out with Brain Guy and Bobo. Pearl actually does a good job in the theater (Mary Jo Pehl is one of the writers after all) and it makes for a fun change. MST3K did this once before in the film Last of the Wild Horses back in the Comedy Central days. It worked well then too.

Mike returns for the rest of the film and the host segments continue making fun of the movie. A quartet of Tom Servo's appears to sing a medieval song about the Delta Knights. Leonardo DaVinci shows up and he's very angry about the way he's portrayed in the film. The fact that DaVinci lives in Queens, New York adds to the fun. The show ends with the present day Delta Knights (who dress like Shriners) giving a pancake breakfast in Castle Forrester. Watch in horror as Bobo drinks syrup right from the bottle.

With the switcheroo playing a bit part in the film riffing you would think that this would make the episode an instant classic. Well, it's good stuff, but it never seems to take off. Maybe it's because Pearl doesn't stay for the whole film, or because Mike is missing from the first segment. Or maybe it's just because the film's odd comedic tone doesn't really lend itself well to riffing. I've noticed this before. If the movie is dead serious it actually makes the riffing better. Comedies, or movies that fancy themselves comedies are harder to riff. Catalina Caper is a perfect example of this. Hobgoblins worked better because the whole movie was so bad, that you can even riff on the so called funny parts. But in this film its tough to make fun of something that might be in on the joke in the first place.

That's not to say that this is a bad episode, it's just not as funny as some of the other fantasy films they've tackled in the past. You gets jokes on Tee's appearance (he looks a lot like one of the boys from the 90's pop group Hansen). You get jokes based on the Ren Faire (many of the writers actually loathe the Ren Faire). You get jokes about having Leonardo DaVinci in the movie. There are jokes based on the horrible disguises that Baydool and Tee adopt. And of course all the cleavage enhancing outfits on the ladies and especially Thena, provide plenty of material.

Two scenes are worth catching in this film. One has Baydool using a chamber pot as a weapon. This leads to all kinds of jokes popping up when you least expect them, especially when David Warner is on the screen. Late in the film our heros are captured by people wearing animal masks and living in a tree villiage (it is never really explained why). During a chase scene one of the villiage/bandits is overdubbed with a voice sounding like Tattoo from Fantasy Island yelling, "I see them! I'm coooooooming". You hear this about three different times. It's such a surreal moment that even Mike and the bots are flabbergasted. It quickly becomes a catchphrase for this episode. If the movie had a few more odd moments like these it might have been a better riff making machine. All in all it's an entertaining package, but one I wish worked a little better than it does.

I give it three dryer lint beards out of five. But if I'm in the mood for it, I'll give it four.

This episode is available on DAP.

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