Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1983)

You knew this one was next, right? It must be safe to assume that HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA was a success as nearly everyone from that film (Warbeck, Steiner, Collins, Margheriti) reteamed to make this modern day Indiana Jones-style adventure the following year. While not a sequel, it might as well be as leads Warbeck and Steiner are basically essaying the same roles. And, hear me out here, I seriously think Lucas and Spielberg ended up ripping this one off (more on that in a bit)!

Cat burglar Rick Spear (Warbeck) arrives in Turkey with his lovely lady Carol (Susie Sudlow). But this vacation is a combination of business and pleasure as Spear is there to steal an artifact from a Prince Abdullah (Aytekin Akkaya). Procuring his tools of the trade from Turkish contact Mohammed (Ricardo Palacios), Spear penetrates the building and safe with ease. What he doesn’t know is this was all just a test by wheelchair bound Lord Dean (Steiner) to see if Rick was the man for the job to retrieve the sacred scepter of Gilgamesh, which – go figure – is desired by a bunch of cultists. And what no one in the rooms knows is Abdullah is listening in on the conversation.

In order to find the hidden temple, Spear must convince Beetle (Collins), who went there with a professor long ago, to join him. This isn’t too hard as Beetle is an alcoholic and loves the sauce. And really, who better to lead you an unknown location in the middle of a Turkish desert than a drunk you find sitting on the waterfront? So Rick, Mohammed and Beetle take off, but don’t count on Abdullah having spies all over the desert. And, thankfully, Abdullah’s men have brought their Trans Ams to the desert so we get in some car chases. When Lord Dean hears Rick & co. are being stalked, he reveals he isn’t paralyzed (“How else did you think I could convince Rick to take the job?”) and sets off to assist with Carol and manservant Rupert (Anthony Berner). Yup, the only thing more pathetic than the initial archeological team is the back up! Will Spear be able to crack the ancient intricate lock system on the temple’s big ass golden door and retrieve the treasure before Abdullah’s men get to him? I think so.

Trading in the Philippines for Turkey, director Antonio Margheriti proves a location switch is no problem as this is just as entertaining as the previous HUNTERS. I’m glad to see they finally gave Warbeck a cool sounding name (Rick Spear vs. Bob Jackson), even if it sounds like a gay porn star sobriquet. One thing that cracked me up is Rick’s test mission is actually harder for him than the actual temple. There he had to whiz down zip lines and disable security systems. He just waltzes into the temple. Ah, I take that back, they do encounter one (ONE!) lousy guard who has some poisonous snakes in a pit and one (ONE!) poor tarantula. Margheriti does slip up once though with the use of easily detectable car miniatures for some of the chases. It is funny because a couple of years ago I was watching Bruno Mattei’s COP GAME (a knock off of the Willem Dafoe vehicle OFF LIMITS) and that damn train yard miniature car chase popped up again! So at least the Italians got double the worth out of that worthless bit. 

The reunited cast is good. Warbeck seems to be aiming for a more suave James Bond approach this go-round, even going so far as to mention a Bond actor (“Why didn’t you tell me this job called for Roger Moore?”). He tends to overuse the phrase “pussycat” though and even has his own specialty drink (Bacardi with milk and crushed ice!?!). There is also what I believe is a cinematic first where he commandeers a car with the “I need your car” line and then punches the innocent owner (carrying lemons no less). Freshly shaved Steiner, sadly, tones down the Brit shtick and Collins – looking like latter day Orson Welles mixed with Peter Lorre and Lucio Fulci – gets more of a chance to shine as the lovable drunk Beetle (pay attention to how his alcoholism leads to a major discovery). Spanish actor Palacios is the best of the new faces, giving us a rousing Sallah impersonation and even gets his disco dancing freak on. I was actually hoping for a more over-the-top villain, but Turkish actor Akkaya – previously in the mind blowing 3 DEV ADAM as a bootleg Captain America – is fine in the role.

Now, let’s look at my earth shattering plagiarism accusations. I mentioned in my HUNTERS review that there seemed to be an eerie similarity between that film’s lava temple and the one featured in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984). Well, certain things REALLY set off my rip-off radar in this one and, for once, it seems the big budget flick has cribbed from the imitation. When I first saw this one on VHS 15 years ago, I noticed there are quite a few similarities between it and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989). Despite being modern day, ARK features a boat chase with Turkish guys (obviously the CRUSADE one is better). ARK also has a bit where the leads escape a fire via sewer tunnels under the city and encounters dozens of rats (CRUSADE used hundreds). ARK’s temple entrance is carved into the side of a mountain, just like the one in CRUSADE. And, finally, the film ends the exact same way with the temple collapsing and the ground cracking right between the villain’s legs! This is wild because ARK came out in 1983. Do I believe that Lucas and Spielberg saw this film? Absolutely! Someone in their entourage was quick enough to spot GREAT WHITE (1981; aka THE LAST JAWS) and have it litigated onto the shelf so I have no doubt someone watched ARK (hell, that title probably set off their lawyers) and reported back. Crazy to think that a RAIDERS imitation could end up influencing the big boys they were copying.

One final note about the film that irks me is I keep seeing reviews pop up that criticize the film for being cheap/poorly shot/low budget crap. I actually disagree with this. Despite the embarrassing miniatures, Margheriti was no hack and turns in a fine looking production with some nice design, great locations and fine camerawork. The problem is most people are seeing this though some shoddy fullscreen transfers (and probably comparing it to a movie with a $50 million dollar budget). The Italian DVD shows that the film has great colors and nice photography (check out the comparison below). No excuse for those pathetic miniatures though.

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