The Ultimate Warrior (1975)

If I had to sum up this film in one sentence, I'd say "Mad Max, without all the paraphernalia". If it didn't have Yul Brynner, it may not pass the grade, but he seems to add a certain something to most films he's in. Classic performer Max Von Sydow also adds acting chops to this humble little Dystopian thriller.

It's 2012 AD, and due to fuel shortages, civilization is in total collapse. As hospitals were no longer powered, plague after plague took hold, and devastated the world. Plants will barely grow and humanity has degenerated into warring bands, desperate for the remaining scraps.

In a wrecked, unnamed American city, a group (or Commune, as they call them) has managed to grow some plants in their rooftop sanctuary. Their leader, called "The Baron" (Von Sydow) has hired a mercenary warrior called Carson (Brynner), to protect them. The first sighting of Carson is memorable. He is standing on a podium, eyes-shut, totally motionless, bare-chested and bald. Baron makes his offer of shelter and extra food, even cigars. The cigars win Carson over.

Another band of desperados, led by the brutish "Carrot" (William Smith), want to destroy the commune and raid their food. A couple from Baron's band want to find powdered milk for their child and leave the compound, but are killed by Carrot's group. The baby is used as bait to lure the remaining group, but seems to die anyway before Carson can save it. Quite depressing viewing, when there's a toddler involved.

Baron's Commune is on the verge of disintegration. Baron wants to send Cal - the vegetable grower - and his pregnant daughter Melinda to a safe island along with Carson as protector, as he was the one who mentioned he would eventually go to this safe place. There are also precious seeds to be taken and grown.

As the story progresses we realize that "The Commune" is barely better than any other group of savages. Believing one of their number to be a fruit-stealer, they throw him, with a hood over his head, bells 'round his neck and his hands tied, to the "street-people". Death swiftly follows. When they realize that the Baron has sent Melinda and Carson along with food to the island (Cal is killed in a previous raid), they viciously beat him to death. This film is surprisingly violent at times. After all this, the only decent person left appears to be Melinda, and her baby-to-be.

Having learned that Carson carries the seeds, Carrot and his band set off in hot pursuit. Will the remnants of goodness survive? Do they reach the Island? How does Carson prove he is the "Ultimate Warrior"? I'd better not spoil it for you. But, is it worthy of a view? Director/writer Robert Clouse (of "Enter the Dragon" fame) has fashioned a simple movie with very few frills. Sets, costumes, script, acting style are all very muted and minimal, which probably suits the downbeat subject matter. Some of the costumes look somewhat clean and pressed for this poverty-stricken, desperate situation. The elegant scarf-around-the-neck of some of the rogues evokes a few laughs. We're sure not talking Mad Max levels of biker-fetish gear here. I must admit I always feel a bit depressed after watching this movie, mainly because the baby of the first escaped couple dies, off screen at least. It's not even clear why it dies, one can only assume starvation or a worse kind of neglect. Then again, the parents seems to die with one blow to the head, so who knows what's going on in this world?

If you're into sci-fi films like "The Omega Man" and like Yul Brynner, you may want to chuck this one into your VCR. It's not going to blow you out of your seat, by any means, but it's kind of interesting seeing a forerunner to the Mad Max films - they're thematically very similar, even to the point of a fuel shortage starting the slide into anarchy - and even good old "Day of the Dead" to some degree. Watch both and see what I mean. Ol' Yul makes a good fighter, with his only weapon being a knife, but a well-used one. Still, you probably won't walk out of the room skipping, once you've seen it. It's an interesting footnote in dystopean sci-fi, but not much more.

© Boris Lugosi 2002.


Review written: 06/12/2002 12:26:41