The Future is Female. But This Might not be What Anyone had in Mind…
DIRECTED BY AVI NESHER/1985
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: DECEMBER 3, 2019/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
A good thought-provoking Bergman film is always good for the soul, if sometimes challenging. But not if you choose the wrong Bergman. Not Ingmar. Not Ingrid. This time it would be none other than Sandahl Bergman.
Let me reel that in. “The wrong Bergman” is harsh. With all due respect, Sandahl Bergman is actually quite the accomplished dancer with prominent roles in two of the biggest fantasy films of the 1980s, Conan the Barbarian and its spinoff, Red Sonja. 1985’s She (the Blu-ray case says 1985; Wikipedia and IMDb say 1984, and the copyright notice in its own credits claim 1983- a confusion that is suitable for this movie) falls more in line with the latter type of films than her impressive dance-related work on her resume.
She is tedious wheel-spinner of drag. Any attempt to describe its assorted oddities (mummies with shades, vampires with teeth that look like clay, a hairy giant man in a white tutu, henchmen in football helmets… ho-humm) will make it sound fat more fun than it is. When it tries to be funny, it’s painful. When it tries to be serious, it can’t connect. This film, though, whatever it’s up to and whenever it came out, cannot be dismissed outright as the dull parade of low-end intended oddity that it is. It actually harbors some semblance of connection to important literature, as it is based on the novel She: A History of Adventure by groundbreaking British author H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines), and adapted previously in 1908, 1911, 1916, 1917, 1925, 1935 (by Merian C. Cooper of King Kong fame) and 1965 (courtesy of Hammer Films, starring Ursula Andress and Peter Cushing).
Director Avi Nester reframes Haggard’s classic 1887 colonialist-rooted trek into uncharted African jungles story as a Mad Max-inspired post-apocalyptic action/adventure. What remains is the titular character, “She”, who is discovered holding court over a lost society where she is hailed as a goddess among mortals. Beyond that, all other similarities seem to have been nuked.
The film opens with a graphic informing us that it is twenty-three years following “the cancellation”, which is apparently the destruction of civilized society. In this cluttered wasteland of leftover early-1980s consumer products, dirt and mesh, one could deduce that thrift stores are the only buildings to survive the apocalypse. The film’s main protagonists are a couple of thoroughly bland dudes who stroll from one weird faux-politically-warped village to the next- spray-paint swastikas all over this one, modified hammer-n’-sickles all over that one- in search of a lost sister who was captured in a raid early in the film. To call these people bland us an understatement, though the screenplay seems well aware of this fact, as the two guys and the sister are actually named Tom (David Goss), Dick (Harrison Muller), and Hari (Elena Wiedermann). With that kind of self-reflection making its way to the screen, is it any wonder that the screen that Shemade it Yo was only ever the small screen? Shock and dismay, this dud was passed over for a theatrical run.
This recently released Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics boasts only one bona fide bonus feature, a new fourteen-minute interview with director Avi Nester. Nester speaks openly and even lightheartedly about She, as he’s careful to note that although he has a silly fondness for it, his legacy as a filmmaker is ensured by his completely unrelated “serious films” (such as Rage and Glory, a legitimately political film from 1984).
Nester comes across as a genuine guy, leading one to wonder where this confident, humorous and introspective side was when he was churning out She. To his credit, he claims that the respect the film shows towards its female characters was his doing, as he was only interested in directing it if it could be a story of “strong women”. Yes, they spend the movie in skimpy tube-tops, silver loincloths, pointless extra belts, and leather wrist guards. But She does subvert expectations in that its only nudity are a few obscured shots in a completely non-sexual bathing scene that is a key component of the novel. The world does not need another Cirio H. Santiago. She may present itself as in keeping with the pervasive low-budget trashy wasteland Santiago films of the era (such as Stryker), but in this regard it is not that at all. Instead… well, instead, it’s indeterminably boring.
Thankfully, no one is required to choose a side in the dichotomy of sleazed-out trashy wasteland versus boring thrift-store wasteland. That said, She’s delightfully of-its-time soundtrack does give it an edge, what with its assortment of tunes by the likes of Rick Wakeman (Yes), Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Motörhead, and others. The failings of this never-ending 106-minute slog likewise can’t lie squarely with the cast, particularly Sandahl Bergman, who gives much and no doubt gained little from this experience.
As for Ingmar Bergman (why not, let’s loop back around to that), he never did make a truly post-apocalyptic film. Though, in a sense, every film he made on his home island of Fårö, with its stark rocky, ashen terrain, was just that. So, what about that? Though he and She generally exist in different spheres altogether, most would agree that filmgoers are better served by haggard Bergman and not this Haggard Bergman.