B-movie Inspirations: Eliminators (1986)
Rated: PG (?)
Tagline: Mandroid. Mercenary. Scientist. Ninja. Each one a specialist. Together they are ELIMINATORS!
It’s pretty hard to find a bad movie I have not seen, unless it is a movie I have simply chosen not to watch. Eliminators turned out to be a movie I vaguely remember as a kid but never saw. There was something about that cyborg on his mobile unit that looked familiar to me. Starring some sci-fi greats like Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Andrew Prine (Steven from V, the original mini-series), and Roy Dotrice (most recently from Game of Thrones), this movie had a lot of potential. It pulled in a ton of cool elements but never really explored them to their full potential. The acting was fairly poor as well, despite having such well known actors. This was obviously early in their career and they were still trying to find their feet. The name of the movie was an obvious attempt to cash in on Terminator, although it is a terrible name for it.
Through the first hour or so, this movie simply drug on. I was just not getting any kind of inspiration and I was sure I was not going to write anything about it. However, the last half hour or so redeemed the movie to some degree. Although it never really explored its full potential, probably due to a low budget, it did have some inspiring moments. In the end, they bring in cyborgs, ninjas, Neanderthal cavemen, brash river scoundrels and a drone robot that was more prophetic than people knew back then. Eliminators could have been a really good pulp sci-fi action flick. And from an RPG game master point of view, it is a perfect pulp action adventure.
We start in an evil scientist lab. You are not entirely sure what time period or setting it is in, but judging by the surroundings, it was fairly “modern.” However, the mad scientist is experimenting with time travel and cybernetics, which is sort of a stretch, but I went with it. A cyborg, made from a pilot who crashed his plane somewhere in Mexico near this lab, is being sent back in time by the mad scientist Dr. Reeves and his assistant Takada. It is implied by some flashed scenes during the credits that the cyborg is being sent to ancient Rome.
It’s important to picture this cyborg. He looks like a low budget movie version of the DC super hero Cyborg, literally – except the actor is white. He has a detachable arm unit that can change to a laser weapon, missile launcher or grapple gun. I am sure there could be more but those are the three he used in the movie. His whole body is covered in cheaply-made fabrications and half his face is covered in an eye appliance he never uses and that looks very awkward throughout the movie. For part of the beginning of the movie and the end, the cyborg uses this mobile unit – a tracked vehicle – that allows him to traverse most any terrain, including stairs. I think ED-209 needed this thing. It is one of the cooler parts of the movie; unfortunately they could only afford to have it in the first and last 10 minutes.
Reeves orders Takada to destroy the cyborg because apparently a particular phase in his research is done. What is subtly implied through this movie is that this poor pilot was fished out of the wreckage and converted to the scientist’s guinea pig, his memory erased and most of his body parts replaced with implants, including a interchangeable weapon/tool arm. So the story behind the story is that while this scientist is a savior, he is at the same time a Dr. Frankenstein to this cybernetic monster. Although to their credit they explored this aspect some, I do not feel like the writing did it well.
Takada apparently has an emotional attachment to the cyborg and helps him escape; although he gets himself killed by Reeve’s henchmen in the process. With his dying breath, he tells the cyborg to find someone named Hunter. In a blaze of laser fire and bullets that is reminiscent of an old 80s TV show, the cyborg (that is later named John Doe) escapes Reeves’ Mexican compound.
Nora Hunter (Crosby) is a robotics and mechanical engineer working for some military contracting company developing robot drones for the US Air Force. Although nothing like the Predator drones we are familiar with, it is pretty amazing that even in the 80s we knew that one day they would be using drones in the Air Force. SPOT, the robot drone, looks more like a miniaturized Artoo unit than a Predator drone. Once contacted by the cyborg John, the three set out to find Reeves and John’s crash site for answers.
Next, we find ourselves on some river in what we can only assume is Mexico. This is the part of the movie that simply drags and it seems forced into the plot to fill time. They apparently spent some money on boats, pyrotechnics, and gun-toting extras to do several boat scenes that seem to have no place in the movie. The motivations behind the action scenes were simply lame and could have been done much better – river pirates, blood thirsty drug dealers, or something. Instead, we spend what I would guess is about 20 to 30 minutes introducing the Han Solo character – Harry Fontana (Prine) and his boat, No Questions, through a long and drawn-out river boat chase that reminded me of something seen on the A-Team or The Fall Guy or something.
Also instead of making it an interesting location, the river “town” looks like any river town in the US, complete with the obnoxious redneck river captain. This could have been done so much better, with a much more creative Mexican river culture. There could have been more of a sense of isolation and alienation if this was done right. It could have been a river village living in fear of some drug lord. Fontana could have been the independent smuggler who might have lost a shipment of… oh wait, sorry. That’s already been done. Regardless, I found this part of the movie very boring. One of many aspects of the movie that could have been done better and more interesting, but obviously due to poor writing and low budget, it fell short. From a GM’s point of view, this alone is something I would build on and expand into a world of its own.
Once we have escaped from more than one bad guy in a boat, they finally find the wreckage of John’s plane, which gives us little hints of his former life. But this fell flat because by this time, I didn’t really care as much about the cyborg as I probably should have. This is followed by more forced plot events like the cyborg getting lost at the bottom of the river (forcibly slotting the party) and various other meaningless moments that could have been introduced in a much more creative way. In one said encounter, the cyborg, on his own now, stumbles across the aforementioned ninja, Kuji. Kuji is in search of his father, Takada, and is hungry for revenge when he finds out that his father is dead.
So a river smuggler, robotics scientist, cyborg and a ninja walk into a bar… Yes, it sounds like a set up to a bad joke.
As we draw closer to Reeves’ lab we begin to get clues to strange things going on around it. This goes into another part of the movie that could have been so well explored and expanded upon but just turned out to be so lame. Clues lead us to believe that there are some primitives running about in these jungles. This leads our heroes to find the tribe of Neanderthals who capture them and make them ill. But thanks to the quick thinking of our brash river pilot, they are able to escape. Knowing that Reeves has been exploring time travel, our heroes conclude that he has let a few things in from other times.
And the best you can do is a few cave men!! This killed me!! Obviously, there could have been so much more to this. First thing that comes to mind – DINOSAURS – maybe just a few man-sized raptors or a triceratops maybe. The sense of isolation that was missing would have made this even more plausible. They could have even expanded on the strangeness of the party by bringing in a Roman centurion or, even better, a pirate! Now we have ninjas and pirates! But no, the best they could do is a short scene with some seriously lame cavemen.
In an RPG adventure, this would be the center of some serious RPG adventuring awesomeness!
The rest of the movie goes as you would expect. The heroes make a plan, things go awry and the heroes have to face the enemy unconventionally. This is where the movie almost redeems itself but not quite. The evil plan is revealed (and I should have seen it coming but was not entirely invested into the movie by this time). Reeves, now in a get-up that is a cool combination of Roman centurion armor and his cybernetics, intends on going back in time and making himself the new Caesar of Rome. That cannot be! Our heroes must stop him! Although kind of contrived and not very original, it is still pretty cool. I still would have liked a few more clues into this, though, to keep me interested. The rest of the movie is fairly predictable, although the ending is sort of a surprise.
The role playing game inspirations I get out of this are more about what the movie could have done, than what was in the actual movie. I mentioned some already but here they are:
Mad scientist in a remote location experimenting on locals: Mary Shelly’s work was popular for a reason. Although not truly experimenting on live locals, the theme is there. The mad scientist, Reeves, experimented on one guy – a guy that just so happened to crash near his lab. Conveniently, he would have been otherwise dead so no one would come looking for him. But why stop there. Why not cyborged Neanderthals? Or even better, cyborged dinosaurs!? The possibilities are endless when you combine time travel and cybernetics.
Leaking time tunnels: Although this movie did not explore this aspect as well as it should have, time travel leaking into our world could easily be a great center point in an RPG adventure. Many novels have been based on this concept. Many Dr Who episodes are based on this concept. With a remote area where time is leaking in, you can have a wide variety of things happening.
Hodge-podge party: Although a gamemaster can’t always design a party for home campaign games, they usually can for convention games. Putting together a cool party that mixes various genres is cool. A robotics tech, a smuggler, a ninja, a little robot and a cyborg all make up a great potential party.
Escaped experiment: The escaped-cyborg story could be explored in any genre. An escaped golem or war-forged rampaging the country-side and the party is hired by its creator to hunt him down. What could be interesting is doing a switch up in the end. Imagine the surprise of the party to find out that the creator is the evil one and the escapee is simply a victim.
Missing pilot: A missing pilot can be a pull for an adventure. The fact that they could be anywhere and all you have is the last point they checked in could lead the party to very remote areas. There must be people that want to know what happened. The pilot that became the cyborg had a family at one time. Why aren’t they looking for him?
Aspiring emporer: A mad man seeking to change the past and make himself emperor using “modern” technology can be another central plot to a good RPG adventure. Time travel can be a powerful tool. It also can be a tricky thing in an RPG. You need to have your time travel physics down or it is not going to make sense. This takes a little work and you have to watch yourself or you may have a paradox on your hands. Map it out with a lot of “what if” scenarios. And always remember that the players don’t always follow your plan.
Where did he get that technology?: I made the comment earlier that the time travel and cybernetics seemed out of place for the time period one would assume this is set. Of course, it is presented as experimental, so we are to believe that this one genius scientist figured it all out himself, with a little help from designs he took from a certain robotics engineer. But as a role playing game GM, one can expand on that a little further. Perhaps someone from the future came back and gave the mad scientist just enough technology to get him started on the right path. Or aliens. Or some other worldly being.