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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dimension 5

The team that brought you Cyborg 2087 produced another time travel story. Dimension 5 (D5) is only marginally a sci-fi film. It amounts to a commie plot spy thriller with a time-shifting belt as one of his gadgets. Jeffrey Hunter stars as the agent with the almost-prescient name of Justin Power. Other recognizable second-teir actors include Harold Sakata ("Odd Job" in Goldfinger), Robert Ito (Quincy, MD) and France Nuyen (Star Trek, Elaan of Troyius).

Quick Plot Synopsis
The story opens to a car chase in which Justin Power eludes police by using his time-shifting belt. Back in the USA, his boss has another assignment for him. A chinese plot to blow up Los Angeles is afoot. The NIA have captured an enemy agent. Powers is assigned to bring him in. He uses his time belt to discover and foil an assassination attempt. Interrogation via a truth-gizmo extracts that the Dragons (a mafia-like gang) are importing a nuclear bomb in pieces and assembling it. Powers is given a pretty new partner, Kitty (France Nuyen). She has also been playing double agent with Dragon. An attempt is made to blow up Power, but it fails by chance. Power goes to Nancy Ho's apartment. (she gave the explosive owl). She tries to kill him, but Kitty saves Power. She also turns him over to Stoneface, an agent of Big Buddha, the local Dragon boss. Stoneface reneges on her deal to meet Big Buddha. She decks them all. Back at Power's apartment, Kitty gets a time belt too, and some lessons. Big shipment coming to Ming Products warehouse. They go check it out. They poof three weeks into the future to see what gets unloaded. They find lead containers (with U238 inside) in bags of rice. Big Buddha and his minions have Power and Kitty surrounded. They poof out to escape, but Kitty poofs back in to threaten Big Buddha. Back story about him being an executioner in Nanking and her as abused girl left for dead. A minion knocks out Kitty. Power finds them in an office. Stand off, then drawn out fist fight. Woman minion stabs Big Buddha. All escape just fine. Happy music. Power and Kitty say they'll go back in time and do it again the right way. Flirting and frolicking. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Short-jump time travel as practical tool has some interest. The poor-man's-Bond flavor has its amusements too.

Cold War Angle
Instead of the more customary allegory, the Cold War is part of the plot. Chinese communists (this time) are the rogue element, trying sneak a bomb into America. This aspect actually has some resonance to post 9/11 America,

Budget Bond -- There is an unavoidable similarity between D5 and the various Bond films that preceded it. Hunter plays a similar sort of handsome, suave, gadget-laden special agent. He has a boss and a gizmo-wizard guy. And, there are plenty of babes around. Power's time belt gave him quite the advantage, making up for his apparent lack of observational skills. (the whole gift owl (bomb) in the restaurant thing did not seem just a little suspicious to him?) His beautiful cohort, Kitty, seems the more capable spy.

Odd Job 2 -- Harold Sakata played "Odd Job" in the Bond film Goldfinger. He lends some of that menace momentum to the role of Big Buddha: the Dragon gang's Los Angeles boss. In an odd quirk, the screenplay has him wheelchair bound. Even more peculiar is that he was dubbed by Marvin Millar.

Time Tale Two -- D5 is the second time-travel movie put out by Harold Goldman and his United Pictures group. For D5, Goldman tapped Arthur C. Pierce (again) for the screenplay. Pierce had written the time-travel story for Cyborg 2087. In both, he made a special effort to point out that time travelers to the past had to use non-lethal force (paralyzer darts or rays), to avoid potentially big changes to the future timeline. Apparently, it's okay to kill people in your future, though to be fair, Powers uses his time belt to scope out future events (such as the assassination of Chang) or to test a situation (the warehouse ambush). He would then repeat the event, better informed, so that non-lethal force could be used. Time traveling spies, with a heart.

Storm Clouds Rising -- Note the demands of the Dragons. They will blow up L.A. unless "all American troops are withdrawn from asia." Hidden in those lines is the reality of increased American presence in southeast Asia. The "Vietnam War" would soon become woven into the American cultural fabric. But as yet, it was just storm clouds on the horizon.

Shadow of War Crimes? -- A somewhat interesting bit of back story, is that Kitty was a young girl in Nanking before WWII. "Big Buddha" was apparently a cruel POW warden who executed her parents and abused her. The "Rape of Nanking" is not a common plot nugget in American films. Nazi prison guards or evil doctors in hiding are much more common.

Made Small -- Even though there is a theatrical poster, the whole flavor of D5 smacks of being made for the small screen. From the titles and credits, to the music, to the simple script easily wrapped up in the end, D5 is a typical made-for-TV film.

Bottom line? As a sci-fi, there's not much to recommend D5. It is essentially a very low budget secret agent story. Where some of Pierce's films have a sci-fi setting or tone, D5 is a low-budget, poor-man's James Bond with few gadgets and fewer babes. Fans of cheap spy stories may find more to like.

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