United States - 1989
Director - Armand Gazarian
Rae Don Home Video, 1989, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 25 minutes
I can generally get behind a movie that’s clearly been made with sincerity and sysiphean determination, especially if the end result is still a sad and trashy mess. With some very glaring budget constraints, Games of Survival, with title singularized exclusively for the box, does pretty well for itself in the sad and trashy department. The overall plot however is absolutely crucial to these restrictions, for the story hinges on a suspension of disbelief which has very little physical evidence to anchor it. Let me explain. The plot is actually rather complex, and concerns an intergalactic bad-guy(s) who have enslaved numerous other planets. For some reason they find the momentary benevolence to allow a representative of each of the slave cultures to fight it out to see who’s home planet will be spared their evil wrath. All of this is channeled in such a way as to avoid including any of the physical aspects of the story that might make its budget (even more) painfully obvious. Virtually all of this backstory with the exception of a static shot or two of the bad guy is revealed in the dialogue between characters in the rest of the movie.
”The rest” consists entirely of the captive slaves who have been “transported” to their arena of combat, A.K.A. modern Los Angeles to engage in poorly choreographed combat over a trophy orb. In the meantime they have to pretend to be perplexed and frightened by Earth culture and technology a while filming on location, on video in the streets of LA. This entire unsubstantiated explanation approach to the motivational background of all of the characters is, if not terribly original, is at least well done in Games of Survival. It doesn’t make “the rest” any less believable even though it is just a bunch of muscular dudes in goofy barbarian outfits pretending to beat each other up. In fact, it’s all pretty damn hilarious, and the fact that it's all dropped in your lap with a bunch of excuses makes moments like this encounter with the strange convenience food of Earth downright hilarious:
Sure, the guy might just as well be from the South Georgia Islands and still have no idea what a frozen pizza is, but the fact that he is an extra-planetary barbarian with a guido pompadour mullet makes it so much more entertaining to watch him pretend to be perplexed. Maybe his planet was called New Jersey?
Criticonline suggests that Rae Don was perhaps preemptively doomed by the limited appeal of their catalog. But of course, like Games of Survival itself, the absurd simplicity of the whole premise is a work of art.