Stars: Chuck Norris, Louis Gossett Jr., Melody Anderson, Will Sampson, Sonny Landham, John Rhys-Davies, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Lee-Sung | Written by Robert Gosnell | Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Looking back now – three decades later – it’s hard to believe that the idea of an archaeologist as THE go-to film hero was, oftentimes, a guarantee to bring in the punters and create a big-money blockbuster movie! Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, King Solomon’s Mines, etc. all graced the big screen to varying degrees of success during the mid-80s; and yes, it was Spielberg’s film that reignited the genre but it took Cannon Films – the purveyors of low-budget, high-concept big screen bonanzas – to really put the fun into this now-buried treasure of a genre.
After hitting it big with King Solomon’s Mines, they milked the classic character for another big-budget (at least for Cannon) movie before the flash-in-the-pan adventurer genre faded. However it was during this brief period that Cannon would allow one of their biggest draws, Chuck Norris – who worked with Cannon on the Rambo-esque Missing in Action movies (yes, it wasn’t only Indiana Jones that Cannon emulated) and the now well-regarded actioner The Delta Force – to spread his wings and branch out from the strictly butt-kicking action Norris’ fans were accustomed to, with the farcial adventure movie Firewalker, originally released back in November 1986.
Available for the first time on Blu-ray here in the UK, Firewalker is undoubtedly one of Chuck Norris’ most unsung movies. Essentially a spoof of Indiana Jones and the archaeological adventures he had, the film – as mentioned – makes more of Norris’ acting rather than his martial art skills, teaming him up with an on-form Louis Gossett Jr. (who’d find greater success with Iron Eagle released the same year) as the wise-cracking and level-headed one of the team; and the incomparable Melody Anderson (Flash Gordon, Manimal) in an old-school adventure romp that, like many 80s movies, blends action, comedy and even a little of the supernatural, a la Temple of Doom, to B-movie perfection.
The film tells the story of archaeological adventurers Max (Norris) and Leo (Gossett) who, after a long career of mishaps, wrong turns and utter failures, are ready to call it quits until a spunky blonde beauty with an ancient treasure map hires them to guide her into Central America to find Aztec gold. But as they draw closer to the priceless bounty, they are unaware that a powerful, vengeful spirit is tracking their every move and will stop at nothing to protect the sacred treasure!
If there’s any reason, beyond the charms of its main cast, that Firewalker works so well it’s the films director J. Lee Thompson. His experience over the three decades he’d already made movies by the time of this film, in particular the many war films he made and his experience with the genre in particular – he also helmed 1985′s King Solomon’s Mines – meant that Thompson was a deft hand at the action-adventure film, bringing those old-school influences and experiences to his latter-day work, raising the bar even for Cannon (the differences between King Solomon’s Mines, helmed by Thompson; and it’s sequel, is like night and day)
The British director, who was behind classics such as Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone, had – by the late 70s – found his filmic muse in actor Charles Bronson. The two would make three films together before Bronson, off the back of the success of Death Wish, took up residence as Cannon Films’ stoid hard-man, essentially taking Thompson with him. And what followed was a handful of Bronson movies as well as King Solomon’s Mines in 1985 and Firewalker in 1986 – two films that, as a kid growing up in the 80s and later a video-store loving teen, were actually mainstays of my movie-watching experience (I was, and still am, a HUGE Chuck Norris fan). So big of a fan that, until the release of this new Blu-ray from 101 Films, I still had the old Rank big-box VHS rental tape of Firewalker… After all, until this release, the film had never made it to any disc-based format here in the UK, so VHS was the ONLY way to see the film!
So is it worth the upgrade? Of course! The print, whilst retaining that filmic haze so engrained (pardon the pun) in the films of the decade, looks fantastic and the film sounds just as good. I noticed the odd, and I do mean odd, drop-out in audio but whether that’s due to the print or the relatively low-budget nature of Cannon productions is questionable. Ultimately, if you owned the VHS or the Region A DVD from MGM, this new Blu is a must-buy – it is head and shoulders above what’s also out there, even if it’s not quite a perfect presentation…
Firewalker is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from 101 Films, as part of their Cult Movie Collection