Though often dismissed as a low-budget “Made for TV”
feature, director Franklin Adreon’s Cyborg
2087 enjoyed a brief theatrical run prior to its debut on broadcast television
in March of 1968. In April of 1967 the
film was packaged alongside such similarly low-budgeted, independent features
as Death Curse of Tartu, Sting of Death, and even a second Adreon
“time travel” themed film, Dimension 5.
Though this somewhat lackluster film seemed
destined for relegation to the late-night drive-in horror movie circuit, Cyborg 2087 nonetheless displayed some
small measure of staying power. That
same summer, Adreon’s film was still making the rounds of the secondary flea-pit
theater circuit, sometimes serving as the under bill to Sidney J. Furie’s contemporary
political thriller The Naked Runner
featuring Frank Sinatra.
Though he had worked on serials and a handful of feature
films in the early stages of his career, director Adreon was laboring almost
exclusively in television by the mid-1950s. Cyborg 2087 does appear as
something cobbled together both inexpensively and hastily for the small
screen. The initial tipoff is the film’s
lackluster and visually non-appealing set designs. Cyborg
2087 is a film visually hobbled by poor production values due to the
paucity of budget. The futuristic
control room seen briefly at the film’s beginning is non-imaginatively designed
and unusually threadbare, missing nearly all of the electronic baubles and
flashing accoutrements one might expect. The film’s optical effects are practically non-existent and the
occasional appearance and disappearance of Garth 7’s Star Base 7 space-time traveling capsule are not impressive at
all. In fact they’re less innovative than
those of the camera tricks employed by cinema pioneer Georges Méliès in 1902.
For a science-fiction film, a good portion of the movie’s
daylight scenes are shot incongruously on an obvious “Old West” Hollywood
set. Director Adreon was either pressed
for time or simply didn’t have the skill to compose shots that made the best
use of the ghost town’s obvious clapboard facades. The fact that the buildings lining the
streets of Desert City are little more than mock-ups are made apparent by the sight
of mountain range vistas peeking out directly from the windows. Cinematographer Alan Stensvold’s photography
is curiously flat throughout, and he has the bad habit of illuminating the
film’s nighttime scenes with a giant, hot-white spotlight. This slapdash method of lighting blows out any
mystery the darkness might portend and casts heavy, non-impressionistic shadows
in every direction. The too-talkative screenplay
of Arthur C. Pierce, his resume of low-budget sci-fi melodramas already duly
established, does attempt to dish out a few thoughtful and interesting ideas,
but they’re never imaginatively mounted. This is a science-fiction title offering little in the way of suspense or
Though the script is admittedly not Shakespearean in its
construction, it still might have worked if the performances of the assembled troupe
of actors didn’t range from merely adequate to painfully woeful. Though Michael Rennie’s character, Garth 7,
appears stiff and non-emotive throughout, I’m willing to give him a pass… he’s
a Cyborg, after all, a non-human “Cybernetic Organism.” With his silver space boots, matching pistol
belt, but otherwise bland service mechanic’s overalls, the lanky Garth 7 cuts a
particularly un-dashing figure, save for an impressive brush of silver hair atop
his cranium. While he does carry a
semi-cool ray gun in his holster, the pistol he’s saddled with can only temporarily
paralyze targets, not kill them. If
nothing else, this is good news for the nostalgic whiskey drinkers and their
attendant German shepherd who re-visit the ruins of the derelict “Lucky Dollar
Casino and Dance Hall” of Desert City. Conversely,
Garth 7’s futuristic pistol is a useless weapon against the very folks he needs
most disarm: a pair of Cyborg “Tracers” who have followed him from 2087 on a
mission to eradicate him.
It’s here where we get to the crux of it. Garth 7 has time-traveled from the year 2087
back to April 1966 in an effort to get the professorial Dr. Sigmund Marx (Eduard
Franz) and his assistant Sharon Mason (Karen Steele) to abandon their
groundbreaking and militarily useful research in the field of radio
telepathy. If only Garth 7 can convince Dr.
Marx to do this, the impending totalitarian society of 2087 that will arise
from the invention’s misuse can be averted. Garth 7 grimly warns - with the foresight time travel has allowed him - that
the “Warlords of tomorrow will use radio telepathy for evil purposes.” He assures that the domestic political
situation is pretty bad in 2017… Um, I mean 2087, as the military has
effectively misused radio telepathy to control the thoughts of the populace. Independent “free-thinkers” are punished and even
children are cruelly snatched from the arms of their mothers and made instant wards
of the State.
This is all true, of course, but only a biologist by the name of Dr. Carl Zellar (Warren Stevens) seems skeptical of this self-described man-from-the-future’s story. Dr. Zellar gets unwillingly involved in this time traveler’s personal drama when Garth 7 requests his assistance in removing an annoying homing device that the State has implanted in his chest. This transmitting device is tracking his every move to the hot-in-pursuit assassin Tracers. Though Zellar reasonably protests he’s a biologist and not a surgeon, he surprisingly agrees. He consents mostly to garner favor with the comely Sharon Mason who he’s been shyly mooning over. For a non-surgeon, Zellar makes a pretty professional job of it, not only overcoming his own non-training as a surgeon but also in spite of the transom resulting from back-firing hot rods and a raucous Coca-Cola fueled teenage dance-party going that is going on in an adjoining room.
Though neither a great film nor even a particularly interesting one, Cyborg 2087 remained in semi-regular rotation as a late night programmer from 1968 straight on through the early 1990s. So over the span of some twenty-five years, this minor cult film developed a small but loyal following through broadcast repetition. Certainly the creative team that brought The Terminator to the big screen in 1984 was conversant with the film’s basic premise, as the central idea behind that far more successful film was first advanced here. With that being said, only Terminator fans with an interest in cinema history would be advised to check out its forebear. This film would likely provide weak tea to younger fans and I guess this release will mostly appeal to sci-fi enthusiasts of a certain generation who retain a modicum of nostalgia for the film.
The Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-Ray edition of Cyborg 2087 is offered here in its original color presentation in an aspect ratio of 1:85:1. Supplements include a half-hearted attempt at an audio commentary by Chris Alexander (formerly of Fangoria magazine) and five theatrical trailers for other vintage sci-fi films offered by Kino on Blu Ray: The Satan Bug, The Earth Dies Screaming, Chosen Survivors, Panic in the Year Zero, and The Quatermass Xperiment.