The Prodigal Planet (1983) — Road trip across the apocalypse

“I find a boy and he’s got a face like a burned marshmallow.”

Justin’s rating: Pour one out for Jimmy the Mutant

Justin’s review: In examining this series of dispensational millennial end times movies, I’ve dug into an awful lot of research as to why a certain segment of Christianity (not my segment, I feel I should clarify) is wildly obsessed with an eschatology viewpoint that is, historically speaking, relatively new on the block. There are a lot of reasons that stem from how dispensationalists interpret the Bible, but I wonder if the truth is a little more simple than that.

My theory is that for these Christians, dwelling on the end times is a bit like how geeks tend to obsess over the zombie apocalypse. For both groups, there’s a fascination with the concept of the world coming to ruins, most people dying, and a few survivors attempting to endure. There’s that secret fantasy, never spoken aloud, that they wonder how they’d actually fare in such a situation. There’s a morbid delight over all of the ways that humanity can perish and a fear that we’re somehow on the precipice of something like that.

Maybe I’m overthinking it, but when these movies break out mega-maps like this

you know that someone’s spending every waking hour fixated on just how badly the world is gonna get it.

Anyway, let’s dig into the final entry to this quadrilogy and see where it all ends. Just as our hero David from the previous movie is being led to the guillotine while wearing what I’ve dubbed as the “pillowcase of the martyrs,” an atomic war breaks out — I think? The movie is weirdly edited here — but he’s completely fine even though the place has been nuked and the soldiers around him presumably killed. So David gets busted out of UNITE’s hands with the help of the believer’s underground in the totally rad MOBILE COMMAND CENTER.

The underground wants David to use his leet hacking skillz to assemble some sort of computer radio that will destroy UNITE’s entire network. Not sure what chapter in the Bible this is in, but I’m sure someone grabbed a few verses from Revelation and had a field day with them.

So David and a growing party of people make a trek across the wasteland of the USA — which looks perfectly fine to me — in their gnarly MOBILE COMMAND CENTER. It’s clear that The Prodigal Planet got more budget than the three previous movies combined, what with a longer runtime (over two hours!), loads of explosions, several attack helicopters, shooting locations across the country, and the spiffy MOBILE COMMAND CENTER.

In the wasteland, they find mutants (shush, they’re in the Bible I’m guessing) and roving bands of gangs and plenty of opportunities for impromptu sermons on prophecies. I’m here for the mutants, because they’re so much more interesting than bad ’70s fashion or computer hacking with calculators. They also pick up Scientist Mom, Super Bratty Teenage Daughter, and Jimmy the Mutant. I love me some Jimmy.

While the first and second movie were fixated on scaring people to Jesus, the ’80s entries in the Thief of the Night franchise come  off as pretty standard post-apocalyptic fare — just with more preaching. The Prodigal Planet is not half-bad, really. The road trip format and the excellent MOBILE COMMAND CENTER make this feel more cohesive than anything we’ve gotten before, and the mutants and nukes are the icing on the cake.

Rumor was that there were plans for a fifth film to properly wrap up the series with the Battle of Armageddon and the end of the world, but it was never made. So The Prodigal Planet unintentionally became a cliffhanger that was never concluded. Alas.

Didja notice?

  • Car vs. train. Train wins.
  • Atomic bomb vs. world. Bomb wins.
  • UNITE’s got themselves a “mobile command center” now
  • Wait, they’re only five miles away from a nuclear blast and they’re — and the car — is totally fine?
  • Didn’t this reverend guy die twice already?
  • Exciting code breaking!
  • Wait, the radiation has decayed enough in, what, two days to be safe? That’s not how radiation works.
  • Mobile Command Center gets cable and internet
  • So radiation and vultures made skeletons within a day or two. Good teamwork, there.
  • How the actors have to bend over backwards to explain why a nuclear-ravaged city looks completely normal
  • Mustache Guy is the villain we need, not the villain we deserve
  • And now for some weird dancing in a mirror
  • Where do all of the mutants get their matching outfits?
  • The GIANT JESUS picture
  • Julius Squeezer the python
  • Good spankings solve brattiness
  • The great helicopter dance of ’83

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