Deathlands (2003) Movie Review

Slowly but surely, the Sci-Fi Channel is starting to become a terrific reservoir for original science fiction movies. While we’re not talking about Hollywood just yet, considering what the cable network has bankrolled in recent years, from the “Dune” mini-series to its sequel, “Children of Dune”, there’s no doubt that the Sci-Fi Channel is really making a name for itself. Their strides at the moment remind me of HBO in its early days, which, considering HBO’s present state as a purveyor of quality movies, should bode well for the fledgling network.

“Deathlands”, based on the popular post-apocalyptic books of the ’80s, is the latest original offering from the network. It’s set 100 years after the world has been devastated by nuclear war. Ryan Cawdor (Vincent Spano) leads a small band of scavengers through the wastelands, surviving on what they can find or kill for. Among Cawdor’s troupe is Krysty (Jenya Lano), a half-mutant, half-human and Cawdor’s lover. There’s Dix (Cliff Saunders), another human, and Jak (Nathan Carter), a mutant with rage issues. After many years in the deathlands, Cawdor decides to return home to a human sanctuary ruled by his stepmother (Traci Lords) and his brother, both of whom had, 20 years earlier, murdered Cawdor’s father.

The first thing you’ll notice about “Deathlands” is that it doesn’t have a very high budget, and director Joshua Butler (“Saint Sinner”) does his best to hide the inadequacies of this post-apocalyptic world. Butler and cinematographer Bruce Worrall uses a lot of red tinting to represent the radiation poisoning in the atmosphere, although this just makes the movie look really dull and lifeless. There isn’t really a lot about “Deathlands” that is impressive despite Butler’s chaotic camerawork and flashy editing work that uses up pretty much every trick in the book.

I’m not entirely sure if the movie works better as a book, because it is definitely not very believable as a movie. And no, I’m not even talking about the human race surviving 100 years of nuclear radiation with only the presence of rampaging mutants to show for it. I’m talking about the movie’s premise that the survivors would go back to living a lifestyle that represents medieval Europe, complete with Barons and heirs to the throne and whatnot. Such is the case with Cawdor’s past, whose father, the original Baron, once ruled the sanctuary with kindness, before the evil Traci Lords and the insane Alan Peterson overthrew him.

If, as the movie posits, it’s been 100 years since the end of civilization, and the survivors were raised without the ability to read, write, or understand history, would they actually return to serfdom? I think not. A more realistic post-apocalyptic world would be one filled with survivalists looking out for themselves at all costs, and not willingly subject themselves to the dictatorial rule of an insane Baron and his equally insane Baroness. Think about it: why would primitive survivors who grew up in a world devoid of civilization bend to the will of two crazies that are as intimidating as day old bread? What exactly is keeping them loyal? It just doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Its main premise revealed to be a sham, there’s not much of “Deathlands” to really hold onto. There’s not enough action to keep one interested, and the characters are drawn with broad strokes. The tough Cawdor, the loyal Krysty, the untrusting Dix, and the needy Jak. Even for a post-apocalyptic movie, “Deathlands” is a bit of a letdown. And how is it that 100 years after a nuclear war people are still running around using M16s and shotguns? Who exactly is still making the ammo for these weapons?

Vincent Spano (“Texas Rangers”) does fine as Cawdor, although on more than one occasion he seems just as stumped by the movie’s many absurd plot turns as we are. Traci Lords, post-porn, still can’t act her way out of a wet paper bag. The rest don’t fare any better, but then again the screenplay doesn’t exactly give them much to work with. Even if you could swallow the film’s many twists and turns with a straight face (which is quite a challenge in itself), “Deathlands” is pretty much death on arrival. (Gee, I’m so clever.)

Joshua Butler (director) / James Axler (novel)
CAST: Vincent Spano …. Ryan Cawdor
Jenya Lano …. Krysty Wroth
Traci Lords …. Lady Rachel Cawdor
Cliff Saunders …. J.B. Dix
Matthew Currie Holmes …. Nathan Cawdor


Buy Deathlands on DVD



About Nix

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Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • Sandra Hamilton

    The movie wasn’t great because you didn’t go by the book Jak wasn’t an insane mutan he didn’t have any abilty at all and if you read the book you would know that, it was Krysty who had the ability to become super strong when pissed off and her hair moved when there was trouble in the vacinity of the group, and the book never refered to Jak as a mutan, the movie didn’t even mention Doc. the most important character of the book,he was the one person that should be there, and were was Lori the girl that was with them at the time, you didn’t even mention Doc. in the movie we were so disappointed in the movie, if you decide to make a movie of Deathlands at least read the books.
    Thanks,
    Sandra

  • Sandra Hamilton

    The movie wasn’t great because you didn’t go by the book Jak wasn’t an insane mutan he didn’t have any abilty at all and if you read the book you would know that, it was Krysty who had the ability to become super strong when pissed off and her hair moved when there was trouble in the vacinity of the group, and the book never refered to Jak as a mutan, the movie didn’t even mention Doc. the most important character of the book,he was the one person that should be there, and were was Lori the girl that was with them at the time, you didn’t even mention Doc. in the movie we were so disappointed in the movie, if you decide to make a movie of Deathlands at least read the books.
    Thanks,
    Sandra

  • Jeremie

    Personally I thought the movie Deathlands Homeward Bound was mildly entertaining, howver the shortcomings left out in comparison to the books was staggering. Jak was not a mutant, he was an albino with incredible athletic ability, and unerring accuracy with throwing blades. Doc was left completely out of the movie even though the companions would never have found the redoubts without him. In response to the review, if you have never read a deathlands book the movie would leave you with a lot of questions. Why are people running around with m-16s and ammo–the military complexes called redoubts are sometimes stocked with staggering amounts of weaponery and ammunition. I am one of the biggest Deathlands fans in existence who has read several times every book written in the series, and it would be an ultimate thrill to see hollywood make a series of high budget movies about the book–with a lot more accuracy than the last movie. Thank-you, Jeremie

    • Jon

      I completely agree. Haven’t even seen this movie but it looks like B-rated crap with a script probably interpreted by someone that read a few of the novels. I am starting a script today and will work on it until it hits perfection. I was thinking Matt Damon as Ryan Cawdor, partly because I think I could get in touch with him. And if I can get Ben Affleck as J.B. Dix then the others will fall into place. Any suggestions for characters?

  • Jeremie

    Personally I thought the movie Deathlands Homeward Bound was mildly entertaining, howver the shortcomings left out in comparison to the books was staggering. Jak was not a mutant, he was an albino with incredible athletic ability, and unerring accuracy with throwing blades. Doc was left completely out of the movie even though the companions would never have found the redoubts without him. In response to the review, if you have never read a deathlands book the movie would leave you with a lot of questions. Why are people running around with m-16s and ammo–the military complexes called redoubts are sometimes stocked with staggering amounts of weaponery and ammunition. I am one of the biggest Deathlands fans in existence who has read several times every book written in the series, and it would be an ultimate thrill to see hollywood make a series of high budget movies about the book–with a lot more accuracy than the last movie. Thank-you, Jeremie

    • Jon

      I completely agree. Haven’t even seen this movie but it looks like B-rated crap with a script probably interpreted by someone that read a few of the novels. I am starting a script today and will work on it until it hits perfection. I was thinking Matt Damon as Ryan Cawdor, partly because I think I could get in touch with him. And if I can get Ben Affleck as J.B. Dix then the others will fall into place. Any suggestions for characters?

  • The Bunny

    besides missing out on doc, whers millie? the books are actually one of my favorite series, and i read them as i can get them. im not gonna repeat the above noted things, but not having seen this moving i think im going to elect to not. The books dont seem to have been done proper justice. i always thought that they could do well with deathlands by making an animated series of movies on it. that would eliminate alot of the need to have megas budget status in holywood, as long as it stuck to the books, and the voice acting was decent it might even be better.

  • The Bunny

    besides missing out on doc, whers millie? the books are actually one of my favorite series, and i read them as i can get them. im not gonna repeat the above noted things, but not having seen this moving i think im going to elect to not. The books dont seem to have been done proper justice. i always thought that they could do well with deathlands by making an animated series of movies on it. that would eliminate alot of the need to have megas budget status in holywood, as long as it stuck to the books, and the voice acting was decent it might even be better.

  • John

    Millie was not introduced to the group in book 5 which is what this movie is based on.

  • John

    Millie was not introduced to the group in book 5 which is what this movie is based on.

  • joe

    Yeah millie wasn’t in this book but it was still a horrible movie. The director did not know anything about deathlands. Jak was not a mutant with rage issues, Doc is missing and what about the redoubts. The other guy wanting suggestions for characters I hope they don’t listen cause matt damon and ben affleck are you serious. A goodwill hunting fan huh. Look gerard butler for ryan, trinity from the matrix for kristy, the albino looking dude from hellboy 2 if he wasn’t so old for jak, christopher loyd if not so old or sean connery for doc, and jason statham for jb dix.

  • joe

    Yeah millie wasn’t in this book but it was still a horrible movie. The director did not know anything about deathlands. Jak was not a mutant with rage issues, Doc is missing and what about the redoubts. The other guy wanting suggestions for characters I hope they don’t listen cause matt damon and ben affleck are you serious. A goodwill hunting fan huh. Look gerard butler for ryan, trinity from the matrix for kristy, the albino looking dude from hellboy 2 if he wasn’t so old for jak, christopher loyd if not so old or sean connery for doc, and jason statham for jb dix.