Welcome to The Prime Sublime, a weekly column dedicated to the underseen and underloved films buried beneath page after page of far more popular fare on Amazon’s Prime Video collection. We’re not just cherry-picking obscure titles, though, as these are movies that we find beautiful in their own, often unique ways. You might even say we think they’re sublime… and this week our pick is Black Moon Rising.
John Carpenter wrote the original script for Black Moon Rising in the 1970s. Fun fact: it was also the first screenplay he ever sold. A couple of directorial efforts aside, the legendary horror auteur primarily made his living as a writer until he unleashed Michael Myers in 1979. You all know that story, though. Black Moon Rising, on the other hand, is an overlooked gem.
Black Moon Rising was acquired by producer Harry Gilles in the 1970s. But the project remained stuck in development hell for over a decade. Carpenter had a profile in the 1980s, however, and Roger Corman’s New World Pictures company was hungry to bring his unproduced creations to life. The Philadelphia Experiment was released in 1984, even though the final version didn’t resemble Carpenter’s story whatsoever. Still, the studio was keen on reimagining Carpenter’s ideas.
Carpenter retained an executive producer credit and his name was billed on the film’s poster. But he had nothing to do with Black Moon Rising during its production process. William Gray and Desmond Nakano were hired to touch up the script. Harry Cokeliss accepted the directorial reins. Carpenter got a paycheck and didn’t interfere at all. While I’d love to have seen Carpenter’s version of this movie, I’m more than happy with the one we have.
What’s it about?
Tommy Lee Jones is Quint, a master thief who is hired by the FBI to steal a cassette tape that contains enough evidence to bring down a corrupt corporation. He hides the tape it in a hydrogen-powered supercar to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Naturally, it doesn’t take long until the corporation’s deadly henchmen are on the hunt for Quint and the tape.
The thief’s problems get worse after Nina (Linda Hamilton) steals the vehicle and sells it to the wrong people. This leads to Quint embarking on an impossible mission to retrieve the tape or else he won’t get paid. Nina’s crime turns out to be a blessing in disguise, though, as the two lawbreakers develop an attraction to each other. What ensues is an action-packed story that’s full of thrills, spills, and romance.
What makes it sublime?
This is still a Carpenter movie in many ways, and that’s a good thing. From the Howard Hawks-inspired heroes to its anti-capitalist/authoritarian message, some of his main stylistic traits and themes are present and accounted for. In Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter, author Robert C. Cumbrow described the movie as a “revision” of Escape from New York. Both movies feature heroes who must do the government’s dirty work, and they both blend contemporary and futuristic ideas.
Black Moon Rising is a movie that wants the viewer to question the powers-that-be. But the message isn’t hamfisted or preachy. If there’s one thing that Carpenter is good at, it’s making movies that don’t compromise their entertainment value to hammer home their ideological stance. Cokeliss and co. didn’t betray this aspect of his work. If anything, the action and banter are more important in this movie.
Jones is the perfect action hero. He spouts off one-liners in the face of danger, delivered with the effortlessly dry sense of humor he’s known for. He plays the role completely straight-faced, and he’s given some excellent material to work with. Quint is also a perfect hero to root for. He represents the blue-collar everyman standing up to crony elites, and that makes him a timeless protagonist.
Most viewers will enter this movie hoping for fun car chases and adrenaline-fueled mayhem, though. Black Moon Rising doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The action scenes aren’t particularly mind-blowing, but they are a lot of fun. In one standout scene, the car flies through a skyscraper window after mowing down an evil old goon. It’s a beautiful moment. Some might even call it sublime.
And in conclusion…
Black Moon Rising is an action movie with just enough brains to stand out from many of its peers. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but its critique of authority and corrupt systems is thought-provoking all the same. Carpenter examined these ideas with more bite in Escape from New York and They Live, but fans of those films will find plenty to enjoy here. But if you just want to watch cars fly through giant buildings, it hits the spot.