The issue of digital piracy is vexing, to say the least, because it’s an ethical, behavioral, and financial mess. Digital commodities, whether they’re movies, music, books, or video games, are only limited by the capacity of a computer’s memory and can be copied and shared easily. Because digital commodities are intangible and shareable, they’re not invested with the sense that they are personal property; the internet is a communally shared conglomeration of various media and most of that media is free content paid for with ad money or available for cheaper than its physical counterpart. This has fostered a sense of entitlement because we expect those commodities to be free, cheap, and available on the internet and when they’re not, some of us will use legally questionable ways to obtain them. I find the issue confusing because, while downloading and copying digital commodities without paying for them is indisputably stealing, it’s not always clear who’s hurt by digital piracy and the reasons why people download things illegally are not always morally unsound. Many years ago, when I was still in highschool, my dad saw the description for what looked like an awful movie on TV and called me because he thought it would be up my alley. I’m pretty sure he went to bed, but I sat through the entire movie until it was late, giggling at one of the most marvelously cheesy movies I had ever seen. I’ve had fond memories ever since and it’s remained one of my favorite bad movies, but I hadn’t watched it a second time until quite recently. For a long period of time I couldn’t remember the film’s name and for some reason I thought Yul Brynner was one of the stars. I did some searching and found out the film’s name, but when I tried to find a copy, I could only find it in VHS. Knights was made in 1993, so it was released for the VHS but never made its way to DVD. Since I don’t have a VCR and there’s no way I could verify the quality of a near twenty-year-old tape, I turned to more questionable sources to find and watch the movie. Perhaps I shouldn’t make excuses, but this is a film that will probably be lost if it’s not preserved electronically because there’s not enough demand to warrant a DVD release. While rewatching this ridiculous film, I’m not sure the ethical issues of piracy and file sharing bothered me; it’s just too damn good to pass up.
The story is set in the post-apocalyptic future in what looks like Utah. A despotic race of vampiric cyborgs rule over the surviving humans. When a group of cyborgs kill her family, lead character Nea runs away with her younger brother. Years later, Nea has grown into a young woman and Chance has since been lost. Nea’s village is attacked by a cyborg and his human henchman, but a cyborg named Gabriel saves her and destroys the cyborg; the cyborgs’ Creator built Gabriel to destroy the vampire cyborgs and save humanity. Although he’s reluctant, he takes on Nea as an apprentice cyborg-killer and teaches her to fight as they travel toward the city of Taos, the cyborgs’ intended target; the cyborgs are running out of blood to keep them immortal and their numbers are dwindling because of Gabriel, so they are going to the city to refill on blood and create more cyborgs. When Gabriel and Nea come across the cyborg army led by Job, they kill a few of the robots before getting captured; Gabriel is blown in half by a missile, but they drag his metal carcass to use as scrap. Nea wakes up in the cyborgs’ human slave camp. She recognizes her brother Chance from a birthmark on his hand and enlists his help, but doesn’t let him know who she is. Nea kills scores of the human minions to rescue Gabriel from the scrap heap and bring him with her. With Gabriel’s upper half strapped to Nea’s back, the two fight the cyborgs until Gabriel has a chance to repair himself, salvaging the lower half of a fallen vampire cyborg to rebuild himself. The two destroy the rest of the cyborg army and then split up. Chance is abducted by a mysterious cyborg with a alien-looking gas mask that talks like Darth Vader, so Nea chases him, only to see her the cyborg and her brother fly off in a hang-glider. Gabriel fights and kills the evil Job. The two ride off into the sunset to fight the mysterious cyborg and rescue Chance in the inevitable sequel.
There’s honestly a lot to love about this film. It takes place in what looks a lot like Utah, which is quite gorgeous and gives it a bit of a western feel; although there are robots around, the main mode of transportation is the horse, which also makes it seem westerny. The dialogue is beautifully wooden. The characters are great. Nea is the kick-butt heroine played by kickboxing champion Kathy Long. Gabriel is the equally kick-butt, leather-faced mentor played by country singer and actor Kris Kristofferson. And Job, whose defining characteristics are a mechanical arm with a hook and a tendency to drool with anger, is played by Lance Henriksen, famous science fiction and horror movie actor. Of course, the thing that sets this film apart is the fact that it’s about a woman and an android teaming up to take on the vampire cyborg overlords and free the humans. The plot is glorious. If only it had been the plot for Terminator Salvation…
By far my favorite thing about this film, however, is the fighting. This is a martial arts film as much as it’s science fiction and a good portion of the action is Nea and Gabriel whupping the butts of cyborgs and minions alike; there’s even a martial arts training montage on top of the desert mountains. Minions run up to Nea one at a time only to get punched, kicked, or slapped to death; they crumple as if it was James Bond delivering karate chops. If they aren’t slapped to the side, they go flying in slow motion before they hit the dirt. There are a lot of somersaults and spins in this film and most of them are the involuntary acrobatics of someone getting kicked in the chest. When Nea and Gabriel fight the cyborgs, they stab them in the head, which causes the cyborgs’ faces to explode. Apparently vampire cyborgs have a weakness to head stabbings instead of heart stabbings; would that mean that zombie cyborgs would have to be shot in the heart? It’s a pretty glorious spectacle because at least 50 or 60 evil minions and cyborgs must die in this film, flying this way and that or face-exploding. The best part of the whole film is when Nea jumps up high enough to kick a man off a horse and then mount the horse and continue riding. Sorry nameless horse-rider but your death was well worth seeing that.
By no means does Knights free me from ethical considerations about digital piracy. Although I don’t feel like I’ve taken money out of anyone’s pockets for watching a twenty-year-old film that hasn’t seen DVD release and probably never will, I still think I should buy the films I love. Although piracy is rampant on the internet, it’s obvious that people are still willing to pay for digital commodities and support the artists that make them. Amazon and iTunes have cheap, convenient ways of buying digital products and they have made a fortune doing so; iTunes manages to sell tons of music in spite of the fact that their music is DRM-free, which I think is good evidence that DRM is hardly necessary. Kickstarter campaigns and Paypal donation buttons have created a patronage system whereby the average consumer can show his or her support for artists’ work, even those who are offering their work online for free. If Albert Pyun, the director of Knights, puts his film up for sale on Amazon or starts a Kickstarter campaign to create a remastered DVD version of it, I will be the first customer, wallet in hand, to buy this ridiculous and lovable movie.
By the way, I’d like to thank all my readers. I have had a deluge of page hits since posting my review of Jeepers Creepers. I’m glad that struck a chord with you all and I hope you’ll keep coming back for more.