Through a VCR, Fondly: A “Turbo Kid” Review

Feel the influence!

What does the image of burning VHS tapes mean to you? Does it evoke some sadness and depression? This violent loss of recordable (and re-recordable) media might just make former tape traders, kids of decades past and modern hipsters tear their hair out and throw it on the fiery pile. My former self might just weep, thinking about his boxes and boxes of TV wrestling, happily collecting dust.

Now, allow me to amend the initial question with some context: What does the image of an 80s born kid, in the post apocalypse, burning VHS tapes for warmth, mean to you? Suddenly, this picture takes on a new and even positive meaning.

Turbo Kid goes beyond simple nostalgia aesthetic and exploitation to become something of a comment on these cultural artifacts of time gone by. What Kick-Ass did (wonderfully) for the comic book fanboy fantasy, this movie does — in a more subtle way — for the love and fascination of dead or dying fads and environments. Such lighthearted romanticism is always welcome, even if it comes with heavy gore and proud blood spurts.

The year is 1997. Set in the aftermath of an unknown global disaster (presumably the worst results of Reagan era Cold War), human society has essentially come to a halt, struggling to survive in pockets of this rock and dirt filled wasteland. People scrounge and scavenge for anything they can trade and occupy their time with. A no named kid collects cassette tapes and comic books, in between riding his BMX like a hero, pulling off stunts for an audience of him. He’s curious enough to appreciate assets from before the apocalypse, but not old enough to remember what life was like. Hello, fellow millennials.

Through a set of accidents and serendipity, he becomes the very character he’s come to admire from the pages of his comics: A Turbo Rider. Covered head to toe in Rad garb, he’s armed with a self sustaining, energy shooting glove, that can pop bad guys like balloons. And the one bad guy he must first defeat? None other than the golf club carrying Michael Ironside. And he’s assisted by an Indiana Jones-ian type and a manufactured manic dream pixie girl.

Everything, from the story to the design, is just dripping with cherry picked 80s elements. It all feels like it comes from a place of love, without a shred of cynicism or negativity. This POV is interesting to me, as it’s much like that of a college student searching youtube after a trip to Taco Bell, watching videos from an America he/she never lived during, and can only understand as campy and fun. Things look so much differently through the prism of a 20 or so year buffer.

As much as this is a love letter to THAT style, Turbo Kid is a polaroid snapshot of THIS generation’s interpretation of pop retro history. By no means is it an ugly picture, suggesting something nasty about all of us. It’s, more or less, exposing the rose colored glasses we wear when fooling around with our flea market bought viewmasters. Perhaps this kind of vision isn’t as 20/20 as we think it is, and perhaps we’re just the prophetic end game of They Live!, consuming time itself.

Or, perhaps, it’s a harmless novelty like fondness for an age of genuine earnestness. Why not replicate that?

A youngster, surrounded by desolation, warming himself with VHS tapes, might as well be a painting of some sort. It says that, while physical media is going away, it can remain appreciated and adored for a long time to come. You can expand from that to cover the period this medium thrived during. Lots of ground to explore. Keep searching the youtube!

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Independent film critic. Progressive po’ boy, moviegoing romantic. SEFCA member, 🍅 - approved. Newsletter at ofthosewho.substack.com

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