It’s recently come to my attention that, as much as a closet nerd as she is, my wife is woefully unaware of some real fantasy/ sci-fi gems from the 80s and 90s, as demonstrated when she didn’t understand when I said that The Hunger Games was just a warmed-over version of The Running Man.
So when I made passing reference to “jugging” and she just stared blankly, I knew it was time to rent us some good ol’ The Blood of Heroes and see if it lives up to my memory.
And how could it not with a cover like this?
On the surface, this movie looks like ten different types of awesome. Post apocalypse? Check. Starring Rutger Hauer in all his 80s glory, Joan Chen (Twin Peaks, natch), Delroy Lindo and a nearly unrecognizable Vincent D’Onofrio? Yep. Written and directed by the screenwriter of Blade Runner, Twelve Monkeys, Unforgiven, and Ladyhawke? Bingo. Centered around a ragtag team playing a brutal sport called jugging that must train their newest member while delving into and redeeming her mentor’s past. Hell yeah!
Also, it opens with this crawl:
“People no longer remember the Golden Age of the 20th Century. They didn’t remember the miraculous technology or the cruel wars that followed. They didn’t remember when juggers first played The Game or how it came to be played with a dog skull…
Yeah, you better be impressed by that. Grimdark as a genre had yet to be christened, but that last line is what we in the industry call “GDAF.”
This movie revolves around the made-up sport of jugging, which basically boils down to two teams consisting of heavily armored individuals, three of which are armed with staffs, one with a huge flail, and two runners. It’s the runners’ job to snatch the literal dog skull in the center of the field and haul it to a stick on their side of filed without being maimed, crippled or killed.
I only wish it showed how juggers shake hands, which my wife rejected outright before I even asked.
There’s also a pretty good plot about how Chen runs away from home to join Hauer’s band of juggers to replace their runner she crippled despite losing to them. There’s also a subplot about how Hauer was once a pro back at the capital and was cast out to the wastelands due to an affair with one of the aristocrats. Bet that plot point comes back to affect the story…
I say “bet” because the wife didn’t make it past the 15-minute mark, and I threw in the towel another 10 minutes or so later. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good story, rather that the picture and sound quality were so bad they made it unwatchable. I mean, this was the era of the VHS tape, so I didn’t expect much, but not being upgraded to HD could not account for all the issues. The sound and picture were so bad it felt like I was watching it through the crusty windows of my neighbor’s house across the street through a broken pair of binoculars.
There’s still a lot to love here, and though I usually hate remakes, this is one of the few films I would argue needs to be redone. Admittedly, part of this love comes from the fact I used to run around with foam swords playing Amtgard in my youth, and jugged a few round more than once. It also turns out I’m not alone, and an actual league exists around jugging.
So, did The Blood of Heroes live up to my memory? In premise, yes; there were all those great things there that I remember from my youth. Unfortunately, they were overshadowed (literally) by issues I glossed over and was too dark for the grimness to get across.
Which is why I think next time I’m going to have to dust off a copy of Flash Gordon…