Precious Find (1996): Golden Hauer

Matty kills ninety minutes with Philippe Mora’s amusing space opera.

Before having a hand in prestigious fare like Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000) and a triumvirate of Martin Scorsese pictures (Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004) and The Departed (2006)), Graham King and Cindy Cowan’s foreign sales operation, Initial Entertainment Group, entered production the ol’ fashioned way: by cobbling together a bunch of programmers for the cable and home video markets. Among their first batch of titles was PRECIOUS FIND, a cheap n’ cheerful sci-fi item that Ozploitation wiz Philippe Mora was tasked with bringing in on a $1.5million budget and an eighteen day schedule. 

Opening with PS1-style CGI as a grizzled Brion James docks his spaceship (not a euphemism), and then cutting to a dapper Rutger Hauer playing cards in a neon-drenched bar located on the Moon, there’s a nice lived-in quality to Precious Find that’s apparent from the off. According to Mora, his brief from King and Cowan was “Give us Star Wars (1977)”. However, the textured world presented by the Howling II (1985) and III (1987) helmer, his wife/visual consultant Pamela Krause Mora, and production designer Whitney Brooke Wheeler is closer to the bustling shantytown milieu of the Mars sections of Total Recall (1990) than the Kurosawa-indebted compositions of George Lucas. That said, such praise only applies to the portions of Precious Find that unfold in and around the moon. They’re just better mounted and snazzier than the duller-looking mining bits set on an asteroid — even if it is fun seeing Bronson Caves captured on celluloid again as nature intended (i.e. as the backdrop to a breezy B-movie). The characters at the heart of Lenny Britton’s screenplay, meanwhile, are more in step with the kind of gimmicky grotesques that litter the pages of 2000AD than Luke, Han, and Chewie.

The troubled Harold Pruett (who, sadly, died at the shockingly young age of thirty-two in 2002 following a drug overdose) is our eyes and ears as an ambitious, vaguely Skywalker-y rookie prospector. A decent bit of guy-candy and an easy to root for hero (think Stephen Dorff’s part in Stuart Gordon’s similar, of-the-same-period Space Truckers (1996)), Pruett kicks the film’s plot — which is basically a futuristic retelling of John Huston’s classic western/greed parable The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) — into gear and serves as the linchpin for the rest of Precious Find’s cult-friendly cast. In addition to Hauer and the charismatic Dutchman’s Blade Runner (1982) co-star James, Precious Find also includes: a foxy and tough-as-nails Joan Chen (reuniting with Hauer for the third time after fellow sci-fi epics Salute of the Jugger (1989) and Wedlock (1991)); a barely recognisable Don Stroud as a gurning samurai Mafioso (!); a scene-stealing performance from Cyborg Cop II’s (1994) Morgan Hunter; and Mora himself doing a Peter Lorre impression as the chief financier of Pruett, Hauer, and James’ intergalactic gold rush.       

In terms of the film’s direction — well, Mora is Mora. A perpetually interesting talent whose ambition exceeds the peanuts he’s frequently forced to work with, the Beast Within (1982) auteur attacks Britton’s messy script with typical gusto and injects it with his expected hallmarks: buoyant camerawork, an air of camp, humorous diversions, and editing choppy even by his usual staccato standards — though both that last point and the obvious problems with the script owe more to producer interference than anything. 

Having picked up Britton’s screenplay, King and Cowan’s deal with Republic Pictures contractually mandated that Precious Find get an R-rating — something that shocked the debuting scribe no end as he’d penned the film as a family-friendly, PG-rated adventure. King and Cowan’s solution was to add a bunch of swear words and a splodge of (still very mild) violence that they encouraged Mora to embellish. Their meddling extended to completely reshaping Precious Find in post production, once Mora delivered what he thought was his director’s cut [1]. 

USA ● 1996 ● Sci-Fi ● 90mins

Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Harold Pruett and Brion James, Dir. Philippe Mora Wri. Lenny Britton

[1] Incidentally, Mora, who’d previously helmed the Christopher Walken-starring Communion (1989), was planning to follow Precious Find with another sci-fi picture called ‘The Nine’, based upon an old 1976 script by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry about a group of people who believed they were channelling aliens.

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