Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on September 8, 1980
Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami
Written by John Sayles
Cast: Richard Thomas, Darlanne Fluegel, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon, George Peppard, Sybil Danning, Sam Jaffe, Jeff Corey, Morgan Woodward, Marta Kristen, Earl Boen, Julia Duffy, Lynn Carlin (voice)
I’ve been fairly ambivalent of late towards Roger Corman and his low-end horror and sci-fi productions from the ’50s and ’60s, but with Battle Beyond the Stars, I was willing to cut him some slack and offer praise where praise was due: this 1980 outer space adventure is actually better than you’d expect. It was fun, it featured quite a few known actors who took their roles seriously, the story contained some deceptively-smart humor and dialogue, and though there was an unexpected lack of Corman’s stock topless babes, Sybil Danning’s revealing outfits were, at the very least, an adequate PG-rated alternative.
The story: baby-faced Richard Thomas, fresh off his stint as John-Boy on The Waltons, plays Shad, a member of a pacifist colony on a faraway planet that’s been threatened with a hostile takeover by John Saxon’s evil antagonist Sador; faster than you can say ‘Zed the Corsair has ended’, Shad is sent—via a hulking spacecraft equipped with the largest set of knockers I’ve ever seen on an interstellar mode of transport—to find mercenary guns-for-hire to help defend their peaceful community from attack.
If you’ve ever seen the Japanese adventure drama Seven Samurai, or its Western remake The Magnificent Seven, or even Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, then you know how the rest of this film will play out. John Sayles wrote the script as an obvious homage (Cormanspeak for ‘pilferage’) to the aforementioned Akira Kurisawa classic, and future Aliens director James Cameron did stellar work on the art direction and spacecraft models; both boosted the film’s production value above and beyond, as did James Horner’s soaring music score.
For fans of older films, it was neat to see veterans Sam Jaffe and Jeff Corey in small but pivotal roles, and yes, that was indeed Julia Duffy, later of Newhart, playing a doomed Akirian blonde, whose demise went unnoticed by nearly everyone…including her brother Shad! And though each of the hired hands—the freighter cowboy, the five white-clad clones, the Valkyrie warrior, and the lizard-like slave trader—made for an interesting member of the team, I’d say my favorite of the bunch was Robert Vaughn’s weary assassin Gelt, who also happened to fly the coolest ship of the fleet. So with all that, did the film reach the lofty heights of a Star Wars or Alien? No, not quite…but it did offer some solid entertainment for fans of cheesy but well-intentioned drive-in fare. (6/10)