Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Battle Beyond The Stars!
1980's Battle Beyond the Stars has two distinctions in my mind. It's probably the best of the post-Star Wars wave of rip-off movies which spilled into theaters after the surprise success of that legendary franchise and its the best movie I've ever seen which had Roger Corman's name on it. Likely the infamous Corman had little to do with this event aside from getting some funding together for it, but this is one of those movies in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
John Sayles was on strong ground when he decided to steal the plot from The Magnificent Seven and transfer it to outer space. That story is rock solid with plenty of range for good actors to show their chops. And this one has some good actors indeed. While I've always found Richard Thomas a bit of a bore, his turn here as "Shad" the hero of our epic is largley benign. He's helped immensely by master scene-chewer John Saxon who plays the villainous Sardor, an outer space tyrant who travels across the vastness conquering one world after another, or destroying same. His motivations aside from the theft of a few meager resources seem to be to merely get his jollies by torture and maiming his victims who he uses from time to time to replenish his own aging body parts.George Peppard pops up as an oddly urbane Earthman who helps out with some wit and aplomb. Jeff Corey and Sam Jaffe put in rock solid performances in some pretty oddball roles. And Robert Vaughn adds some real dash to the movie when he for all practical purposes reprises his role from the original The Magnificent Seven as the deadly but world-weary gunfighter.
Seeing the movie again recently after many years, I was struck by its above-average pacing. The movie doesn't drag as so many of the rip-offs of this era do, draining away their meager effects. But this one is chock full of great sci-fi concepts. Whether it's the vivacious Sybil Danning as a wild and winning Valkyrie eager to die in battle, or the five identical aliens who are part of a hive mind, or the braggart humanoid reptile Cayman eager for revenge, or the twin aliens who don't talk but communicate with heat, there are lots of great make-ups and greater notions dotting this tale.
And I'll be honest, while I always knew the Corsair spaceship Nell piloted by Shad and featured in the top poster was odd looking, rather organic, I never realized the ship was a woman's torso until I stated this review. The talking ship turns out to be one of the more memorable characters in the whole movie.
If you haven't seen this one, or it's been a while, I say get a copy and enjoy one of the best exploitation movies ever. It's a hoot.