August 4, 2011

Battle Beyond The Stars (1980)

THREE YEARS AFTER seeing Star Wars in the theater as a kid in 1977, I was still starving for more science fiction movies and TV. That hunger was fed mostly by lesser fare such as Disney’s 1979 sci-fi flick The Black Hole and the original Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Then, while still riding high from seeing The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, my aunt (and multi-contest winner) Kathy took me to see the latest attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze, Battle Beyond the Stars.

In this Roger Corman-produced sci-fi fantasy, Shad (The Waltons’ Richard Thomas) must scour the cosmos to recruit mercenaries from different planets and cultures to save his peaceful planet Akir from the threat of evil tyrant Sador (Enter The Dragon’s John Saxon), who’s bent on dominating and enslaving the entire universe. The team of mercenaries includes:

* a young female scientist named Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel)
* a buxom Valkyrie warrior named Saint-Exmin (Sybil Danning)
* a wanted hitman named Gelt (The Magnificent Seven’s Robert Vaughan)
* a space cowboy named, uh, Cowboy (The A-Team’s George Preppard)
* a lizard humanoid named Cayman (Morgan Woodward)
* a quintet of telepathic aliens all named Nestor (led by Earl Boen) 

Comparisons of Battle Beyond The Stars to the two films probably yelled out at the pitch meeting (“It’s The Magnificent Seven meets Star Wars!”) are so obvious and frequent, they’re not even worth pointing out. But if you must, some quick examples: Robert Vaughan is basically repeating his character from Magnificent Seven as Battle’s Gelt, and Shad’s ship features a sassy, no-nonsense voice system named Nell (Lynn Carlin), who’s essentially Han Solo to Shad’s Luke Skywalker.

And while it’s true that it seems like another attempt to cash in on Star Wars fever, Battle Beyond the Stars has an impressive pedigree: It’s executive-produced by B-movie legend Roger Corman, written by John Sayles (Alligator, The Howling, Piranha), scored by Oscar winner James Horner (Titanic), and features impressive set designs by some art director named Jim Cameron (Avatar).

A big part of what makes the film so enjoyable, next to the cheese-tastic space battles, is Sayles’ dialogue: It consists of real, relatable conversations – the kind that makes the original Star Wars trilogy fun, and its prequels’ oh-so-serious dialogue unbearable. The occasional stabs at humor also largely hit the mark (Preppard’s line about hot dogs is classic).

Yes, some of the special effects look dated (and steal sound effects from Battlestar Galactica), and both the acting and Horner’s score teeter on melodramatic. Also, the action in the third act is a bit uneven, including an abrupt ending probably due to budget constraints. But ultimately, Battle Beyond The Stars is a fun trip through retro B-movie pseudo-camp.

* Footage and music from Battle Beyond The Stars were re-used in the 1983 sci-fi cheapie Space Raiders.
* Watch for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene early in the film with comedian Kathy Griffin as an inhabitant of Akir.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Battle Beyond The Stars is rated PG, largely for its sci-fi violence and adult situations and language.
Violence: Many people are shot with lasers; several die in spaceship explosions; Cowboy stabs one of Sador’s soldiers and green blood pours out; a man is impaled; one of the Nestor’s arms is severed by Sador’s doctor, who then attaches it to Sador in place of his lame arm (most of this is done in cutaway; no pun intended); a sonic weapon by Sador’s army causes Akir’s soldiers to scream in pain (one man bleeds from the ears); scientists working on upper torsos and body parts of lifelike humanoid robots might freak out younger kids.
Adult situations: Nanelia’s father plans to have Shad breed with her, ordering his androids to prepare “the conjugal suite” for the couple; Cowboy smokes and drinks on occasion; it’s implied that one of Sador’s henchmen had his way with a woman from Akir (a young Julia Duffy), as she emerges from a back room with mussed hair and a tattered robe.
Adult language: Phrases such as “sons of bitches,” “son of a bitch,” “damn it,” “what the hell,” “snowball’s chance in Hell,” and “that’s a hell of a note;” Saint-Exmin uses several double entendres for sex (“recharge his capacitators,” “tingle his transistors”); there is occasional talk between Nanelia and Shad about breeding, mating, etc. (“I think your torque bar slipped its groove”).

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a fan of sci-fi and/or quality cheese, you could have a fun time watching Battle Beyond The Stars together.
That’s Shad’s spaceship. Yep, the bottom looks like something. Two things, actually.
There’s actually an online debate about whether they’re “his” or “hers.”

Battle Beyond the Stars
* Director: Jimmy T. Murakami
* Screenwriter: John Sayles
* Stars: Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughan, John Saxon, George Preppard, Darlanne Fluegel, Sybil Danning, Morgan Woodward, Earl Boen
* MPAA Rating: PG

Buy Battle Beyond The Stars (DVD) at >>
Buy Battle Beyond The Stars (Blu-ray) at >>
Rent Battle Beyond The Stars from Netflix >>
Watch or download Battle Beyond The Stars via StageVu (.avi file) >>


Phillyradiogeek said...

Even though I've also recently blogged about this film, I still haven't seen it. Someday :)

joe said...

In my opinion, The Black Hole was such an abysmal piece of junk, it was very appropriately titled. Boy did that movie suck

FilmFather said...

Phillyradiogeek: If you have the right plug-in for your browser, or a program on your computer that plays .avi files, you can view or download Battle from that link at the very end of my post and watch it immediately for free!


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