Thursday, March 8, 2012

REVIEW: Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the Stars
Director: Jimmy T. Murakami
Year 1980
Battle Beyond the Stars is an epic sci-fi film that follows in the grand spectacle of Star Wars, yet forges its own path with its collection of wacky characters and strange situations. Based on Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, this space-age twist has plenty of action to throw at the audience and despite its fairly low budgeted origins, manages to create a world that is both teeming with life and extremely enjoyable to visit. 
The film tells the story of a young pacifist named Shad, who lives on a peaceful farm colony on the planet of Akir. With no weapons or warriors to protect their way of life, an evil overlord named Sador claims the planet and declares that he will return to destroy all life on Akir. Determined to save his people, Shad boards the only ship on his planet and sets off to collect a band of mercenaries to help defeat the evil Sador and his fleet of war ships. With this rag tag group of various races gathered for the defense of Akir, the stage is set for a battle of epic proportions.

The character of Shad is played by Richard Thomas, an actor who clearly has that innocent young demeanor that is strongly needed in order to portray this timid and delicate role. Thomas does a great job in slowly building his character’s courage up, eventually raising him to hero status when forced to fight for the survival of his planet. I enjoyed the character’s coming of age story and it was nice to see the universe through the eyes of this fairly sheltered young man. In a sense, when he is introduced to the new weird worlds and strange characters, we are right there with him sharing in on that experience. It’s a great way to ease us into the action and familiarize ourselves with the otherworldly nature of this cinematic world, without giving us too much of a culture shock in the process. The character of Shad is a good bridge between the realm of the real and the fictitious aspects of this space opera.
When we take that daring journey with Shad to gather mercenaries for the good of planet Akir, we are presented with a large array of colorful characters that are represented by some equally diverse actors and actresses. Darlanne Fluegel plays the role of Nanelia, an equally innocent young woman that shares Shad’s inexperience of the outside world. Her character serves as a love interest for Shad and she also provides a mirrored image of his own coming of age story. Then we have Robert Vaughn, a hardened killer who lacks the confines of sympathy and remorse, only taking the job for something to do. Vaughn gives a strange performance in this role, walking the fine line between boredom and infamy. His disconnected character proves to be as mysterious as he is heartless, making for a puzzling quagmire of a man. Giving a polar opposite performance compared to the stone hearted portrayal of Vaughn’s emotionless mercenary is George Peppard as the character simply named Cowboy. As an astronaut from the planet Earth, Cowboy is obsessed with the Wild West and westerns in general, often asking anyone within an earshot if they’d like to sit down and watch a good western flick. Peppard gives Cowboy a carefree attitude, never taking the mission too serious that is until things get down to the wire and shit really starts to hit the fan in the final battle.
Rounding out the good guys are a group of beings that can telepathically share the same thoughts, a vengeful lizard type alien, a barbarian looking strongman, a pair of heat producing midgets, and a sexy space warrior chick played by Sybil Danning who loves to go to war as much as she loves wearing hot revealing outfits. Danning’s character is especially thrilling to watch, because she has such a spirited fire for battle. Plus she looks hot as hell so that doesn’t hurt the situation either. If there is one thing lacking in Battle Beyond the Stars, it certainly isn’t a drought of interesting and diverse characters, that’s for damn sure.

When it comes to bad guys, Sador is up there with the best, or should I say worst of them. John Saxon is a real prick in this one, being cocky as hell and concerned with nothing else but annihilating everything in his path. He makes for a great villain, but unfortunately we don’t get to delve to deeply into his back story, learning only that he likes to see things blow up and he hates people living happy and peaceful lives. Saxon’s performance is pure cheese as he hams it up for the camera and looks to be loving every second of it. It’s nice to see a villain really get into the moment and John doesn’t waste anytime in over-performing the hell out of it. His character of Sador is just another of the many roles that go above and beyond the call of duty in delivering a memorable and outstandingly bizarre mark on the film.
It’s not only the wild characters of Battle Beyond the Stars that make it so watchable, but it’s also the look of the film that leaves a lasting impression. The overall color palette of the production is outstanding, relying on a kaleidoscope of hues to emphasize this strange realm of space battles and warrior chicks. The use of color tones are overwhelming, casting the appearance of the picture into an almost dream like realm where nightmares and fantasies collide. The barrage of colors is like a battle to the senses that provide the audience with a sensory overload of rainbow hued sequences that never seem dull or lifeless. The entire look of the film is exquisite, giving the low budget aspects of the production some much needed verve and an essential boost.
Not only are the visual portions of the film strewn with eye candy, but the soundtrack of the movie is also top notch. There are some uplifting compositions in Battle Beyond the Stars, provided by the exceptionally talented James Horner, a man that has one hell of an extensive and impressive resume. The musical cues burst from the screen, giving the perfect tone to the picture and propelling us into the final battle of the film. As exciting and pertinent as anything Horner has ever created, the soundtrack for this flick is absolutely outstanding and raises the film up just a couple more notches. With all of these positives going for the film, it’s hard to ignore just how entertaining the finished product really is.

Battle Beyond the Stars is a space opera that comes from very low budget origins, but manages to rise so high that you’d be hard pressed to deny its luster and panache. The cast of characters that comprise this weird crew of both mercenaries and villains is downright bombastic, never falling down the slippery path of the forgettable and always pushing the ante in bringing about something interesting and relevant.
With the addition of an outstanding score and the inclusion of having one of the most colorful templates a space epic has ever seen, Battle Beyond the Stars is without a doubt a cult classic that will have an immense throng of loyal fans for some years to come. This Roger Corman produced science fiction flick is one strange and enjoyable…..

The coming of a shit-storm.

Bow down in the presence of my massive head!

Why so blue?

Use your big boy words Shad.

So what are you hanging around here for?

Think McFly! THINK!

Shad you little pervert!

Hubba Hubba!

Did I forget to turn the space iron off again?

They're really spectacular.... Their acting of course, not Sybil's boobs.
Wink. Wink. 

Where does a spaceship get off having tits!

Now that is one hell of a motley group.

Here... nibble on my weiner.

Probably day-dreaming about naked lizard chicks the scaly perv.

Damn, you are one ugly motherfucker!

To WAR!!!!!!

You've become a man Shad!

Who the hell is going to clean all this shit up?

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