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BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, Roger Corman's 'take' of the STAR WARS saga, is a
film justly recognized as a cult classic. Shot in his new studio ("The
was still wet," Corman has joked), in just five weeks, on a budget that
would have paid for one of George Lucas' effects, the end result is proof
that with the right talent, anything is possible!
A remarkable array of future industry giants participated in the creation of the film; the screenplay was co-written by John Sayles, whose breakthrough film as a maverick writer/director, RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7, would be released the same year...young model builder James Cameron impressed Corman so much that he was promoted to Art Director for the film, and it would be the first step in a career that led to TERMINATOR, ALIENS, and eventually, the most Oscar-honored film since BEN-HUR, TITANIC...James Horner, with only three prior film credits, gave Corman the STAR WARS-quality music he wanted, with an orchestra a fraction of the size of John Williams' London Philharmonic; Horner would eventually score two STAR TREK films, and a wide variety of other 'prestige' projects, culminating with two Oscars for TITANIC, and a place as one of America's finest film composers. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS would have a 'look' and a 'sound' unlike any 'B'-movie ever made.
Based on Akira Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI (which was also the source for the classic western, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), Sayles tried to keep the film as faithful to the original as possible (a tiny, defenseless village hires warriors to defend them against a band of outlaws), even naming the beleaguered people the Akira, as a homage to the director. As warriors from different races ally to face down the nearly invincible forces of Sador (veteran actor John Saxon), Corman paid tribute to John Sturges' western, as well, casting Robert Vaughn in virtually the same role as he'd played in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Other terrific actors round out the cast; Richard Thomas, still appearing in 'The Waltons' at the time, played young Shad, the film's central character; George Peppard, who was about to achieve a MAJOR career resurgence with 'The A-Team', became boozy Earthman 'Cowboy'; 'B'-movie queen Sybil Danning portrayed Valkyrie-like Saint-Exmin; veteran TV and film 'tough guy' Morgan Woodward was wonderful, if unrecognizable as Cayman of the Lambda Zone; and Darlanne Fluegel, beginning a long career as a popular character actress, was cast as Shad's love, Nanelia. Corman then cast two long-time friends and Hollywood legends in cameo roles; Jeff Corey as blind Zed, who encourages the Akira to fight; and 89-year old Sam Jaffe as the robotics expert who introduces Shad to Nanelia.
A note about director Jimmy T. Murakami...a veteran animator, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS marked his directorial debut, and he does an exceptionally good job, considering his budget restraints. After working on HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, he married an Irish girl and settled in Europe, limiting his subsequent film career to an occasional project that interested him. Roger Corman's 'family' of filmmakers were NEVER dull...
While some of the FX are shaky, the overall production is very impressive, and holds up remarkably well, today. Roger Corman has called BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS one of his favorite films, and he has every right to be proud...the movie is a terrific SF adventure!
Now this is interesting. The movie is another producer's spin on Star
Wars; Star Wars obviously being made by George Lucas. The name 'George
Lucas' being synonymous with 'epic-scale effects budget.' Battle Beyond
the Stars was produced by Roger Corman. The name 'Roger Corman' being
synonymous with 'shoe-string budget.'
Let me break from my usual critique style to go over some of the plot - Sador (John Saxon) feels the need to conquer, and he's so powerful that he decides to conquer an essentially helpless (not to mention useless) civilization. But instead of conquering, he courteously shows up to conveniently schedule his conquest a week from now in case they want to mount some sort of defense. (Where's Arnold when you need him? 'I'll be back!')
In response, Shad takes a road trip (space trip?) in Nell the only ship on the planet to round up some misfits (mercenaries--same thing) who happen to be in the neighborhood. Everyone is interestingly (clichély) unique and has their own reasons for wanting to fight, not to mention the actors have a wide range of performances ranging from sliced ham to frighteningly Shakespearian seriousness. And, ah to hell with it, you get the idea. Point is, I have every reason to really hate the plot, hate the characters (Good God, I've hated characters for much much less), hate this movie . . . but I dunno, I don't really mind it.
Through all its narrative faults, Battle Beyond the Stars happens to hit the right goofball mixture of elements from a surprisingly good score by young 'Jamie Horner' to notably weird spaceships and decent effects (for an early 80s low-budget flick) to wacky and tame characters that somehow summons a funky B-movie charm. For the life of me, I can't hate this movie despite the plot that begs me to bash it to oblivion with the Stellar Converter.
The spaceship, Nell, proved to be the highpoint of the film . . . not because of the ship's design, rather because of its personality (no really.)
I've always wanted to see a spaceship with an attitude (the Star Trek equivalent of Kit from Knight Rider?) A perfect counterpoint to the naivety of Shad, flawlessly delivered by Richard Thomas. If I weren't constantly laughing at the characters cluelessness, I'd want to slap that kid around, and I'd sure as hell wouldn't want to charge him with saving my planet. I'd like to die with my dignity, thank you.
Battle Beyond the Stars has a number of positive attributes (especially considering the budget and experience of most people involved on the film at the time), it has a number of reasons to be proud, and it most definitely has a number of charms that surpass its truckload of flaws. I consider Battle Beyond the Stars the spending benchmark for all sci-fi flicks. I mean, if Corman can entertain me with Hollywood pocket change, Lucas, the Wachowskis, and the other heavy spenders better blow my socks off with their ungodly sized budgets . . .
John Sayles was asked by Roger Corman to adapt The Seven Samurai into a
sci fi picture and the result is this delightfully inventive
What is most enjoyable to me about the film is the fact that every mercenary hired by the peaceful "villagers" has a distinct personality and style and their motivations clearly defined. George Peppard, as the only human among them, is laid back and charming. Morgan Woodward seems to be having a grand old time playing the vengeful lizard-man--dig his gonzo war-cry during the climactic battle! Robert Vaughn does seem a bit bored but he effectively communicates his character's unpleasant coldness. Sybill Danning simply has one of the most stunning bodies to ever be stuffed into a styrofoam viking costume, even if she can't act. Add to these characters two elfin aliens who communicate thru heat (the Kelvin, wink, wink) and a troupe of what looks like Mimes called "Nestor" who operate sort of like the collectivist Borg from Star Trek and in disposition seem to anticipate the infectious optimism and curiosity of Mr Data as well.When first introduced they explain, "We believe you are seeking mercenaries for an adventure. We would like to participate." The costumes, sets and spfx are quite striking though obviously done on a low budget but that hardly detracts from the fun. Special mention must be made of John Saxon who, as the evil scourge of the galaxy Lord Sador, grabs his opportunity to chew the scenery with amusing gusto. Check the sequence where he gets to enact what must be every actors dream since Dr Strangelove: to have a battle with his own rebellious arm! He plays it all-out, with just the right mix of comic book theatrics and menacing humor. It is sometimes just enjoyable to watch veteran actors cut loose and have a good time, the spirit is infectious, as it certainly is with this film. Fun for the whole family as well as bonged-out college students and other usually disparaging types.
I first saw this in the summer of 1981, just before I was due to go back to
school for my second year in senior school (around the age of
Nowadays, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is more familar to audiences as the film which helped launch the careers of James Cameron and James Horner, but the success of the film is more down to John Sayles excellent screenplay, one of the earliest he did along with PIRANHA for Roger Corman's New World Pictures.
Sayles does some very creative things with the dialogue and Sybil Danning is the standout performance as the Valkyrie warrior St. Exmin. Darlanne Fluegel as Nanelia and Morgan Woodward as Cayman of the Lambda Zone provide adequate support to Richard Thomas and Robert Vaughn.
As with Howard Shore and his LOTR scores, Horner's early works were to be found in low-budget film. The limited-edition soundtrack recently released also has the soundtrack to HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. I have followed Horner's career from BATTLE, through to his music for 48 HRS, BRAINSTORM and GORKY PARK, but BATTLE is undoubtedly one of the best scores he has ever done. As with John Williams' music for STAR WARS, it added a dimension to the film and gave me goosebumps when I first saw it.
The FX and design of the film do heighten the experience of watching this low-budget offering in a similar way to how ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 knew the limits of its setting.
Worth catching at any time!
Battle Beyond The Stars was one of the better Star Wars clones. The special
effects weren't "great" even back in 1980, but they add to the low budget
flavor of the movie. You have to remember that this movie had a
substantially lower budget for special effects than an "A" picture like Star
Wars. Early detailed models by James Cameron (TERMINATOR/TITANIC) are the
high point of the special effects. A lot of people got their career start on
this film, and Cameron was only one of many.
The script for Battle Beyond The Stars had a lot of things going for it, from the aliens to the quirky characters. I found the race of Nestor to be the most interesting concept of all. Just the thought of a race of beings that can hear/feel/think together as one conscious entity could be a great movie plot in itself.
The excellent casting of actors and actresses was another strong point in Battle Beyond The Stars. John Saxon, George Peppard, and Sybil Danning especially shine through in their acting performances in my opinion.
Battle Beyond The Stars is, quite simply, one of those movies that's so cheesy that's it's something special. It's a fun movie that never takes itself too seriously, and I don't either. I guess that's why I still enjoy it after all of these years.
I really enjoy these types of films. When they work it's because of their sheer flamboyance. They aren't afraid to steal from any source, EVERYTHING goes into the pot as long as it's got sparkle, splash, and action. This particular film works real well and I absolutely fell for it when I heard a phrase of music lifted directly from "Alexander Nevsky". It's pure, simple (repeat, simple) fun. The producers of "Battlefield Earth" could have learned something about making entertaining SF movies from repeated viewings of "Battle Beyond the Stars."
Of all the post "Star Wars" films, this one is decidedly the best of its ilk. The dependable storyline, stalwart acting and sometimes humorous special effects (LOVE the female-designed spaceship!) all make for an entertaining film. For all the flak it has received (even getting a "Dog of the Week" label from Siskel and Ebert upon its initial release), it has for all intents and purposes kept itself in the memories of all who have seen it and is most definitely a fantasy that is worthy of seeing again and again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ignore the negative comments and the usual pathetic "cheesy"
wisecracks. This movie has more heart and soul than "Star Wars" or any
of the big budget space operas floating around at the same time. The
characters are more memorable, the dialogue is better and there is
nothing "fairytale" about the ending. A lot of the characters we wind
up liking die in this one.
It's yet another update of the "Seven Samurai" story and just as effective in its milieu as "Magnificent Seven" was in its. A ghoulish galactic conqueror has targeted the peaceful planet Akir for his next attack. Sador and his band of mutants have access to a planet-destroying weapon. The pacifist Akiri have no skill or stomach for fighting except for a select few. Young Shad decides that if his people cannot fight, they will hire mercenaries to fight for them. Onboard a sentient spaceship with a crusty personality, Shad begins to assemble a ragtag collection of misfits. They include: Cowboy, an earthman transporting weapons who is obsessed with Western heroes and lifestyle.
Kayman of the Lambda Zone, a theatrical and sinister reptilian who has a score to settle with Sador. Kayman's own crew is pretty off the wall, as well.
Nestor, a collection of alien clones who share the same mind and sensations. Nestor joins the battle strictly out of boredom.
Gelt, the deadliest and most feared assassin in the galaxy, who joins Shad because he offers "a warm meal and a place to hide".
St. Exmin, a bodacious, oversexed Valkyrie who is spoiling for a fight to prove her mettle.
This is one of the coolest casts of characters ever assembled for an action film and I fell in love with all of them. The script of John Sayles really brings out the quirks and personality of the mercenaries. I loved it when one of the Nestors is captured by Sador and threatened with torture. "This is Dr. Dako," Sador tells the Nestor. "He is very expert in the art of administering pain." "It is good to have skills," deadpans Nestor.
Just as effecting but in a different way is Gelt's final scene, as his ice-cold demeanor cracks at last and he reflects on a friendless and wasted life. Robert Vaughn succeeds once again with basically the same character he played in "Magnificent Seven".
Even Sador and his Malmori mutants have personality. John Saxon has a ball playing an evil villain that was different from his usually heroic characters. His second in command comes across as strangely reluctant. Even the scummy mutants Kalo and Tembo are more than mere cannon fodder.
Other actors to watch for are Sam Jaffe as the half man/half machine/all crazy Dr. Hephaestus, Jeff Corey as the blind warrior Zed and Lost In Space's Marta Kristen as an Akiri woman who falls in love with Cowboy. Richard Thomas does very well as Shad...not an experienced fighter, but with enough fire to avoid being a wimp.
One does wish the effects budgets would have been better. The ship design and make-up is cool, but the space battles were not visually engaging and the sound effects that accompanied them really grated on my nerves.
The triumph of this movie, though, is in its characterization and in the nobility of sacrifice. There's nothing cheesy about that. This is pure entertainment and a little bit more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Roger Corman's highly energetic and enjoyable handy dandy combo blend of "Star Wars" and "The Magnificent Seven" has lost none of its charm or entertainment value over the years. The film still radiates a certain irresistibly sweet and dynamic good-natured quality to this very day. Evil space conqueror Sador (John Saxon having himself a wonderfully wicked field day in a juicy villain part) threatens to kill all the peace-loving people on the planet of Akir unless they willingly submit to his foul desires. It's up to naive, but eager young emissary Shad (earnestly essayed with disarmingly wide-eyed aplomb by Richard Thomas of "The Waltons" fame) to round up seven mercenaries in order to fight back against Sador. Said mercenaries include the delectably busty'n'lusty Sybil Danning as a sexy Amazonian warrior woman, George Peppard as the hilariously booze-sodden Space Cowboy, Morgan Woodward as vengeful reptilian humanoid lizard Cayman, the lovely Darlanne Fluegel as the obligatory hot babe love interest for Shad, and Robert Vaughn doing a deft reprise of his weary, twitchy gunslinger role from "The Magnificent Seven." Jimmy T. Murakami's spirited direction keeps the movie cheery and lively throughout while John Sayles' witty script, the extremely good special effects, James Horner's rousing score and the enthusiastic acting from a tip-top cast (veteran character actor and legendary acting teacher Jeff Corey is especially fine as an old blind man) add substantially to the infectiously frothy merriment. Moreover, there's a real purity and innocence to this picture, a complete dearth of smugness, irony and cynicism, which is both very refreshing and genuinely endearing. A real treat.
Good variation on the Star Wars franchise, made in the aftermath of the first movie of the series, this Corman production - one of his finest - is almost a remake of the Magnificent Seven, but it is well-made on a limited budget, full of great ideas about the different alien races, with good characterization and several fine lines for the various protagonists. Fun, fun, fun
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