BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS [1980] [HCF REWIND]

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HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word.  So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.

 

HCF REWIND NO.84. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS [1980]

AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU RAY

RUNNING TIME: 97 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

The farmers of the peaceful planet Akir are threatened by the space tyrant Sador and his army of mutants, the Malmori.  Sador’s huge ship carries a weapon called a “Stellar Converter”, which literally turns planets into small suns.  He threatens to use the Converter unless Akir submits to him when he returns in several days.  Zed, the last Akira warrior, is old and nearly blind, and suggests they hire mercenaries to protect the planet.  Unable to go himself, Zed offers his ship, which has an artificial intelligence navigation and tactical computer named Nell, for the job if they can find a pilot. They recruit a young man named Shad, who sets off to find help, unaware Sador left a fighter behind to watch over the planet…….

There’s almost nothing more frustrating than watching a film you used to love for the first time in many years and thinking that bits are missing.  The mind sometimes plays tricks on you and you think you remember things that you actually didn’t.  It’s well known that when Rosemary’s Baby came out, many people were convinced they had seen the face of the devil child despite the fact that Roman Polanski avoided showing any such thing.  Battle Beyond The Stars, which is basically The Magnificent Seven [or The Seven Samurai] in space, was a film I hadn’t seen in at least fifteen years but remember enjoying, and not long ago turned up on UK TV in a great looking print.  Well, I still enjoyed it, but was convinced there were two scenes missing; one where Sybil Danning sits astride Richard Thomas as she tries to seduce him, and one where there is an off-screen rape.  I knew I wasn’t imagining it and though I have been unable to locate any information about different cuts of the film, I reckon it was similar to the UK cinema release which the BBFC’s website says was not cut for its ‘PG’ rating but I think must have been pre-cut by the distributors as it’s doubtful those scenes, as tame as they are, would have passed a ‘PG’ back then.

Even in cut form Battle Beyond The Stars is a fun romp that has more heart than all three Star Wars prequels and is certainly one of the best of the many productions inspired by George Lucas’s first trip to A Galaxy Far Far away in 1977 which included The Black Hole, TV’s Battleship Galactica and that hilarious Bad Movie Classic Starcrash, while other science fiction efforts like Flash Gordon, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien may not have been green lit if Star Wars hadn’t happened.  B-movie producer king Roger Corman, rarely one to miss an opportunity for a quick buck, actually came rather late to the party with Battle Beyond The Stars, which was knocked out three years after Star Wars [I’m sorry but I still call it Star Wars, not A New Hope or Episode 4].  Though it was made on a budget which would have barely been lunch money on Lucas’s movie, it was actually the most expensive production Corman oversaw, though he certainly recouped its cost, not only from its successful cinema release but by making a film three years later called Space Raiders in which most of the special effects footage was recycled from it.  It also reused James Horner’s rousing and exciting score, bits and pieces of which ended up in Corman’s Raptor in 2001 and maybe some other films too, though that won’t seem like anything new to some film music fans considering Horner is notorious for repeating himself often verbatim.

Horner is not the only big name who worked on this movie near the beginning of their career.  It was scripted by John Sayles and the special effects were done by James Cameron.  I expected to laugh at the effects when I began watching the film for the first time in many years, but actually they hold up pretty well.  Some of the sequences featuring spacecraft and lasers firing are just a notch down from Star Wars and these scenes only really miss the computer-assisted pans which gave Lucas’s space action scenes their fluidity.  As for the script, well, it makes no bones about being a remake or rip-off of The Magnificent Seven and even includes direct references to both it and The Seven Samurai, right down to Robert Vaughn playing basically the same character he had before.  My favourite of these is when two children ask Vaughn’s character Velt if he is a bad man. The dialogue is a decent variant on what was said in the original film and is as touching and honest, while of course in John Sturges’ film the scene involved Charles Bronson’s character, not Vaughn’s.

Folk expecting action every ten minutes may be a little disappointed by the first half of Battle Beyond The Stars, which bar the odd little skirmish consists mostly of our bland main ‘hero’ Chad going to various strange locales and recruiting the help his planet needs.  There’s not enough of a sense of threat at times, not helped by having two chief villainous henchmen played for laughs for most of the time.  The folk he finds though are a great and diverse bunch.  Aside from Vaughn, there’s George Peppard, prior to The A-Team but with a cigarette replacing his trademark cigar, as the Space Cowboy who is wonderfully laidback, gorgeous-movie queen Sybil Danning [whose costume kept coming off during production] as a Valkyrie, a reptilian alien called Cayman, and five white humanoid clones who share one consciousness called Nestor. All of these have decent character moments, and let’s not forget John Saxon on great hammy form as the evil Sador [one of those strange baddies who, instead of conquering, shows up to conveniently schedule his conquest a week from now in case his enemies want to mount some sort of defense], Sam Jaffe as a head on life support, and Nell, the ship’s computer with an attitude.

The film’s second half does deliver the action goods, though the space dogfights are a bit static and repeat too many of the same shots over and over again.  Despite the second hand story and copying, there are some inventive things in this film like a sonic weapon which causes people to bleed, while the design aspect is very strong indeed.  The spaceships range from the conventional to the very odd with Chad’s craft sporting what look like breasts [well, Corman had to get them in somewhere] and another ship consisting of huge crystals, while all the ships seem to have very different noises.  Some matte paintings with ships on alien landscapes are quite beautiful.  Sadly the film is very badly let down by Jimmy T. Murakami’s direction, which is very flat and TV-like.  Some scenes were possibly directed by Corman, and it seems to be that there were quite a few scenes cut out, as there are some awkward transitions and edits, though Corman was notorious for not wasting a penny.  One bit at the end was definitely cut out though due to poor effects work, showing some pacifists leaving Akir, feeling that their society has now become part of the violent universe.

The film has a slightly tougher edge than Star Wars and has occasional sexual elements [even in cut form], like a very funny dialogue about procreation between Chad and his girlfriend where he tells her that his race has two sexes and she replies with surprise: “only two”?  Despite this, there’s an appealing innocence about this picture which just sets out to entertain and certainly succeeded in entertaining me again after so many years.  I found myself rooting for this motley crew to prevail even as I started remembering who survived and who didn’t.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

About Dr Lenera 3059 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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