Sunday, April 27, 2014

1980 Week: Battle Beyond the Stars

          Roger Corman’s most successful attempt at riding the coattails of Star Wars (1977), this somewhat enjoyable space adventure represents an important juncture in several cinematic careers. It was the last of several projects that John Sayles wrote for Corman, because Sayles graduated to working for bigger producers in addition to writing and directing his own independent films. Perhaps more significantly, Battle Beyond the Stars was the first big FX job for James Cameron, who was just a handful of years away from directing his first proper feature, The Terminator (1984). Both men contributed strong elements to Battle Beyond the Stars, notably Sayles’ dry wit and Cameron’s visual ingenuity, but that shouldn’t give anyone the impression that Battle Beyond the Stars is a good movie. Quite to the contrary, it’s typical Corman junk, rushed and silly, but it has better production values than one might expect, and the combination of a familiar plot and a lively cast generate some interest.
          After all, the movie is a shameless sci-fi riff on The Magnificent Seven (1960), which in turn was a remake of the Japanese classic Seven Samurai (1954), so the underlying narrative is rock-solid even if the campy execution is not.
          Battle Beyond the Stars revolves around farmers who live on the planet Akir and are terrorized by an interstellar villain named Sador (John Saxon). The farmers send one of their own, naïve young Shad (Richard Thomas), into space so he can hire mercenaries. Eventually, Shad gathers a crew including Gelt (Robert Vaughn), an assassin hiding from outer-space authorities; Saint-Exmin (Sybil Danning), a Valkyrie seeking battlefield glory; Space Cowboy (George Peppard), an intergalactic trucker with a grudge against Sador; and others, including the predictable coterie of anthropomorphized robots. Hiring Magnificent Seven veteran Vaughn accentuates the connection to the earlier film, as does James Horner’s rousing score, which emulates the spirit of Elmer Bernstein’s famous Magnificent Seven music.
          As should be apparent by now, very little in Battle Beyond the Stars is even remotely original, and the movie’s recycled quality is as problematic as the episodic story structure. Making matters worse is the all-over-the-map acting. Peppard gives an amiable turn as the wisecracking antihero and Vaughn is suitably icy as the killer seeking redemption, but Danning is amateurish and Saxon operates on moustache-twirling autopilot. (In Danning’s defense, the voluptuous actress contributes some of the most spectacular cleavage ever seen outside of a Russ Meyer movie.) Even the effects are a mixed bag. While some design elements are interesting, Corman cuts far too many corners, so battle scenes that should be epic end up feeling anticlimactic. Plus, the movie falls victim to the usual sci-fi foible of too many goofy-sounding names and silly-looking aliens. Still, Battle Beyond the Stars has enough colorful elements to merit a casual viewing, especially for space-opera junkies.

Battle Beyond the Stars: FUNKY

1 comment:

Cindylover1969 said...

Given that one of the biggest criticisms of James Horner's career was his tendency to reuse compositions, it's appropriate that Corman recycled the music Horner wrote here in several later productions (like Space Raiders and Sorceress).