After Star Wars, in 1977, my little kid brain couldn’t get enough of science of fiction movies. I would be constantly flipping through the channels looking for something that took me to another galaxy that was far, far away. In 1980, Battle Beyond the Stars landed. This was not a movie I saw in the theaters. No, I saw Roger Corman’s sci-fi Magnificent Seven on cable. This film was not the all encompassing epic that Star Wars was. Yet, for those brief few hours I was sucked away on another adventure. I had no idea who George Peppard was. Nor did I know that Robert Vaughn was playing the exact same character from the Magnificent Seven. Let alone know that the future King of the World, James Cameron, worked on this movie. It was just great sci-fi fun. Today Shout! Factory is releasing Battle Beyond the Stars the 30th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray and DVD. I took the gamble and risked my fun childhood memories on this release, knowing full well you can’t go home again.
The things I do remember about Battle Beyond the Stars is how menacing the bad guy, Sador (John Saxon) was and that John-Boy from The Waltons, Richard Thomas, played the hero Shad. There were lots of crazy aliens and tons of space battles. All of this held true except for John Saxon’s villain. I remember a presence, a menace, a bad guy. Instead, it barely felt as if Saxon was there at all. Thankfully, there were tons of other treats that this, now, film aficionado could appreciate.
The film takes little to no time establishing the peril and mission that Shad is up against. A mere nine minutes into the film and Shad boards his people’s only starship, NELL (voiced Lynn Carlin), and he is off in search of help. The film is the Magnificent Seven and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, though not quite as long as either. Shad runs into all sorts of crazy characters; each wanting or needing something that Shad can exchange for their help. One longs for a great adventure, the other seeks revenge, and one just needs a place to hide. Shad’s collection of heroes is unique and a great “what if” Luke Skywalker picked 5 other guys to come along for the adventure.
There are still plenty of other great moments in this almost forgotten Roger Corman classic. Dr. Hephaestus is played by Gunga Din himself Sam Jaffe, who you may also remember as Professor Barnhardt in The Day the Earth Stood Still. The score of this film is by none other than James Horner. If you are even the slightest fan of his work you’ll hear pieces of music that ended up in both Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan and Krull. Sybil Danning brings fourth plenty of sci-fi eye candy as the warrior like Saint-Exmin. Though if you really need that final one two punch, all the special effects in this film are done with miniatures. Yes, that real world out of this world science fiction magic is ever present in Battle Beyond the Stars. It does look a tad cheesy from time to time but compared to Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones it makes Battle Beyond the Stars look like a New Hope.
There are two documentaries on this Blu-ray worth catching if you are both an old fan or a soon to be one. “The Man Who Would be Shad” is a personal interview with Richard Thomas and his experiences making the film. He doesn’t hold anything back and laughs at his own misconceptions of what the film would be, in terms of production quality. The documentary “Space Opera on a Shoestring” is 33 minutes of production and James Cameron stories from the crew. There are also two different producers and writer commentary tracks for even more Battle Beyond the Stars fun.
Shout! Factory is has brought many of Roger Corman’s films to Blu-ray and DVD in the past few years. This one, for this film aficionado and little kid at heart, was the long awaited crown jewel. Thankfully, it not only holds up over time but shines even brighter than most sci-fi films of today.
ACTION / ADVENTURE / KUNG FU/ THRILLERS / WESTERNS
Robert Trate writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Robert also participates in a pod cast that reviews movies, comics and celebrates all things geek. Check it out at You’ve Got Geek on You.com. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings and criticisms.
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