Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the latest Scream and Shout column. If you're new 'round these parts, Scream and Shout takes a detailed look at the Blu-Ray releases of Shout Factory and its horror arm Scream Factory.
This new installment was inspired in part by the recent release of James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. There has been a lot of talk about how Guardians recreates the tone and feeling of Star Wars. I don't particularly agree. Don't get me wrong, I love the movie, but it's a little less serious than Star Wars, which despite the crazy fantasy universe it created was grounded by an underpinning of spirituality. Kind of deep stuff in there... at least deep enough to spawn a real life recognized religion, even if Jedi has not one non-ironic member.
No, what Guardians reminds me of more than Star Wars is that rush of really fun, silly space fantasy films that were put into production trying to cash in on Star Wars' success. The Black Hole comes to mind, but there is another film that came to mind while watching Guardians and thankfully Shout put out a Blu-Ray of it, so I had an excuse to revisit it.
Ladies and gentlemen, let's talk about Battle Beyond the Stars.
What makes Battle Beyond the Stars work so well is just how much it wears its heart (and influences) on its sleeve. They give no shits about blatantly mashing up Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven and it's all the more charming for it. Hell, they even cast Robert Vaughn as his exact same character from Magnificent Seven.
Instead of hiding that fact and pretending to be their own, unique story they embrace the influence to the point that it adds an extra dimension of enjoyment for movie fans. If you know Magnificent Seven (and who doesn't, really?) you spot little details throughout the film that others might miss.
Richard Thomas plays the Luke Skywalker character, Shad, a young reluctant hero from a peaceful planet threatened by space's biggest bad guy, John Saxon. I mean, his character's name is Sador, but I'll still just call him John Saxon because John Saxon is John Saxon... John Saxon. Heh.
I may be a bit loopy right now, so I apologize for the above craziness. Let's see, where were we?
So Shad takes over the big-tittied ship co-piloted by an AI named Nell to recruit some protectors from across the galaxy. This ship is probably the most recognizable aspect of the movie. Designed and built by James Cameron before he be came the James Cameron, Nell is a marvel. Once again, the idea of a female space ship isn't half-assed. They just go for it.
As the idealistic youth travels the galaxy he ends up recruiting a rag-tag group of badass aliens to stand up to the biggest threat in the galaxy. The fighters include a scantily-clad Valkyrie warrior played kind of terribly by Sybil Danning, a seemingly villainous assassin whose semi-evil past has caught up with him (Robert Vaughn), a lizard man pirate whose race was wiped out by Sador, a silent race of heat-based bald aliens, a Borg hive-mind style race who are bored with life and sign up just for the new experience and an old space cowboy from Earth.
George Peppard plays that part and it's one of the most interesting ideas in the movie. Most of these films distance themselves from our reality, but not Battle Beyond the Stars. This isn't a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, this is the universe we know and inhabit. Peppard's Cowboy represents us amongst all these crazy aliens. He's a low key cowboy with a love of old Westerns and whiskey.
While I adore this movie there are two big flaws with it. One: Robert Vaughn's character is so damn good that it always disappoints me that he doesn't get more to do. His tale is one of redemption. He was a gun for hire, pretty much a bad guy that never cared about the fallout of actions until he found he couldn't show his face on any planet in the galaxy. He exiled himself and joins up in the fight against Sador for the promise of a home to call his own, a place to retire in peace.
Gelt is the most interesting character of the story by far and the one we get to know the least. Vaughn kills it in the little amount of screentime he has. I always wanted more from this character and this revisit underlined that slight disappointment in a big way.
The other thing that I realized on this viewing was just how much I don't like Shad's love interest Nanelia and that's almost wholly on Darlanne Fluegel's off-key performance. Her line delivery is so bad, but the idea of the character is good enough to make it bearable on the whole.
All that being said, the movie's so much fun and is chock full of charm so my little nitpicks never fully distract me from enjoying it every time I visit it.
Let's also acknowledge James Horner's great score. It's an early score from the man and you can hear a lot of Aliens and Wrath of Khan in there.
THE SPECIAL FEATURES:
There are two commentaries on the disc, one by John Sayles and Roger Corman and the other by Gale Anne Hurd, who was production manager and Corman's assistant on this flick and later went on to produce Terminator and a ton of other amazing things.
The Sayles and Corman commentary is the better of the two. They make no bones about their intent to cash in on Star Wars, but seem proud with the results, happily pointing out every time a series of egg cartons make a wall look “futurey.” If you've ever heard Corman speak you know that he's a joy to listen to. Smart, entertaining and always full of helpful advice for young filmmakers.
Hurd is the only one on her commentary track, which doesn't do her any favors. She has so much time to fill and there's no opportunity for a back and forth that sometimes it comes off as a bit self-aggrandizing. It's not her fault, but there's only so many times she can fill space by talking about how she produced The Terminator before it begins to be a little ridiculous. For casual fans of the movie this track isn't necessary, but if you're in love with the flick she does have some good stories from her rather unique perspective on this job, including one about her and Cameron saving the life of a crew member whose femoral artery was pierced in a freak construction accident on the film. No joke!
There's a bunch of smaller featurettes included as well, including Richard Thomas in is own, looking back at the film. He's not ashamed of the movie and is in good spirits throughout his interview, fondly recalling working with George Peppard and Robert Vaughn.
The other featurettes won't blow your hair back, but do include interviews with many of the behind the scenes players, mostly talking about how ambitious this movie was to do and how crazy it was that James Cameron was their boss.
I never saw the previous DVD release of this title (last time I watched it was on VHS, believe it or not), but I can tell you the new anamorphic widescreen transfer on this is once again a knockout from Shout.
I hope that the success of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy gets a few more eyeballs on this title. Battle Beyond the Stars plays in the same sandbox, albeit in an ultra-cheap Roger Corman way. The Shout release is solid on features and has a fantastic transfer, so if you're into the title at all this one is a no-brainer purchase.
THE NEXT TITLE WILL BE...
One of my favorites! Very much looking forward to diving into this disc!
Previous Scream and Shout Columns: