Sunday, 19 April 2015

Bargain beyond the Stars

Some claim that Star Wars got its blend of genres exactly right - but what would the result have been with half the money and twice the ingredients to mix?

This post is synced with:
Cayman of the Lambda Zone:
Space Cowboy:

The legendary Roger Corman was responsible for classy and opulent Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, and also some of the schlockiest exploitation cinema ever produced by AIP studios.  So when he jumped on the Star Wars band wagon (a little belatedly) back in 1981 with Battle Beyond the Stars, some wondered which result we were going to get.

Looking back now, I'd conclude the answer is both. A science fiction adaptation of the Seven Samurai/ Magnificent 7 is an obvious but sure-fire concept which would be far more difficult to fail with than extract fun from. Getting composer James Horner to bring one of his back-up Star Trek movie themes with him certainly doesn't hurt, and neither did employing someone called James Cameron to direct the rather brilliant miniature effects (I wonder whatever became of him?) Bringing Robert Vaughn in to reprise his performance from the Magnificent 7, and Sam Jaffe for a cameo also adds lustre.

One of Battle Beyond the Star's more subtle homages.
So much for the aspirations towards worthy artistic endeavour - now for the cheese board:
When George Lucas took almost every staple of the fantasy and pulp adventure genre for Star Wars, some were surprised that he totally ignored a critical element. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Alex Raymond brought us many a scantily clad space heroine - George gave us a snitty tomboy clad from neck to ankle in a virginal white cassock.

Ride of The Valkyries - St Exmin racks up another kill
Roger Corman bless him, was having none of this and brought us a Teutonic Goddess in the unforgettable shape of Sybil Danning as St Exmin - showing us that, contrary to popular opinion, apparently it isn't very cold in space. The shock waves from her devastating impact upon our then-developing libidos can still be felt today. There's a joy to watching Danning so clearly aware of exactly what she is bringing to the mix and gleefully working it for all she's worth.

Sorry?  I haven't seen anything until I've seen a Valkyrie do what..?!
Moving on, when Corman did adhere to the Star Wars formula he came somewhat unstuck.  Luke Skywalker was a farm boy, wasn't he?  Well lets get a 'real' one for our film: John-Boy Walton! Han Solo was kind of a space cowboy - lets call our one...ummm... 'Space Cowboy'. That Force pseudo-mysticism seemed to go down well - lets make our's even more incomprehensible - and have a xylophone which causes landslides!

George Peppard brings flossing to the peoples of the galaxy
Battle Beyond the Stars is an oddly schizophrenic film: In the space of seconds it moves from a wonderful performance or beautifully shot miniature effect, to a Sid and Marty Kroft set with drapery sale costumes.  Director Jimmy Murakami can inject real excitement into a battle scene, but then seem to deliberately work against the intent of a light exchange between characters or comedy relief sequence.

Gestalt being Nestor enjoys a hotdog in one of the film's cleverer scenes.
But is it fun?  Hell yes.  Dodgy main villain Sador only wanted to live forever - but against all odds this film just might.

"Lazuliii!!" - We used to shrill Cayman of the Lambda zone's battle cry
when plunging from the high board of our town pool.
No-one we knew wore a St Exmin inspired bathing suit, though.

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