Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Are you a member of the Cult?: Battle Beyond The Stars (New World Pictures/Roger Corman, 1980)

This seminal cult classic was inspired by Seven Samurai. Directed by Akira Kurasawa in the early 50's, Seven Samurai told the story of a group of villagers who elisted the help of the said seven to fight off a gang of bandits, intent of looting the town every so often. Long, awesome and full of fighting, UA decided to do a Westernised version in the early 60's, called The Magnificent Seven. Starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Robert Vaughn, it told the same story, but transplanted the setting from fuedal Japan, to the wild west, and was a bloody good film, with Charles Bronson as another of the seven (who starred with Coburn and McQueen a few years later in The Great Escape, also a classic). Fast forward a few more years, to 1980. Roger Corman has just made Pirhanna, and was looking for another project. Along comes John Sayles with his story entitled 'Battle Beyond The Stars', which was modelled after the Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven, but this time, the setting was Space. The village was on another planet called Akir (named after the Seven Samurai's acclaimed director). And the end product was a movie that launched a certain directors future career.
If that doesn't look like genitalia, then I don't know what does!
The peaceful planet of Akir becomes the target of a ruthless Malmori called Sador (John Saxon), who wants the planet to be his colony for his crew of genetic disfigurations (people who have had their faces disfigured by dramatic amounts of surgery. Sador himself keeps himself young by transplanting new body parts to replace his own). After slaughtering some of the people as 'a demonstration of my power', he gives them an ultimatum of Seven days to subject to his control. A young boy named Shad (Richard Thomas in his Walton days) takes matters into his own hands by setting off in an old Corsair named Nell, to look for a group of Mercenaries to help fend off Sador and save Akir. The motley crew of Mercs consists of Cowboy (George Peppard), who has a huge collection of old westerns; Gelt (Robert Vaughn recreating his role from The Magnificent Seven), who has his own demons to face; Saint Exmin of the Valkyrie (Sybil Danning), who tries to prove herself; Nestor (Earl Boen), who is actually 4 clones and a 5th because they always carry a spare; Cayman of the Lambda Zone (Morgan Woodward), a Lazuli who's race has been virtually wiped out by Sador; and Nanilia (Darlanne Fluegal), who's father wanted Shad to remain on his station because his planet is doomed anyway. With these six (with Shad being the seventh), they return to Akir to take on Sador, and save his planet.
Apparently, 4 clones isn't enough. They always carry a spare. Just in case.
It might be another remake, but Battle Beyond The Stars has a few unigue things to make it fresh: one of the seven is one of the villagers, instead of actually hiring seven warriors; the guy incharge of the models is James Cameron (yes, THAT James Cameron), who attention to detail was so great, he was made head of Art Department, and two of the seven were women, one of which becomes Shad's love interest. One thing that does stand out is that the special effects do hold up to a certain degree even today. It does show that Cameron did, and still does, have an eye for detail. They still look outstanding. Saying that, the Corsair does look like Female genitalia!
The second poster. Used on the German dvd. Just as cool as the original.

The script does seem cheesy in contrast to todays scripts, but that just adds to it's charm. But that was part and parcel of movies back in the 80's, and to think that the movie was made with a small budget (most of which went to George Peppard and Robert Vaughn). Still, it did make $11 million in it's first weekend, and thats something not to be sniffed at. It also had James Horner's awesome soundtrack to accompany it which, as with Star Trek II, has Horner's trademark theme running through it, and added punch to the film at it's key points.

A film that has attained it's cult status, along with Flash Gordon, deservedly, and wears it on it's chest proudly. Like a birthday boy badge. Only it doesn't flash. And isn't crap. And doesn't sing happy birthday at the wrong moment.

1 comment:

  1. jsw you have stumbled upon a very poignant memory of mine for this was the first movie I saw at the cinema! Have many great memories - the ultra cool robert vaughan, sybil danning's breasts, hannibal from the A-team, sybil danning's breasts, the cool spaceships. Let's be frank thought the film is a bit naff but hugely enjoyable nonetheless.