In 1980, Roger Corman directed Battle Beyond the Stars, a film he would refer to as a mix of Star Wars and The Seven Samurai. This sci-fi adventure, with its quirky humor and low budget production, arrives on Blu-ray in a 30th Anniversary Edition next month from Shout!.
The planet Akira is in grave danger. An evil conqueror, Sador (John Saxon) has arrived in Sador's orbit and intends to take over the planet, and he would just as soon do so by force than by surrender. The Akira people are peaceful, not to mention woefully outnumbered and out gunned. Enter Shad (Richard Thomas), a young man of Akira who wants to take the fight to Sador and his cyborg-like army known as the Malmori. He has that young innocence about him like Luke Skywalker does at the start of Episode IV. This is but one of many Star Wars similarities in the film. So Shad takes flight in a trusty sentient ship that his ancestors had previously used. He decides to see the help of Dr. Hephaestus (Sam Jaffe).
Shad ends up running away with the doctor's daughter, Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel). She is an experienced technician and has never been around humans much at all, only androids. A vague love interest, that is the source of some comedy, is shared between the two. But these two alone are not nearly enough to battle Sador. One by one, Shad encounters and convinces a variety of different entities to join him. These include Space Cowboy (George Peppard) who will remind you of Han Solo. Cowboy is funny; I laughed as much at him as with him, if not more so. I mean, the guy wears a scotch dispenser on his belt, which can also drop ice cubes.
Robert Vaughn, who plays Gelt, is introduced not long after Cowboy. Wealthy beyond imagination, Gelt just wants a place to hide and a good meal. He's got money, but not happiness -- he makes a deal with Shad to get those things in exchange for helping fight Sador. Sybil Danning stars as Saint-Exmin, a bizarre Valkyrie character that looks like something out of a comic book set in a quasi-viking era. The most elaborate costume though, is that of Cayman (Morgan Woodward), who looks like Bossk. Nestor, a group of five beings with a shared mind, also join Shad's cause, for more noble reasons than Cayman, who has a vendetta against Sador.
A good portion of this movie is, understandably, about assembling this rag tag group of mercenaries and getting them prepared for the battle with Sador. Along the way, there are some character building moments, such as with the relationship between Shad and Nanelia, but these are kept short and the pacing of the movie remains pretty much steadfast throughout. While you may cringe at some of the script or the effects, I thought Battle Beyond the Stars had just enough charm to keep me going. I was curious to see what shenanigans Cowboy was going to do next, and well, I'm a little partial to old sci-fi stuff anyway.
Ultimately, while low budget, it's not really low quality. There was a notable amount of heart and effort put into the production and it shows. It's a fun movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. As long as you don't either, it's enjoyable, at least once over.
Taking Flight On Blu-ray
Battle Beyond the Stars arrives on Blu-ray as a 30th Anniversary Special Edition. The single disc release contains the film and a variety of extra features. The presentation quality is great; this is a new anamorphic widescreen transfer (1:85:1) and that translated nicely onto my screen. The image quality is technically sound and very clear. A DTS 5.1 Master Audio track does a good job of capturing the dialogue and action, too.
Shout! packed in a lot of extra features. They include:
-Audio Commentary with Writer John Sayles and Roger Corman
-Audio Commentary with Production Manager Gale Anne Hurd
-The Man Who Would Be Shad (15m21s, HD) - This is a new (I'm not for sure how new exactly) interview with Richard Thomas, who played Shad. It's a candid look back.
-Space Opera On A Shoestring (33m, HD) - This feature is primarily about the special effects used in the movie and the technological hurdles of getting it done. Several people close to the movie, including Alec Gillis, Aaron Lipstadt, Allan Holzman, and Dennis Skotak offer their thoughts.
-Production Stills - A gallery of over sixty high quality still images from production.
-Trailer (SD, 2.5m)
-Radio Spot (32s)
-Stills - Another set of forty or so still images related to the movie.
-Posters - A variety (about twenty) posters promoting the movie from around the world.
It's too bad more prominent films do not feature this much content for an anniversary edition, but fans of Battle will surely appreciated the effort put in here.
To the summary...