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Savant Short Review:

Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the Stars
New Concorde
1980 / Color / 1:85 letterboxed 4:3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 / 103 m.
Starring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon, George Peppard,
Cinematography Daniel Lacambre
Art direction James Cameron, Charles Breen
Film Editor Allan Holzman, R. J. Kizer
Original Music James Horner
Writing credits John Sayles, from a story by Sayles and Anne Dyer
Produced by Roger Corman and Ed Carlin
Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

One of the more successful of the Star Wars ripoff productions, Battle Beyond the Stars sees Roger Corman back in typical form, making a commercial product with a barely disguised contempt for his audience, in this case almost exclusively small children.  The script is a quickie gloss on The Magnificent Seven that John Sayles must have scribbled off overnight to get out of a contract commitment or something.  Neophyte Akirian Richard Thomas recruits a handful of space warriors to defend his planet from some utterly colorless villains led by John Saxon.  In cameos that at most required a day or two of work by each, the stars say their few lines and make faces for closeups at the controls of various spacecraft, that can later be intercut with special effects.  Thomas is reasonably engaging, Vaughn replays a nothing riff from his Mag 7 character, and Peppard charms his way through his awful dialogue.  Also seen briefly are Sam Jaffe, (or at least his head), Jeff Corey, and the only even momentarily fun character, an over-the-top amazonian warrior played by Sybil Danning.  The whole enterprise is, as they say, for undiscerning kids.

For a few moments we have some inventiveness with a race of albinos who have a common consciousness and a telepathic connection: they let one of their number be voluntarily captured in a nice inversion on a torture scene.  Otherwise, it's all actors pretending to shoot ray guns, followed by barely- related shots of animated rays zip-zapping about.

 For all Corman's boasting that this is his most expensive production, it looks horribly cheap and tacky.  There's a randomness to the cutting and a deadening sameness to the outerspace effects shots.  There are a lot of them.  The quality never goes below a certain level, but it is obvious that people like James Cameron are making the most of their first chance at screen work, while getting zilch in the way of support from their producer.  The model work and photography of the ships is rather good (Corman would recycle it as stock footage for a number of subsequent films), but the spaceship designs are sub-par Star Wars rejects.  Thomas's ship looks like a cross between a hammerhead shark and a scotch tape dispenser, but with breasts.  Or are they testicles?  Go figure.

James Horner's music is one definite asset, playing it safe yet proving that he had what it takes to do fullscale symphonic scores.  In the absence of story or even editing structure, it's the music that gives the film what cohesion it has.  What Battle Beyond the Stars best illustrates is Corman's typical modus operandi for the last thirty years - hire ambitious unproven people, give them far less than the bare minimum to accomplish their jobs, and let them make up the difference.  Savant doesn't buy the 'great encourager of new talent' story: for every James Cameron or Gale Anne Hurd, there are 200 Corman hopefuls who were exploited, plain and simple.  Savant's admiration for Corman is for his work as a director.

New Concorde's transfer is on the dark side but adequate; there's a lot of dirt and negative damage, some of which appears to be built into the opticals.  There are twin commentaries by writer Sayles and production manager Gale Anne Hurd.  Both commentaries are fascinating.  Hurd and Sayles are enthusiastic about the movie and talk openly about the business and the opportunity Battle represented for them.  Jolly Roger Corman joins Sayles and together they visit all kinds of subjects, movies and people related to this movie and others.  Corman has recently recorded commentaries for a number of MGM-owned pictures; it'll be interesting to see if he's this effusive when his talk is promoting someone else's product!

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Battle Beyond the Stars rates:
Movie: fair
Video: fair
Sound: good
Supplements: twin commentaries, production stills, trailer
Packaging: Alpha case
Reviewed: April 8, 2001

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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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