Movie Links #3 – Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

January 14, 2012

I’ve recently taken up the challenge (again) to watch a new movie every now and then (free time allowing) that I’ve not seen before and then blog about it. One extra part of the challenge is to link each film to the next via a shared cast or crew member.

You may remember, the last film I watched in my “movie links” challenge was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I really liked George Peppard in this, he gave a really good performance and it’s always good to see him in a more “normal” role than as the exuberant Hannibal, leader of the A Team.

Having enjoyed seeing Hannibal in Breakfast at Tiffany’s I decided to see another of his films because I had only ever seen (and loved) him before in the A Team. It only took me a quick glance at IMDB to decide on my next film – Battle Beyond the Stars.

Battle Beyond the Stars, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, is probably best (and lazily) described as Star Wars Light. Which is fairly accurate. There are a lot of stars and it is indeed light. Not sure about wars though. I guess another equally lazy way to describe this film is as The Magnificent Seven in space.

This is the story of a young man called Shad, played by the Waltons’ superstar Richard Thomas (the original, and ONLY John-Boy) embarking on a journey into space to track down a team of mercenaries to help defend his planet against a big bully with a starship. It wasn’t completely clear to me what Sador (the big bully) wanted to do with the planet. He has what is called a “stellar manipulator” (no, not the Hand of Omega) which can turn planets into suns or somesuch. He threatens to use it on the people of planet Akir (a nice nod to Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa) if they don’t submit to him when he comes back in three days.

Not a lot of this really makes sense. If he’s going to take the planet then just do it now. Don’t say “I’ll be back in 3 days, which should give you enough time to prepare a defence.” So already I don’t feel too invested in the film because John-Boy’s people are quite boring, and Sador has no real interesting motivation.

It’s really hard to not draw comparisons with Star Wars. Within the first 10 minutes it all feels very New Hopey with Shad (John-Boy)/Luke Skywalker volunteering to leave the planet to go seek some wise old android maker called Doctor Hephaestu. The dialogue ”Who will find them?” Luke/Shad: “I will” Some fuddy-duddy: “You? You’re a boy!” did seem very Luke Skywalker farm boy to me. One of the funniest scenes of the film involved Doctor Hephaestu issuing orders to one of his androids, who keeps turning to leave, only for Hephaestu to continue with his boring tales. After bizarrely trying to get Shad to stay on Hephaestu’s space station to mate with his daughter, Shad escapes, with the guys daughter following closely behind.

So Shad (quite often sounded like people were calling him Shag) rather randomly manages to round up a group of mercenaries. I wasn’t really keeping track but I assume there are 7 of them. We had a space cowboy (no, not Milo Clancey), a weird group of aliens sharing one mind called the Nestor, an assassin who can’t show his face anywhere due to having had such a successful career,  a woman from the race of Wardrobe Malfunctions and a reptile humanoid slave trader. So that’s the Magnificent Six. Seven if you include John-Boy himself, I guess.

Obviously you all want me to talk about George Peppard. He’s the space cowboy. Giving pretty much what you would expect from his performance. He is a space cowboy from Earth, no less. As far as I could tell he was the only person from Earth in the film and grounds the film in our universe/galaxy/whatever. Unlike Star Wars, which was in a galaxy far, far away, this one can’t be too far from Earth. It’s hard not to enjoy Peppard’s character here. He even has a whiskey dispenser on his belt! It makes Batman’s utility belt pretty obsolete in my books.

The other characters were all quite fun and charming in their own ways. I really liked the idea of the Nestor though it’s probably quite a cliché to have a hive-mind like race. It just seemed nice to have some people joining the fight simply because they are bored of their current existence. The costume department did a very good job of keeping Sybil Danning (as Saint-Exmin) in her outfit, I think that’s sci-fi at its best. Robert Vaughn was also cool, although to see him seeking to work for the Akira’s because all they could offer him was a meal and somewhere to sleep kind of helps underline how absurd Sador’s desire to take over their planet is.

The most disappointing part of the film were the space battles. It actually seems unfair to compare Battle Beyond the Stars to Star Wars considering that Star Wars had an $11,000,000 budget and this only $2,000,000 (and apparently most of that went on employing the services of Robert Vaughn and George Peppard). This feels far closer to the likes of Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers than to Star Wars. Sadly the space battles were very dull. In Star Wars you had all the pilots constantly communicating with each other which helped portray the feeling of the immediacy of the danger. In Battle Beyond the Stars however there were whole sequences that were practically silent and it became very hard to work out what was going on. It’s a shame really, considering that my main criticism of is something that could easily be solved without an increase in the effects budget. Also I could never really tell which ship belonged to whom. Except of course John-Boy’s ship “Nell” – the ship with boobs that spoke like a sassy black lady.

Verdict: 2.5/5

I think I enjoyed the film. Maybe my time reflecting on it for this review has made me like it a little more. It was quite frankly poor, though. Fun, but poor too. The Doctor Who fan boy in me makes me wonder if there is an extended universe, which is slightly worrying. The best thing about Battle Beyond the Stars was the definitely the cast – very enjoyable from that respect. Seeing John-Boy in space was a pleasure.

For my next film I’d like to go for another Richard Thomas film, because I loved him in The Waltons when I was a kid, it would be nice to see him in something else. I’m also considering going for Robert Vaughn in The Magnificent Seven but I’m really not a fan of westerns.

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