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Battle Beyond The Stars

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    Ian Jane
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  • Battle Beyond The Stars



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: 7/12/2011
    Director: Jimmy T. Murakami
    Cast: John Saxon, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, Richard Thomas, Sybil Danning
    Year: 1980
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    At the time the most expensive production Roger Corman had ever financed, what with a two million dollar budget and all, Battle Beyond The Stars starts off when the sinister Lord Sador (John Saxon) of the Malmori race appears to the people of the planet Ak'ir and gives them a quick heads up that he's basically going to enslave them and make them a part of his New Order. This doesn't bode well for the Ak'ir people, whose sole champion appears to be a young man named Shad (Richard Thomas), a meek an inexperienced pilot who heads off into space in a provocatively shaped space ship in search of some noble space warriors who might find it in their hearts to help his planet out. Sound familiar? It should, because this is basically The Seven Samurai in space.

    At any rate, Shad and his 2001/HAL-esque computerized in-ship computer, NELL, meet up with Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel) on a strange ship where her father builds androids. They convince her to run off and help their cause and before you know it, she and Shad are making doe eyes at one another. They interfere with a Malmori attack on a lone ship piloted by a strange old coot named Cowboy (George Peppard), and sure enough, he's on board too. Shad manages to talk a space mercenary named Gelt (Robert Vaughn - didn't he do this already in The Magnificent Seven?) into coming along, as well as an albino clone named Nestor, an alien named Cayman (Morgan Woodward), and a hot warrior woman named Saint Exmin (curvy blonde Sybil Danning in what looks like something GWAR might wear on stage) into joining the fight and once he's assembled his ragtag group of go-getters they go get Sador and his cronies in a series of low budget space battles done with some pretty cool miniatures and optical effects obviously inspired by Star Wars.

    Basically 'John-Boy Walton teams up with Hannibal from The A-Team, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a couple of chicks and aliens to stop John Saxon as Darth Vader' this movie is, by all standard cinematic criteria, quite ridiculous. That said, ridiculous doesn't have to mean bad and as dopey and derivative as the whole thing is, it makes for a pretty enjoyable time at the movies, particularly if you have some affection for miniature effects work and science fiction. There's an interesting array of talent both in front of and behind the camera at work here. James Cameron served as art director on the picture while editor Allan Holzman would go on to make Forbidden World a couple of years later before launching on a career in documentary filmmaking.

    Of course, a lot the cast members are all pretty much instantly recognizable to any self respecting B-movie fan or eighties TV junkie, so there's no need to really elaborate there but how cool is it to see John Saxon all decked out like the bad guy with a weird splotch on his face? And dig on Sybil Danning's foxy plastic warrior bikini duds - hot or what? Peppard basically plays a weird combination of Hannibal from The A-Team mixed with Han Solo while Vaughn, who excels at keeping his cool, makes for an effective if somewhat miscast space mercenary. As far as Thomas' leading performance goes, it's hard not to like the guy even if his character is very obviously modeled after Luke Skywalker (who, as some of us know, is a dweeb). On top of that we get some awesome low-tech latex make up effects, more awesome PEEEOOOH PEEEOOOH laser noises than you'll want to count, some aliens, an albino guy who clones himself, and pretty Darlanne Fluegel (who attentive readers will remember as the chick who gets naked in Friedkin's To Live And Die In L.A. and Carpenter's The Eyes Of Laura Mars). James Horner, who would win an Oscar for his score on Cameron's Titanic, provides the music for this one.

    So, low rent production or not, Battle Beyond The Stars is nothing if not entertaining. It keeps things kid friendly, obviously to get in on some of that Star Wars money, but throws in enough well played humor throughout its running time that you know you're not meant to take anything all too seriously. It moves at a good pace, its effects work is creative if obviously hampered by financial limitations, and given who worked on it and what they'd later accomplish, it's got some historical significance too.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Battle Beyond The Stars arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in an impressive looking AVC encoded 1.78.1 1080p high definition widescreen transfer that offers up very nice color reproduction and a pleasing level of detail without sacrificing the film's grain structure. There are no problems with noise reduction or digital scrubbing nor is there any edge enhancement to complain about. Some minor specks are present on the print, you'll probably notice this during the opening credits, but if you're not sitting there looking for them, you're probably not going to notice them. Detail is strong, particularly in close up shots, as is texture - you mean make out the latex on the masks that certain characters way and see seems in the plastic interiors of certain space ships - but that's all part of the experience.

    Audio options are offered up in two options, both in English: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and Dolby Digital 2.0, no alternate language or subtitle options are provided nor are there any closed captions. If you've got the hardware to handle it, the lossless option is the way to go here as it sounds noticeably better than its Dolby Digital counterpart. Lots of nice surround usage throughout the movie and a good solid low end when the movie calls for it - the scenes where the giant space ships fly into frame sound great, and the goofy laser blasts have a great bounce to them. The levels are good, the score has some nice power to it and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. It might not sound like Avatar, but for a film now over three decades old, Shout! Factory has done right with this remix.

    Extras are plentiful, starting off with an audio commentary featuring Production Manager Gale Anne Hurd carried over from the New Concorde DVD which goes into all manner of detail about this production and the people who worked on it. Interestingly enough, Hurd would go on to produce The Terminator, James Cameron served as the art director on this film. Producer Roger Corman joins Writer John Sayles for a second commentary, also courtesy of the previous DVD release, which is a bit more interesting than the first track as it does a fine job of detailing the pitfalls of low budget filmmaking and the intricacies of writing a sci-fi story meant to be put up on the big screen. Both tracks are worthwhile for fans of the film.

    New to this release is Space Opera On A Shoestring, a lengthy documentary from Red Shirt Pictures which covers the effects and technical side of the production. Here we're treated to interviews with Production Manager Aaron Lipstadt, Art Department guys Alec Gillis and Alex Hajdu, editors Allan Holzman and R.J. Kizer, Special Effects DOP Dennis Skotak, Miniature and Effects Designer Robert Skotak, make up guy Thom Shouse and Special Effects Editor Tony Randel. This well put together featurette goes into quite a bit of detail about the effects that are featured prominently and constantly throughout the film, though it's a shame that they couldn't get James Cameron on camera to talk about this one - but they do discuss the unusual shape of a certain space ship and there's some great behind the scenes stories and stills to enjoy here, including a few interesting bits about Cameron himself.

    Also exclusive to this new release is The Man Who Would Be Shad, an all-new interview with actor and leading man John-Boy Walton himself - Richard Thomas. Thomas is quite amiable and seemingly very happy to talk about his time spent on set. He's got some fun stories about his various co-stars, about working with the director and art department on the film, and about how he feels about this picture three decades after it was made. Also produced by Red Shirt Pictures, it's an interesting look back at this point in Thomas' career that's also done with a good sense of humor.

    Rounding out the extras is a trailer for the feature, a few commercials, a couple of radio spots, a still gallery, animated menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on the disc are presented in high definition.

    The Final Word:

    Shout! Factory continues their excellent work releasing Roger Corman's films in true special editions and their work on Battle Beyond The Stars is one of their best efforts yet. The transfer is excellent, the audio also very strong and the extras are both plentiful and pertinent, making for a very well rounded top notch release of an enjoyably goofy cult classic.


    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!























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