Battle Beyond the Stars (Blu-ray)


A battle beyond time…beyond space.

Sador (John Saxon, Enter the Dragon) is the most feared despot in the galaxy. He enjoys tooling around in his gigantic warship and threatening defenseless civilizations. The targets this go-round: a bunch of hippies living on a resource-rich planet who refuse to fight because they suck at it. They send Shad (Richard Thomas, The Waltons), an enterprising young lad, out into space to recruit a force of mercenaries to defend their homeland.

He comes back with a motley crew, including an anachronistic space cowboy (George Peppard, The A-Team), a bosomy female warrior (Sybil Danning, Blood Feast), an intergalactic fugitive (Robert Vaughn, Hustle) and a lizard freak. A laser firefight ensues. And then a migraine.

Set aside the Roger Corman nostalgia and the attractive oddity of these Star Wars cash-ins, and an unappetizing fact reveals itself: unless these movies are so ridiculous you can laugh at them, (e.g. Starcrash), a moronic experience awaits.

Battle Beyond the Stars is flashy, laden with stylistic dated special effects and noisy as hell. There are slow, panning shots of giant spaceship models cruising by. There are robots that look like regular human men from the late ’70s, but we know they’re robots because they talk…like…this…in…a…robot…voice. And of course there are laser blasts aplenty, especially when Sador and his cronies finally descend upon their prey.

Also, it stinks.

I don’t know if there is a rabid fan base for Battle Beyond the Stars — it’s a safe bet that anything these days has a rabid fan base, probably even rabies — so if you are someone who has framed photos of Sybil Danning adorned in one of those outfits that pushes her substantial breasts so far up her chest they’re nearly parallel to her eyebrows, I apologize. I found this Corman offering — or “cult classic” as the studio likes to splash on the cover — completely disposable.

As an academic examination of the advancement of visual effects, there might be some value, but good luck sitting through all 104 minutes without wondering if there might be something more interesting on the Food Network. Richard Thomas’s Shad is a one-dimensional stiff who’s obviously built to evoke that farmboy idealism of a certain Skywalker, but jeez all I see is John-Boy in a speedsuit. John Saxon is barely in it, so it’s difficult to establish him as a fearsome villain rather than an amorphous threat. Everyone else is either cartoonish (Peppard’s cowboy, who by the way is named “Cowboy”), confusing (Robert Vaughn talks a good game about being a deadly opponent but goes down like a punk when the fight occurs), or delightfully slutty.

What’s worse, Battle Beyond the Stars is so self-serious it’s not funny to laugh with, and so tedious it’s not funny to laugh at. Thus, it’s stuck in no-man’s land (or no-man’s space), orbiting around all of its over-produced, undercooked glory.

Great Blu-ray, though. Shout! Factory delivers a beautiful 1.85:1 1080p transfer that more than holds up against the age of the film. Effects are crisp and the colors (of which there are many) pop. I wasn’t a fan of the substance, but the ostentatious style, supported by a proper HD treatment, is memorable. A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio pumps out the sound adequately, the action scenes receiving the biggest benefit from the improved aural quality. Extras: two commentary tracks from Corman and writer John Sayles and production manager Gale Ann Hurd, a new interview with Richard Thomas, an extended featurette on the visual effects, and promotional spots.

Another great effort from a studio that loves this stuff, but Battle Beyond the Stars is a weird, archaic bore.

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