I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Battle Beyond the Stars

tn_battlebeyondFuck a star war – what about a battle beyond the stars? I know a battle is smaller than a war, it is only one of the units that makes up a part of a war, but maybe that’s better. More intimate. More focused. And then it’s beyond the stars instead of within them, as a mere star war is. Beyond is better. This battle has transcended the fucking stars.

Admittedly, it doesn’t seem like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS takes place further away from here than any of the STAR WARSes. In fact, it is for sure closer, because people have heard of the planet Earth, and one guy is from there. His name is Cowboy, but not the pioneering rapper from the Furious Five who coined the term “hip hop.” He’s actually George Peppard a couple years before The A-Team and he wears a cowboy hat, plaid shirt and insulated silver space pants. He always shows off that he likes westerns and exotic Earth liquor. Obviously he’s the Han Solo character, and he’s entertaining, but most of his scenes are alone in his ship, so there’s a Chewbacca-sized hole next to him.

Coming three years after STAR WARS this was Roger Corman’s attempt at a knockoff, and unlike most of the other posers he was smart enough to take a look at Lucas’s influences and model the story after samurai movies – in this case SEVEN SAMURAI. Of course, this doesn’t hold a candle to either STAR WARS or SEVEN SAMURAI in my opinion. In fact it is a pretty bad movie. But it’s interesting. It’s less remembered for its story and characters than for its trivia-ready credits: John Sayles wrote the screenplay (it came out the same year as his directorial debut RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7), James Cameron did some of the effects (the year before his directorial debut, PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING), the late James Horner did the exciting score (six years before working with Cameron on ALIENS), all of which contribute to it being a little better than you might expect.

mp_battlebeyondThe title is partly accurate. It is in fact a smaller conflict than STAR WARS. It’s about the fate of Akir (homage), a planet of bland, passive farmers facing an ultimatum from the Zod-like planetary conqueror Sador, played by ENTER THE DRAGON‘s John Saxon with facepaint and robes added to his customary manly combover. Basically he pulls a The Humungus, he roars in with a bunch of freaky looking mutant thugs and threatens everybody and then basically says well anyway think about it guys I’ll be back later and if you don’t submit it’s curtains for you motherfuckers. The unlikely hero who is the only one who wants to fight back is Shad (Richard Thomas from The Waltons). The planet’s last guy who knew how to kill people is old and can barely see so he loans his ship to this dumb kid to defy the planet’s deeply held philosophy of non-violence by flying into space to recruit a crew of mercenaries to defend them.

Like Luke Skywalker before him, Shad is kind of a whiny, naive kid eager to prove his manhood, but in my opinion  he’s way, way less likable. All he really does is a few laser dogfights aided by his ship’s talking computer Nell (Lynn Carlin, also from The Waltons), but he acts so fuckin serious about it. The part where he really lost my sympathy is when he rejected help from the Valkyrie St. Exmin (Sybil Danning). She proves her skills by out-maneuvering him and then he turns down her help, insults her ship and condescends to her way of life. She follows and helps anyway even though he clearly doesn’t deserve the time of day from her, and still the motherfucker lectures her about how this is serious and he’s lost people in this war. What a sexist prick. If he ever apologized to her for being a dick and totally wrong for the whole movie I don’t remember it, so I must not have accepted it.

He obviously prefers a more passive girl, because he wasn’t so put off by Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel, EYES OF LAURA MARS, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., SCANNER COP, DARKMAN III), the girl on the android repair space station whose father tried to hook her up with him like a fuckin horse breeder. He doesn’t go for it though and she ends up helping him on his mission.

Luckily Sayles puts a bunch of enjoyable ideas in here. I like the scene where Shad makes an offer to the legendary killer Gelt (Robert Vaughn). Gelt explains how much money he has and Shad apologizes for wasting his time, but he explains that no, the money doesn’t matter, he’s such a pariah for all the killing he’s done, just the offer of shelter is a good deal for him. And then he has to fly along with them anonymously.

Another good one is the scene where his ship gets damaged and doesn’t remember who she is, is confused why her original owner isn’t there. It’s actually a little sad.

As far as STAR WARS ripoffs go this does have alot to offer. There’s some lizard men and mutant guys and stuff, lots of different types of armor, a good exciting adventure score, and outstanding space ship miniatures. On the other hand, it feels like it’s trying to follow the STAR WARS lead while being stuck in a more campy, stage-bound type of sci-fi from an earlier era. Lots of sets of caverns, all white backgrounds, magic crystals and all that type of bullshit. There are just too many boring people in robes and silver jumpsuits and shit. The one creation that’s most surprising in a post-STAR WARS movie is Nestor, the three beings who share one brain. They’re dudes in robes and white facepaint with a third eye painted on their heads. And are we not supposed to notice the line where their faces meet their fake oversized brains? I don’t think it’s just ’cause I watched it on Blu-Ray, I feel like this is pretty noticeable.

Those guys are way too corny for 1980, but they do get a good part where a mad scientist on Sador’s payroll grafts one of their arms onto him to replace the one he’s missing. But the Nestor brothers are able to control it and make him try to strangle himself.

There’s this romantic notion that’s very popular among movie fans now that “old school” and “practical” is always better. And overall I like this attitude, but also I feel like people don’t always know what they’re talking about when they say it. STAR WARS is what they’re talking about for “practical effects,” but of course at the time it was very much new school. They blew everybody away with all new effects technology. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is a great illustration of how important those cutting edge advancements were, because this model work seems like it’s as good as STAR WARS’s as far as building detailed ships, but it’s always the same straight on shots of them. They didn’t have the motion control camera technology that Industrial Light and/or Magic had to animate the models while the camera moves around them. And that really makes these space battles seem stiff and dull and lacking in energy by comparison.

His ship kinda looks like it has boobs though, and they don’t have that in STAR WARS. That might keep some people interested I guess. I don’t know.

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is better as a curiosity than an actual movie, but I like curiosities. You gotta respect a blatant ripoff that has this much effort and talent put into it.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, July 6th, 2015 at 11:34 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

41 Responses to “Battle Beyond the Stars”

  1. Thank you for noticing – I feel less perverse now for looking at that poster and seeing mechaboobs.

    Never seen BBTS, but sounds tempting, because I get a kick out of another “Star Wars” wannabe, the dumb and lovable Italian “Star Crash”.

  2. “It’s curtains for you motherfuckers” is immediately going into my daily use.

  3. Damn, just this morning I was thinking about that movie again. Honestly, I thought it’s pretty good. Maybe the best STAR WARS rip off ever. I miss the time when Roger Corman actually tried to make good movies with his low budget, instead of that self ironic “so bad it’s good” shit for SyFy.

  4. Only part I remember is when Cowboy gives one of the Nestors a hot dog and he eats it and it makes the other clones smile. I’ve always loved that.

  5. I love this fucking movie. I think it’s the perfect blend of serious talent and smartass camp. But I’m a New World supernerd and this is pretty much the ultimate New World movie, so your mileage may vary.

  6. This is a fun one and that ship totally has boobs!

  7. I actually love this one, it’s got a great cast of colorful, fun characters and it’s pretty well-structured and moves along. Unfortunately the actual space battles really are the lowpoint, completely static and without any clear sense of (space) geometry or even what the heck the pilots are actually doing to help or hurt their cause. But whatever, most of the runtime it’s one of the most entertaining STAR WARS ripoffs anywhere, which actually puts it near the head of a very, very long line. It’s cheesy as hell, obviously, but in a very ingratiating way, and there really truly are some fun ideas in there. Compare the value they got from the 8 dollars they spent on this to the hundreds of millions they spent on TERMINATOR: GENYSIS and tell me who comes off looking cooler.

  8. Another great thing about this movie is how much mileage Corman got out of Cameron’s special effects. He used bits and pieces of them straight through the nineties, and even made an entire other space movie out of them, SPACE RAIDERS, a thoroughly entertaining kiddie sci-fi adventure with a dirty mind.

  9. grimgrinningchris

    July 6th, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I feel pretty much the same way as Vern about this one, though for man-reasons am surprised he mentioned the spaceship boobs, but not Sybil Danning’s… outfit. Though maybe he got his fill from Chained Heat and Warrior Woman and The Howling 2.

    I always think of this one side by side with Ice Pirates -though that one steals as much from Mel Brooks and Mad Max as it does from Star Wars or its ilk. Would be really curious to know Vern’s thoughts on that one and Space Herpes in general.

  10. grimgrinningchris

    July 6th, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    Actually, I think everyone… and everyone’s extended families, co-workers, neighbors and local public servants all got their fill from The Howling 2.

  11. grimgrinningchris

    July 6th, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    One more quick note though… Vern, I never thought that there was any effort to hide that the hive-mind aliens were wearing white hoods over white faces- I don’t think that was supposed to be their skin on the heads that we were seeing.

  12. I almost buy that, but I think they have fake ears on the outside.

  13. grimgrinningchris

    July 6th, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    I’ma have to watch it again. In my head they’re their real ears poking through ear holes in the hood. You could be right, though… Hmmm…

  14. I remember seeing this baby in the theater when I was like 4 years old, and even then I knew it was a cheese factory. Doesn’t Robert Vaughn even just showing up always represent that? But damn, just think about that, you used to be able to watch Roger Corman movies in the movie theater. (Just a couple years later, I would be so scared of his ALIEN rip-off, Forbidden World, I wouldn’t even watch it at a drive-in, but the audio was terrifying.)

    It was better than his made-for-SyFy dreck, but it’s still pretty lazy. I’m totally with you Vern on the practical effects. The one good thing that CGI has given us is that even TV special effects are pretty decent now. It’s easier to suspend your disbelief when you’re watching something cheap now than trying to watch shows like Doctor Who or Blake’s 7, that looked like they made the spaceships in a basement. There were lots of movies that used to be like that and now there’s less, but I think acting’s gotten worse along the way though.

    It’s an unbelievable cast for Roger Corman, but you have to figure that all of their agents just wanted to get their clients on the Star Wars gravy train.

  15. I don’t see how anything in this movie can be described as lazy. Cheap, sure. That’s the Corman way. But that just means you have to work twice as hard.

  16. grimgrinningchris

    July 7th, 2015 at 6:23 am

    Okay, I have looked at some stills and still have no good answer… The ear thing is a bit weird. Are they fake ears made to look more alien but still supposed to be poking through a hood? I’m just not sure… but based on the material of their costumes versus the material on their heads… I still THINK they are supposed to be hoods. Damn it. Why am I spending so much time thinking about this?

  17. I remember enjoying it when I was a kid, but now it felt dull at times and the overall look of the film feels like an 80’s television show, something like the old Battle Star Galactica. Hey, don’t know if you’ve seen it but I recommend Galaxy of Terror (1981), it was also produced by Roger Corman, but its more of an Aliens rip off, it’s a better film than Battle Beyond the Stars in my opinion. Cameron also did effects work on Galaxy of Terror and it stars Robert Englund and Sid Haig, it plays out a lot like Event Horizon, you might enjoy it!

  18. Majesty’s, campy always feels lazy to me, like “if we can’t make it actually good, we’ll try to make it ‘so bad it’s good'”. Like all the George Peppard stuff, it’s just too ridiculous for me.

  19. Ugh. And sorry my iPhone autocorrected Majestyk to majesty’s, although it would be pretty sweet to have Charles Bronson characters in my phone contacts just so it wouldn’t autocorrect when I talk about movies!

  20. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. There’s nothing about BBTS that’s trying to be so-bad-it’s-good. It’s arch, yes. It’s taking a sidelong glance at its genre, sure. But its still telling a solid story with characters you are expected to care about and be interested in. Just having a sense of humor about itself does not make something camp, nor is being camp inherently the choice of a frustrated serious artist. I shudder to think of the joyless tedium a modern exploitation studio like Asylum would make out of this premise. It takes more wit and taste and skill to pull off a tone that’s somewhat left of center than it does to fire it straight down the middle with po’faced dramatics.

  21. Mike, I have to disagree with you here. From his beginning to the I think mid-80s, Corman was a guy who tried to make the best movie he could. Every time someone called him “King of B-movies”, he would proudly say “I didn’t make B-movies. My movies were always the main attraction!” Not all of his works are masterpieces, but there is a huge difference between PIRANHA and SHARKTOPUS.

    PIRANHA was a cheap JAWS cash-in, where everybody involved was trying to make the best damn cheap JAWS cash-in possible! (With success.) SHARKTOPUS (and all those other shitty movies Corman produces these days) is the kind of “Let’s make it so bad it’s good” shit that you mentioned. Completely uninspired crap, trying to substitute real low-budget energy and inspiration with “Nah, whatever, it will play every 2 weeks on cable, so we already got our money back and maybe the millenials will write about it on Reddit and it will go viral”.

    Say what you want about something like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, but you can’t tell me that whoever came up with George Peppard as a space cowboy, didn’t think that this would be a cool idea and truly believed in it. Today they would probably give the role to Adam West or David HAsselhoff and make them crack lame BATMAN/BAYWATCH jokes all the time.

  22. I don’t know how I ever missed this movie.

    I had like a great chunk of 80’s New World catalog in my VHS library back in the day (like ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, FRATERNITY VACATION and SMOKEY BITES THE DUST) and I never heard of this one until today?

    Pretty weird. In any case sounds like something worth hunting down. Props on the review as usual for putting me on to another potential gem.

  23. AnimalRamirez1976

    July 7th, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    I have a really stupid story about this movie. When it was playing on t.v. there was a promo for it with a scene that had a ship firing lasers that made a “chu! chu!” noise. Well, my brother and I watching and thought that “chu! chu!” was the funniest thing we ever heard. I don’t even think we ever watched the movie. But for months after that, our favorite private joke was to say: “Battle Beyond the Stars!… Chu! Chu!” to each other and break up.

    I always associate this one with other 80s Sci-Fi B-movies like Galaxy of Terror, Ice Pirates, Buckaroo Banzai, Enemy Mine and Space Truckers. They all seem to have a similar look and vibe.

  24. grimgrinningchris

    July 7th, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    I would lump it in with Buckaroo Banzai, Ice Pirates and Space Truckers- though it is a lot more earnest than any of those (not to say that it’s devoid of humor). I’d find it difficult to find a connection to Enemy Mine though- save for the glaring one of having a lizard-man alien in it.

  25. Charming is the word I would use to describe this fun and entertaining quaintly old-fashion movie. They sure don’t make them like this anymore is the best way to describe BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.

  26. Love this movie. Probably my favorite genre is rubbery STAR WARS rip-offs. I love camp and I love outer space, and this is where they meet triumphantly!!

    What I really hope with the return of STAR WARS and a renewed interest in practical effects, is a modern bunch of these movies. I am sure that era can never be duplicated, and while I am sure The Asylum and Nu-Corman are cooking up ways to cash in on new STAR WARS, they are a little bit too lazy. I’ll still watch them, but somehow I doubt they’ll have the magic.

    But maybe some of those other companies? The ones guys like Roel Renie work for? The ones filling red box and the Wall Mart $5 bin…maybe they can pick up the slack!

    Anyway, I love all the movies mentioned here! A couple other good ones are GALAXINA, which is equally STAR WARS, BARBARELLA, ALIEN and a healthy does of Mel Brooks. Its Cantina Scene is excellent*!! Also try Fred Olen Ray’s STAR SLAMMER…a women in prison movie in a funky fake Star Wars setting. Not very good, but has a weird aardvark thing running around, a weird midget guy and they re-use THE ALIENS DEADLY SPAWN.

    Anyway a return to the hokier side of this genre is probably wishful thinking, but a fella can wish can’t he? I hope to one day see something as funky as THE ICE PIRATES again!

    *the true test of any proper STAR WARS Rip-Off is how much rubbery bullshit they can fit into their Cantena Scene!

  27. Another great one I forgot to mention is ARENA, from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures.

    Its basically ROCKY or KICKBOXER aboard a space station. It tells the tale of the first human to enter an alien boxing league.

    The real star of this movie are the creatures from Screaming Mad George with more than a little help from Steve Wang. Not just humanoids…some giant insectoid that took a few puppeteers!

    Also features Claudia Christian (Babylon 5) and Armin Shimerman (Deep Space 9) oddly a couple years BEFORE their respective shows.

    Takes itself a little more seriously than the other ones I mentioned. I like bad jokes in my schlock so that element is missing for me, but it more than makes up for it with its underdog fighter story and way better than usual monsters!

  28. Man, rewatching all the Roger Corman-movies based on Edgar Allen Poe did it much less of a service than I remembered. I still love them, but man are they repetetive. After THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM they more or less run out of steam. THE RAVEN is kind of fun as a pastisch of them, but TOMB OF LEGEIA is kind of awful. And TALES OF TERROR only have glimpses of geniuses.

    Outside of Cormans Price films, I rewatched COMEDY OF TERRORS for the first time in twenty years and still find it a blast. Also THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES about a murderer who is just as much a performance artist as a murderer. It is hilarious and one of the best horrorcomedies I have seen.

    My Vincent Price marathon has not been in vain, Price is always a joy to behold. But I highly recommend his AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE as he puts on a one man performance which is quite extraordinarly and quite a leap ahead of much of his campy performances in his Corman films.

  29. I probably should watch PREMATURE BURIAL. I never have seen it before. Also, I did watch MASQUE OF RED DEATH and that still heldl up incredibly well, but when you´ve succumbed yourself to tombs, cobwebs and tormented protagonists they do kind of seem samey, which this isn´t.

  30. Man, I love THE RAVEN. I even own the poster. The movie is so much fun and as abonus, maybe the first great use of Jack Nicholson’s ability to turn his face into a truly evil grimace.

    COMEDY OF TERRORS is another favourite of mine. Apart from being overall great, it’s incredible how much laughter they can get out of feline reaction shots.

  31. Yeah, the Rhubarb cat is used to amazing effect. I was real glad to find the movie as much of a joy as I used to. I think o much of it is in Mathesons witty, symmetrical script.

  32. You’ve seen THEATRE OF BLOOD, right? That’s my favorite Vincent Price, with similar humor to the PHIBES movies but gorier and he gets to do multiple Shakespeare soliloquies.

  33. I intend to revisit THEATRE OF BLOOD. It has been so long I don´t remember much so i am looking forward to the experience.

  34. I have so mixed feelings on THEATRE OF BLOOD. There are so many things to like (Price is one of them), but the cheap looking cinematography from british movies of the era and the easy listening score really don’t do it any favours. (And I still don’t know if it was supposed to be a joke that the identity of Price’s assistant was so easy to guess, since the whole movie has a tongue in cheek tone, or if they actually thought that putting cheap wigs and beards on the certain person, are a perfect disguise.)

  35. So,HAUNTED PALACE,. my next trip into Corman/Price territory,(thanks to Arrow Video) a Lovecraft adaptation even though it ws marketed as Poe and slapping a (poe)m onto it. You can tell from watching it, that despite all that, Corman was serious about adapting Lovecraft. It has a distinct look and feel about it. The cinematography has more dark shadows, more blu, which gives the sets a greater sense of depth and as a result is more ominous. Helped by a more restrained performance from Price, this is definetely a great horrormovie. And some of the inagery might have influenced Fulci with the blind people walking as a haunting motif?

    But one part does drag it down; when Ward gets possessed again by his ancestor he is so anxious on getting revenge on the mob that burned him that it actually distarcts from the slow burning ominous Lovecraftian feel of it.

    Anywat. Vincent Price plays it much different here, less hammy and more , almost naturalistically evil, which makes it a worthwhile watch. And it is notable as the first Lovecraft adaptation to do it kind of right.

    Great movie and also a step up artistically from Corman , which would alter be seen in MASQUE OF RED DEATH, which is an incredibly poetically dark saga.

  36. MASQUE is a crazy fuckin movie. I’m not the biggest fan of the stagey and theatrical studio movies from the 60’s and 70’s, but the Price factor always gets me in.

    There’s some really weird and disturbing shit in this, including but not limited to – suggested pedophilia involving a 5 year old ballerina and a dwarf, humans role-playing, then cos-playing various animals, resulting in a gorilla hanging from a chandelier and being set on fire. Price spouting about the death of God.

    And my favorite Price line, when a prince seeking refuge in his castle offers him his wife to use as he pleases, his reply “I’ve already had that doubtful pleasure.” Smooth bastard.

  37. As a huge Price fan I must give back my fan card because it seems you are already hitting my favorites and I don’t have any real off the wall not talked much about recommendations to you. With this following my RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN post, I am a bad nerd today.

    If you want to see him legit acting and not hamming it up, I recommend LAURA and LAST MAN ON EARTH. LAST MAN ON EARTH is only okay but as a practical one-man-show/display of his acting chops, it’s great. Then again you may not want that if you already saw the under-talked about AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE. Seems to get looked down upon because it is not as good as its predecessor, but I think DR. PHIBES RIDES AGAIN is worth a watch. I still really enjoy THEATRE OF BLOOD still, watched it again last Halloween night, but feel PHIBES still outdoes it in most areas.

    You already saw my two favorites of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. I second Poeface’s MASQUE comments.

  38. I still await the arrival of my Arrow Video copies of DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN and THEATRE OF BLOOD from Amazon.
    I loved the first DR PHIBES so much, so I can´t wait to see what kind of elaborate performance art/murders he can come up with this time.

    I´ve seen clips of THEATRE OF BLOOD, and unfortunately it seems to have a dreab kitchen sink feel about the cinematography, lacking all the vibrant art direction from DR PHIBES and the Corman movies for that matter.

    It has been so good to re-visit some of these films. And they do look great on blu ray.

  39. poeface- Speaking of quotable Price-lines there is a great one in THE HAUNTED PALACE as his character slowly transformed into his evil ancestor enters the bedroom in which his wife lays. She asks nervously as he approaches the bed: “What do you want?” to which he responds ” What do I want? Merely to exercise my husbandly prerogative”

  40. Classic, Shoot. I’ve got LAST MAN ON EARTH off the shelf ready to watch for the first time. Still tracking down HAUNTED PALACE. It’s on disc here in Oz, but JB hifi seems to have run out. Looking forward to watching that one.

  41. Man, DR PHIBES GOES TO EGYPT was a seriously good sequel. It´s actually funnier than the first movie with one of my highlights being Phibes drowning a guy by making him a human message in a bottle. But I would have liked a third movie in which Phibes met his cerebral match, when they can duel in eleborate ways in killing each other, Spy Vs Spy-style. Sadly no such movie has been done.

    But damnit, give the part to Geoffrey Rush (who made an excellent Vincent Price in teh HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL remake) and make a new series of Phibes adventures. Phibes needs to rise again again!!

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