Public Service Reviews: Battle Beyond The Stars

This is Space Cowboy, from the Planet Earth. That is the character...and a line of dialogue from this movie.

Last night, I partook in a guilty pleasure; I watched the Roger Corman flick, Battle Beyond the Stars. I'm going to sneakily confess here that it's one of my favourite sci-fi movies, though that might well have something to do with the fact that it was one of the first ones I ever watched – I had it on video long before I had Star Wars, and watched it a darn sight more often. When the anniversary DVD appeared I snatched it up; it's a surprisingly feature-heavy collection, especially for a Corman movie. But then – it's a surprisingly good movie. 

Yes, it has characters called 'Space Cowboy', and the plot is a bit of a rip-off of the Magnificent Seven, but then...the Magnificent Seven was a bit of a rip-off of Seven Samurai, so there is plenty of precedent there. The cast list is...good. George Peppard, just pre- A-Team, Robert Vaughn, long-post UNCLE, essentially revisiting his role from the previous movie, and Richard Thomas manages to hang it together, even if there are few times where the director really should have asked for another take. And it is also a surprisingly deep one. 

Among the mercenaries that the lead hires are a hive consciousness, a pair of twins who communicate and fight with heat, a talking starship, and...a warrior Valkyrie played by Sibyl Danning. Maybe my argument isn't great here. There is no real established setting, but there is one that is implied, and it's rather different from the source material. In Magnificent Seven, civilization is creeping into the wild frontier, but here – it seems to have collapsed. Cities in ruins, warlords carving out power for themselves, no sign of any civilization at all. 

Let's not forget the effects. They spent almost enough money on them in this movie, and it shows. There are the occasional clunky shot, but the modelwork is good – supervised by James Cameron, of course – and it actually fits the movie. Today something would probably be slammed together with CGI, and it wouldn't work half as well. The soundtrack is by James Horner, and you can already hear the first signs of movies like Wrath of Khan and Krull. Literally. Try listening to his early soundtracks back to back sometime (Horner's pieces are among my favourite to write to) and you'll definitely see some similiarity. Heck, you could probably swap the soundtracks of Khan and Krull and it would still work. 

 There were a hell of a lot of Star Wars ripoffs created around this time, but this is one of the few that is actually watchable today, because it adds something extra to the mix, pushes ahead with a storyline that someone actually took some time over. Again, it shows. Where something like Starcrash could only really be watched as as parody, this movie can still be watched as a movie. Recommended.

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