Some say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And in the case of Roger Corman and his New World Pictures, they have made some of the biggest names in the film world quite flattered, that is, if this is indeed true.
The king of the cinematic ‘sample,’ Corman has ripped off, or at least borrowed from, countless films. However, none of his pictures sums this up quite as well as the Jimmy T. Murakami picture, Battle Beyond The Stars. Not only drawing inspiration from the sci-fi juggernaut that is Star Wars, but also Akira Kurosawa’s classic masterpiece The Seven Samurai, and while it may not live up to this pedigree, it is quite the entertaining piece of cinema.
Plot wise, the film sounds like a futuristic Kurosawa film right from the beginning. A farm colony is under attack from an evil conqueror, and one of their citizens attempts to team up with six other mercenaries to take this evil man down. I told you, Corman and his team didn’t even try to hide their inspiration. And for some reason, it makes the film all the more charming.
As with any Corman film, the most intriguing aspect is the film’s visual acumine, in comparison to its relatively small budget. Battle is no different. Not one to shy away from the cheesiest of effects, Corman’s crew (including James Cameron who receives one of his first credits with this picture) sticks to truly practical effects. Be that sloppy make up or cartoonishly archaic looking technology, Battle Beyond The Stars features various examples of hyper-dated special effects and out-of-place green screen. It’s an immensely charming film visually, but also one that has aged in an interesting way over time.
Battle Beyond The Stars is a weird film to discuss today. Obviously dated in its style and effects, it’s also quite charming, and not in any sort of pandering way. The film is genuinely inventive given the budgetary constraints that Corman’s crew was given, and also, the earnestness with which the cast gives their performances, all adds up to a film that’s far more entertaining and engaging than it frankly has any right to be.
Speaking of performances, there are a few really top notch ones given here. The film stars Richard Thomas as our lead, Shad, the adventurous man who attempts to save his land. He, like his co-stars, imagines that each word he spouts is the last he’ll say, and this earnestness really adds a lot to the film. With a knowing wink to the camera, you can really tell that Thomas was having fun with the picture, something that can also be said for the rest of the cast. Robert Vaughn is amazing here as the equally amazingly named Gelt, but the real star is George Peppard as Cowboy. He adds a real sense of life to the film, that without it, Battle may not have been the joy to watch as it was. John Saxton is entertaining, as are the women of the film, Darlanne Fluegel and Sybil Danning, both of whom fit perfectly within Corman’s world. Corman has never met a woman he didn’t like to show off to the viewer, and this picture is no different.
That said, the film isn’t without flaw.
With a script from John Sayles, one would imagine that the film would have a bit more going on below the surface, but for all intents and purposes, this plays out as nothing more than a rehash of something like Seven Samurai. Retreads aren’t awful, but without that added bit of originality, this film doesn’t quite leave the indelible mark one would hope. The performances are fine, but the film ultimately finds it difficult to keep the viewers attention, particularly with the uninteresting narrative being woven.
However, as with most of the Corman producer canon, there is a real sense of heart and love for cinema here, that it’s almost infectious. Given a more intriguing narrative, this could have really been a sci-fi classic following in the footsteps of the various films Corman has often tried to emulate. Fans of films like Forbidden World or Galaxy Of Terror will find various things to drown themselves in here.
Particularly because this is an impeccable release. Hitting shelves on Blu-ray thanks to Shout Factory, Battle Beyond The Stars looks and sounds like the first day it was released here. The neon cinematography really pops here, and the silly effects are all the more charming. The release is also quite deep. The Blu-ray comes with a commentary including Corman and Sayles which is really intriguing, as well as one with producer Gale Anne Hurd (who was Production Manager on the project). There is also a lengthy documentary on the film’s technical challenges, as well as an interview with the film’s lead actor, Richard Thomas.
Overall, while this film itself may not be the best that the Corman canon has to offer, it’s an engaging look at a sci-fi Seven Samurai. Not nearly as good as the films it is trying to emulate, it’s also something wholly different. Featuring a heart and love for film that can’t find a comparison, Battle Beyond The Stars is an absolute must own for any cinephile, Corman fanatic, or B-movie nerd.