Friday, September 17, 2010

Retro View: Starcrash

I'll have my review of the second A Princess of Mars script up this weekend but for now let's journey to another galaxy for what has to be one of the wackiest sci-fi films ever made.

The universe here is split into two factions-one governed by the benign Emperor of the Universe (Christopher Plummer), the other by the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) who is plotting to overthrow the Emperor with his powerful new weapon-which basically is red balls called Red Monsters that cause mass havoc. Thrown into this conflict is Stella Star (Caroline Munro), the best pilot in this galaxy-or at least the most scantly clad-and her alien sidekick Akton (Marjoe Gortner) who are both promised a pardon from jail time if they track down any survivors from the Count's previous attack. The two agree and head off with a green faced (most of the time anyway) alien (Robert Tessier) and Elle (Judd Hamilton) a robot cop with a cowboy accent. Along the way they encounter treachery, a race of hot amazons, troglodytes and the Emperor's son Simon (David Hasslehoff) before the final battle that will determine who will rule the galaxy.

Following the release of Star Wars, sci-fi films seemed to be split into two types-dark and serious and light and campy. The former included Ridley Scott's sci-fi/horror classic Alien, Disney's dull and dreary The Black Hole and the motionless Star Trek-The Motion Picture while the latter included the Buck Rogers TV series and the 1980 Flash Gordon. Starcrash definitely falls into the second camp-and boy is it camp. Made more as a homage by writer/director Luigi Cozzi (under the pseudonym Lewis Coates) to previous sci-fi and fantasy films like Invaders from Mars, Barbarella, the Flash Gordon serials and the work of Ray Harryhausen (especially Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) than as a clone of George Lucas' epic-even though our heroes wave lightsabers at one point-the film has its tongue firmly in cheek. I mean how can you take a film with a robot with a Western accent or David Hasslehoff as the potential future emperor of the universe seriously?

That's not to say Starcrash isn't without its flaws. There is no plot really to speak off, just a series of incidents that our heroes find themselves in. The effects also don't hold a candle to Lucas or Harryhausen's work-even though at least they are real, which is something that has been lost in this day and age. I also liked some of the performances-especially Gortner's Akton, possibly the most chipper alien ever on screen and Spinell's scenery chewing Zarth Arn. And of course it sports one of the most beautiful women of the 1970s in Caroline Munro, who by this point had had an impressive list of cult classics (Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and At The Earth's Core) under her belt when she played Stella. It's just a shame she was dubbed for the film. And honestly I liked Elle the robot. It was a lot better than the Slim Pickens voiced robot in The Black Hole. The music, by James Bond composer John Barry, is also very good-in fact much better than you would normally suspect with this type of film.

Of course the film is pure cheese-from the costumes (which looked like leftovers from previous Italian sci-fi flicks like Planet of the Vampires) to the sight of Christopher Plummer in costume delivering his lines like he's doing a Shakespearean Star Trek (which is funny since he did that later in Star Trek VI) to the fact that Zarth Arn's ship basically looks like a giant hand, it's all Gouda. And that is the fun of it. Just don't look for a serious epic and you'll might enjoy it. Rating (with extra cheese): *** out of 4

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