Battle Beyond the Stars
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Battle Beyond the Stars

Blu-ray

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One topic I have hotly debated with my friends is the difference between unimaginative rip-off and homage to a classic story. In one case the all too frequently used term ‘reimagining’ becomes a flimsy euphemism for complete lack of imagination. So called screen writers abduct a few obvious elements from a popular film or television series and build something far less substantial upon the bones of greatness. On the other end of the spectrum it a true reimagining of a well visited story. In this case the tale is culled from a classic in literature and it deserves the opportunity for each generation to take the special, fundamental elements that made the story a classic and adopt it as their own by adding their own unique twist to it. The best examples of this can be seen in the works of William Shakespeare with plays like ‘Romero and Juliet’ or Macbeth’ remade on a fairy regular basis. While some of the best examples of this modernization technique come from the written word. We as the ones appreciating such merits must keep up with the times and broaden our use of the term literature to embrace the high end cinema. With this in mind it is time to revisit a little guilty pleasure I’ve had for sometime; ‘Battle beyond the Stars’. It is an older film originally released in 1980 but it has been given a new lease on life becoming part of an incentive initiated by Shout Factory to re-release the catalogue of films directed or produced by the king of the ‘B’ flick, Roger Corman. Although this man has a reputation as a filmmaker mostly in drive-in and Grind house faire his assistants and protégées encompass a sizeable number of multiple Academy Award winning directors informally referred to as graduates of the Roger Corman School of film. He helped mold a generation of filmmakers and the tastes of film enthusiasts around the globe. Battle beyond the Stars’ is a reimagining of a reimagined classic and although that sounds like a recipe for disaster but this version of the famous story deports itself well as an enjoyable piece of entertainment. It must be noted though that this variation has replaced much of the gravitas and social commentary with tongue in cheek humor driven action and modestly priced special effects.

Roger Corman held the title of executive producer for this film although there is evidence that he did provide some directorial influence. The director of record spot went to Jimmy T. Murakami who spent much of his career in animation. In the case of this live action feature this experience may help explain the old fashion comic book look and feel the movie projects. This movie is fairly unique among those in the Corman portfolio in that it was both a modest financial and critical success. He taught his apprentices many things about making a movie but among those lessons on time and under budget were the most important but never at the expense of the audience’s entertainment. That is something that became axiomatic about a Corman movie; they are always fun. If a story about a peaceful farming community responding to a horde of bandits by hiring a group of seven mercenaries sounds familiar than you most likely are thinking of the great American western ‘The Magnificent Seven ‘by John Sturges. If you immediately thought ‘The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa then give yourself a few bonus points. This makes this movie exceptionally rare for another reason; it is the only remake of a remake that actually worked out. The concept of taking it to outer space is actually quite inspired. It did come about after the first ‘Star Wars’ movie where young Like Skywalker lived on a farm located on a far away planet suddenly pulled into a battle far beyond his current understanding. This is a perfect example of a generation reworking a classic to better reflect their sensibilities. From Feudal Japan to the old West to the far reaches of outer space the message here is there are evil men who live to exploit the peaceful. There are also men of violence in that profession more by circumstance than predilection. This story contains some of the most successful archetypes found in literature. The young hero wannabe (Sybil Danning), the broken down fighter (George Peppard, and the professional killer isolated and despondent as a result of his success (Robert Vaughn). The later is a touch of irony since Vaughn played the exact same trope in the ‘Magnificent Seven’. Balancing these types is the farm boy Richard Thomas) who takes an heroic journey straight out of the course work of Professor Joseph Campbel as we follow a peaceful boy travels through danger and insurmountable odds to become a hero returning to save his planet. The same has been said about Young Luke so this film just helped to cement the modern, intergalactic take on the character type.

I had previously owned an old vintage video tape of this film and it has remained one of my favorites. as such I was delighted to lean it would become part of the continuing Corman classics on Blu-ray. Naturally the effects are laughable by contemporary standards but after all it was thirty years ago. It was Corman’s most expensive film to that point and does remind us of the humble origins of the incredibly realistic computer effects we take for granted now.

Posted 07/13/11

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