Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Battle Beyond The Stars

July 9th, 2011

Battle Beyond The Stars - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Roger Corman has been involved in creating hundreds of movies as director and producer, most of which are pretty bad. He specialized on low budget films and films that were little more than thinly disguised copies of the hits of the day. Granted, many of these are fun to watch as B-movies or "So bad they are good." And usually when you go into a Roger Corman film, that's what you are looking for. A few dozen or so actually rose above that level into the realm of good genre films, such as Death Race 2000, Rock 'n' Roll High School, or his Edgar Allen Poe films with Vincent Price. So where does Battle Beyond The Stars fit? Is it a good B-movie? Can it rise above that level? Or should your expectations be a little lower?

The Movie

The film begins with a large spaceship flying by the camera. It's a combination of Corellian Corvette and Star Destroyer from the beginning of Star Wars, so right away you know where your expectations should be. The ship is the flag ship of Sador, the leader of the Malmori, and he uses it to terrorize poorly defended planets. His latest victim is Akir, a small planet that is rich in minerals and home to a small farming community. After destroying their only spacecraft in orbit, a small two-man weather satellite, Sador tells the inhabitants of the planet that he has come to conquer them and in seven days he will return and turn their planet into a small sun, unless they submit to him and give him their harvest. As a demonstration of his power, he kills a few random citizens.

Since none of the Akirans have ever fought in battle, save one, Zed, who is now old and blind, it is decided that they will hire mercenaries to fight for them. Shad volunteers to travel to other planets looking for those who would fight for Akir, and pilots Zed's old ship, with its computer A.I. Called Nell. The first stop in his search is the space start of Dr. Hephaestus, a robotics expert who knows Zed. When he gets there, he finds the only people left are Dr. Hephaestus and his daughter, Nanelia, who can't even remember seeing an organic being before. It seems the isolation has taken a toll on him, both physically and mentally. He's trapped within a life support machine and has decided that since Shad is the first visitor they've had in years, he will be forced to stay to mate with Nanelia. He does manage to escape, and Nanelia even decides to join him in his quest with her own ship.

Next Shad runs into Space Cowboy, an Earthling / tramp freighter pilot. The Cowboy is under attack from pirates, and out of ammo. But after Shad rescues him, he agrees to join the fight by giving in Akirans handguns and training them to fight. Nanelia is captured by Cayman, who intends to sell her as a slave, or as protein, whichever will fetch a higher price. He has no interest in joining a doomed fight, until he hears they are fighting Sador, at which point he joins without asking for payment. Shad also encounters an alien and is captured. The Nestor are a hive mind and a group of them have left their planet just looking for a new experience. Next Shad heads to a world Nell says used to be a hive of scum and villainy. (She doesn't used those exact words, but it's along the same lines.) When he gets there, the planet is no longer the happening place for criminals, but completely abandoned. Completely abandoned except for Gelt, an experienced bounty hunter who became so notorious that there's a price on his head so high he can't live in any civilized space. However, Akir has one thing he wants, a place to live where there won't be someone looking to kill him. Finally, before heading back to Akir, Shad is challenged by Saint-Exmin, a Valkyrie. Her ship is small, but too fast for him to hit. After tagging him with a non-damaging shot, she insists on joining the fight, and no matter how many times Shad says no, she follows him and there's little he can do.

Now that they have their seven ships, they can prepare their defense for Sador's returns. And the rest of the movie is a big fight scene, mostly in space, but also some ground combat as well.

Essentially the movie is The Seven Samurai and Star Wars mixed into one and made on a budget that's somewhere in-between those two films. The Seven Samurai was made more than 20 years before, so it is an unfair comparison. That said, it was at the time the most expensive Roger Corman production of all time costing $2 million to make. For the most part, it's money well spent and it looks a whole lot better than many other Roger Corman films did. Granted, some of the special effects look very dated, but as far as B-movies go, it holds up and it is a lot of fun, for the most part. Every aspect that works tends to have a weakness associated with it. For instance, the story is a classic, borrowing very heavily from The Seven Samurai, but it doesn't do enough to stand out. It doesn't do enough to make the story its own. Some of the characters are a little under-utilized or don't quite have the depth they should, but most at least have some emotional core to them and when they start to die in battle, the death carries some weight. This is in contrast to a lot of typical low-budget films where the characters might as well be called Victim #1, Victim #2, and so forth. Also, the film has enough humor; George Peppard is the highlight of the film in that regard and he has some of the best lines.

The action is good, considering its immediate competition. That is to say, it's good for a B-movie. Obviously to save money, the filmmakers had to reuse some of the same shots, so by the time the film ends, there's is a sense of Deja Vu with many of the shots and this causes the climactic battle to be a little anti-climactic. But that's part of the charm of B-movies. Also, the score adds to these scenes a lot and the score is arguably the most consistently positive aspect of the of the film.

It's a B-movie, it's not for everyone, but fans of the genre should enjoy themselves.

The Extras

The extras on the Blu-ray include two audio commentary tracks, the first with the writer, John Sayles, as well as Roger Corman. The second is with production manager Gale Anne Hurd. The first is livelier and more informative. Solo tracks tends to lack energy and this one does have more than a few dead spots, especially later on. Also on the Blu-ray is a 15-minute interview with Richard Thomas. He talks about getting the part, working on a Roger Corman film, the cast, etc. He's very entertaining during the featurette. There is also a 33-minute making of / interview featurette with many of the production crew. Again, this is an entertaining featurette with plenty of stories of working with Roger Corman and trying to make a sci-fi space opera on a rather tiny budget. Finally, there are several promotional galleries with trailers, radio spots, production stills, etc.

As for the film's technical presentation, this is a little mixed. The film is 30 years old and it was a low-budget movie to begin with, so you can't expect it to stand up to big-budget blockbusters being made today. There are some scenes with excessive grain, there is print damage on occasion, the shadows sometimes cover-up details, etc. That said, the Blu-ray is a step up from the DVD and arguably the best the film has looked since it first hit theaters. The audio has been upgraded from a 2.0 track to a 5.1 and the surround speakers are used, especially in the frequent combat scenes. The score is also quite immersive. The original 2.0 track is also on the Blu-ray.

Comparing the prices, the Blu-ray cost $21, or 40% more than the DVD. That's not a bad deal, but it is also not the obviously better deal.

The Verdict

For fans of B-movies in general or of Roger Corman in particular, Battle Beyond The Stars is one of the gems. The DVD and the Blu-ray have enough extras that they are worth buying. I would recommend going with the Blu-ray, but it is a close call.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review