Crossposted from my other blog that is currently on Hiatus.
Back in the good old days, (Pre Internet and On Demand streaming video.) when one was struck with insomnia, the closest thing to a remedy would be a cup of tea, a slice of pie and a cheesy B-Movie on the TV. Nothing too taxing or heavy. Just a fun cheesy flick to pass the time while your brain tries to figure out a way to make itself lose conciseness before it begins to spontaneously generate illusions of snakes coming out of the walls and shooting lasers out of their asses. (That’s right, your sleepless mind can conceive of snakes with laser asses! Chew on that for a while, Dr. Freud!)
And as your sub-conscious tries to play St. Patrick, your conscious mind is watching the movie and grooving on it. It’s not brilliant or profound. But it looks like the filmmakers gave enough of a shit to make it special. “It ain’t Kubrick”, your conscious mind thinks to itself (While your sub-conscious wields a baseball bat and a mirror.) “but it swings.”
“Battle Beyond The Stars” is almost the platonic ideal of that film.
The film was produced by Roger Corman in 1980 to cash in on the “Star Wars” craze. And it was supposedly the most expensive film that Corman had made up to that point. The larger budget manifested itself in three ways.
1. A cast that included Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn and George Peppard.
2. Special Effects slightly more sophicated than dangling models on fishing wire.
3. Sets that still looked like they were jury rigged with balsa wood and christmas lights but you had a lot more of them.
The film is obstinately supposed to be a Science Fiction remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”. But it feels less like a literal remake and more like a bunch of filmmakers playing an extended riff on the film’s central idea. (A group of mercenaries teaming up to save an oppressed group of farmers from a evil warlord.) It helps that the film’s MVP is John Sayles who had been working steadily for Corman up to that point. (He’d also written “Alligator” and “Lady in Red” for Lewis Teague and “Piranha” for Joe Dante.) And while he embraced the silly B-Movie aspects of the piece, you could tell that the material had resonance for him. Sharing the idea of a community rising up and forming a resistance against a powerful oppressor, you could draw a straight line between this film and “Matewan”. (Although the latter clearly lacks Sybil Danning as a leather clad warrior woman. So point to “BBTS” there.)
What’s lovely about the film is that it takes itself just seriously enough to have emotional weight but broad enough to be fun. Yeah, you’ve got George Peppard playing a character called “Cowboy’, a space trucker who’s obsessed with westerns and has a scotch generator on his belt. It’s a silly idea but Peppard plays him with such charm and good humor that you roll with it. And Sayles is smart enough to give the character a final grace note.
Also, how can you not love an exchange between him and one of the other aliens over a hot dog.
Nestor 1: [eating a hot dog for the first time] There’s no dog in this.
Nestor 1: Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soybean meal, niacin, dextrose, and sodium nitrate flavoring.
Cowboy: Yup, that’s what we call “meat” back home.
It’s an old gag but it still plays.
“Battle Beyond the Stars” is by no means a great movie. But it’s a fun riff on a great movie. And you could tell that the people working on it (Including James Cameron pulling triple duty as Art Director, model maker AND camera operator.) had a hell of a good time making it.
It ain’t Kubrick but it swings!
“Battle Beyond the Stars” is your Sunday Netflix streaming recommendation. Have at it nerds!