I have a vague memory, from back in the day, of watching John-Boy Walton (Richard Thomas) on a spaceship. Low and behold, that was Battle Beyond the Stars, available on Blu-ray on July 12 as part of the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line from Shout! Factory.
The movie is basically a remake of Seven Samurai (or The Magnificent Seven) for the Star Wars crowd. A defenseless, peace-loving planet hires seven mercenaries to protect them from John Saxon, with a paint stripe running through one eye. Thomas plays Shad, the farmboy who sets out to save his home, with additional roles for Robert Vaughn (who’s playing basically the same part he played in Magnificent Seven), George Peppard (as the charming space cowboy named Cowboy), Sybil Danning (in glitter eye shadow as a busty space Valkyrie named Saint-Exmin), and Sam Jaffe (as a professor who’s basically a head on a mechanical grid of wires running a planet of androids — this part reminded me a lot of Forbidden Planet). Here’s the trailer:
The aliens include a lizard-man, two Kelvin (who communicate by radiating heat), and the Nestor (led by Earl Boen), who are a shared consciousness in white facepaint and skullcaps. There are some great gags in the campfire scene, beginning with the way everyone gathers around the Kelvin for warmth, and then the Nestor try hot dogs.
Although it came out in 1980, it’s very 70s in its costume design, pacing, color palette, hairstyles, and all the other details, but the effects aren’t bad, given its age. (The movie would make a good double bill with Logan’s Run.) Art direction and special effects were by James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar). Roger Corman called it “the most expensive production I had financed”, and it shows, but he got his money’s worth, later reusing the effects and explosions. The score, by Academy Award–winning composer James Horner (Titanic, Avatar), is also very good, as are some of the ideas and dialogue, especially when it comes to Shad’s interaction with his spaceship, Nell (Lynn Carlin).
This edition, labeled the 30th Anniversary Special Edition (close enough), boasts “a new anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) from the internegative” and “a new 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray”. It’s also available on DVD. In addition to the digital restoration, special features include:
- Two commentaries (carried over from the previous DVD), one with production manager Gale Anne Hurd, the other with writer John Sayles and Roger Corman
- “The Man Who Would Be Shad”, a 15-minute new interview with Richard Thomas
- The half-hour “Space Opera on a Shoestring”, a retrospective making-of featurette focused on the technical aspects of putting together this movie cheaply, including working with the young James Cameron
- The movie trailer, a radio spot, and three galleries: posters, stills, and production photos
I thought I’d watch this for a nostalgic laugh, but it turned out to be better than I remembered! It was a fun weekend viewing, with plenty of entertaining escapism, both in the movie itself and with the look-back special features. I still think the aliens are clever in concept, and I can appreciate the themes of sacrifice much more now.