Blu-ray Review: Battle Beyond the Stars



George Lucas and Steven Spielberg ruled as the Kings of the box office in 1980. Little did the duo suspect that the man that would dethrone them was busily honing his talents in a lumberyard. James Cameron (The Terminator, Titanic & Avatar) was just another plucky kid with a cinematic dream. He went to Roger Corman’s film school instead of enrolling in an overpriced university program. He was merely hired to help with the special effects on Battle Beyond the Stars.

Roger was so impressed by the newbie that he made him Art Director on the film.

This was the most expensive Roger Corman production, which was about as much cash as Spielberg and Lucas spent on wookie fur and baseball caps. Cameron took a budget that could barely buy pie plates and fishing line and created special effects that are superior to most studio Sci-Fi releases. The film holds up even under the higher resolution of Blu-ray. Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Battle Beyond the Stars packs the interstellar glory of this B-movie knockoff.

A farming planet of Akil finds itself in the middle of bulls-eye when the wicked Sador (John Saxon) arrives in his planet destroying spaceship. He orders them to serve him or else. Since it’s a peaceful group of farmers they seem bent on being slaves. But a few know there’s a chance to fight back even if they have to use outside help. Shad (The Walton‘s Richard Thomas) gets sent on a mission to find mercenaries with enough firepower. He scores his first great recruit with an intergalactic cowboy (A-Team‘s George Peppard). The plucky Shad also hooks up with the hunted Gelt (The Magnificent Seven‘s Robert Vaughn), a warrior princess (Chained Heat‘s Sybil Danning) and four other odd creatures that don’t mind tangling with Sador. Can these seven outsiders really keep the peaceful farming planet from being zapped by the Stellar Converter?

The plot borrows quite a bit from The Seven Samurai in a galaxy far far away, but isn’t a complete clone. There’s plenty of humor in the struggle. The script by John Sayles (Eight Men Out) does its best to give a major film with a minor budget. Instead of going around the globe to film the exotic locales, Battle stuck close Roger’s new studio complex which was previously a lumberyard in Venice, California.

While many actors worked for Roger in order to change their public persona, Richard Thomas uses his baggage as John Boy Walton to a proper advantage. You buy him as Shad with his “do the right thing for my fellow farmers” attitude. He’s perfected it on the series. His experience at playing such a character also kept him from being been blown off the screen by Saxon, Peppard and Vaughn. Shad won’t allow his planet or leading role be decimated by outsiders.

Battle Beyond the Stars became more than a seminal film for Roger Corman. It became a great source for Corman to borrow special effects shots for his other Sci-Fi films. Footage from this film was used in Galaxy of Terror, Space Raiders and the Traci Lords’ version of Not of This Earth.

Roger Corman made this film to merely cash in on the Sci-Fi box office action of Spielberg and Lucas. Little did he know that Battle Beyond the Stars would launch the career of James Cameron, the man behind the two biggest films in the history of cinema. He proved he didn’t need $300 million to create believable effects for a space epic, though years later he would become one of the few directors known for having them available.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The Blu-ray looks really good. The extra definition doesn’t expose too many zippers and strings in the special effects. This is the way to go if you must choose between Blu-ray and DVD. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a 2.0 track. Sound Designer David Yewdall’s work can be fully appreciated. His aural chemistry does more than sample through Corman’s old Sci-Fi blips and beeps. James Horner’s score also elevates Battle from the other Star Wars knock-offs.

Audio commentaries include a track with writer John Sayles and Roger Corman. The other has producer Gale Anne Hurd giving her insight to working on the film with James Cameron. Sayles ribs Corman for reusing the spaceship effect shots in other movies. The commentaries are from 2001 so it’s fascinating to hear Sayles discuss Cameron’s ideas for shooting Avatar without naming the film.

The Man Who Would Be Shad (15:21) is a new interview with Richard Thomas. He talks about how after Roger Corman’s assistant told him the film was going to make money; he was relaxed. He discusses his time on The Waltons before taking off into outer space.

Space Opera on a Shoestring (33:23) relates how this low budget sci-fi film was made to look like a big budget studio flick. It helps that they had a young James Cameron take control of the Art Production. Cameron doesn’t contribute, but his talent is praised by Aaron Lipstadt, Alec Gillis. Tony Randel and Thom Shouse.

Trailer (2:33) gets you jazzed up to see John Boy in Space.

Radio Spot (0:32) sets up the film in audio. Do they advertise films on the radio anymore?

Still Gallery, Production Photos and Posters are also included.

The average fanboy is going nuts over Star Wars coming out on Blu-ray, but the truly hip have already ordered Battle Beyond the Stars. John Saxon terrifies an entire world. Richard Thomas must save it. George Peppard introduces hotdogs to a batch of clones. This is matinee fun. This Blu-ray ought to be on the historic registry as the birthplace of James Cameron.

Shout! Factory presents Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Battle Beyond the Stars. Directed by: Jimmy T. Murakami. Starring: Richard Thomas, John Saxon, George Peppard, Robert Vaughn and Sybil Danning. Written by: John Sayles. Running Time: 104 minutes. Rating: Rated PG. Released on DVD: July 12, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,