There aren’t very many filmmakers out there that can get away with remaking a remake, let alone ripping-off a rip-off. And then there’s that iconic B-Movie King, Roger Corman: a man that damn-well knew the difference between shit and Shinola, and who could make a mint of off either one due to his legendary marketing skills. Following the unexpected success of George Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977, movie studios were eager to jump on the bandwagon and construct entire wardrobes out of rare 1934-issued $100,000 Gold Certificates. Even the Cor-Man himself was overwhelmed with the urge to make a science fiction space epic with aliens, lasers and things that go boom — such as planets.
Seeing as how George Lucas got away with basing his movie off of an Akira Kurosawa classic (The Hidden Fortress), Corman’s writing staff — Anne Dyer and John Sayles — based their tale not only off of another Kurosawa classic, Seven Samurai (1954), but also off of it’s uncredited American “remake,” The Magnificent Seven (1960). And, as a result, 1980’s Battle Beyond The Stars came to be.
We being with the peaceful farmer folk of planet Akir receiving a “do or die” ultimatum from tyrannical alien dictator fellow Sador (the one and only John Saxon: who looks more than a little embarrassed at times here, but who nevertheless still commands his fair share of wickedness from his part). Since they’re pacifists, the Akira send out a young lad named Shad (Richard Thomas aka John-Boy) to find and recruit as many warriors as he possibly can. Aided by his ship’s computer, Nell (Lynn Carlin), Shad proceeds to encounter a wide range of mercenaries and men on the run from the various law enforcement agencies of the universe.
Among these laser-slingers are a man known only as “Space Cowboy” (The A-Team’s George Peppard), who, I suppose makes this movie a precursor to Cowboys & Aliens and on-the-lam tough guy Gelt (Robert Vaughn, who essentially plays the same character as he did in The Magnificent Seven — even using some of the same dialogue — and plays it up accordingly like only he can). Other contenders are include luscious Sybil Danning plays a Valkyrie warrior with an impressively-revealing wardrobe, a group of alien clones called “Nestor” (led by Earl Boen) who are part of a collective-consciousness, a reptilian alien critter named Cayman (Morgan Woodward) who hangs out with a couple of Peter Bark look-alikes (who communicate via heat).
Shad also meets up with a lovely young lass (Darlanne Fluegel) who is the daughter of a body-less aging scientist (Sam Jaffe, in a cameo). Soon, with their newly-formed posse of protectors rarin’ to go, the Akira decide to tell John Saxon to shove it — and hope that they can defeat him before he blows their planet to smithereens with his huge not-Death Star invention-thingy. Jeff Corey and Marta Kristen (Lost In Space) also turn in minor-but-memorable performances in this entertaining cosmic western that was Corman’s most expensive production at the time (two-million big ones, kids) — but made its money back in no time at all.
Of course, ever the monetary mastermind, Corman also kept the dough rollin’ in well after Battle Beyond The Stars left theaters, by “lending” many of the film’s impressive model shots (which were directed by some guy named James Cameron) to 1983’s Space Raiders. He even recycled Battle Beyond The Stars’ symphonic music score by James Horner (whose compositions are reminiscent of his later Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and that vastly-unpopular Krull flick) to Space Raiders — which probably earned him a few more bucks in the process. What a guy.
Battle Beyond The Stars was released back in 2001 under Roger’s New Concorde label, but soon went out of print. Now, thanks to the ever-diligent boys and girls at Shout! Factory, we not only get a chance to see this wonderfully-fun back in stores on Standard-Definition DVD, but we also get a chance to see it in High-Def on Blu-ray as well. Since this title is really no stranger to recycling (see previous paragraph), it’s kind of fitting that Shout! has recycled the two audio commentaries from the New Concorde release (one with writer Sayles and producer Corman, the other with production manager Gale Anne Hurd), as well as a collection of stills (one of which is actually from Space Raiders) and poster art (the reverse side of the cover also gives us a look at some of International artwork).
Additional special features include a theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, as well as two newly-produced featurettes: “The Man Who Would Be Shad,” proving that, yes, John-Boy is still coming out to play; and “Space Opera On A Shoestring” — a retrospective look at the making of the film with assorted crewmembers (e.g. not-James Cameron — he’s too busy still counting all that money he made on Avatar). On the more technical side of things, Battle Beyond The Stars features a new anamorphic widescreen transfer mastered from the original internegative and a boisterous 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack (the Blu-ray sports a DTS-HD Master Audio mix). A 2.0 DD audio option is also available.
While it’s a pity that some of the film’s other actors (such as John Saxon or Robert Vaughn) aren’t on-hand to give us their views of this sci-fi cult classic, Shout! Factory’s Battle Beyond The Stars: 30th Anniversary Special Edition is nevertheless a commendable release — and the film itself is a wild ride into the far reaches of outer space that’s safe for families and geeks riding solo alike.