George Lucas has a lot to answer for.
I know what you're thinking. You are either thinking, Blasphemer!;
or you are thinking, Good Lord (choke!), Dr. Freex is going to
be inundated by pock-marked fanboys, all attempting to beat him to death
with plastic lightsabers while screaming, Blasphemer!
worry about me, I'm safe. They're all standing in line as I upload this,
so they can be the first into the theater. Besides, I can always
defend myself with my plastic lightsaber. Or stormtrooper rifle,
but we all know how accurate they are.
when I say George has much to answer for, I am not referring to the
Holy Trinity of Space Opera Movies. Lucas has done much that is laudable
- he has given us the closest thing to a modern mythology were
likely to see for some time; he proved that science fiction (though
Star Wars is not science-fiction) is a salable commodity,
and he has provided continuing employment for any number of toy scalpers.
I am referring to Starcrash.
there is one thing we can count on from our Italian brothers, it is
a dozen or so carbon copies of any given Hollywood blockbuster. Actually,
they are more like photocopies of photocopies: if you squint and look
at them from an angle, you might perceive the original, but what youre
holding in your hands is pretty worthless.
course, which movie provided the inspiration for Starcrash is
pretty apparent from our very first shot, which features a verrrrrrrrry
long ship flying right over our heads toward a nearby planet (its
hard to convey how astounded and breathless that left us in 1977, and
how much of a cliché it had become by the second movie that used
it) This time, the model kit origins of the ship are all
too obvious. We are also warned of the quality of the sci-fi
to come by way of one crewman telling another, Scan it with our
computer waves. The ship is an Imperial cruiser (we are later
told), which is suddenly assaulted by a superimposition of lava light
blobs driving everyone mad. Three lifeboats
are launched. And the ship blows up.
enough of that, its time to meet our
. Star. Stella
Star (incredibly gorgeous Caroline Munro) and her sidekick, Akton (recovering
evangelist Marjoe Gortner) are space smugglers on the run from Thor,
Chief of the Galactic Police (Robert Tessier) and the incredibly persistent
Police Robot L ( Hamilton Camp), who for some reason is programmed to
talk like a stereotypical Southern Sheriff. When their attempted escape
through hyperspace fails, Stella and Akton are condemned to hard labor
by a judge which looks suspiciously like the Head In A Bubble from the
original Invaders from Mars.
least Stellas Hard Labor Camp is somewhat enlightened; they allow
her to keep her go-go boots and kinky outfit as she performs her hard
labor, which consists of dropping beach balls into what we are told
is a reactor. Helpful bit players sacrifice themselves so Stella can
escape - right into the waiting arms of Thor and L, who were there to
release her, anyway (Sorry about that, bit players). Seems the Emperor
of the Universe wants to see her and Akton.
Emperor (Christopher Plummer) has commuted their sentence at the urging
of L, who feels that Star is the Best Pilot In The Galaxy, and her services
are needed to track down the survivors of the Verrrrrrrrry Long Ship
at the beginning. You see, the Verrrrrrrrry Long Ship was searching
for the planet hideout of the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell), and
he must be stopped! And, oh yeah, the Emperor's only son was on the
Verrrrrrrrry Long Ship, so please find him, too.
should pause here to note that Count Zarth Arn is pretty evil. Yes,
sir. How can we tell? Well... for one thing, he's Joe Spinell. For another,
he has a cheap red cape. All his henchmen's ray guns have bat wings
on them. And forsaking the clean lines of a Death Star, say, or a huge
saucer-shaped mother ship, he makes his way through the galaxy on a
craft built to look like a giant hand. Um hm. A hand. If he's not evil,
he's at least weird enough to be a threat.
Stella and Akton, accompanied by L and Thor, visit three planets (one
lifeboat - not that they would all be pointed in the same direction
or anything). On the first, Stella is captured by Amazons and must be
rescued by L. This incenses the Queen of the Amazons (Nadia Cassini),
who sics a large, poorly-animated metal statue on them. Trust me: the
Gingerbread Man is much more menacing than the stiffly-moving sub-sub-sub-sub-Harryhausen
effect. Gumby looks like CGI compared to it. Still, Stella must
once again screech to L for help and the two are only saved by Akton
and Thor blasting the statue.
next stop in our galactic tour de farce is an ice planet, where
Thor beats Akton to death with a space crowbar (or some damn thing)
and leaves Stella and L outside to freeze. Thor, you see, is working
for Count Zarth Arn, probably in exchange for the promise of a snappy
hairstyle like his. Fortunately, L is able to use his power reserves
to keep Stella's heart beating, however weakly, as she is flash-frozen.
Even more fortunately, Akton rises from the dead to trounce Thor, even
reflecting the turncoat's laser beams back at him so the villain can
obligingly toast himself.
to emphasize that what we are watching is science fiction, we
have the following event: After reviving Stella, Akton reveals the reason
Thor never took off in the intervening hours: Akton had removed the
ship's distributor cap, so to speak. "So you knew about Thor?"
Stella asks. "Yes." "Then you can see into the future!"
our dashing dolly deduces. Not Yeah, I suppose he was acting suspiciously
or Yeah, he was Robert Tessier, wasn't he? He always
plays bad guys. Nope. Akton knows what's going to happen, can rise
from the dead and is impervious to laser beams... this must be
science fiction. Very poorly written science fiction.
our heroes journey to The Haunted Stars (where the Emperor told them
to go in the first place) to search for the last lifeboat,
weathering an attack by the Lava Lamp Monsters on the way. On the planet's
surface, L and Stella find the nearly intact lifeboat, but also a tribe
of Neanderthals who summarily smash L into tiny pieces (of course -
the one character we were actually growing to like) and subject
Stella to some suspension bondage. Stella is rescued (once again) by
a mysterious figure wearing a golden mask that shoots lasers from its
eyes. Once they've escaped, the figure doffs the mask to reveal that
he is.... David Hasselhoff! With bigger hair and more eye makeup than
Hasselhoff is Simon, son of the Emperor and sole survivor of the ill-fated
Verrrrrrrrry Long Ship, bemoaning the fact that they were set upon by
Lava Lamps before they could find Zarth Arn's planet stronghold. Akton
arrives with his trusty lightsaber to rescue our Beautiful People from
another onslaught of the Neanderthals and announces that he has deduced
that the very planet they stand upon is Zarth Arn's HQ (wait a minute
- Deduced? Can't he see the future? Oh, never mind.).
at the planet's core lies Zarth Arn's equipment for projecting horrible
Lava Lamp images at his enemies. Zarth Arn himself
is also there with a platoon of lackies. He plans to use Hasselhoff
as bait to lure the Emperor to the base, then blow up the entire planet.
To this end, he leaves two badly-animated robot guards to detain our
trio until boom time. Akton dissolves one with his lightsaber, but gloats
too long and gets wounded. To give the devils their due, once Hasselhoff
picks up the lightsaber and attacks the other golem, the fight looks
pretty good. After destroying the last Gumby-droid, Akton vanishes forever
in a cheap special effect.
Emperor arrives a full minute before the planet explodes, and is informed
of Zarth Arn's treacherous plan. In the moment everyone quotes from
the movie, Plummer takes three steps forward, looks toward the rafters
and intones, "Imperial battleship... stop the flow of time!"
Which it does, allowing everyone time to get away.
this to be an opportune time, the Emperor orders his forces to attack
Zarth Arn, and, or course, the Death Hand clenches into a fist to protect
itself. There's more fairly boring spacecraft battle footage, until
- at last, something that hasn't been seen in another movie - Dozens
of small, bullet-shaped two man ships are fired at the Death Hand and
- be sure to read this next part carefully - crash through the plate
glass cathedral windows of the villainous vessel. The bullets pop
open and reveal two commandos, guns a-blazing, and Zarth Arn's men (remember,
the guys with the batwinged guns) do likewise. Explosive decompression
does not seem to be a problem. Perhaps a force field is involved. Perhaps
the Death Hand is so large that it sustains an atmosphere. Perhaps
I am devoting too much thought to this cinematic toadstool.
gracious, the Emperor's forces lose! It's probably due to Zarth Arn's
fantastic leadership capabilities, which seem to consist of marching
back and forth, helpfully shouting, "Kill them!" over and
over. It must be admitted that this strategy, basic as it is, seems
to work quite well. But the Emperor has one last trick up his sleeve:
"Starcrash!" Starcrash has something to do with popping out
of the fourth dimension and ramming your target. For this, the Emperor
plans to use something called "The Floating City", and of
course, it will require a crackerjack pilot to pull it off.
crap, let's just get this over with (you could write it in your sleep)
Stella accompanied by a rebuilt L steers the Floating City right into
the Death Hand and Zarth Arn blows up and dies and Hasselhoff and Stella
are in love with each other and the Emperor says it's time for everyone
to take a nice long rest the end.
is usually dismissed as a mere bad Star Wars rip-off, but that
is not quite true. Starcrash also rips off Jason and the Argonauts,
with the wrinkling bronze giant statue and the swordfight between Marjoe
and two robots-might-as-well-be-skeletons. The two golems look better
than the statue, but not by much. Poorly proportioned and moving too
slowly to be a menace, they serve to only annoy the viewer. Their scenes
are also marred by the most primitive, poorly-done rear projection I
have seen, with the humans in the background out-of-focus and grainy,
while the golems in the foreground look sharp and well-lit.
we seem to have started with the FX, let us continue. Most of the space
type footage is okay, but not exceptional - in
fact, they would have been considered great had the movie been made
ten years previous (although seeing the string holding up the models
is considered poor by any standards). The first thing that struck me
about Starcrash - and God help me, I paid money to see this in
a theater - is that they took the trouble to make the stars different
colors. By which I mean they put actual Christmas lights on the far
wall, along with all the white ones that usually stand in for stars.
Hyperspace is represented by a video effect. When Akton demonstrates
his powers, they seem to take the form of oscilloscope waves.
might be forgivable if the story was good, but as we have already seen,
it is nothing special, even in the parts when it isn't ludicrous.
Which isn't often. That means you had better have a good cast, interesting
characters or snappy dialogue. As for characters, the fact that the
only one I liked was a robot with a bad accent speaks reams. The cast
is pretty good, even with the inclusion of Marjoe (whose career
highlight, IMHO, was Earthquake); though we may razz Hasselhoff
constantly, he's a solid performer. We just have to wonder what gypsy
Christopher Plummer crossed that he is forever fated to appear in drek
then there's the reason most of us plopped down whatever ridiculously
low price movie tickets fetched in 1979: Caroline
Munro. We fell in love (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) with her
in either Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter or The
Golden Voyage of Sinbad. The jury (i.e., me) is till out on
Ms. Munro's acting ability, and Starcrash is most definitely
not the movie to use as a benchmark. Not only is she saddled
with some of the most lamentable lines ever to sully paper... Meryl
Streep could not make these clunkers sing... but the character of Stella
is a less-than-ideal heroine. Stella is always getting into trouble,
which is to be expected, but she is also constantly getting rescued;
at no time does she get herself out of a predicament, a bit of
hand-to-hand with the teenage amazons notwithstanding. She is less of
a role model than a plot device that walks like a woman. And, oh, yes,
I hate what they did with her hair.
other inspiration of Starcrash is only slightly less obvious,
and that is Barbarella, what with the weapons that all look like
objets d'art and the one-damned-thing-after-another plot; but
what made the Jane Fonda vehicle palatable was the sex and a subversive
sense of humor, and to say Starcrash lacks those is to understate
the situation; it lacks those so much that the videotape may suck those
very qualities out of any movies unfortunate enough to be situated near
it, like an entertainment black hole.
one tries to find merit when one can; after all, each and every one
of the people involved in this film had a mother. So we must tip our
hat, however reluctantly, to the film's plucky spirit. As an attempt
to ride on Star Wars' coattails, it knew it had to have special
effects aplenty, when it only had money for perhaps two or three; but
that did not stop it. Perhaps it should have.
George, it's nice to have you back in the director's chair and all*,
but use a little caution, dude. A prequel to Starcrash we most
definitely do not need.