The Bad Movie Report


Man, George Lucas has a lot to answer for.

Now, 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!”

Don't 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.

No, 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 we’re 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.

No, I am referring to Starcrash.

"Alright!  Who needs soldering?"If 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 you’re holding in your hands is pretty worthless.

Of 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 (it’s 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.An early appearance by Adam Sandler

But enough of that, it’s time to meet our … er…. 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.

That's either a very weird guitar or a weirder gunAt least Stella’s 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.

The 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.

Tremble at the very sight of the Death Hand!We 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.

So Stella and Akton, accompanied by L and Thor, visit three planets (one for So, who's the more wooden here?each 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.

The 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.

Just 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.

Now our heroes journey to The Haunted Stars (where the Emperor told them to go in the first place) to search for the last Neanderthals bring home the bacon, or something like.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 Stella!

Yes, 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.).

Yep, at the planet's core lies Zarth Arn's equipment for projecting horrible Lava Lamp images at his enemies. Zarth Arn Hasselhoff with a lightsaber.  Whoda Thunkit?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.

The 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.

Ah, those stylish weapons...Figuring 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.

"Bwah ha!  I'm EVIL!!!!"Well, 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.

Oh, 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.

Starcrash 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.

Since we seem to have started with the FX, let us continue. Most of the space type footage is okay, but not exceptional - inMarjoe and friend. 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.

This 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 like this.

And then there's the reason most of us plopped down whatever ridiculously low price movie tickets fetched in 1979: STELLA ON THE PLANET OF TEENAGE VIXENS - would have been a better movie.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.

The 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.

Still, 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.

So 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.



Looking for cheap, über-tacky sci-fi? You found it.

- May 16, 1999