Review of "Starcrash (Blu-ray)"

published 02/10/2017 | hogsflesh
Member since : 19/04/2010
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Satisfactory
Pro Quite amusing in places
Cons A bumbling mess of a film, a poor blu-ray
exceptional
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Characters / Performances
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"The stars are clear. The planets shine."

I have dreams like this sometimes

I have dreams like this sometimes

This Blu-ray is currently £10 on amazon.

There were lots and lots of Star Wars rip-offs released in the late 70s and early 80s, desperately trying to replicate George Lucas’s success on a fraction of the budget and with barely any of the creativity. Flash Gordon aside (I will actually murder anyone who says a word against Flash Gordon), they’re pretty much all dreadful. Most of the famous Star Wars imitators are American, and are either pretentious (Black Hole, Battlestar Galactica) or cheap and cheerful Corman-produced dreck (Battle Beyond the Stars etc).

But inevitably the Italians had a go as well, just as they did with any passing exploitation genre. And amid a whole load of genuinely unwatchable dross, they made Star Crash, which is… watchable. Just about.

Year: 1978
Director: “Lewis Coates”
Stars: Christopher Plummer
More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079946
IMDB user rating: 3.9

Stella Star is a… well, I’m not sure actually. Some kind of sexy space thief. She flies around the galaxy with her assistant/navigator Akton, and we have to assume they commit crimes, although we never learn much about them. They’re arrested close to the beginning of the film by a couple of space cops – bald Thor and robotic L – and thrown in space jail. Then they’re released and sent on a secret mission by the emperor of the first circle of the universe to track down the secret base of the evil warlord Zarth Arn, who is planning to take over the galaxy with his Doom Machine. And they also have to try to find out what happened to an earlier spaceship, which was commanded by the emperor’s only son, Simon.

Even writing the plot down makes me feel dumb. The story reads like it was concocted by a group of eight-year-old boys who have been given too much sugar. The character names are preposterous, ranging from childish noises (‘Zarth Arn’, ‘L’) to comic book characters (‘Thor’) to alliterative redundancies (‘Stella’ and ‘Star’ mean the same thing, idiots) to the crushingly banal (‘Simon’, for goodness sake). ‘Acton’ is an inoffensive suburb of West London. I used to live there. Giving it a Kafkaesque ‘k’ doesn’t make it sound all science fiction-y.

There’s heavy emphasis on spaceship action, which is a pity, as the special effects are about on a par with 70s Dr Who. It's a bad idea to begin your film with a shot of a spaceship flying over the top of the camera, like in Star Wars, if you don’t have the budget to make a decent looking spaceship. The models are terribly unconvincing, and you can usually see the sticks or wires that are being used to move them around. You will also get very tired of the one ‘spaceship flying’ sound effect the film has invested in.

And it’s not just that the special effects are poor. The spaceship sequences are badly directed and edited to the point where they’re incomprehensible. You’ll have no idea who is in which ship, or who you’re meant to be rooting for, or what is actually happening. Occasionally there will be an explosion. At one point, Stella’s ship comes under attack from some other ships. “One more! There’s one more!” shouts Stella, presumably referring to the number of enemy ships remaining – at which point the director helpfully cuts to a shot of three more enemy ships. The director might try to pass himself off as ‘Lewis Coates’, but he’s really Luigi Cozzi, one of the less distinguished Italian journeymen of the era, otherwise responsible for the tedious Alien rip-off Contamination and very little else that I can remember.

The first 20 minutes of Star Crash are tough going. Nothing seems to connect to anything else. A spaceship is attacked by a superimposed lava lamp. Two people we’ve been given no reason to care about – Stella and Akton – are arrested, sentenced, and then arbitrarily freed. By this point, my patience was being sorely tested. I came close to giving up on the film as a bad lot.

But then something wonderful happened. Christopher Plummer turned up as the emperor, and everything just clicked into place. Oh, Star Crash never even remotely starts to make sense – if anything, it makes less and less sense as it goes along. But Christopher Plummer… man…

The first time I watched this film, it was on a US DVD release a few years back. One of the extras for that release suggested that Plummer made Star Crash in the belief that he’d make millions, like Alec Guinness had with Star Wars, but that he’d failed to take into account the exchange rate. Millions of lira really didn’t amount to much. That story sounds too good to be true – Plummer himself has claimed he took the part because it meant a free trip to Rome, which is far more credible – but it still seems like the perfect explanation for his performance. He doesn’t overact, not exactly, but there’s a weary knowingness behind his every line delivery, the melancholy of a man who thought he was going to play Ben Kenobi but has ended up playing Walrus Man. You can see it in his eyes. This one will haunt him forever.

And somehow, after Plummer makes his first intervention, things perk up immensely. We’re treated to a spectacularly ill-advised Harryhausen rip-off as Stella and L are chased by a metal giant (with, er, boobs). There are some space amazons. There are ugly cavemen. There are chases and fights and terrible special effects.

And the cast seem to be enjoying themselves, mostly. Plummer is obviously too classy for this kind of thing, but isn’t without precedent – you often see an incongruously posh actor in Italian exploitation (James Mason in various crime films, John Gielgud in Caligula). The rest are more firmly rooted in B-movie soil. Stella is played by Caroline Munro, a British model of the late 60s who made it into acting via Hammer and other horror studios. She never had much acting range, but that’s OK, because Stella is more of a ‘wearing clothes’ part than an ‘acting’ part. She struts around the galaxy wearing some absurdly skimpy outfits, although weirdly, no one seems to actually fancy her until Simon shows up. Although the cover of the Blu-ray suggests this is some kind of Barbarella-style sexy romp, it’s resolutely kid-safe throughout.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Munro turned up as the imperilled heroines of some very sleazy horror movies, most famously Maniac. The villain of that film was Joe Spinell, a vile, sweaty beast of a man (to be fair, he also had an honourable career as a supporting actor in respectable Hollywood pictures, including a major role in the Godfather part 2). He plays the evil Count Zarth Arn at maximum volume, clearly relishing every evil laugh and incomprehensible order. Thor is played by a bald stuntman, Robert Tessier (he’s in Cannonball Run as a biker, for instance, but I think I’ve seen him in other stuff too).

My favourite actor apart from Plummer is Marjoe Gortner, who plays Akton. Gortner was a child evangelist (the name ‘Marjoe’ is a composite of ‘Mary’ and ‘Joseph’, fact fans) who made a name for himself in B-movies after he broke from his religious family. He has an amazing frizzy 70s hairdo, and smiles benignly through most of the film as if he’s on drugs. Simon is played by a pre-fame David Hasselhoff, and he doesn’t make much of an impression. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, although sharp-eyed video nasty fans might spot a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from Sal Boris, the Beast In Heat himself, as one of the space cavemen.

It’s an unusually American cast for an Italian film, reflecting the fact that this had more US money behind it than was usual. And just as Christopher Plummer feels classier than a film like this deserves, so does John Barry, doing the music – how on earth did the composer of the mighty James Bond scores get tangled up in this malarkey? To be honest, most of it sounds like Bond off-cuts, like themes that didn’t make the grade for Moonraker. It also sounds as if the filmmakers couldn’t quite afford a full orchestra. But still, it lends the film a bit more gravitas than you expect it to have.

Whether it really deserves gravitas is another matter. The plot shows distinct signs of spiralling out of control by the mid-point, becoming episodic to the extent that it feels like it’s being made up on the spot. After a while, most predicaments our heroes find themselves in are solved by simply giving Akton a random, never-before-mentioned superpower.

Some of the dialogue seems to completely misunderstand what space actually is (“you must sail to the haunted stars”, for instance. Or Zarth Arn’s claim that he will be emperor “by sunset”, when he’s in the middle of space, nowhere near a sun). Some of it is clunky exposition (“As Thor, chief of the Imperial Police…”), some of it is pointless exposition (“Look! Amazons on horseback!”) and some of it is utterly baffling exposition (“…but after the third minute, the green ray loses its power…”). And sometimes the dialogue seems to lose all sense of grammatical integrity (“I want to wipe out the emperor from the whole of the universe!”), reinforcing the idea that the film is being made up as it goes along.

Would I recommend Star Crash? Hmm. Yes and no. The first 20 minutes are almost impossible to sit through, but the rest of it, if approached in the right spirit, can be rather enjoyable. It certainly belongs with Battle Beyond the Stars in the more endearing half of the Star Wars rip-off venn diagram, although obviously it doesn’t come anywhere near Flash Gordon.

Blu-ray

The Blu-ray is disappointing. While some of the shots are pretty good, a lot of the others are blurry and lack detail. It’s hard to make people’s faces out in long shot a lot of the time. Particularly poor are shots which combine special effects with live action, in which typically the effects are crisp and detailed and the rest of the shot is blurry and vague. But that’s a problem that Blu-rays of much better films than this have struggled with (see, for instance, Hitchcock’s The Birds, or Clash of the Titans). There are no extras at all; not even a trailer.

Still, it is a very cheap Blu-ray. And the film is probably just about enjoyable enough to make it worth a look, perhaps in a few months, when the price will have dropped by a couple of pounds.

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Comments on this review

  • Secre published 04/10/2017
    E!
  • NBCMad92 published 04/10/2017
    Excellent read, sorry I am out of E's, playing catch up!
  • rolandrat123 published 03/10/2017
    ex
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Product Information : Starcrash (Blu-ray)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Actor(s) (Last name, First name): Plummer, Christopher

EAN: 5060392240045

DVD Region: Blu-ray

Classification: Parental Guidance

Production Year: 1979

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