Battle Beyond The Stars
Studio: Shout! Factory
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Running Time: minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Audio: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Movie: 3 out of 5
In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, Roger Corman was the king of exploitation films, with his studio New World Pictures churning out cheaply made knockoffs of hit movies. Battle Beyond The Stars was his answer to George Lucas’ Star Wars, and was the studios most ambitious project at that time. With an estimated budget of only $2 million, Corman hired then-newcomer John Sayles (who had just recently penned Piranha for the studio) to write a screenplay, setting Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai in space, and then hired veteran actors Robert Vaughn (playing essentially the same mercenary character he portrayed in the American remake, The Magnificent Seven), George Peppard (as Space Cowboy, a cross between Han Solo and Dean Martin), John Saxon (as the scenery-chewing villain, Sador), voluptuous Sybil Danning (as the daring pilot Saint-Exim), and Jeff Corey (in the Obi-Wan Kenobi, father-figure role). Richard Thomas (who had just finished his run on The Waltons) was cast as Shad, a young man sent out in search of mercenaries to protect his planet from invasion from Sador, and relative newcomer Darlene Fleugel (Running Scared, To Live And Die In L.A.) as Nanelia, his love interest and scientist.
Sayles’ screenplay does its best to hold the story together, and director Jimmy T. Murakami does his best with the material and budgetary restraints, but where this film really shines is in the visual effects. Corman, ever the penny-pincher, decided to do everything on the film in-house, leaving the visual effects in the hands of a very young James Cameron (who was promoted to Art Director during production of the film). The results were so good that the effects sequences would later be recycled numerous times in other Roger Corman productions, and John Carpenter would hire this same team for Escape From New York (made at rival studio Avco-Embassy).
Another career that was launched by this film was James Horner. This was one of his first scores, and makes this film feel much bigger than it really is. It was this score that landed him the job of composing Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. The two scores are so similar one must wonder if Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer used Horner’s compositions for Battle as the temp score. Horner would go on to compose the scores for Aliens, The Rocketeer, Sneakers, Titanic, Apollo 13, and Avatar, to name just a few.
Is Battle Beyond The Stars a good film? No, not by any means. But its not necessarily a bad movie, either. The film has much of the same matinee charm that made Star Wars so popular just three years earlier, something many of the knock-offs by other studios lacked.
Video: 3 out of 5
Shout! Factory brings Battle Beyond The Stars to Blu-ray in a breathtaking 1080p high definition transfer, using the AVC codec, presented in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are solid, without bleeding, with exceptional detail for a film that is over 30 years old and most likely shot on what is now considered unstable film stock. Film grain is present and noticeable, but never distracting. The print does have some minor dirt here and there, as well as scratches, but these appear to be built-in to the negative or intermediate, and are more noticeable during the optical effects sequences. This is perhaps the best this film has ever looked.
Audio: 3.5 out of 5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is jaw-droppingly good for what was originally a mono release theatrically (at least here in the US). James Horner’s symphonic score soars to new heights, and that is the real audio treat here. Directional effects are well-placed, with only the dialogue occasionally giving away the original limited dynamic range of the production audio.
Special Features: 3.5 out of 5
Like previous releases in the Roger Corman Cult Classics series, Battle Beyond The Stars has an impressive set of extras. Missing, however, is a full-color booklet. Although mentioned on the packaging and press release, there are no TV Spots to be found on the disc.
Audio Commentary by John Sayles and Roger Corman: This is the better of the two commentaries on this disc. Both men have a lot to say about the production of this and many other films in their long careers, and there is never a dull moment in the track.
Audio Commentary by Gale Anne Hurd: The same cannot be said of Ms. Hurd’s commentary. Although she has a lot of good things to say about her ex-husband and business partner, James Cameron, she doesn’t have much to say about anything else that isn’t covered in the other commentary. There are long pauses and gaps throughout the track, and some of Ms. Hurd’s remarks sound like there was an off-mike moderator prompting her with questions.
The Man Who Would Be Shad (15:21): Richard Thomas discusses working on the film and his career before and after the production.
Space Opera On A Shoestring (33:23): Assistant Production Manager Aaron Lipstadt, Miniatures Designer Alec Gillis, Assistant Art Director Alex Hadju, Editors Allan Holzman and R.J. Kizer, Effects Deisgners Robert and Dennis Skotak, Make-up Artist Thom Shouse, and Effects Editor Tony Randel discuss the making of the film as well as working with rising stars James Cameron and James Horner. Hearing R.J Kizer recount his ten year old son’s reaction to seeing Battle Beyond The Stars for the first time is a hoot.
Theatrical Trailer (2:33): Presented in a pillar-boxed 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this original trailer has seen better days.
Radio Spot (0:32): The film’s radio advertisement is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, encoded at 192 kbps.
Still Gallery: A collection of photographs taken during production on the film. A word of warning - if you allow these to cycle through, they will get stuck in an endless loop, and the only way out is to hit stop on your remote and restart the disc. This, I believe, is an authoring error.
Production Photos: Another collection of photographs, this time centering around the effects and set design of the film. This has the same authoring error as the Still Gallery.
Poster Gallery: A collection of domestic and international posters and lobby cards. This has an even worse authoring error, causing the navigation menu to disappear when returning to the main menu. The only way to get back to the navigation menu is to stop the disc and restart from the beginning.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
This film has a lot of fans, and they will be quite pleased with this release, despite the authoring errors in the still galleries. Battle Beyond The Stars knows it is a cheap knock-off of Star Wars, but the visual effects and rousing music score lift the film just slightly out of exploitation, and delivers two hours of Saturday matinee fun and enjoyment.