Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer Fest 5 (Day One): Starcrash

 Starcrash (which I keep thinking I need to separate into two words) is one of those knock-offs of Star Wars that you'd like to pretend Roger Corman would be doing even if George Lucas hadn't struck box office gold two years earlier. In fact, I went so far as to "pretend" that Starcrash clearly wasn't a rip-off of "a galaxy far, far away" until I looked at the tagline for the film, one that describes it thusly:

 "Star Wars meets Barbarella in the ultimate inter-galactic adventure!"

 So never mind, let's stop pretending that Starcrash (and for that matter, Battle Beyond the Stars) is anything but a crass attempt by a legendary B-movie producer to cash in on a more popular film. It's not as though Corman was the only guy trying to make a buck off of a "space adventure" film in the late 1970s / early 1980s, he just does it so transparently that you can't even pretend Starcrash is its own movie devoid of the obvious comparisons.

 In fairness, I should point out that Roger Corman didn't direct Starcrash - that distinction belongs to Luigi Cozzi (Contamination, The Killer Must Kill Again), under the pseudonym "Lewis Coates." I suppose it's meant to hide the fact that this is an Italian co-production, although there's a degree of suspicious dubbing mixed throughout the film (that, or Shout Factory's Blu-Ray goes out of sync repeatedly during scenes with very specific actors).

The "Barbarella" component of the film comes, I suppose, from Caroline Munro, who plays Stella Star, one half of a.... uh... smuggling (?) duo of space ne'er do wells. Alongside Acton (Marjoe Gortner), her robot (?) friend, Stella cruises around the galaxy until she's captured by bounty hunter Thor (Robert Tessier) and robot policeman Robocop "L" (or, according to IMDB, "Elle"). They're tried and sentenced to separate prisons, which is really an excuse for Munro to change one skimpy bikini out for another (it really seems inappropriate for hauling around giant balls of radium, but what do I know?), something she'll continue to do for most of Starcrash.

 It's not really important why, but Stella manages to kill all of the prisoners AND guards in her prison while escaping, and then inadvertently destroys the prison itself only to be picked up by L and Thor. They've come to release her so that she and Acton can help the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) to defeat the evil Count Zarth Arn (Maniac's Joe Spinell). If they have time, they should also rescue the Emperor's son. First, they'll need to travel to the "haunted worlds" in order to find his secret weapon, which is really an excuse to visit different planets with different "menaces."

 For example, there's the planet of the Amazon Warriors, the Ice Planet, the Planet of the Cavemen, and finally some other planet where the secret weapon is. Or maybe that's the cavemen one... look, the movie doesn't make a sustained impression, I'm afraid. Mostly they serve the purpose of having cheesy fight scenes, to demonstrate some adequate stop motion animation, or to freeze L and Stella Star for the express purpose of thawing her out very slowly. It's nice to know that the defrosting machine conveniently placed in the middle of the ship can also restore her hair to optimal volume despite being covered in something that loosely fits the definition of "ice."

 In one of Starcrash's many "oh, now you're telling us this?" moments, we learn that Acton knew which planet the weapon was on THE ENTIRE TIME but neglected to tell Stella Star this. I think he just got a kick out of hearing L complain about how nervous everything makes him. He's really a pretty poorly programmed Robot Space Cop, but at least they got that "good ol' country" accent right.

 Given provocation, I could go on for days about the things in Starcrash that made us scratch our heads while watching this movie, but instead I'd like to focus on the extended cameo of Christopher Plummer. You've probably heard the phrase "phoning it in" when referring to an actor who is clearly doing a movie because he owes somebody a favor or was caught doing something he shouldn't, but Plummer really takes it to a new level.

 Apparently inspired by the stories of Marlon Brando filming The Godfather*, Plummer seems to have asked for his lines to be written on cue cards, often placed above eye level or well above the camera. He's constantly looking around at nothing, delivering a line, pausing, and then looking around again. As Starcrash progresses, it seems like having more than one line per cue card was too much for Baron Von Trapp, so he delivers one line, then looks around aimlessly until he finds the next cue card, and then reads that one. Sometimes he looks directly into the camera.

 My favorite moment is when Plummer, as a hologram recruiting Stella Star and Acton, finishes a monologue, begins to walk away, and then does a one-quarter turn back to our heroes to finish a thought. As a hologram.

He also happens to have the kind of useful weapon that could, oh,, you know, prevent THE ENTIRE FINAL BATTLE OF THE MOVIE - the ability TO STOP TIME. But he only uses it to help our heroes (and himself) escape the Count's weapon when he shows up to what is clearly a trap. He tells them "you don't become Emperor without having a few tricks up your sleeve" or something to that effect, and then freezes time on the entire planet so that they can return to his ship before it explodes.

 His son isn't much brighter, but he is David Hasselfhoff, in a third act reveal (although, if you're paying attention, you know it's the Emperor's son because he's the only hero we've been introduced to since Stella Star and company left the Emperor's ship). When Stella is captured by the cavemen (who, no joke, say "ooga booga"), the Hoff appears with a golden helmet that shoots lasers to scare them off. When he and Stella escape after they return (and in greater numbers), he promptly THROWS THE HELMET AWAY and picks up a club to fight them with. Fortunately, Acton has a lighsaber</.s> laser blade, so the fight is much shorter.

 Pretending that Starcrash is some hidden gem from the post-Star Wars era is not something you're likely to see me do (ever), but I'll admit it has its dumb charms. The film is too long and unnecessarily episodic for such a flimsy narrative, and the acting is not great, but it's watchable. You'll have a hard time not filling in the Star Wars lines that Starcrash sets up but tries very hard not to get caught copying, and with properly lowered expectations, I'd daresay you might enjoy the experience. I'm sure Roger Corman enjoyed the money I gave him to buy Starcrash on Blu-Ray, something which raised more than a few eyebrows at Summer Fest**.

 Up next, Miami Connection, a movie with a story more compelling than anything on-screen, but my goodness what ends up on-screen is something special indeed...

* Pure, but not unfounded conjecture, based on the available evidence onscreen.
** By that I mean the "why is Starcrash on Blu-Ray" eyebrow raising.

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