Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
By way of New World Pictures and the sure to be frugal, Roger Corman comes this not so epic space opera that is essentially a reworking of The Magnificent Seven and even draws upon that classic western’s original cast by featuring Robert Vaughn as one of the principle mercenaries fighting to free a peaceful planet from the clutches of an evil empire led by the always welcome John Saxon sporting a facial burn mark.
Moving on from his career role as John Boy Walton, Richard Thomas plays a young man living amongst the peaceful tribe led by Jeff Corey on a distant planet. When Saxon and his gang of marauders turn up, Thomas escapes the colony planet in search of men who possess weapons and will fight for a price. His first stop is on a planet run by the “head” of Sam Jaffe. No fooling. The stopover turns into a trap for young Thomas when Jaffe imprisons him for mating purposes with his attractive daughter, Darlanne Fluegel. Nice work if you can get it but Thomas flees the planet though he wins out in the end with the young adventuress in tow.
“I’ve done more fighting than I’ve seen movies.” says the appropriately named “Cowboy” played by George Peppard who takes up the cause. Injecting a bit of the wild west into the script, Peppard is frequently seen in his cowboy hat and blowing Red River Valley into his harmonica. Next up is Robert Vaughn, “I settle disputes.” he icily tells Thomas upon their initial meet and greet.
Others to join in the fun and space setting shootouts are the top heavy Sybil Danning who surely had the actors and crew around her on set either happy or embarrassed most of the time. Surely her assets must have tumbled out a time or two based on the look and design of the outfit deemed spaceworthy. I noticed the name of Morgan Woodward in the cast list and was thoroughly disappointed that the “man with no eyes” was relegated to a lizard like character, green mask and costume. Considering this is a western in space, covering up this long time western heavy just doesn’t seem right. A paying gig I suppose. Finally rounding out the mercenaries is a group of clones that are added in for comic relief.
If one is at all familiar with the lengthy career of Roger Corman productions then you also know they can be very slick (Price -Poe series) or just knockoffs of whatever is popular or the flavor of the month (Carnosaur). This one falls into the middle as it tries to jump on the Star Wars/Trek bandwagon with a cheaper set of special effects and a ship piloted by Thomas that looks like a deformed Hammerhead Shark.
The cast that Corman the Executive producer has gathered here isn’t all that bad. I’m mainly referring to getting Saxon, Peppard and Vaughn on board. Had I seen this years ago, Danning would have been a feast to the eyes of the kid I would have been at the time of this one’s theatrical release. For the record, she still caught my eye in that space get up.
Like many of Corman’s films, if you look beyond the cast listings and focus on the talented newbies behind the camera, you can quite often spot names you are sure to recognize for future successes. This may in fact be Corman’s lasting legacy. Employing so many youngsters who would go on to stellar careers. Scorsese, Nicholson, Ron Howard and Dick Miller. Oh come on, Dick Miller has had one heck of lengthy career.
James Horner delivers the soundtrack. I kid you not if I wasn’t watching the screen and knew what was playing, I’d have thought Star trek II : Wrath of Khan was in the blu ray player. Sure enough after checking, Sayles did indeed do that score two years later. He would move on to Avatar and cop an Oscar for Titanic. Both of those films were directed by James Cameron who is on this cast list as well serving as the Art Director. John Sayles wrote the script and apparently as an alien extra somewhere in here is comedienne Kathy Griffin in her first credited role according to the IMDB.
Better than it has any right to be, this would be a good flick to reach back to and share with your youngsters who might be getting the sci-fi bug. It’s up to you if you fast forward over the Sybil Danning footage and let the little ones focus on our hero John Boy.