Monday, July 31, 2017

STARCRASH (1978) - 1/2*

Rated PG
Running time: 92 min.
Release date: December 21, 1978

When Star Wars was released in 1977, what followed soon after was a slew of low-budget knock-offs that varied greatly in quality, most leaning toward the "not good" end of the quality spectrum. George Lucas inspired many but none more so than Italians. Perhaps it was the spectacle, perhaps it was the grandeur, or perhaps there was an error in the Italian/American exchange rate and someone miscalculated the budget; regardless, Starcrash is the first film mentioned when the topic is "non-Star Wars prequel horrible films we can thank George Lucas for". Starcrash is a bad movie.

The film opens with an homage/rip-off of the familiar sight of a starship floating across the screen, except here the limitations of the budget are immediately obvious. The crew is searching the galaxy for the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) but instead are bombarded by what appears to be the contents of a lava lamp. In all seriousness, it is Zarth Arn's secret weapon and it destroys the ship but not before several escape pods launch to destinations unknown. From there, we meet smuggler Stella Star (Caroline Munro) and her navigator/companion Akton (Marjoe Gortner), who are fleeing from the space cops. The cops are Thor (Robert Tessier) and his robotic lawman, Elle. Now Elle may be a female moniker, but this particular Elle is voiced by Judd Hamilton and sounds like what northerners think a southerner sounds like. Stella and Akton are caught and sent to perform hard labor on a mining planet. Not long after, Stella escapes but is rounded up once again, but this time she is needed to perform a task for the Emperor (Christopher Plummer). It seems the Emperor has a son who was on one of the escape pods and he would like to bring him home, while at the same time, destroying Zarth Arn's secret weapon. Along the way, Stella and Akton encounter a planet of amazons, a giant female robot (you know it's female because of the boobs), betrayal, freezing conditions, a planet of cavemen and various agents of Zarth Arn. The plot is pretty simple, but the story is given way too many ideas to juggle. Not only that, but each idea is more ridiculous than the next. The film breezes by pretty quickly at around ninety minutes but that's probably because the film crew was paid by the hour. The story is goofy with dialogue that sounds like something your kids would spew while playing with their Nerf swords in the backyard. Starcrash is a bad movie.

Luigi Cozzi was the director here, although the credits name him as "Lewis Coates". I'm guessing that is the closest English translation of his actual name. Cozzi/Coates should be given some credit for having some imagination in terms of his set design and sheer lunacy. The film is constantly moving, even in prolonged close-up shots of Marjoe Gortner's hypnotic eyes.

See what I mean.........*swoon*
The limitations of the budget dampen what is an otherwise impressive set of ideas that Cozzi/Coates puts on the screen. That is really where the praise ends, however. None of the scenes really gel together to form anything resembling a cohesive narrative. One of the bigger surprises is finding that the Oscar-winning composer John Barry performed the score for Starcrash. Here is a man who wrote the scores for several James Bond films, Dances With Wolves and Out of Africa. The score for this film, however, is nondescript and really seems like it was trying to grab that John Williams vibe during the closing credits. The screenplay by Cozzi/Coates and Nat Wachsberger is probably the biggest flaw of the film, peppered with dialogue that would embarass Tommy Wiseau. Starcrash is a bad movie.

The cast is really one of the more eclectic and stranger collection of actors/actresses you will ever find. Caroline Munro is known for her appearances in several Hammer Studio pictures, as well as her appearance in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. She is quite stunning and hyperspeeds through most of the film in a revealing outfit that is probably meant to distract the audience from....well, pretty much everything that is going on. Marjoe Gortner is actually an interesting story. He was raised by parents who decided that he was ready to be an ordained Pentecostal the age of 4. He began an acting career, wound up in this film and the rest is history. Actually, Akton is quite the character as he keeps surprising us with his abilities. He is the best navigator in the galaxy, as well as a healer and  he can predict the future. So he has seen everything play out ahead of time and we are left wondering why he didn't assist in making the movie eighty minutes shorter. Joe Spinell, as Zarth Arn, is an exercise in over-the-top cartoon-style supervillain. He has plans to rule the universe and Spinell actually appears to enjoy the lines of dialogue he spews. Give him points for effort, at least. And WHAT THE HELL IS CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER DOING IN THIS MOVIE? The unfortunate victim of a blackmailing scandal, Plummer seems so out of place with his class and poise. His final speech at the end of the film is simultaneously atrocious and heartfelt. He is also transparent for most of his on-screen time. No phoning it in for Mr. Plummer, no sir! He holographs it in! Finally, we get an early-career appearance by David Hasselhoff as Simon, the Emperor's son. So Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhoff in the same cast together? Starcrash is a bad movie.

Starcrash is something to behold, but for the wrong reasons. The special effects, though inventive, are cheap-looking. The dialogue is laughably horrible while the cast, who are otherwise fine actors in their own right (but alas, in other better films), seem to enjoy what they are doing and believe in the material, however misguided that may be. Starcrash is a bad movie, but it definitely can be enjoyed by some on a depraved level.

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