Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Starcrash (1978)

The DVD cover for Starcrash could lead you to believe that this was an attempt by Roger Corman to make a low-budget Star Wars rip-off. In fact it isn’t.

Corman had nothing to do with the production of this movie so releasing it as a Roger Corman cult classic is misleading. Corman’s New World Pictures bought the US distribution rights after the film was completed. It’s really an Italian sci-fi flick produced by two Frenchmen with a mostly English cast. And while it was the success of Star Wars that motivated the investors in this movie the Italians certainly didn’t need Geirge Lucas to show them how to make space operas. They’d been doing that successfully for years, in movies like Antonio Margheriti’s fantastic Wild, Wild Planet. Starcrash is very much in the tradition of Italian space opera. Which is fine by me. I love Italian sci-fi.

Writer-director Luigi Cozzi already had a science fiction movie planned. Star Wars did cause him to make some changes but the feel of the movie is still thoroughly Italian.

Stella Star (Caroline Munro) and Akton (Marjoe Gortner) are space pirates and smugglers. They are caught and sentenced to several hundred years imprisonment on a penal planet. They are unexpectedly pardoned when the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) needs someone to undertake a hazardous mission to hunt down a troublesome pretender to the throne. Stella Star might be a criminal but she’s the best space pilot in the known universe.

Stella gets some help from a wise-cracking robot, gets captured by space amazons, fights space battles and rescues the Emperor’s son. And she does all his while wearing very little clothing. Apparently the standard uniform of a space pilot is a black bikini.

As you’d expect in an Italian space opera the special effects are cheap but effective and the film has style to burn. Cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli achieves some extraordinary effects with colour. In fact aside from Mario Bava I can’t think of anyone who has used colour in a more dazzling way.

The script is fairly weak but again that’s par for the course in Italian exploitation cinema - style matters more than substance and the movie has enough energy and flair to more than compensate for any deficiencies in the script.

Caroline Munro gives an enthusiastic performance as Stella Star. It’s clear from both her performance and the accompanying interview that she was having a great time and relishing the opportunity to play a lead role and be an action movie star.

Marjoe Gortner is suitably odd as her non-human partner and navigator. David Hasselhoff is unfortunately rather dull as the Emperor’s son. Joe Spinell chews the scenery with abandon as the villain of the piece while Christopher Plummer adds some gravitas as the Emperor. While everyone else is overacting he underacts but he knew what he was about and it has the effect of making him seem a distant and mysterious, almost god-like, figure.

The producers were clearly hoping to capture a wide audience so there’s no sex or nudity and no graphic violence.

The Shout Factory DVD has almost too many extras. There’s a very long interview with Caroline Munro, which is interesting. There are no less than two audio commentaries, by the same guy, but they’re rambling and tedious. The DVD transfer is good though and the colours are amazing,

It’s a fun romp of a movie. Well worth a purchase.


venoms5 said...

I've been meaning to buy this and still haven't yet. I haven't seen it in years. I remember it being incredibly silly, but not quite as bad as Cozzi's two HERCULES misfires.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

There is another important difference between STAR WARS and STARCRASH and that is that STARCRASH is a much better film. I much prefer this to the po-faced juvenile philosophy of the immature George Lucas.

dfordoom said...

Shaun, I agree completely. I've never been a fan of Lucas.