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Release Date(s)1979 (September 14, 2010)
Studio(s)New World (Shout! Factory)
Within weeks of May 25, 1977, everybody, and I mean everybody, in the film industry wanted to cash in on the success of Star Wars. If you had a science fiction script in the late 70s and still couldn’t get a meeting, you probably weren’t trying very hard. So it was with Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi. He’d had a sci-fi idea rejected a few years earlier by French producer Nat Wachsberger. After Star Wars became the biggest movie in the galaxy, Wachsberger remembered Cozzi and gave him a call. Now he wanted to make a science fiction picture... just not the one Cozzi had originally pitched. He wanted Star Wars and gave Cozzi about a week to come up with his own version. The result, released in America by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in 1979, was Starcrash.
Over the years, Starcrash has earned a reputation as one of the best Star Wars knock-offs. And if we’re being honest, that’s at least partially due to the fact that it’s been so difficult to actually see it. But give Cozzi (directing under the Anglicized name “Lewis Coates”) credit for one thing. His movie isn’t merely a Star Wars rip-off. He rips off (or, if you prefer, pays homage to) all sorts of movies. There’s a little bit of Barbarella. There’s a little bit of Forbidden Planet. There’s a whole lot of Ray Harryhausen, specifically Jason and the Argonauts. There’s maybe even a little Battlestar Galactica, although I suspect that may be more of a marketing decision than an intentional artistic one. The robot, Elle, looks a whole lot more like a Cylon on the poster than he actually does in the movie.
The always-easy-on-the-eyes Caroline Munro plays Stella Star, space smuggler and hot-shot pilot. Marjoe Gortner, already one of the most unusual actors of the decade, gives a decidedly odd performance as Stella’s faithful navigator, Akton. Gortner’s work makes only a little more sense if and when you figure out that he’s supposed to be an alien of some kind, a little tidbit that eluded me for most of the picture’s running time. Stella and Akton are recruited by The Emperor (Christopher Plummer, delivering his lines as if he’s getting paid by the hour) to track down the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell!) and rescue the Emperor’s son (David Hasselhoff!!!). Along the way, they encounter Amazons, cavemen, and “Red Monsters” that don’t appear very monstrous but are certainly red.
Starcrash is a movie that in no way should, or even can, be taken seriously. The episodic, stitched-together plot holds no surprises, unless you consider the sheer blatant audacity of some of Cozzi’s “homages” to be a surprise. The dialogue is ridiculous and the visual effects range from cheesy-but-still-kind-of-neat to just-plain-cheesy. And yet, the whole enterprise remains surprisingly watchable despite, or more likely, because of these drawbacks. Starcrash is a goofy, light-hearted and innocent flick, despite the mercenary motives for making it. There are certainly worse ways to consider spending an hour and a half.
For its digital debut, Shout! Factory has pulled out all the stops, making Starcrash one of the most impressive entries so far in the Roger Corman’s Cult Classics collection. Disc one of the set includes a terrific 1080p transfer that really shows off the movie’s best asset (by which I mean the kaleidoscopic use of colors, not Caroline Munro, although she certainly looks pretty vibrant herself). The DTS 5.1 surround sound is also pretty grand, especially when John Barry’s score kicks in (the original 2.0 mix is also included, although it should be noted that both tracks use Corman’s English dub, so if you’re hoping to hear the Italian version, you’re out of luck). You also get two commentaries by author Stephen Romero, one of which is scene-specific, the other, more rambling track, provides more general information. Both are exhaustively informative, even if Romero thinks far more highly of the film than I do and occasionally sounds downright condescending toward anyone who can’t recognize Starcrash for the work of genius it so clearly is. Another extremely interesting feature is a music commentary by Mars from Deadhouse Music, analyzing Barry’s score in far more detail than music is usually given on disc. There’s also a lengthy new interview with Luigi Cozzi and trailers with two audio commentaries from Trailers from Hell: one from Joe Dante reminiscing about Starcrash being the final trailer he edited for New World and one from Eli Roth, reminiscing about Starcrash being a movie he’s seen and enjoyed.
Nope, not done yet! Disc two is a standard-def DVD including 17 deleted and alternate scenes, mostly cuts mandated by Corman with text intros explaining the edits. There’s a lengthy interview (over an hour) with Caroline Munro, still lovely, soft-spoken and modest, discussing Starcrash in minute detail and touching on many other aspects of her career. Special effects director Armando Valcauda contributes a piece on the VFX, while Romero returns to provide commentary on some behind-the-scenes footage. Finally, the screenplay (illustrated with storyboards and concept art) is included as a PDF, plus you get a 12-page booklet with liner notes by who else but Stephen Romero.
All in all, Shout! Factory’s disc provides far more Starcrash than most people would ever really want or need. Still, it’s hard not to admire the care that went into bringing this relatively obscure 70s space opera to disc. Is Starcrash one of the best Star Wars rip-offs? Well, if you’re comparing it to Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam (a.k.a., the notorious Turkish Star Wars), then sure, Starcrash is a freakin’ masterpiece. But if your standards are set slightly higher... well, let’s just say your mileage may vary.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke