DVD Review: Starcrash
by Darren Goodhart
Published: September 13, 2010
"Starcrash" is the latest in Shout! Factory's exceptional "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" series and it's their best set yet.
After the release and success of "Star Wars," everybody was hot and heavy to get in on the sci-fi bandwagon... and that's how this began.
Italian director Luigi Cozzi (an associate of another famous director, Dario Argento, and working here under the name of Lewis Coates) always wanted to make his own science fiction film, but really wasn't given the chance until producer Nat Waschberger came back from the United States and first experienced "Star Wars." Now, the kind of film that Cozzi had in mind was a little different from what the producers wanted, so he had to make his vision work more to get that "Star Wars" feel to it. What we got in the end was "Starcrash." The Roger Corman connection is that basically this was acquired by Corman's New World Pictures for domestic distribution.
Outlaw Stella Star and her faithful alien companion Akton have a price on their heads as our little adventure starts, and they're on the run from the robot lawman, Elle. Along the way, they pick up a castaway on a mission from the Emperor to destroy a mysterious all-powerful weapon in the possession of the evil Count Zarth Arn. Stella and Akton are caught and sentenced to hard labor, but soon they're sprung free, with a catch: They must now complete the mission themselves and in the process track down the Emperor's missing son, Prince Simon.
I have to admit, this is the first time that I've seen this movie, although I'm no stranger to it's existence. Back in the day, I eagerly read every article that Starlog magazine printed about it, and I've always wanted to see it. Unfortunately, when it opened, I lived in an area of Missouri that wasn't exactly conducive to getting to a bigger city to see it. I'd never seen the previous VHS release, because I couldn't find it, and if it ever ran on cable (I'm not sure), then I just didn't have it at the right time. So when word came that this was coming as part of the "Roger Corman Cult Classics," I was very eager to see it.
Now this movie has a good heart, but it also had an extremely low budget and was made entirely in Italy, where their film techniques were just a little behind those in the U.S. Its story is very juvenile and very cornball with cheesy dialogue, I'll certainly grant that. For it's budget, there's some nice design work here, but the effects look even cheaper than something you'd see on American television at the time (this came out in 1979). At the same time though, it's right in line with -- and a progression from -- other Italian-made science Fiction movies. The sound is very good in the movie, but it's (almost) entirely dubbed, again following an Italian technique of shooting without sound, only to add it in later. For most viewers, this will add to the cheapness of the piece. I think that it's part of the film's charm.
While this was made to cash in on the success of "Star Wars," it's sensibility is just a little bit different. Luigi Cozzi hadn't seen "Star Wars" before making this, and his only reference was reading the book adaptation. What Cozzi made here owes way more to things like "Barbarella" and Ray Harryhausen movies. Though it is a relatively short movie (92 minutes), it's very episodic and manages to cram a lot in with little time (falling right in line with Cozzi's influences).
What really works for me in this, though, are a number of things. First, there's a pretty terrific score from the late John Barry, who's best known for his work on various James Bond movies. Second, though it does look cheap, I like a lot of aspects of the film's look and its use of color. It's not trying to be realistic, but it is trying to convey a huge sense of fun. Third, there's a nice amount of commitment from its cast. No one here was going to win any awards for this, but that wasn't the point -- this was just supposed to be a fun romp. I think it is, but I still wouldn't recommend it to everyone.
The cast is led by the beautiful Caroline Munro as Stella Star. She's done duty for the House of Hammer and was a Bond Girl, but here she got the chance to be the starring heroine. She was certainly in there trying, though she's not as proactive a character as the others around her, and that's no fault of hers; it's in the script (which again, has just a bit of a different sensibility to it). It doesn't help that she's being entirely dubbed here as well, but man does she ever look good. Marjoe Gortner plays Akton, who was originally supposed to be in alien make-up, but Gortner wouldn't have anything to do with that, so instead he looks just like he normally does. Even though he wouldn't play ball with the look, he more than makes up for it in his exuberant performance.
The late Joe Spinell plays Count Zarth Arn. Now we're more used to seeing Spinell in urban tough guy parts, so seeing him chew scenery in something like this is certainly cornball, but also a lot of fun. His meeting with Caroline Munro on this movie led to them working together later on two other films: "Maniac" and "The Last Horror Film." Christopher Plummer plays the Emperor, and compared to everyone else in the movie, he's actually underplaying the part, something that I wouldn't have expected from him.
The robot Elle is actually played by two people. Caroline Munro's husband at the time, Judd Hamilton plays the physical part of the robot and he's voiced by veteran character actor Hamilton Camp. Camp gives the robot a western twang to his voice that's also corny, but appropriate. And finally... Zounds der Hassellhoff! Yes, a young David Hasselhoff gets his first big screen acting role here as Prince Simon and, much like Marjoe Gortner, really throws himself into this.
I had a lot of fun with this. I don't think it's for everyone, though. It's definitely for those who have interest in the "Roger Corman Cult Classics" collection, and so far, this is the best package the series has released.
The presentation is spectacular with a brand new anamorphic transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. This movie has probably never looked or sounded better in its life. This is also getting a Blu-Ray release, and I'd expect that it will look and sound even better there.
This includes over 6 hours of special features that really added to my appreciation for this movie. Because of the wealth of material here, this is a two-disc set and, believe me, it uses all the space it gets. Starting off on Disk 1, the feature film has two separate commentary tracks from screenwriter and extreme "Starcrash" fan Stephen Romano. Romano had actually started to write a book about the making of this movie, but found those plans waylaid as he began pursuing a career as a screenwriter. He's listed as a producer for the DVD, and I expect much of what we see here in the special features has its start with him. His first commentary track talks about the history of the film and its place in films from the time. The second track is a scene by scene track that gets into the specifics with anecdotes, analysis and trivia. He's obviously very enthusiastic, and makes the tracks compelling to listen to.
Other features on Disk 1 includes:
• An Interview with director Luigi Cozzi. This runs about 40 minutes and it's highly informative.
• "Starcrash: The Music of John Barry" featuring a detailed analysis of the film's score by composer Mars of Deadhouse Music. This runs about 20 minutes.
• Behind The Scenes Image Gallery which includes art, storyboards and rare photos of the production.
• Promotional Art Gallery which features photos, posters and lobby cards, and early designs from famed illustrator Drew Struzan.
• Fan Art Gallery.
• Theatrical Trailer with commentary from Eli Roth from Trailers From Hell and an all-new commentary from Joe Dante as well.
• TV Spots and Radio Spots.
That's just on Disk 1. Disk 2 gets even better, with:
• An interview with Caroline Munro. This was the one feature that I was looking forward to the most on this set, and for fans of this actress, you will be pleased. This runs over 70 minutes and the actress talks about all facets of her career from her start in modeling to her film work and a good portion on "Starcrash" specifically. For a woman in her early 60s, she still looks terrific and she's just as sweet and engaging as can be. She comes off as sounding very blessed by the career that she's had. The only thing that mars this are some title card misspellings (including her last name, adding an "e" to Munro). But still, I absolutely loved this feature, and hope to see more like this done in the future. (If anyone at Shout! Factory is reading this, I'd hope to see something like this done with Sybil Danning on the "Battle Beyond The Stars" release, and if they do "The Big Doll House" and "The Big Bird Cage," I'd love to see it done with Pam Grier as well.)
• 17 deleted and alternate scenes. These come from the international release of the movie and they're spliced in with some of the existing domestic cut scenes. This runs around 37 minutes.
• "Making of the Special Effects of Starcrash by Armando Valcauda" This runs about 15-20 minutes and is presented in full frame.
• A 20-minute behind the scenes footage reel that also includes commentary.
• The complete original screenplay. This is a PDF file that can be downloaded to your computer (PC or Mac) and this thing is really nicely done, not just including the screenplay but also character designs, storyboards and other production illustrations and photos.
In addition, just like the other packages in this collection, this features a reversible DVD cover and a 12-page booklet written by Stephen Romano.
Whew! So there you have it. Pretty much everything you would ever want to know about this movie is right here in this wonderfully exhaustive package. The movie is corny and cheesy, but it's a sweet and juicy corn and a tasty, tangy cheese. For fans of "B" movies, Drive-In Movies and Grindhouse Cinema, this is a must buy and so far the very best package yet in the "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" collection. Kudos to the fine folks at Shout! Factory... keep 'em coming!