Battle Beyond the Stars
When the peaceful planet Akir is threatened by the Malmouri and their powerful leader Sador (John Saxon), the Akir send Shad (Richard "John-Boy" Thomas) to find mercenaries to help defend their planet and way of life. Flying the talkative spaceship Nell, Shad recruits a handful of mercenaries, all with different reasons for fighting, and along the way Shad learns to stand up for himself and become a hotshot pilot plus he meets a girl. The Roger Corman-produced Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) translates The Seven Samurai and bits of The Magnificent Seven as a space adventure, which may sound clever, but the film never gels into a good B-picture. In fact, the best element is the cast: Robert Vaughn (reprising his role from Magnificent Seven), Sybil Danning (playing, what else, an Amazon), and George Peppard (as a space cowboy) all make appealing mercenaries, and Saxon is an acceptable bad guy, even if he isn't exciting enough to satisfy the action requirements (and the special effects though good for both the budget and the era look Atari-level nowadays). And like Star Wars, the film it's aping, Battle Beyond the Stars isn't good science fiction. But it is notable for launching a few heavy-duty careers, including James Cameron, (providing art direction and visual effects), Gale Anne Hurd (the assistant production manager), effects guys the Skotak Brothers, and composer James Horner, who incorporated many of the themes in this score that he's used since (and whose scores for Aliens and Star Trek III, and pretty much everything he's done, sound remarkably similar). Animator-turned-director Jimmy Murakami returned to animation after this effort, and while the direction is never clumsy, it's far too tame, though screenwriter John Sayles (in his early Corman period before he became an indie darling) milks the story for all it's worth. The DVD edition presents the film letterboxed (1.85:1) and in a solid 5.1 Dolby Digital remix. The print itself is has some problems, but it never looks as bad as the scratchy Corman logo at the beginning. Sayles and Corman provide a commentary track that is more interesting than the film itself, revealing some of the low-budget secrets and tricks (Corman aficionados know that the effects in Battle Beyond the Stars showed up in at least three of his other films). Hurd also has a track, but she runs out of steam part way through (though she has some interesting comments about her ex-husband Cameron). Trailers, cast and crew bios, trivia game that leads to still photos. Keep-case.