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:Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980/2011)

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Battle Beyond the Stars
Theater Release Date:  September 8, 1980 (USA)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:  July 12, 2011 (USA)
Studio:  New World Pictures / Shout! Factory (home media rerelease)
Starring:  Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, Sybil Danning, and Darlanne Fluegel
Music:  James Horner
Director:  Jimmy T. Murakami
Rated PG

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English, Beacon College

An overlord named Sador with an army of mutants threatens the peaceful planet of Akir with a weapon called the Stellar Converter that turns planets into stars.  Zed, the last Akira warrior, suggests hiring mercenaries to fight back.  Shad offers to pilot a ship, Nell, and search for recruits for a defense team.  He first meets up with Nanelia—whose father presses him to have a child with his daughter—and they look for other fighters.  Shad finds Space Cowboy who offers to deliver some weapons to Akir and teach the Akira how to use them.  Next, Shad encounters a group of alien clones who share a collective consciousness named Nestor.  Bored, they send five of their members with Shad to join his resistance.  Gelt joins up next.  He is a highly skilled and wealthy assassin who offers to help in exchange for living/hiding on Akir since he has to constantly look over his back.  Saint Exmin approaches Shad and joins also.  Nanelia is captured by Cayman who eagerly join forces since Sador destroyed his homeworld.

You can probably deduce the rest.  After a series of battles on Akir and in space, Shad’s group succeeds in repelling the enemy forces and destroying the Stellar Converter.  Sador’s ship captures Nell in a tractor beam.  Shad activates Nell’s self-destruct program and escapes in a life pod.  Sador’s ship explodes.  Everyone is safe. 

If you substitute Sador for Darth Vader (catch the rhyme there?), Shad for Luke Skywalker, Nanelia for Princess Leia (notice the similarities in name), Space Cowboy for Han Solo, and Stellar Converter for Death Star, you’ve got a lot of the plot for Star Wars released just a few years before and still very fresh on the minds of audiences—both titles even share the word star.

What differentiates this from some of the other New World Pictures films is that lack of an exploitative element.  The PG rating eliminates a lot—but not all—of the guts, gore, and nudity present in, for example, Galaxy of Terror.  There’s still plenty of action, but the special effects, the costuming, and the acting rise to the forefront. 

As I recounted in the Galaxy of Terror review, Roger Corman and New World Pictures really knew how to deliver maximum bang on minimum budget and turned out work that delivered way above what the budget lines would seem to allow.  Corman was also great and/or lucky in hiring talent that was on the way up.  Battle Beyond the Stars is no different in both of these respects.  At around $2,000,000, Battle Beyond the Stars was the most money Corman had every spent on a film.  The movie made almost all of it back up during the opening weekend and with total ticket sales, cable network licenses, foreign distribution rights, and home rentals, it ultimately generated more than ten times its cost to make.  While George Peppard and Robert Vaughn—who sucked up much of the budget with their salaries—were known stars, most of the people who worked on the film were not.  Richard Thomas went on to a number of movies and television shows including The Americans and The Waltons for which he won an Emmy Award.  Costume designer Durinda Wood designed costumes for the second season of Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  James Cameron did the special effects and later directed Titanic and Avatar.  James Horner composed the music and later scored Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, Titanic, and Avatar

The reissue seems pretty clean.  I don’t know if something was done to it or if that is just the result of the original version’s large budget.  The box says that the reissue is a “new anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) from the internegative,” So what does this mean to transfer from the internegative?  I gave myself a quick crash course on this via the Internet and here’s what I came up with.

The actual film is processed and workprints are made for viewing and editing by the film crew.  They produce an edited original negative, sort of the first completed rough draft (that is then copied as a backup).  The original negative generates an answer print—often used for pre-release screenings when the filmmaker can still make changes in color, sounds, and pacing—which then yields interpositives and internegatives, the earliest generations of the actual finished film and usually used for transfers and restorations.  These are used for release prints or copies that go to the theaters.   The interpositive is generally preferred over the internegative for transfers since it is one generation higher.  Thus, the Battle Beyond the Stars transfer uses the second-best available finished source.

Battle Beyond the Stars is transferred as opposed to remastered or restored, which is a whole other level of technical explanation.  In short, remastering and restoration get into making changes/improvements to the film by making a new master copy of the film, which may involve changing/deleting/or adding to the original footage, and/or cleaning it up, doing things to the sound, and so forth.  Basically, if you have a good, clean, stable, intact source to duplicate from, remasters and restorations are unnecessary.  Also, if that transfer technology is better, which it probably is after two decades, then the reissue version of Battle Beyond the Stars is better just because of better available methods.  I will leave the finer points of remastering and restoration, along with anamorphic and 1.85:1, for you to debate/discover.

Battle Beyond the Stars also gets a “5.1 Dolby Surround Sound Mix.” In short, Shout! didn’t just slap this onto a DVD; they actually spent some time trying to make the visuals and audio as high a quality as they could.  You also get a variety of extras mostly in the form of interesting, funny, and informative interviews with various people involved with making the film.

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