Wednesday, September 15, 2010

STARCRASH (Blu-ray)

"You know, my son, I wouldn't be Emperor of the Galaxy if I didn't have a few powers at my disposal. Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!"

I'm still finding it difficult to believe, but Shout! Factory has just released a two-disc special edition (loaded with extras) of director Luigi Cozzi's delirious space opera, STARCRASH (a/k/a THE ADVENTURES OF STELLA STAR, 1978), on DVD and high-definition Blu-Ray disc.

I've long lamented that there wasn't a good quality, authorized DVD edition of this personal favorite available in the U.S., and the thought that I now own a copy on Blu-Ray is mind-blowing. Ever since I read Cozzi's article about the making of the film in Future magazine (anyone remember that companion mag to Starlog, later known as Future Life?) back in '78, I've been fascinated with the film, and when I finally saw it on VHS with some friends around 1990, I couldn't believe just how much giddy, shameless, stupid fun it was.

The story is this: two rogue space pilots - sexy brunette Stella Star (Caroline Munro, AT THE EARTH'S CORE, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD) and the mysterious alien, Akton (Marjoe Gortner, FOOD OF THE GODS) - are recruited by the Emperor of the Galaxy (Christopher Plummer, STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY) to investigate the destruction of an Imperial starship and seek out its only survivor - his son, Prince Simon (a young David Hasselhoff, KNIGHT RIDER). Accompanied by space cop Thor (Richard Tessier, THE SWORD & THE SORCERER) and robot gunslinger Elle (Munro's then husband Judd Hamilton, voice by Hamilton Camp), Stella and Akton set out for the Haunted Stars and a series of perilous encounters with gorgeous Amazons, giant robots, alien cavemen, and, finally, the evil, would-be cosmic conqueror, Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell, MANIAC).

Usually dismissed as a cheap Italian STAR WARS knock-off, it's actually much, much more than that: it's a cheap Italian knock-off of all three FLASH GORDON serials, BARBARELLA, hundreds of pulp space operas and comic books, and a half-dozen Ray Harryhausen movies. It literally has everything: a scantily clad heroine, a comic relief robot, stop-motion monsters, light sabre duels, space amazons, space troglodytes, a galactic villain with a beer belly, ray guns, cobbled-together spaceship miniatures, beach ball planets, multicolored Christmas tree light stars... and a score by Academy Award-winning composer John Barry!

It is also a sincere, gushing love letter to fantastic films, created by a team of talented and determined filmmakers with meager resources, tight-fisted financiers, and primitive - even by 70s standards - movie making equipment. The eclectic international cast all play their roles with conviction and enthusiasm, despite the ludicrous comic book dialogue, and Cozzi successfully keeps things moving at a breathless pace. The costumes, lush sets and props are beautifully designed and realized, and Barry's score rivals his work on the James Bond films (and is somewhat reminiscent of his score for MOONRAKER, composed around the same time).

There isn't much I don't love about the movie, to be honest. Caroline Munro is stunningly gorgeous, the colorful special effects are psychedelic and hypnotizing, the characters so over-the-top... it's pure, rainy Saturday afternoon bliss.

I'm also in love with Shout! Factory's new 2-disc Blu-Ray edition, part of their "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" collection (although Corman didn't produce the film and merely picked it up for U.S. distribution). Disc 1 contains an eye-opening new 1080p HD 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that is light years better than the 80s Charter VHS tape or bootleg DVDs derived from it. Details are sharp and the film's bright colors are brilliant. Only some of the process effects shots are a bit soft, and that's due to the old school, in-camera methods used to create them and not any defect in the transfer or source material. The film was one of the first movies released in Dolby Stereo, and the disc recreates that experience, as well as offering a robust DTS-HD 5.1 remix.

Disc one also includes two commentary tracks by author and STARCRASH aficionado Stephen Romano. The first track attempts to place STARCRASH into context with other 70s genre films and is a bit of a rambling - if enthusiastic - mess. Romano is also a bit self-aggrandizing here; it takes him around ten minutes to finish introducing himself! But, the second commentary is more scene-specific and better organized, and conveys considerable information about the production of the film. It's this track that reveals the identity of the uncredited actress who dubbed Caroline Munro's voice for the English version of the film, and it's quite a revelation for cult film buffs. This disc also features a long, fascinating on-screen interview with director Cozzi, an in-depth analysis of Barry's musical score, a selection of theatrical trailers (including commentaries by director Joe Dante, who cut the the trailer for Corman back in the day, and filmmaker Eli Roth, who spouts some erroneous information about the flick), and both TV and radio spots.

Disc 2 is a standard DVD, and contains a selection of 17 scenes deleted from the U.S. cut of the film, a 70-minute, on-camera interview with the charming and still-striking Munro wherein she discusses STARCRASH as well as the rest of her film and modeling career, a featurette on the special effects of STARCRASH, presented by FX artist Armando Valcauda, and extensive still galleries.

Finally, there's a 12-page booklet with extensive liner notes and a reversible disc sleeve that sports some marvelous foreign poster art on the back.

You may gather that STARCRASH is one of my favorite movies, and you're right. I've always maintained that the only bad movie is one that fails to entertain, and by that criteria, STARCRASH is far from a bad movie. In fact, I find it vastly more pleasurable and rewarding than any of the STAR WARS prequels. If you're willing to give it - and its unique charms - a chance, you may enjoy it, too. And if you're already a fan of this candy-coated cinematic confection, the new Shout! Blu-Ray is an absolute must-buy.

Highly recommended.

BUY: Starcrash (Roger Corman Cult Classics) [Blu-ray]