Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Barbarella...Without the Dignity

(SPOILER ALERT: As promised, here's an updated version of my post concerning the Italian space opera, Starcrash.  It's less a review and more a play-by-play rehash of the movie itself, only now with more pictures!  If you haven't seen it, you may want to before reading this, or read it and I'll be amazed if you still want to see it. Someone, somewhere, if there's justice in the world, will get me a Blu-ray of this for my efforts. Enjoy!)

Often enough, I've warned friends and family of the dangers of returning to the beloved movies of your past. More than once, like a moth to the flames, I have made this error and returned to those movies. More often than not, a beloved former cinema gem in my mind's eye has been dashed to the ground, forever broken and tarnished. On a few occasions, I've been delightfully surprised that the movie managed to still hold some or all of it's magic. But the real fun is finding the rarest of all, and running full tilt head first into the open arms of an old movie's overwhelming badness.

This movie is awful, and I love it almost more than breathing.

Nothing about this poster says you won't love this movie.
Starcrash (1979, d. Luigi Cozzi)

Now, by 1979, we all know that Star Wars had blown away box office records and spawned a following that multiplied faster than Gremlins being sprayed with a firehose. It wasn't, however, until the success was solidified by The Empire Strikes Back, that the drive really geared up to cash in on sci-fi's new success.

80's Sci-Fi or Cruising sequel?
Probably the two most well known cash-in attempts were made by a name that has produced many a groan in many cineastes, Dino De Laurentiis. Now, I own both of these films, (...and how shall I put it in the most diplomatic way between the lovers and the haters of these films...ahem...) and though they are not classics, they still retain a certain joyous charm shown by the lavish work put into them. Those films are Flash Gordon (1980) and Dune (1984). But of course, those weren't the only ones, they were probably just the biggest and the only ones that anyone seems to remember. But in 1978, Producers Nat and Patrick Wachberger, who definitely weren't Dino, must have decided to toss anything and everything into one movie in the hopes of grabbing some franchise-starting glory.

If you've seen Star Wars, I don't need to describe the opening crawling spaceship shot. The major difference here of course is that the Star Destroyer looked like...well, something that could damn well destroy some stars. Our spaceship here looks like you could crush it by accidentally laying a book on top of it...or knocking it off the table. Once we got inside the ship, and I saw all the left over leatherette costumes from Planet of the Vampires (1965...and a much better film), I thought maybe it wouldn't be all bad. That was until I saw one of the most leaden exposition scenes ever interrupted by what appeared to be a super-imposed death dealing force field that looked like the inner workings of a lava lamp. Oh, oh, oh...the guys in the ship are on a mission from the Emperor to find the ultimate weapon created by the evil...are you ready for this...Count Zarth Arn! (Zarth's not only pure evil...he also has one of cinema-dom's most impressive haircuts...The English language lacks the precice vocabulary to accurately describe it.)

Who needs a large black helmet when you've got all these lovely locks?
Ok, moving on. We cut to space smugglers Stella Star (Caroline Munro, former Bond girl, The Spy Who Loved Me) and her buddy Akton (Marjoe Gortner, who grew to fame as the youngest ordained minister..and who later appeared in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt) who are on the run (for what...I have no idea...they're just...um...smugglers?) from the space cops, Thor and robot Elle (who's actually a guy...and whose voice sounds like Martin Sheen doing a bad Southern accent). Stella and Akton jump into hyperspace (and we're treated to more impressively bad visuals), but are caught after stopping to checkout a derelict space craft. Oh, oh, oh...the derelict craft was one of the launches from the Emperor's scout ship from beginning of the movie...I probably forgot to mention it because even as I was watching it, I didn't think it would be important (...and I've seen Star Wars!)

Weird straps: the stuff of space outfits since long before Leeloo.
So Stella and Akton (I keep thinking of Ohio...or bug spray for some reason) are sentenced to hard labor on two different planets (Oh, I should mention that the judge looks like the head Martian from Invaders from Mars [1953...and also a better movie...even with the goofy effects which are forgiveably 25 years older]). Right....Let's just skip ahead. Stella makes a...uhhh...confusing escape from...ummm...well, I'm not sure what sort of labor...something to do with a furnace. So she escapes, and is picked up by....Thor and Elle, the space cops! Huh? Oh, oh, oh...apparently, Stella is the best pilot in the galaxy, and Akton is the best navigator...so the Emperor wants them to find the rest of the missing ships that escaped from the spy ship. Are you following any of this? Who cares...let's continue.

The first ship is on a planet...well, it's just a planet...it has an ocean, a beach...and a bunch of Amazons...oh, oh, oh, and some woman who we don't know but we do find out that she's loyal to Zarth, and she hates Elle the robot...for some reason that naturally is not explained. So Stella and Elle go down, they get captured, the make another goofy implausible escape, and are then attacked by an enormous stop motion statue. An Aside here: Clash of the Titans (1981) was one of the movies I shouldn't have gone back to, but watching this scene, suddenly and inexplicably, my heart yearned in the hardest way for the majesty that was Harryhausen's Kraken. Oh, and I guess there were no survivors in the ship...no one really says what happened to them, but the Amazon queen does tell Stella and Elle that they are spies, and they'll never find Zarth's ultimate weapon. On to the next planet...

The majesty of a tin foil colossus...in SPACE!!!
For some reason, they stop off on some frozen planet to check out the spy ship that we already saw explode. Now we're told that you'll freeze to death instantly if the sun goes down on this planet. Why are we told this? Well, because someone's got to freeze to death of course. As it turns out, Thor is a traitor. He's working for Zarth and he leaves Stella outside to freeze after he "kills" Akton (remember the old soap opera rule: if you don't see a body...). Somehow, Elle saves Stella from freezing to death...I'd tell you how, but I really don't know...but she is in suspended animation (?). Akton returns from the "dead" with...um...super powers. He kills Thor, and re-animates Stella...who looks like she was covered in a slimy version of that fake snow sh!t you spray on X-mas trees. I think that it's at this point that Stella somehow discovers that Akton can see the future...right-o...if it isn't, I'm sorry...but you should know...Akton can see the future...but apparently, he can only see it after getting whacked on the head by Thor...Moving on...

Thanks internet for doing my work for me.
Now the third and final planet they visit is filled with smoke machines....well, smoke machines and cavemen. Yup. They club Elle to smithereens (he's a robot remember?), and capture Stella...who's then rescued by David Hasselhoff! Part of me wishes that was just a punchline...but seriously, she's rescued by David Hasselhoff, who plays Simon, the Emperor's son. He doesn't tell Stella that at first...because...well, he's not sure what sides she's on...but despite that, he still saves her from the cavemen...sort of. Within four minutes of screen time, they're both captured by the cavemen...until Akton arrives wielding something that's kind of...ummm...light saberish. He whoops some caveman @$$, and then reveals that...dun-Dun-DDUUUUUUUNNNNN...the planet they're on holds Zarth's ultimate weapon! (There actually is some explanation on how he figured that out...but that would involve me rehashing even more nonsensical convoluted plot points.)

Next, they go down into the weapon's...ummm...whatever...um...home. Akton does a lot of explaining, and who should turn up but Zarth Arn and his haircut! Oh yeah, he's also got some men with him who look just like the Emperor's guys from the beginning (the leatherette spacesuits) but with slightly different hats AND two...umm..stop-motion robots with pirate swords. Like any good villain, he then explains that he's going to blow up the ultimate weapon (huh? why?), which will also kill the Emperor when he arrives to save his son. To someone somewhere...this made perfect sense. Nonetheless, Zarth takes off, leaving the robots to watch the prisoners. What he's going to do next, I have no idea...take over the universe, I guess...but without his ultimate weapon. Maybe he just went out for a sandwich and a beer.

I bet you didn't even notice the robots for that majestic hair.
So, Akton cuts loose with somemore Jedi-esque work on the robots...and though he can still see the future, as far as I understand...he's still cut pretty badly by one. At this point, Hasselhoff (I know I said his character was Simon...but I'm just gonna call him Hasselhoff which I think is a cooler more heroic name) leaps into action with the "light saber" and kills the other robot. Akton, in Ben Kenobi fashion, has to die to fulfill...umm...destiny...which may have meant something if we knew what the hell was going on with him to begin with. Oh, when he dies, he disappears in something that sort of looks like what my TV does when I turn it off. Sure enough, right about this time, the Emperor shows up.

Ok, pause in action...The Emperor did appear before now, but I was sort of saving him up. Do we all know who Christopher Plummer is? I have two fond childhood memories of Chris. Every X-mas my sister and I watched The Sound of Music (1965) on TV with my mom, and Christopher Plummer was the gruff but enventually endearing Captain Von Trapp. Later, my dad and I used to watch Pete Sellers act a fool in the Pink Panther movies, and Christopher Plummer took over the role of the dashing Sir Charles Litton (aka. The Phantom) in Return of the Pink Panther (1975). Yet here he is, and you can almost see the dignity washing away with each frame that he's on screen. Something inside me shed a tear...while I laughed my @$$ off as he explained that his space ship could freeze time while they escaped the destruction of the ultimate weapon. It only got worse...

This is the future! Aerodynamics be damned!
With the ultimate weapon of unknown weapon-ness out of the way, they go to attack Zarth Arn's flying fortress....dear God...Must go on...must finish story...flying fortress that is shaped like a giant hand. (I should mention that it was at this point that I mentally confirmed that I had seen this movie as a kid...I had never forgotten the flying space hand.) Now we're treated to the second round of space dog fights in this movie...treated...yes, Mr. Cozzi, our director, probably inadvertently taking a page from the serials of the past that inspired Star Wars, uses the exact same footage of space ships flying around over and over and over and over and over and over and over again...until...we send in the flying coffins!

Yup, the emperor launches two-man flying coffins in through the windows of Zarth's flying hand ship.  Amazingly, though a great many of these flying coffins make it in...and ignoring that the vacuum of space isn't pulling them and everything else in the ship out into the vaccum of space...they all magically seems to break through the same windows over and over and over again. I mentioned "two-man flying coffins" because that's what comes out of them: two men. However, I began to wonder if the Emperor was such a good guy because...uh...well...all these guys get slaughtered...and um, all his spaceships get destroyed while he, Stella, and Hasselhoff all stand around watching. Sort of seemed like an intergalactic snuff film there for a few minutes.

NOTE: Not the set of the 1979 Academy Awards
Now, all seems lost. Zarth Arn's going to destroy the Emperor's home planet...in a way that's never explained...and that definitely will NOT involve the ultimate weapon. Suddenly the Emperor is hit with a plan: Starcrash. Nope, it hasn't been mentioned before, not counting the title. It's sort of explained in a way that can't be summarized by a rational human mind...well, there's going to be some sort of time space warp involving the flying hand ship and some flying city we've never seen before, but essentially, Stella and Elle (who's been rebuilt...quelle surprise!) basically fly out to the flying city and ram it into Zarth's ship.  They escape. Hasselhoff picks them up. Zarth blows up in a lot more repetitive footage of bad miniatures exploding. And instead of a The End with Hasselhoff and Stella making out, Cozzi instead decides to drive Plummer closer to the brink of madness by making him recite the most bizarre, pointless, and nonsensical soliloquoy ever filmed. THE END.

For a minute, I considered rewinding the movie, and copying the soliloquoy down for you...but no, no, no...you gotta see it for yourself...truly. In fact, looking back, I'm not sure that I've done this movie an iota of justice in merely describing it. If you can, just take an hour and a half of your life and throw it away on this glorious travesty of a movie. If you can't manage that, take like a five dollar bill out of your wallet and burn it...for Plummer...for Hasselhoff...and for the great movie that is...STARCRASH!

Sci-fi sexism was never so sexy...and neither was Hasselhoff.
(I would've done my usual reviewing of the performances, direction, camerawork, music, etc. ...but come on...if you just read all that...do I really need to?)

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