Junkfood Cinema: Battle Beyond the Stars

By  · Published on November 20th, 2009

Editor’s Note: We hope you enjoy this new Friday afternoon column, Junkfood Cinema, by Brian Salisbury. It celebrates movies that are so bad, even though they are also sometimes so good. For more (coming each and every Friday), stay tuned to the Junkfood Cinema Archive. Also, please feel free to let us know what you think of this new weekly feature in the comment section below.


attle Beyond the Stars

Directed by: Jimmy T. Murakami

Written by: John Sayles & Anne Dyer

Produced by: Roger Corman, Ed Carlin, & Mary Ann Fisher

Starring: George Peppard, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon, and Richard Thomas

For this second helping of Junkfood Cinema I will gorge myself on Battle Beyond the Stars. Operating a bad movie column, it was merely a matter of time before I snacked on something from the Roger Corman. He is the sultan of schlock and a genius in the art of box office manipulation. If you are unfamiliar with his work, go out and rent A Bucket of Blood, Deathrace 2000, and Humanoids From the Deep. Granted, he didn’t direct Deathrace or Humanoids, but his camp-covered fingerprints can be found all over any film he produces as well. Corman is a man who understands the irrefutable drawing power of boobs, blood, and mayhem; his entire catalogue is chock full of it. But Corman also understands film trends and how best to trick audiences into seeing his movies time and time again. Case in point, Battle Beyond the Stars was his brilliant plan for capitalizing on Star Wars. And before you paint the man as nothing more than a hack, bear in mind that Battle Beyond the Starsis an intergalactic remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. I wish I could fabricate information that incredible.

If you’ve seen The Seven Samurai, the plot of Battle Beyond the Stars should sound very familiar. An evil overlord, bent on conquering the entire universe, sets his sights on the bountiful, and totally defenseless planet of Akir. He threatens them, bullies them, and warns them that he will return for their crops and their vows of total submission in seven risings of their Red Giant. What is a completely wuss planet to do? They decide to let young Shad venture into the unknown and gather mercenaries willing to fight for the survival of Akir. He gathers seven ronin outcasts and heads home for what promises to be the most epic battle of 1980.

What Makes It Bad?

I honestly don’t know where to begin. The movie’s central setting is a planet with advanced computers that has mastered space travel and weapons controlled by xylophones(yup). But in an apparent effort to fly in the face of logic, a Corman trait if I ever saw one, these people live in caves, eat from clay pots, and display a aptitude for medicine that would shame a shaman. What the hell? Not to mention the fact that from this paradoxical planet is spawned Shad, arguably the weeniest hero of the decade. This kid is so wimpy, I don’t know whether to root for him or give him an atomic wedgie.

The effects of this movie provide for the greatest space battles this side of first generation screen-savers. And while the the blue screen is fuzzy and some of the makeup designs seem as though they were applied as the actors were running from their trailers to the set, the bedrock cheese of the effects in Battle Beyond the Stars lie with the models of the ships. There is a ship, and I wish I were kidding about this, that was fashioned from a terrarium salvaged from the garbage. Magic! And I would be completely lacking in my charge if I didn’t mention the crown jewel here: a ship that looks like a swinging set of testicles or a voluptuous pair of tits depending on your Freudian proclivities. Oh yes. The boob ship, called so here because that’s where my perversion stands, comes replete with viewing ports serving as aureoles and knocks about the galaxy as proud as a stripper with a brand new pair of cash-grabbers.

This film features a very, very 80’s representation of the future. I’ll admit this could be construed as nitpicking, but it is one of those unavoidable setbacks facing any film from a distinct era trying to interpret the future. It takes on a whole new level of anachronistic when robots have cassette tapes inserted into their chests in order to play music. And for that matter, when actors portraying robots demonstrate that they are robots by doing the robot. There’s really nothing like having an Aldolfo Shabba-Tron 3000 is there? And for the love of Flashdance if I saw one more pair of leggings on an alien female I was going to gag myself with a spoon.

Why I Love It!

There is a major film historian context behind my love of this film. While Roger Corman sadly remains largely unsung among the casual film viewer, he was the driving force behind some of the biggest names in Hollywood. When he fired nearly his entire visual effects team because he found out that their “worked on Star Wars” boasts were largely bullshit, he promoted the one employee with whom he had been impressed to the position of art director. That kid he promoted…a nobody named James Cameron. Yup, watch this film and see how it colors your anticipation for Avatar. Corman’s screenwriter, John Sayles, would go on to pen the scripts for The Howling, Eight Men Out, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. The composer, James Horner, has a body of work that includes Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, Aliens, Apollo 13, and Titanic. Though not involved in this film, it is interesting to note that Corman also launched the career of Silence of the Lambsdirector Jonathan Demme. When you think about how many big names owe their careers to Roger Corman, it is even more fun to watch his super cheesy films.

Battle Beyond the Starshas an amazing array of characters. I especially love George Peppard’s space cowboy. He is part Han Solo, part John Wayne, and all awesome. I believe I need only mention that the man has a Scotch dispenser on his belt buckle to cement his greatness into your mind sockets; I know that’s all I needed. Not to be overlooked is Robert Vaughn whose character from The Magnificent Seven was apparently launched into space, became an effeminate pirate, and now resides on a Vegas planet. Sidenote for the dozen people that do not know this, The Magnificent Seven is another remake of The Seven Samurai so having Vaughn in both seems doubly legitimate.

This film also features a lizard man with a vendetta, a pair of thermal twins who are unsettling and weird, and a rack-tastic warrior women called Saint-Exmin (apparently Professor X achieved sainthood). The latter of the list is dressed, at various times throughout the film, as a dominatrix, an opera singer, and a birthday cake adornment. Hilarious! I also found it hysterical that the villain’s ground assault force had two uniform choices: race car driver or scuba gear. It was about as intimidating as a flock of second-graders on Halloween. Congrats!

I love this film. I love that even though the directing credit went to Jimmy Murakami, Corman was really the one in charge. I love the hokey effects, the outlandish characters, and the shameless Star Wars ripoffs. Don’t believe me? Listen for the sound effects used on the opening and closing doors on Dr. Hephaestus’ ship and see if it doesn’t remind you of the sound made by a certain Sith lord’s breathing apparatus. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t seen this movie or if you haven’t seen it since you were a kid, go rent it right this second and have an out-of-this-world weekend.

Junkfood Pairing:

Astronaut ice cream – I know it seems a hack or perhaps just incredibly lazy choice, but when you think about it, astronaut ice cream is the perfect complement to this film. It takes a classic, beloved snack and gives it a crazy, science-fiction twist. Battle Beyond the Stars takes the classic Seven Samurai story and through the magic of Roger Corman and John Sayles, casts it in an overzealous sci-fi mold. So by “if you think about it” I clearly mean “if I shoehorn a metaphor into this”. Hooray!!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.