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Battle Beyond the Stars



As with "Star Crash," I'd much rather watch it than the Lucasfilm product any day of the week. "Battle" has none of the cultural impact, but all of what makes pop culture fun.

Besides, it boasts the credit "and George Peppard as Cowboy," and how many films can claim that? (That's rhetorical.)

As the evil Sador, whose face resembles the cover of David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane," John Saxon's in a world-conquerin' kind of mood. He's in possession of a "stellar converter," which is a euphemism for "planet vaporizer." Hovering over the peaceful farming planet of Akir, he warns them he'll return in "seven risings" — days, to you and me — to destroy them. At least he gives them time to get their affairs in order.

To embark on an intergalactic mission to hire mercenaries to take on Sador, they elect the gangly, "gee willikers!" Shad (the futuristic version of Chad?), played by Richard Thomas (John-Boy on TV's "The Waltons"). Taking to the stars in a ship, he recruits Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel), this flick's Princess Leia; Cowboy (Peppard), a Han Solo-esque earthling with a belt that dispenses Scotch and soda; Gelt (Robert Vaughn), a frowny assassin; a Valkyrie (Sybil Danning) whose bust-hugging tops put the PG rating in jeopardy; a lizard man (Morgan Woodward); and a group of three-eyed clones whose skin is the color of Hostess Powdered Donettes.

Battles ensue — a few too many, for pacing's sake, but with effects as impressive as these, I assume Corman wasn't about to leave them on the cutting-room floor.

While director Jimmy T. Murakami was hired to make this feel as "Star Wars"-ian as he could on a Corman budget — pneumatic doors sound like Darth Vader's breathing, silly transitional wipes abound — screenwriter John Sayles' real template was John Sturges' "The Magnificent Seven" and, therefore, Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai," with notable nods made in the direction of each.

Making this colorful spectacle appear bigger and brighter than it otherwise would have are a terrific score by James Horner that's in the spirit of John Williams without stealing from him, and inventive, make-do-with-what-we've-got art direction from young pup James Cameron.

Genre fans will enjoy "Lost in Space" vet Marta Kristen in a small role as Cowboy's love interest.

As with the more well-regarded titles in its "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" collection, Shout! Factory has stocked the disc with a galaxy's worth of extras. Now sporting blue-framed glasses, Thomas fondly recalls the experience in the 15-minute featurette, "His Name Was Shad"; among his recollections are the accidental cameos by Danning's nipples.

On the half-hour documentary "Shoestring Space Opera," several crew members discuss the challenging process of, in one participant's words, turning "shit into mediocrity." Cameron gets his props, of course, but it's too bad he fails to appear. After all, his ex-wife, production manager Gale Anne Hurd (now a big-shot producer of the likes of "The Incredible Hulk" and TV's "The Walking Dead") contributes an entire commentary, while Sayles and Corman sit down for another.

You'll also get a gallery of stills and poster art, the trailer, and the usual smattering of TV commercials and radio spots (remember when movies used to advertise on the FM dial?), all adding up to yet another out-of-this-world package that's a recommended blind buy for Cormanites and sci-fi enthusiasts and B-movie lovers. —Rod Lott

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