Thursday, July 07, 2011

Culture Shock 07.07.11: John-Boy Walton goes back to space

Of all the B-grade sci-fi movies that tried to ride the "Star Wars" wave in the late '70s and early '80s, probably none is more fondly remembered than "Battle Beyond the Stars," or, as we called it back in the day, "John-Boy in Space."

The nickname comes from its star, Richard Thomas, whose career-defining role as John-Boy Walton on CBS's "The Waltons" will follow him to his grave.

When he left "The Waltons," Thomas put a lot of distance between himself and Walton's Mountain. We're talking light years.

Now "Battle Beyond the Stars" is back — re-released for its 30th anniversary on Blu-ray and DVD — and loaded with bonus features befitting a film many Generation Xers grew up with thanks to frequent afternoon showings on HBO.

First unleashed by Roger Corman's New World Pictures in 1980, "Battle Beyond the Stars" helped launch several successful movie careers.

James Cameron worked on the film's special effects, while James Horner provided the musical score. Since then, Cameron and Horner have teamed up for "Aliens," "Titanic" and "Avatar."

"Battle" also helped launch other low-budget sci-fi films that reused its special effects.

Corman was a fan of recycling long before recycling was cool. So, it's fitting that the story of "Battle Beyond the Stars" is just as recycled. Basically, it's a remake of Akira Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai," which had already been remade as "The Magnificent Seven."

And since Corman was looking to cash in on the success George Lucas had with "Star Wars," it's also only appropriate that Corman turn to Kurosawa, because that's exactly what Lucas did when he drew inspiration from Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress."

Lastly, in case you haven't had enough of the whole recycling theme yet, there's Robert Vaughn. He played one of the seven hired guns in "The Magnificent Seven," and he plays one again in "Battle Beyond the Stars," where he is joined by the likes of a space valkyrie portrayed by Sybil Danning ("Chained Heat") and a space cowboy played by George Peppard, who was between gigs in "Banacek" and "The A-Team."

Cowboy is the lone Earth man of the bunch, which is why he eats hot dogs and actually is named "Cowboy." (I hear he's also a gangster of love, but that's another story.)

Facing off against John-Boy and his magnificent seven is the evil Sador, played by John Saxon ("A Nightmare on Elm Street"). Sador, whose hobbies include extreme body modification, threatens to destroy John-Boy's peaceful world for reasons that only make sense to psychopaths who roam the galaxy randomly blowing up planets for no good reason.

Blowing up a planet is one thing if it obstructs your view of Venus, but otherwise it's just overkill.

Sarcasm aside, "Battle Beyond the Stars" is more than a B-movie with a formulaic plot.

The cast members all seem to be having a blast, and even with world-class scenery chewers like Vaughn around, supporting players threaten to steal the show. Morgan Woodward, under heavy makeup as the reptilian mercenary Cayman of the Lambda Zone, is one of the real stars here.

And the special effects, while dated, still hold up, which is something you can't say about most Corman-produced sci-fi movies.

(Actually, I can't think of another Corman film you can say that about.)

Give that Cameron guy some credit. He may be a bit nutty when it comes to 3-D, but he knew how to build a model spaceship that looks like it has huge breasts on its hull.

No kidding. It does. See for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment