Battle Beyond The Stars

Battle Beyond The Stars


Today’s feature is the b-movie space epic, Battle Beyond the Stars.

The screenplay for Battle Beyond The Stars was written by writer/director John Sayles, whose credits include Piranha, Alligator, The Howling, The Brother From Another Planet, and Lone Star, among others.

Battle Beyond The Stars was directed by Jimmy Murakami (Humanoids From The Deep, The Snowman), with some uncredited ghost direction by the b-movie master, Roger Corman, who acted as the film’s executive producer.

The cinematographer for the film was Daniel Lacambre, who also shot the b-movies Saturday the 14th, Humanoids From The Deep, and The Wild Racers.

Battle Beyond The Stars featured two credited editors: Allan Holzman, who cut Jonathan Demme’s Crazy Mama, the Alien knock-off Forbidden World, and even won an Emmy for his work on the documentary Survivors of the Holocaust, and R.J. Kizer, who cut Hell Comes To Frogtown and Galaxy of Terror.

The music for Battle Beyond The Stars was composed by James Horner, who would go on to a long and lauded career that would earn him 2 Academy Awards. Films featuring his music include Humanoids From The Deep, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Krull, Aliens, Cocoon, Willow, Field Of Dreams, 48 Hours, Braveheart, Apollo 13, Titanic, A Beautiful Mind, and Avatar.

The makeup and special effects team for Battle Beyond The Stars included Frank DeMarco (The Beastmaster, The Terminator), Roger George (Chopping Mall, Ghoulies, Humanoids From The Deep), Sue Dolph (Galaxy of Terror, Alligator), Ken Horn (Swamp Thing, Halloween 4), Karen Kubeck (Iron Eagle, The Sword and The Sorcerer), Rick Stratton (The Stuff, Wild Wild West), and Steve Neill (Laserblast, The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive III, Full Moon High, The Crater Lake Monster, God Told Me To).

The significant visual effects unit for the movie included Barry Zetlin (Children of the Corn II, Friday The 13th Part VII), Robert Skotak (Tank Girl, Darkman), David Riley (Starship Troopers), Tony Randel (Escape From New York), Eric Peterson (The Mangler, Ghost Dad, Masters of the Universe), John Muto (Night of the Comet), Kenneth Jones (The Core, Contact, Moontrap), Alec Gillis (Mortal Kombat, Wolf, Trick or Treat), Deborah Gaydos (Masters of the Universe, Saturday the 14th), Jonas Thaler (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation), Randall Frakes (Hell Comes To Frogtown), Michele Ferrone (Son of the Mask, RoboCop 3), Steve Caldwell (Daredevil, Phone Booth), Chris Brightman (Piranha), Larry Albright (1941), Chuck Comisky (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation), and Pat Sweeney (Howard The Duck).

The cast of Battle Beyond The Stars includes John Saxon (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Hands of Steel, The Last Samurai), Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven, Pootie Tang, Buried Alive, BASEketball), Richard Thomas (The Waltons), George Peppard (The A-Team), Morgan Woodward (Cool Hand Luke), Sam Jaffe (Ben-Hur), Sybil Danning (Hercules), and Darlanne Fluegel (Once Upon A Time In America, Lock Up).

The plot of Battle Beyond The Stars is summed up on IMDb as follows:

A young farmer sets out to recruit mercenaries to defend his peaceful planet, which is under threat of invasion by the evil tyrant Sador and his armada of aggressors.

James Cameron, who is now one of the most lauded filmmakers working today, got his start in feature films on Battle Beyond The Stars, on which he provided art direction and visual effects work.

Battle Beyond The Stars was intended as a space odyssey adaptation of the popular western, The Magnificent Seven. Interestingly, The Magnificent Seven itself was heavily based on Akira Kurosawa’s epic, Seven Samurai, making Battle Beyond The Stars a re-imagining of a re-imagining.

Roger Corman reportedly made Battle Beyond the Stars after noting the success of Luigi Cozzi’s Star Wars knock-off, Starcrash, which proved that a space epic could be made on a b-movie budget.

Battle Beyond The Stars currently holds a 5.4 user rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 45% from critics and 42% from audiences.

At the time, Battle Beyond The Stars was the highest-budget movie in Roger Corman’s lengthy filmography, coming in at roughly $2 million. Ultimately, it proved profitable, raking in a reported $7.5 million in theatrical grosses.

battlebeyond2Much like Starcrash, I absolutely adore Battle Beyond The Stars. However, I actually think it borders on being a legitimately good movie, rather than a good-bad movie. There are certainly some entertainingly cheesy performances, but on the whole, this is a genuinely enthralling space epic, and an interesting and imaginative retelling of Seven Samurai. Some would argue, and I might agree, that Battle Beyond The Stars was the pinnacle of Roger Corman’s film making career. Seeing how many talented unknowns were assembled to create the film really makes it the perfect encapsulation of Roger Corman’s method: spot talent, give them a hard budget, and give them a shot.

Given how low the budget was, it is downright amazing how good this movie come out, and how solidly it generally holds up today. For comparison’s sake, the budget for The Empire Strikes Back, which also came out in 1980, was estimated at between 20 and 30 million dollars: 10 to 15 times more than the budget of Battle Beyond The Stars. Honestly, does Empire look 10 to 15 times better than Battle Beyond The Stars thanks to those funds? I don’t think so.

…maybe the ship designs weren’t so great.

Battle Beyond The Stars gets an enthusiastic recommendation from me for just about anyone: Star Wars fans, bad movie fans, sci-fi enthusiasts, film buffs: there is a lot of enjoy with this movie. The cast is pretty impressive, the design is great, the story is interesting, and the whole thing is paced far better than your typical b-movie. As much as I love Starcrash, a lot of its flaws are overcome in Battle Beyond the Stars,¬†and the result is a far more watchable movie. It is probably a controversial opinion, but Battle Beyond The Stars is, in my opinion, a paragon of its genre and era: it may be the best representative of late 70s / early 80s b-movies you’ll find.

Fortress 2

Fortress 2


Today’s feature is Fortress 2: an arguably unnecessary follow-up to 1992’s sci-fi prison break movie, Fortress.

The screenplay for Fortress 2 was written by producer John Flock in association with Peter Doyle (Leningrad), with story credit going to original Fortress writers Troy Neighbors and Steven Feinberg.

The director for Fortress 2 was Geoff Murphy, who was also behind such movies as Freejack, Young Guns II, and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.

The cinematographer for the movie was Hiro Narita, who shot flicks like Hocus Pocus, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and James and the Giant Peach.

The editor for Fortress 2 was James R. Symons, who additionally cut the films Rambo III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tank Girl, Over The Top, Cobra, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.

The producers for the film included Romain Schroeder (Dog Soldiers, Feardotcom), Tom Reeve (Wing Commander), and John Flock (The Good Shepherd).

The music for Fortress 2 was composed by Christopher Franke, who has also scored shows and movies like McBain, Babylon 5, Universal Soldier, and Green Street Hooligans.

The effects work for Fortress 2 was done by a team that included Mark Pompian (Species, Stargate, Last Action Hero), Ralph Maiers (Monkeybone, The Omega Code, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation), Steve Cummings (Air Force One, Deja Vu), Terry Whitehouse (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory), Seth Tamrowski (Baby Geniuses), Erik Strauss (Hancock, Beowulf), Ghislaine Soisson (Wing Commander), Lesley Lamont-Fisher (Alien vs. Predator), and David Pride (Dark City, The Matrix), among many others.

The cast of Fortress 2 is headlined by the primary star of the previous  movie, Christopher Lambert (Mortal Kombat, Highlander II, Druids, Fortress), as well as Beth Toussaint (Scream 3, Red Eye, Dead Heat), Pam Grier (Class of 1999, Jackie Brown), and a handful of bit players and character actors.

fortresstwo2The plot of Fortress 2 is summarized on IMDb as follows:

7 years after the original Fortress movie, Brennick and his family are still on the run from the Men-tel corporation. A group of rebels attempt to gain his support but he refuses, wanting to focus on his family. A raid follows and Brennick along with the rebels are captured and sent to a new, more sophisticated fortress prison in outer space. But Brennick’s not a man to give in easily, and with a 10 year old son waiting for him back on earth, he’s going to pack some serious assault on the evil corporation.

Fortress 2 was absolutely blasted by critics and audiences alike: it currently holds a 4.4 user rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 0% from critics and 21% from audiences. I wasn’t able to dig up any gross information, but it almost certainly came up far short of its estimated $11 million budget.

The original Fortress, if you ask me, is a pretty fun b-movie with plenty of upsides. I am a little surprised that it wound up with a sequel though, as it was hardly a big movie. Fortress 2 is, as with many sequels, a very similar movie to its predecessor, with only some slight twists on the formula. The idea of setting the second ‘prison’ (actually a forced labor facility) in space was a pretty good concept in my opinion, and it fits well with the futuristic design of the first movie. The biggest drawback of this sequel is a weaker supporting cast than the original, which boasted the likes of Jeffrey Combs and Kurtwood Smith in memorable roles. The biggest addition for the sequel is Pam Grier, who does ham it up pretty well in her limited villain role.

Overall, Fortress 2 is a pretty long way from good, but it is generally fun and entertaining. The design of the movie looks decent, in spite of some less-than-ideal low budget effects. It isn’t nearly as memorable as its predecessor, but it is perfectly serviceable for what it is. For fans of Fortress¬†(and b-level sci-fi in general), it is more than worth checking out.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash

The Adventures of Pluto Nash


Today’s feature is one of the most widely-maligned Eddie Murphy features: The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

The screenplay for Pluto Nash was written by Neil Cuthbert, who also penned the beloved Halloween classic Hocus Pocus, the superhero flub Mystery Men, and The Return of Swamp Thing.

The director for The Adventures of Pluto Nash was Ron Underwood, whose other directorial credits include Tremors, In The Mix, Mighty Joe Young, Stealing Sinatra, Speechless, City Slickers, and Heart and Souls. However, following a string of failures (not the least of which was Pluto Nash), he has been relegated to doing a whole lot of assorted television work over the past ten years, including stints on shows like Ugly Betty, Heroes, Burn Notice, Castle, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

The cinematographer for the film was Oliver Wood, who has historically specialized in shooting action movies and comedies. His credits include Die Hard 2, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Face/Off, Sister Act 2, The Bourne Identity, Anchorman 2, and U-571, among many others.

Pluto Nash had two credited editors: Alan Heim (American History X, Copycat, Bless The Child, Network, The Twelve Chairs) and Paul Hirsch (Lake Placid, Falling Down, Footloose, Carrie, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope).

The team of producers for Pluto Nash included Bruce Berman (Deep Blue Sea, Red Planet, Swordfish, Torque), Martin Bregman (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Matilda), Frank Capra III (Eraser, Bulworth, Drive), and Louis A. Stroller (Scarface, Carrie, Snake Eyes)

The musical score for the movie was composed by John Powell, who has provided music for such films as Be Cool, Face/Off, Shrek, Antz, Rat Race, Gigli, Happy Feet, Paycheck, and the recent 2015 flop, Pan.

The makeup effects work for Pluto Nash was done by a team that included Jocelyn Bellemare (300, The Fountain), Annik Boivin (Battlefield Earth, The Aviator), Vera Steimberg Moder (The Haunted Mansion, Norbit), and Sylvania Yau (Taking Lives, Timeline).

The experienced special effects unit for the film included common elements with productions like The Sixth Sense, Van Helsing, Ghost Dad, They Live, The Running Man, The Thing, Cellular, Wild Wild West, Congo, Last Action Hero, Rhinestone, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, The Golden Child, Driven, Jingle All The Way, Death To Smoochy, and Jason X, among many others.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash required an immense amount of visual effects work, which was provided by a number of different companies. These included Flash Film Works (Death To Smoochy, Red Planet, Deep Blue Sea), and Cinesite (Edge of Tomorrow, World War Z), as well as a handful of other post-production companies.

The cast of Pluto Nash includes Eddie Murphy (Vampire In Brooklyn, Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor, Saturday Night Live), Rosario Dawson (Clerks II, Death Proof), Randy Quaid (Kingpin, Christmas Vacation 2, The Last Detail), Alec Baldwin (The Cooler, The Departed, Beetlejuice), Jay Mohr (Suicide Kings, Small Soldiers), Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix, Memento), Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights), James Rebhorn (Cat’s Eye, The Game, Independence Day), Pam Grier (Class of 1999, Jackie Brown), John Cleese (Monty Python’s Flying Circus), Burt Young (Rocky, Going Overboard), and Peter Boyle (The Dream Team, Red Heat, Young Frankenstein).

plutonash2The plot of The Adventures of Pluto Nash is summarized on IMDb as follows:

In the future, a man struggles to keep his lunar nightclub out of the hands of the mafia.

Reportedly, the screenplay for Pluto Nash went through countless rewrites over the course of its production, though Neil Cuthbert ultimately had the unfortunate privilege of receiving sole credit for writing the movie.

Alec Baldwin, who plays a not-insignificant role in the movie, hated the ultimate product so intensely that he managed to have his name entirely taken out of the movie’s credits.

The Adult Swim comedy show Robot Chicken had a popular sketch that played off of the disastrous reception to Pluto Nash, in which numerous scenes of carnage and violence are shown breaking out following the opening of the movie, causing the government to officially declare “Pluto Nash Day” to remember the dead.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash is widely remembered in the public consciousness as one of the greatest financial failures in movie history. In total, it lost a shocking $95 million dollars, grossing less than $5 million in its theatrical run on a $100 million budget. As you might expect, the public reception wasn’t any better: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 3.7, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 5% from critics and 17% from audiences.

There are certainly a lot of issues with The Adventures of Pluto Nash, but the biggest one is probably the lack of humor in the script. On paper, this movie should be an action-comedy, but somehow none of the comedy wound up getting through. Outside of some quirky set design and an oddball soundtrack, there’s nothing about the movie that resembles even an attempt at comedy. Eddie Murphy, who is usually the comedic center of his movies, plays a too-cool-for-school straight man, which isn’t something he does well. The closest thing he has in the movie to a comedic foil is Jay Mohr, who is also playing against type as an incompetent buffoon. The result is a theoretically comedic movie with hardly any laughs.

It is hard to imagine that anyone involved with Pluto Nash expected it to be a hit after seeing the final product. However, I don’t think anyone anticipated that it would fail as spectacularly as it did: I’m sure a loss was expected, but usually a movie with a significant budget is guaranteed some minimum gross from advertising. Somehow, that went totally awry for Pluto Nash, in spite of a lack of serious competition in the field of new releases.

Outside of watching this movie for the sake of the experience and cultural knowledge, there’s nothing particularly entertaining about it. Eddie Murphy, who is capable of bringing comedy to movies devoid of laughs (The Golden Child), totally fails to deliver in Pluto Nash. He seems too wrapped up in appearing cool that he forgot to provide any of his comedic talents to the movie.