Shout! Factory // 1979 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 10th, 2010
From a vast and distant galaxy...a space adventure for all time!
Shout! Factory finally rectifies the fact that Luigi Cozzi's 1979s Star Wars knock-off Starcrash has never been properly released on home video (the poorly handled VHS is long out of print) with a stellar two-disc treatment.
You already know the plot of Starcrash, because it's pretty similar to Star Wars (by design): two outer-space smugglers, excellently-named heroine Stella Star (Caroline Munro, The Spy Who Loved Me) and psychic Akton (Marjoe Gortner, Food of the Gods), are captured and sentenced to prison but granted a pardon by the Emperor (a slumming Christopher Plummer, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) if they're able to locate and bring back his missing son (David f'ing Hasselhoff). Along the way, they encounter evil robots, giant statues, ice planets and the villainous Count Arn (Joe Spinell, Maniac). Also, in case you missed the connection, there are lightsabers.
There are people that love exploitation movies and people that have no patience for them. The latter has no business watching Luigi Cozzi's 1979 space opera Starcrash, a Roger Corman production that's one of the foremost and best-loved of all the Star Wars knock-offs. They're likely to find it derivative, its effects and dubbed dialogue cheap and laughable, to be bored by its unusual pacing and long stretches of dreamlike silence. Luckily, I fall into the former camp. I like a movie that may not be polished or even well made, but which takes a marketable genre and reduces it to its most basic elements. It's pure cinema, warts and all. Starcrash is a movie like that.
What Starcrash lacks in technical polish and storytelling ability (narrative is not among the movie's strong suits), it more than makes up for in imagination -- not just in what's on screen, but in how it's brought to the screen. There isn't a moment in Starcrash that doesn't have some sort of inventive, hand-made special effect, and Cozzi uses just about every trick in the book: front projection, stop-motion animation, forced perspective, miniatures and models...the list goes on. For this reason alone, Starcrash is worth seeking out for fans of B-grade science fiction (and this is a movie that out-Bs Star Wars by a long shot; no easy feat, that). Of course, there are other reasons, too -- chief among them is the heroine, Stella Star, seemingly designed for those audience members who wished that Luke Skywalker had been a statuesque model who spent most of the film running round in a black bikini. Yes, Starcrash owes a great debt to Barbarella, too, but it avoids that movie's overt campiness. That's not to say Starcrash isn't campy -- it does, after all, star David Hasselhoff -- but that it's never winking to the camera. It's utterly earnest and sincere, and it's those qualities that help make the movie special. It's more than just a cheap imitation of a Hollywood blockbuster. It's a genuine labor of love.
Shout! Factory continues to do a bang-up job with their "Roger Corman Cult Classics" releases; these are some of my favorite DVDs and Blu-rays of the year. The trend continues with Starcrash, which arrives on DVD in a two-disc edition which contains the film and a few bonus features on the first disc and a second disc comprised entire of supplementary materials. The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for anamorphic playback. The image varies in quality -- it's clearly old and worn and grainy and terribly soft at times, but it also looks exactly the way you'd like a cheap '70s sci-fi exploitation movie to look. According to the excellent essay by Stephen Romano included with the DVD, this is the best Starcrash has ever looked. I'm inclined to believe him, too, not just because it really does look good, but because he clearly knows more about Starcrash than any other human being alive. The 5.1 Dolby soundtrack is surprisingly strong for a low-rent movie like this, though the rear channels are mostly utilized for John Barry's lively score. A standard stereo track is also included. The disc offers the best possible technical presentation for a movie that isn't that technically accomplished to begin with.
Included on the first disc is a pair of commentary tracks by Romano, a self-appointed Starcrash historian and scholar: the first is a technical breakdown of the movie's production and the second is a critical analysis of the film's merits. Even if you don't love Starcrash, the commentaries are incredibly informative and interesting -- not just because Romano is so knowledgeable about the film, but because his enthusiasm is so infectious. He really does make a case for the movie being a misunderstood piece of art, and whether or not you agree with him it's great to hear an intelligent, reasoned argument in defense of what is otherwise written off as disposable junk. Also included on the first disc is a good interview with director Luigi Cozzi, an image gallery and the original theatrical trailer with optional commentary from both the great Joe Dante (who edited trailers for Corman; Starcrash was actually his last, and he wisely avoided including any semblance of a plot in favor of an endless series of money shots) and Eli Roth.
On the second disc, there's a boatload of deleted and alternate scenes made up of a lot of footage of stuff that's in the film, but with a few minor alterations. They're probably best kept for the diehard fans who can tell the difference. There's an hour-plus interview with Stella Star herself, Caroline Munro, in which she discusses her experience shooting the movie and her career in general. Also included are a special effects featurette and some neat behind-the-scenes footage that doesn't look great (it was shot on Super 8) but provides a unique look at the making of the movie. The final extra is the film's original screenplay in DVD-ROM format.
A fun movie gets a great technical treatment and a ton of extras designed to celebrate its place in cinema and restore its reputation. What else can I ask for? Rediscover Starcrash. It's some of the most fun you can have being cheap and exploitative.
The best thing David Hasselhoff has ever done.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Galleries
* DVD-ROM Screenplay
* Video Clip: "Run for your life!"
* Video Clip: Introducing The Hoff
* Video Clip: "Never give up..."