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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Movie Penguin Monday: #24. Starcrash (1979)

This week's installment of Movie Penguin Monday tells the story of a war fought among the stars, between an intergalactic empire and a group of rebels.  One side has a secret weapon of mass destruction that is thought to possess the ability to destroy entire planets; the other side employs various powers of a mysterious and mystical nature.  The film is full of bizarro aliens, interplanetary adventure sequences, sassy humanoid robots and a super cool laser sword, that as a fan of the sci-fi genre, I sincerely wish existed because, man oh man, would it be awesome to have one.  Ladies and gentleman, I give you Star Wars.  I mean, Starcrash.  Sorry.  I keep doing that.

Sure, Luigi Cozzi's Starcrash is a blatant Star Wars rip-off, but it's not like he plagiarized George Lucas wholesale.  I mean, there are plenty of differences.  For instance:

1. Instead of Han Solo and Chewbacca, we get Stella Star, the leather bikini-clad space smuggler, and Akton, her alien sidekick with increasingly convenient magical powers.

2.  Instead of C3PO and R2D2, we get Elle, a robot policeman with a Texas accent and an extremely fragile head.  He's sassy like C3PO, but he's not as distractingly charming or funny, making it easier to concentrate on the boring lead characters and their terrible story.

3.  In Starcrash, the Empire is good and the rebels are bad.  What a novel twist!

4.  Instead of the Death Star there is some vague device that we never really see or learn too much about.  We know it can destroy planets and that it's protected by two sets of guardians (weird red blobs the movies feels compelled to continuously refer to as 'monsters' and, no joke, cavemen), but that's it.

5.  Instead of Darth Vader we get Varth Dader.  C'mon, Starcrash!

That's not true, but would it surprise you if it was having read what you have so far?  The leader of the baddies is actually named Zarth Arn and he's a Count.  I don't know what he's a count of (I think they mentioned it, but my brain refused to retain this information), but there you go.

6. Instead of Ewoks we get scantily-clad Amazon women.  OK.  Starcrash isn't all bad, I guess. 

I don't know where to begin with Starcrash, so how about a short plot synopsis.  Notorious space rogue, Stella Star, and her mop-topped companion, Akton, are apprehended by two top space policeman, Elle, the robot Texan, and Thor, who I so wish was the Thor of Norse mythology, but isn't (Thor is just a bald guide with Spock ears and his face painted blue).  Stella and Akton are both sentenced to hundreds of years of hard labor in different prison colonies for, I don't know, crimes against humanity or something.  We've been told they are smugglers, but smugglers of what?  I mean, Akton gets, like, 200 years of hard labor, but Stella gets an eternity.  Eternity!?  What, are they space sex traffickers, kidnapping space kids and forcing them into space prostitution?

Thankfully, our heroes don't remain in prison very long--or maybe they do, as there is no sense of time or place whatsoever in this movie--and are soon rocketing through the cosmos with their former captors, Elle and Thor, on a mission from the Emperor of the Universe, played by Christopher Plummer.  Yes, that Christopher Plummer.

The mission: Find Varth Dader (That's going to be a thing for the rest of this.  Roll with it or piss off.  You've been warned.) and destroy his, um, let's just call it Death Star.  Oh, the Emperor would also like our ragtag group of heroes to find his son, Simon, who disappeared attempting the same mission earlier in the film.  Oops.  Yeah, I skipped that part.  As the film opens, one of the Empire's ships is attacked by the contents of a spilled lava lamp (red blob [non] monsters).  Apparently three escape ships were dispatched, but each one crashed on a different planet.  Stella and Company have to visit each one of these planets to a) determine if there are any survivors and b) find out if said planet is housing Varth Dader's Death Star.  

Which is better: Ewoks or Amazons?  You decide.

The first planet is inhabited by Amazon women who capture Stella and leave Elle for dead.  Elle, who is not dead because a) he is a robot, so was he ever truly alive in the first place? and b) he was not shot in the head, which is pretty much made out of terracotta, infiltrates the Amazon queen's fortress and saves Stella's life.  The Amazon queen attempts to foil their escape with the aid of giant, stop-motion Barbie doll covered in aluminum foil (I know stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen was alive when Starcrash was released, but I bet when he saw this scene he dug himself a shallow grave to turn around in.  I would have.  It's bad.) and fails miserably.

The second planet is covered in snow.  Stella almost freezes to death.  Akton brings her back to life with previously unseen psychic warming powers.  He also admits to being able to see the future, an admission that utterly floors Stella.  Aren't these two smuggling partners from way back?  How does she not know this very important thing about him?  This never came up on one of your smuggling runs?  I guess the ship gets pretty loud with all of those space children crying and begging not be space sold into space sex slavery.  I'm space sorry.

Oh, Thor is revealed as an agent of Varth Dader and is killed off in a way I don't recall because, did I mention, it took me three days to watch Starcrash?

The third planet is inhabited by cavemen who murder Elle with a stick to his eggshell head.  It's sick.  Maybe the cavemen are more like the Ewoks now that I think about it.  Whatever.

On the Planet of Cavemen, Stella meets Prince Simon, played by America's sweetheart, David Hasselhoff.  This planet also happens to be the one concealing Count Dader's weapon of ultimate destruction which he has rigged with explosives in order to blow it up.  Wait a minute, WHAAAAA-AAAT?!?  So the Count's plan was to lure the Emperor (played, remember, by the Christopher Plummer) to his Death Star, which probably took years of labor and millions of space bucks to complete, lock said Emperor inside of it and then blow it up?  That's insane.  But I guess the Count wants to be the ruler of the Universe pretty bad, and you've gotta be crazy to want that job.  BOING!

But don't worry, Stella, Simon, Akton and Christopher Plummer aren't killed in a terrible explosion.  No, sir!  You know how they get out of this sticky situation?  Yeah, the Emperor stops time.  That's right, Christopher Plummer gives the order to "stop the flow of time," his Imperial ship shoots a space beam at the planet on which they've found themselves stranded for the moment, and time stops around them.  Bear in mind, our heroes don't stop.  They are immune to such time stoppage.  Why?  Because forward movement of the plot demands it!  Also, Akton has been killed.  I don't remember how.  Three days, people!

"Let's hold hands and watch people die in my name.  That OK with you two?"

When I started writing about the movie Starcrash over five hours ago (full disclosure: I just got back from a combination football/dinner/more football/toddler nighttime routine/even more football/dishwashing break--this synopsis was starting to break me), I think I said I was going to try to keep this synopsis short, but as it is when describing most asinine things, this has proven mostly impossible.  I haven't even gotten to the Floating City or Varth Dader's claw-shaped space base or the triumphant return of Elle or the toddler toy battle that is the final fight or even what a 'starcrash' is.  Look, now that you are aware that the preceding sentence was a list of things that appear or happen in this movie, can we just move on to my biggest problem with Starcrash?  We can?  Great!

During the final space battle, the Emperor fires torpedo-shaped transport devices into the control room of the Count's evil starship.  These transport tubes house exactly two laser gun-wielding members of the Empire's armed forces.  The torpedo tubes crash through the windows of the Count's fortress, the good guys pop out, guns blazing, and an old fashion space shoot-out commences.  Period.

Have you discovered the problem yet?  Allow me to provide a tiny nudge.  WHY ISN'T EVERYONE IMMEDIATELY SUCKED INTO THE VACCUM OF SPACE?!?  THE WINDOWS HAVE BEEN SHATTERED, THE SHIP HAS BEEN BREACHED!  HOW IS THERE A LASER BEAM SHOOT-OUT PARTY GOING ON?  HOW IS ANYONE BREATHING?  WHY ISN'T EVERYBODY, GOOD OR BAD, FLOATING THROUGH SPACE, ASPHYXIATED???  Seems to me, all the Emperor would have to do to defeat his enemy is shoot one, solitary, soldierless transport tube through Count Dader's front window and wait a couple of seconds for everybody to be sucked into the dark recesses of space.  If he wanted to add insult to injury and fire a couple of laser rounds into the floating dead corpses afterward, so be it.

Picture from 2013's critically-acclaimed Gravity, the movie I should've watched.  Ugh.

Starcrash is garbage.  It's fun garbage, but that doesn't make it worth watching.  To show you how much respect I had for this movie going in without any knowledge of what I was about to endure (for three days!!!), I should admit that I watched Starcrash on my iPhone.  That's right, I was so certain of Spacecrash's supreme crapiness, I could not muster enough strength to walk down the hall and watch it on a legitimate television.  I laid in bed, a repeat episode of Chopped muted on the bedroom television, and watched Starcrash through half-lidded eyes until I eventually fell asleep somewhere around Thor's betrayal.  The following two nights were mostly a Hasselhoff-shaped blur.

There were a few things I liked about it.  Christopher Plummer's commitment to his role was staggering and impressive.  Though it is quite clear that the material is way below him, Plummer still gives a hell of a performance as the Emperor of the Universe, delivering most of his lines directly to the viewing audience, which is simultaneously offputting and hilarious.  As irritating as Elle was, his presence is necessary to make the middle of the movie remotely watchable.  The acting in Starcrash runs the gamut from mediocre to atrocious, so it was kind of nice to have a goofy robotic Texan around to spout jokes and flail around like a weirdo.  And I thought the sets and spaceships, which were obviously hobby shop models and rejected G.I. Joe vehicles, were pretty fun in their pure cheesy cheapness.  But mostly, Starcrash sucks.


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