The Film (4/5)
I have never been a fan of Luigi Cozzi's films. He is not a director whose films I actively sought out, but once in a while I'd pick up a Cozzi movie, not knowing he was the director, and would usually find myself disappointed in the end result (Alien Contamination, The Black Cat). That was before I saw Starcrash, now that I've seen it I still can't call myself a fan of his films, but I am a fan of Starcrash, which is more than he had going in my book before.
Starcrash stars Caroline Munro (Dracula A.D. 1972, Maniac) as Stella Star, an intergalactic smuggler in the Han Solo mode. Marjoe Gortner stars as the Chewbacca to her Han, Akton. As the movie begins the pair are on the run from the Galactic Police. Unfortunately, for the duo luck is not on their side, and they are captured by the chief of the Galactic Police Thor and his fellow officer a robot named Elle.
They are taken to a prison camp and sentenced to hard labor, shortly after they start a rebellion in the prison they are given a pardon by the Galactic Emperor (Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music) in exchange for finding his missing son Simon played by a young David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider, the Spongebob Squarepants movie). While attempting to rescue Simon, they end up embroiled in a plot by the evil Count Zarth Arm (Joe Spinell, Maniac) to use a planet sized super weapon to take over the galaxy.
Yes, Starcrash is a Star Wars rip off, but it is the best of the Star Wars rip off films from the late 70's, narrowly beating out another 70's Roger Corman film Battle Beyond The Stars. While the film does have a loose interconnecting story, it is lacking in plot. The story itself just seems like a way to get from one set piece to the next. With certain films this would be a negative, but Starcrash is too much fun to care.
Starcrash is a great example of a film that puts style above substance, but when the style is this fantastic it is easily to forgive. Cozzi's version of space looks like an explosion went off in a candy store at Christmas time. The stars and planets are all brightly colored, as are the ships and other sets. The monsters are an excellent throwback to 50's science fiction, most specifically the films of Ray Harryhausen (the 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts). The cast is actually pretty excellent for a film of this caliber, and appear to be having fun with the material, especially Joe Spinell who seems to take over every scene he is in. The direction from Cozzi (credited here as Lewis Coates) is extremely capable, and helps elevate the film from what could have been a sci-fi disaster of Robot Monster proportions to an extremely run, yet cheesy sci-fi spectacle.
Shout Factory have done an amazing job with their Roger Corman releaes thus far, and their restoration work on Starcrash is no different. The film is presented with a 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer preserving the films original exhibition ratio. I have no prior releases to compare this too, but can say that the image here is simply gorgeous. The black levels are deep, and the colors pop. There is some film grain, but this does not detract from the film, but rather helps to make the transfer less sterile and more film like.
Shout Factory have presented 2 audio options for their release of Starcrash. The first is a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, and the second is a 2.0 Dolby Digital track, both are in English and both sound great. For my viewing I selected the 5.1 track for a majority of my viewing time which had a nice separation of sound, dialogue, effects, and music are mixed well. The score by composer John Barry especially comes across well. There is no background noise or distortion to report, overall a pair of excellent tracks.
Seriously, it is mind blowing the attention Shout Factory is giving B Movies like this one. I have seen Criterion releases with less elaborate extras than the ones provided here for Starcrash. The disc kicks off with, not one, but two commentary tracks from Starcrash superfan Stephen Romano. The first details how the film got started, how the various actors and crew got involved, the second commentary track is scene specific, and goes into more trivia about each specific sequence. The first disc is rounded off by 2 featurettes, the first is a 40 minute interview with Starcrash director (and Profondo Rosso store manager) Luigi Cozzi. The second is a short featurette that dissects John Barry's score for Starcrash entitled Starcrash: The Music of John Barry.
The second disc features the majority of the disc extras, and is kicked off with 36 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes. This is followed up with an interview with Starcrash lead actress Caroline Munro, this interview is truly massive and runs around 72 minutes. The discussion is not limited to her work in Starcrash, but is a great career overview. She speaks at length about her work with the late Joe Spinell who acted as Count Zarth Arm in this film, but also acted with Munro in Frantic and the now immortal masterpiece of slasher horror Maniac.
The next extra is a 23 minute slideshow called The Making of the Special Effects by Armondo Valcauda. This slideshow shows behind the scenes still of the creation of the monsters and makeup featuring commentary by Valcauda which is subtitled. The final featurette of the set a collection of Behind the Scenes footage with added commentary by Stephen Romano. This section offers a look at what life is like on a low budget genre film set. This disc is rounded off by a .pdf of the original Starcrash script. There are also liner notes in the case by Stephen Romano.
Starcrash ia a fun low budget Italian sci-fi spectacle. The film is clearly a Star Wars knock-off, but this does not hold it back from being a really fun watch, and stands well on it's own. The cast is uniformly excellent, and features a good deal of genre veterans. The look of the film alone is worth the price of adminission. The audio and video are absolutely phenomenal, and the wealth of extras is quite staggering. Starcrash is extremely highly recommended to fans of great cheesy sci-fi, Italian genre movies, and Roger Corman fans. Your VHS tapes can now be retired.