Starcrash October 20, 2017
1 Hr., 37 Mins.
The makers of Starcrash, a decidedly shabby, low-budget 1978 space opera, must have thought that bringing Star Wars (1976) to the silver screen was an easy endeavor. That you only must imitate an effective feature’s base-level attributes to match its commercial victory. So many of the latter film’s most instantaneously recognizable components are here, after all; there’s a bright-eyed, slightly effeminate leading hero, a lush warrior princess, a wacky robot sidekick (this time with an inexplicable Southern accent and shaky nerves), regal elders and maniacal villains, laser-centric battles of wills and ships, and lots of planet-hopping.
But only Starcrash’s surface elements are comparable, and even those aspects fall short. While Star Wars was ornate, first-rate escapism, the former is a try-hard, lazy attempt at emptying the populace’s pockets that thinks it’s much funnier, adventuresome, and visually scrumptious than it actually is. It’s the sort of prototypical cheap-o knockoff that so dependably multiplies in our competitive cinematic culture. So uninspired is it that it’s clear that the man behind the camera, Luigi Cozzi, might have concluded that people only liked Star Wars because it was so fun to look at. Funnily enough, Starcrash doesn’t even look good.
Biliously designed and close to unintelligible, the movie stars the shapely Caroline Munro (always running around in a space bikini) and the hook-nosed Marjoe Gortner as a pair of space-dwelling astro-pilots tasked with recovering stolen weapons by the perennially cackling renegade Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell). Like a low-rent James Bond escapade, Starcrash uses this premise to feed the inners of a storyline made up of a plethora of subplots, themselves usually involving the visiting of various planets and the bumping into a goulash of mini-villains before the heroes have to finally face the big kahuna. George Lucas and co. could pull off such a storytelling technique because so much effort was put into set design and because all in store was competently — and playfully — made. We wanted to explore the universe so intricately sculpted for us. Starcrash has all the dots needed to build a quasi-followable plot but doesn’t connect them, utilizing the structure of the Star Wars movies without bothering to throw comprehensibility into the Prusik knot of ideas.
So many locales are visited and so many baddies are confronted, but they’re placed in front of us like formless, flavorless pieces of Jell-O offered at a dinner party. We’re not sure what to do with what’s being served, but as soon as we try to ask questions are we commanded to eat up. Cozzi and his co-screenwriter, Nat Wachsberger, are blundering moviemakers, and not a scene in Starcrash goes by in which we aren’t patently aware that we’re watching a low-budgeter in which the phrase “It’s fine! Let’s move on!” was probably shouted plenty. The acting’s so confusingly disjointed, the actors might as well be in a trance: the beautiful but blank Munro has two faces (sometimes she beams with the faux euphoria of a supermodel being told to smile, sometimes she’s in the grips of a lip-biting scowl that suggests feigned interest in what’s going on), and Spinell’s vexingly over-the-top only in the ways a theater kid playing Count Dracula can be. And perhaps the set design’s unmentionable: it’s even uglier than Barbarella's (1968).
Possibly the movie would improve if it had that Barbarella mindset, if it recognized its camp value and decided to swim around in its shlock and its gaudiness and have fun. But it's so much of a bandwagon hop, it's joyless. Starcrash is good for socially-based movie nights in which the objective is to keep yourself and your friends laughing for 90 or more minutes. But who wants to break it to Cozzi that this film’s more Troll 2 (1990) than it is Flash Gordon (1980)? D+