Starcrash (aka The Adventures of Stella Star, Female Space Invaders); Italy, 1978; Starring: Caroline Munro, Marjoe Gortner, Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhof.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: The greatest sci-fi movie ever has got to be 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars or The Matrix, Bladerunner, Avatar, The Day the Earth Stood Still (original) or pretty much anything else besides Starcrash.
Well, you’re wrong. And I’m about to tell you why.
First, a little background. Starcrash was written and filmed by some Italian guy just minutes after he heard about a movie called Star Wars that was raking in the big bucks and he seriously wanted a piece of the action. So, he “wrote” this rollicking space adventure that will be enjoyed by audiences for years to come. It debuted in West Germany in 1978 and then swept the world in 1979, showing in close to 10 other countries, including the U.S. where it was presented by a man who knows cinematic quality when he sees it – Roger Corman. It features Caroline Munro as Stella Star, a smuggler who is drawn into a conflict between the Emperor of the galaxy and the evil Count Zarth Arn, who is scheming to do some really evil Count kind of stuff.
BTW, if you haven’t seen Starcrash, you should watch it before you go any further. Here it is. I’ll wait…
Done? See. Wasn’t I right? Greatest sci-fi movie ever, right?
True, the movie has a rambling plot that at times doesn’t make much sense, bad acting, ridiculous dialog, questionable special effects, and appears to have a budget not too far ahead of the average Doctor Who episode of the same time period, but if you ignore all of that and concentrate on the essence of what makes Starcrash “Starcrash,” you will see its hidden greatness.
Let me just point out a few things you may have missed that really make this the greatest sci-fi movie ever:
1. Caroline Munro in a space bikini.
Sure, at first a space bikini might not seem like the best idea, especially under a transparent space suit, but it really is practical. Think about it. No cumbersome sleeves or pants legs to get caught in giant robot Amazon parts. You keep cool when you’re in prison and forced to carry giant beach balls and drop them down a tube. Plus, it makes your robot sidekick horny. Also, 1970s Caroline Munro was pretty hot. I mean, if it worked for Jane Fonda in Barbarella, why not?
2. Effects so special, they used ‘em twice.
On the surface, the effects look cheap. The models look like models and space looks like it’s full of Christmas tree lights, but obviously the FX people who worked on this movie did a really good job because the effects were so good, they were used for a whole other movie – 1981’s Escape From Galaxy 3 (another classic, but just not quite up to Starcrash’s level). Apparently, Starcrash effects director Armando Valcauda thought he did such a great job, especially with the spaceships, that he’d simply use them again for this kinda, sorta, but not really a sequel to Starcrash. Not the models mind you – the actual FX shots from the movie. That’s the mark of quality. Just like in the original Battlestar Galactica where they used the same battle scenes in almost every episode, over and over and over and over…
3. Mork with a lightsaber.
Not really, but close. Marjoe Gortner (former evangelist turned actor whose first name is a combination of Mary and Joseph) plays Stella’s partner in crime Akton. Akton looks human, but has a number of mysterious and very convenient powers, including the ability to play with little electric hologram type thingies in his hands. Because of his 70s fro and his spacesuit with a big upside down triangle on the front of it, he looks more than a little like Mork. I’m sure it’s just coincidence. I’m sure it’s also a coincidence that Mork… er, Akton’s weapon of choice is a laser-type sword. My theory on the laser sword is it was such a cool concept, it actually travelled back in time and George Lucas stole it retroactively.
4. The Hoff!
Really? Need I say more? International superstar David Hasselhoff in his first major role in a major motion picture as the son of the Emperor of the Galaxy? That, alone, is worth the price of admission.
5. A spaceship shaped like a hand.
Yup. That’s right. Screw the Death Star. It’s just a big ball-shaped space station that’s obviously no moon, floating around in space and blowing up planets. Big deal. The evil Count Zarth Arn’s ship is a hand, baby, and when it’s attacked, it can close up into a fist. Don’t see the Death Star doing that.
6. Oscar winners everywhere.
Seriously, this film is chock full of Oscar winners. Well, two, anyway, both of whom won their Oscars well after this.
John Barry composed the score. And it’s pretty good. You certainly hear the main theme enough to go around humming it after watching the movie. The Late Barry was no stranger to sci-fi scoring, giving us the music for other classic genre films like The Black Hole and Howard the Duck. Of course, he won his Oscars for obscure movies no one has ever heard of like Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa and Born Free.
Christopher Plummer, who is probably best know for his role as the Klingon Chang in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and didn’t win his Oscar until 2012, is the Emperor of the Galaxy. Of course he is. Who else, other than a time-tested, Shakespearian trained veteran of the stage and screen, could pull off lines such as “You know, my son, I wouldn’t be Emperor of the Galaxy if I didn’t have a few powers at my disposal. Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!” or “Our galaxy is split into two warring factions: our own and the one ruled by the evil Count Zarth Arn from the League of the Dark Worlds.” or appear as a hologram. He’s so good, it only took him a day to film his scenes.
7. It seemed really cool when I was 12.
One of the great things about Starcrash is, for the time in which it came out, it had just the right mix of nonsensical science fiction, action and skimpy costumes to keep a sci-fi crazy youngster, just on the edge of puberty, interested without being explicit or embarrassing. At the time, the American backers of the film thought Munro’s costumes were a little bit too skimpy and had them made a little bit less revealing for the second half of the movie. Of course revealing in 1978 and revealing now are two different things.
You also have to remember, if you were actually born and of an age old enough to remember, at the time, sci-fi movies were all pretty crappy. The Star Wars influence was really just beginning, so the effects, dialog and story fit in pretty well with most other sci-fi offerings at the time. Remember, I grew up in an era when Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey were the rare exception, not the rule. Compared to some, this was practically Shakespeare. (Wouldn’t it be cool if Shakespeare was alive today and writing sci-fi?)
Plus, one of the things you have to judge a movie by is how much it is enjoyed. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it for 30-plus years, which means it’s a great movie. It’s still fun to watch and to expose other people to its obvious greatness. And, ultimately, that’s what I judge movies by. For instance, you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through The Godfather, Forrest Gump, Annie Hall, On Golden Pond, Gone With The Wind and a slew of other “great” movies again. I’d much rather watch this. Google this sucker and go and look at some of the sites where it’s reviewed. People love it.
Surely, by now, you’re convinced. All these things combined truly make Starcrash the greatest sci-fi movie ever made. If this weren’t the case, would they bother releasing a restored version on Blu-ray? If you still need convincing, come over and we’ll watch it in stunning high definition. Or, I’ll loan you the Female Space Invaders titled DVD release from a few years back (alas, my video tape version bit the dust years ago). I’m sure after sitting through two hours of this classic bit of cinema, (well, 92 minutes, actually, but your enjoyment will make it feel like two hours or more) you will be convinced.