Friday, October 20, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)


I’ve always wanted to see a sequel to Blade Runner or at least an expansion of the world we see in the 1982 film. But I figured that was just a daydream, even if I did hear rumors about it from time to time. In 2017 we got a follow up that looked promising from all the trailers. Director Denis Villeneuve was at the helm of this endeavour, and I’ve found his work to be pretty interesting. Maybe we had a second excellent sci-fi film in store for us during 2017 after the magnificent War for the Planet of the Apes.


K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, an officer working for the LAPD that hunts down rogue Replicants. Usually these artificial humanoids are older models with a tendency to rebel against human masters. During his latest assignment K comes across some clues that hint at the impossible: a Replicant giving birth to a child. K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), fears that if news of Replicants being able to procreate got out, then there would be mass panic in the already unstable world. K is tasked with finding and retiring this “miracle” child.

K starts his investigation, finding and putting together clues. His girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) offers her take on the case, as well as some moral support. He meets with the creator of stable Replicants, Niander Wallace (Jered Leto) who keeps things close to his chest. The case gets very dangerous, as it becomes apparent that others are looking for this child, and will murder to get it. Eventually his search leads him to seek out the old Blade Runner, Deckard (Harrison Ford) to find out his role in these mysterious events. What revelation will be unearthed when K finally discovers the answers, and will they change the world as he knows it?

Good Points:
  • In nearly every way, expands and evolves the world of the previous film
  • Delves into the future noire concept with both feet, and also twists it in interesting ways
  • Excellent performances by the entire cast

Bad Points:
  • If you don’t like the original film, than you won’t like this one
  • Moves at a deliberate pace, focusing on clues and characters over action
  • Some of the music is so overpowering and loud that it distracts


This sequel takes everything from the previous film and expands and builds on it. From a production point of view it is startling, pulling us back into that world with ease. It has a measured pace, that fits the tone and style of the movie. The themes it explores are familiar. Even more impressive are all the layers to explore in this movie. Some of the music overplays its hand, but other times it feels like a perfect continuation. All told, this fan of the original film loved the sequel. I can’t wait to revisit and explore it again.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 4
Total:  5

In Depth Review

More human, than human? You decide.
I’m going to do my best to keep this review spoiler free, and will either revisit or write some in depth posts in another blog after the movie comes out for home viewing.

Blade Runner 2049 pulls off one of the trickiest issues for a sequel. It keeps things familiar and yet expands and develops on what came before. The film is closely tied to the previous film from a narrative and thematic sense. But it also acts as a mirror or bookend of it. Some scenes, shots, dialogue and confrontations are taken from the previous film and replicated (pun sorta kinda intended) in a way that changes the meaning for the new film. In that way, to get the most out of Blade Runner 2049 requires intimate knowledge of the 1982 film.

But even if you’ve only seen the original film a couple of times, Villeneuve makes sure that you can follow this film from its main detective plot, as well as the side plots dealing with Joi and Wallace’s role in the whole film. And just like the previous film, this movie focuses more on K’s hunt, his character and the way the case changes him.

Rough day at the office for K.
That search is what drives Blade Runner 2049 in many of its production decisions. This is not an action film. This is a detective drama set in the future. It moves at a measured pace, with a few action scenes to punctuate moments. But this is not a thrill ride. It was never intended to be one. But the film is pretty long, and I can understand why some folk may feel it drags in places.

Villeneuve is a fan of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and it really shows. He is dedicated to bringing the world presented in that film back to life in nearly all aspects. He advances some technology and design for the 2049 setting, but all those changes are based off of what was presented in the 1982 original. So you still have some very analogue technology in the film, but pushed forward a bit in places. There are now holograms of various sizes through out the city, something that actually was more inspired the cityscapes of Akira.

And you thought Vegas couldn't get gaudier.
The film does move outside of Los Angeles into some of the battered landscapes near San Diego and into Las Vegas. Seeing these new locations adds a bit of spice to the familiar locations of the previous film, and reduces some of the claustrophobia you feel. But visually it is a twist on the original film. Deckard was a man lost in the mire and filth of the crowds of Los Angeles. K is a man lost in the desolation and loneliness of the vast world. There are many shots of K standing in stark relief to these deserted locations, offering an interesting visual contrast.

The visual effects are truly impressive. You get a great mix of miniatures, computer images and fully fleshed out sets that are full of detail. It is a tribute to the original film’s dense production design, and it gives Blade Runner 2049 the same realistic feeling. This world feels lived in, it feels beaten up, it feels like it may be on the very edge of collapsing. I was never pulled out of the film because of some incongruous visuals.

I'm not touching you. Does this bother you?
Instead Villeneuve is uses unreality of visual effects to his advantage. Holograms play a key role in the story and themes of this film. At times they can appear realistic, at other times they look incomplete and unresolved. That imperfection against the reality of the sets and human characters makes them stand out on purpose. Sometimes that flickering gives them a forlorn feeling. Other times they feel uncanny, and not to be trusted.

The sound effects in Blade Runner 2049 build on what we heard in the original film. Most of this is real world sound effects with only some unique sci-fi sounds added in for the vehicles or some of the technology used.

Both Blade Runner films build thier unique sonic world with the scores. The original was composed by Vangelis, and is a score that is immediately feels like part of city. Nothing else really sounds like Vangelis’ score, not even other Vangelis albums from the period. There is a darkness to the score that really comes through.

It is still raining in L.A. even in 2049.
For the sequel Villeneuve ended up dropping his regular composer Johann Johannsson and went with the duo of Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. These two composers do a fine job of using Vangelis’ style and tone and expanding it in a more modern way. They use many of the same vintage keyboards and synth sounds that Vangelis utilized, and they even carry over his Tears in Rain theme from the previous film. But what fans of the older score will notice is that the tone and atmosphere feels almost perfect.

I think he is attempting to use his Scanner powers!
There are two changes here. The first is that the score for 2049 lacks some of the blues/jazz influences that Vangelis utilized in key scenes. It doesn’t hurt the film, but it does make the listening experience of the album feel a bit too samey at times. I know, film score fan first world problems. What I’m not a fan of is the HORN OF DOOM effect that is used in the score. You get those long sustained portentous whole note blasts of sound in this score. We first heard this in Inception and it was ridiculous there (at least in my opinion), but by the time we hit 2017 this effect is so tired and stale. Nearly three quarters of all trailers use that ridiculous HORN OF DOOM effect. To hear it invade the Blade Runner world is a disappointment. The problem also becomes troubling in the sound mix of the film, because these blasts are so invasive they draw attention to themselves and pull the viewer out of the film.

Now to be clear this kind of thing appeared in the original score and mix to the earlier film. But, it seems like the new composers picked up on the single track that this did occur in and proceeded to sprinkle it a bit more in this film. I found it distracting, and there were a few moments where it seemed dreadfully out of place. Why the music was blasting away at a few characters walking toward K, I’ll never know. Just an odd bit of scoring. In some ways it may work better as a listening experience as part of a Blade Runner concept album.

I hear no body walks in L.A.
It is a bit tricky to talk too much about the acting without spoiling some of the plot revelations, so I’m going to keep this a bit more surface than I normally would. The entire cast does a really great job in their roles. Each character is a shade of grey in this film, and that keeps everything slightly off balance. It can be a tough role for an actor, but everyone steps up to the challenge. Gosling in particular has some very tricky balancing to pull off. His performance feels restrained, but always with something simmering underneath. When things get brought to a boil, the emotion feels earned because we’ve seen him holding it in for a good chunk of the film. It is one of those performances that may seem a bit dry when the movie starts, but it really seemed to evolve for me over the course of the film.

It is great to see Ford playing Deckard again, and he does a very good job. That bitterness that we saw in the previous film seems to be amplified by his life after the first film ended. Ford plays a key role, but don’t expect him to have a lot of screen time, just enough for it count. And he gets a great scene with Jered Leto (who balances mysterious and disturbing perfectly) that puts Deckard through the ringer.

She looks nice and helpful now... but just wait.
But my favorite performance in Blade Runner 2049 has to go to Sylvia Hoeks as Luv. She’s the femme fatale of this future noire, and man does she play it to the hilt. This is one replicant you don’t want to get on the wrong side of, and of course K finds himself on the wrong side of Luv. Without giving too much away, I will say that she does a good job of keeping you feeling off center. When she’s on the screen early in the film, you are uneasy. But when she starts showing up in the final half, you get tense – because you know she is willing and able to do just about anything. She makes for a great antagonist.

Now the challenging part, the writing and direction. It is really hard to cover these without any spoilers, but I really think that if you are interested in the film you should check it out first. I’ll cover what I like about these elements, but avoid diving into the themes and plot points too much.

Deckard has seen some Dangerous Days indeed.
Blade Runner 2049 was made by fans for fans. You can tell that everyone involved in the film wanted to make a sequel worthy of the previous film, one they hold in high esteem. It starts with the plot. You could have gone so many different ways with a follow up, and they could have taken a quick and easy action packed movie set in the world fashioned in the previous film. But instead, they decided to carry over the detective noire concept as well. In fact I would say the case at the heart of this film is more engaging than the one in the previous film (which was really an extended bounty hunt). In 2049 we get more investigation and personal links that act as clues. K must engage and understand each person he encounters if he is to solve this mystery. These plot points are intriguing and carry the viewer along with him. As K closes in on the truth it starts to impact his view on the world and how he sees himself. But like everything in this universe, the writers keep it all in shades of grey. Truth is a tricky thing, and just like the previous film, when the case closes some questions are still left unanswered, not just for K, but also for the viewer.

What is great about the script is that it really does work as a standalone film, with K acting as an excellent protagonist. But the writers know Blade Runner very well, and use the new story and characters to impact how we view the original film. It really does take themes from that film and shape and twist them in new ways. Not an easy task to pull off, but the script manages it. This film feels like it needs to exist, not like it was thrown together just to get another movie based on 80s nostalgia.

Replicant prostitutes... of the FUTURE!
Villeneuve handles the entire production with amazing skill. He gets great performances out of the cast. He keeps the production feeling true to the original film. But he also takes a very good script and makes it even more impressive in the way he lays out scenes and constructs the movie. I sound like a broken record here, but I’m really impressed with the way the new film, in all of its aspects, enhances the previous film and pushes things forward. It takes someone with an eye for details (and in the older film Ridley Scott’s obsessive fascination with production design make it even more challenging) to craft a film like this. It can be watched by casual fans and enjoyed. But if you are one of those more obsessive fans (which I admit, I’m one) you’ll find so many layers and levels in this film. It is a remarkable achievement.

"All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."
Is it a milestone in science fiction, or one of the greatest movies of the century? I wouldn’t go that far. In fact, I think this movie has a very specific audience. You have to have enjoyed the original film, and there are plenty of people out there who don’t like it at all. You have to be willing to watch a film that is slow paced and just as concerned about visual storytelling and letting the atmosphere soak in, as it is about moving the plot along. I’ve seen some people call it a super expensive art film, and yeah I think that is a good description. It is not a summer blockbuster. I’m frankly surprised the film got made the way it was. But I’m very happy that it was. I can heartily recommend seeing it (and on a big screen to soak in that atmosphere), but only if you meet those caveats. Blade Runner 2049 is a journey well worth taking and revisiting.

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I warned you. Don't get on the wrong side of Luv.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Movie Music Musings – Horrifying John Williams

Ask film music fans about horror film scores and you’ll hear a few composer names pop up almost immediately. Bernard Herrmann and his work with Hitchcock will leap to mind. Jerry Goldsmith crafted some amazing work for The Omen and Poltergeist. Christopher Young is the current master of horror music from the creepy music for The Grudge and the bombastic thrills of Drag Me to Hell. Even Hans Zimmer has taken on the genre with some really intense music for the Hollywood version of The Ring.

But one name you don’t hear too often related to horror scores is the maestro himself, John Williams. This has more to do with the type of films that Williams gets attached to and isn’t a commentary on his skills. Williams has provided some excellent scores to thrillers and individual cues in the Harry Potter films and Jurassic Park have some excellent moments of tension and fear. But these days, Williams works primarily in dramas and fantasies.

You have to journey back in his career, right when it was really taking off, to hear some of his most interesting horror music. The 1970s were fruitful time for a more experimental side to Williams work. He hadn’t been locked quite into the full Golden Age mode he achieved with Star Wars and Superman. But you can hear hints of those scores in some of this work. Instead, this is a Williams fresh from The Towering Inferno and the Poseidon Adventure.

1975 kicked it off with one of the most famous monster movies of the decade: Jaws. The movie isn’t wall-to-wall horror, in fact Williams provides the film with a wonderful nautical heroic theme for Chief Brody and his band. But everyone remembers the shark motif, something so simple and primal that it actually builds on images and makes them even more impressive. This motif gets quite a workout in the film, sneaking in and out of the music and building to terrifying levels. This rerecording for the Boston Pops conducted by Williams himself is a treat. Love how the audience chuckles as soon as they recognize it.

In 1977 Williams worked on Close Encounters of a Third Kind. Again his music played a big role in the finale of the film, with his communication theme become instantly memorable. But in the first half of the film, Williams scored the movie like it is a horror film. One of the most terrifying scenes in the movie, is the abduction of young Barry. Williams pulls out all the stops raising the tension to amazingly horrifying levels and making a wonderfully discordant and disturbing track. For real fun, play this back to back with Jerry Goldsmith’s Twisted Abduction track from Poltergeist for a nasty one-two punch.

The next year saw Williams score a sequel to Jaws but more interesting is his work on the Brian Depalma thriller The Fury. Williams creates a lovely main theme that starts off so quietly and then build and builds in power as it carries along. The end credits version is really something else. What is great about this whole score is that Williams takes lots of inspiration from Bernard Herrmann, almost giving The Fury a Hitchcockian feel when it comes the music. For my money this is easily one of Williams best scores of the decade. And yeah this decade includes some of his most impressive work.

In 1979 Williams got to write music for one of the most famous of all horror icons: Dracula. With Frank Langella as the bloodsucker and Lawrence Olivier as Van Helsing, well this was something else. The score has a gothic romantic sweep to it, but remains pure John Williams. In fact, you can hear ideas in this score that would be fleshed out further in The Empire Strikes Back during the Cloud City sequences. Sadly this score has never gotten a good release. The archival sound quality is pretty bad. Film score fans are hoping for some good quality recordings to be found, or to have a full rerecording supervised by the Maestro at some point in the future. That said, it is clear that Williams has the chops to craft excellent horror scores, you just have to know where to look.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Void (2016)


I’m always on the lookout for horror films with a Lovecraftian feel to them. But it is pretty tough to find movies that really capture the feeling of cosmic horror. Then I heard about this film which combined elements from The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness two of John Carpenter’s more Lovecraftian films. This sounded like just the kind of horror movie I could get behind, but were all the rumors true, or was the real eldritch horror the fact that the film doesn’t quite measure up to the hype?


Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) is having a rough night. He finds an injured man on the road and takes him to the nearby hospital. Unfortunately, the hospital is undergoing renovation and is operating with a skeleton crew. Luckily Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh) is on hand to help. But the injured man seems a bit, well... crazy is the best word for it.

Then everything goes south quickly as two deranged men enter the hospital with an arsenal of guns. They are after the injured man with murder on their minds. Then the hospital is surrounded by hooded figures with strange symbols on their robes. Officer Carter finds himself trying to make sense of the motivations behind these interlopers and some of the hospital staff. As things escalate bodies mutate, offerings are made and a door to The Void is being opened. Does Officer Carter stand a chance in any dimension of stopping the insanity?

Good Points:
  • Impressive visual and make up effects
  • Handles the crazed cultist and dimensional horror really well
  • Manages to capture some really disturbing moments. 
Bad Points:
  • None of the characters feel quite fleshed out.
  • Pacing feels off for most of the movie
  • Lovecraft fans may be disappointed at the movie not quite meeting its potential

Love the concept behind the film. It really nails that Lovecraftian feel of cultists attempting to bring about trans-dimensional forces into our world. Unfortunately the execution doesn’t quite hit on all cylinders. The pacing feels off for nearly the entire film. If it had slowed down, and built up to the tension instead of going full bore with the intensity it might have worked better. But the impressive visual effects and practical creatures and gore makeup work really well. This movie has some real gross visuals, and is worth a watch for fans who like their cosmic horror with a dash of graphic violance.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  4
Sound: 4
Acting:  3
Script:  3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

28 Days Later… (2002)


Danny Boyle is a director with a distinct visual style that always engages the viewer at some level. Sometimes the film itself doesn’t always work, but no director is perfect.  These days most people seem to talk about Trainspotting or Slumdog Millionaire when discussing Boyle’s career. Not too many folks mention this one, but 28 Days Later… may be the film that kicked off a whole new era of zombie flicks.


Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens naked and alone in a hospital. After he leaves his room, he stumbles around the building finding it deserted. When he steps outside into London itself, he finds the once teeming streets completely empty. Jim is desperately confused until he runs into a group of enraged humans rushing at him with blood dripping from their eyes and mouth. Jim is saved by Selena (Naomie Harris) and learns that a devastating plague has spread through England that turns humans into ranting raving killing machines. Get any blood inside you and you are done for.

Jim and Selena begin a journey of survival that takes them out of London and possibly toward some kind of rescue to the north. Along the way they meet Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) as well as Major West (Christopher Eccleston sans sonic screwdriver). Is there any hope of survival or is this only the beginning of the end of the world?

Good Points:
  • Captures the feeling of bleak dread
  • Excellent acting by a committed cast
  • Some intense camera work and style

Bad Points:
  • Those looking for non-stop zombie thrills will find some of the movie slow
  • The second half of the film may annoy some viewers
  • The visual style may be too intense for some viewers 


This is the film that brought about the whole “fast zombie” craze that dominated the horror genre for a while. So depending on how you feel about that, you may dislike this film on principle. But beyond the impact to the genre, you have a very intense well-made horror film. The scenes of Jim wandering a vacant London are chilling. The movie also does a good job of presenting its theme of human capacity to always find a new way to delve deeper into darkness. Makes for a nice alternative to the usual zombie fare, and Boyle’s stylistic direction brings it all together.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  4
Sound: 4
Acting:  4
Script:  3
Music: 3
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Anime Juke Box - Mirai-Seiki Maruti Club - Boogiepop Phantom

Yep it is October again and that means I get to write about one of my favorite anime series: Boogiepop Phantom. Well I have a whole review of the series out there if you are curious (and if you like fractured horror narratives you really should check it out).

The music for the series is all over the place, including industrial electronic sound design, techno tracks, a 70s jazz inspired opening credit piece called Evening Showers and of course Wagner opera. But today I'm going to share the end credits. It is a angry rock song performed by Kyoko called Marai-Seiki Maruti Club. Not sure what it means, but the lead singer is awfully passionate about it. Like everything else with Boogiepop Phantom it doesn't seem like it should fit a horror series, but it works. When it kicks in for the end credits it just feels right. So enjoy this little bit of J-rock with an attitude.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Shivers (1975)


David Cronenberg is one of those directors that really seems to polarize viewers His early work can be especially disturbing to folks, especially something like Videodrome. But I really do like what I’ve seen from him. He’s one of those directors who plays with particular themes, has a specific style and tone. So I was interested in seeing his first feature length film and get an idea of how it all started.


The film begins with an advertisement a grand new block of luxury apartments with everything a tenant needs right inside the building. Since these apartments are on an island, it is an added convenience for the residents to never have to travel to the mainland for anything. There is even a clinic on hand to help with any issues you may have. Dr. Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton) is running into a few problems today. He’s seen several patients with strange growths in their abdomens.

But when his mentor Dr. Hobbes (Fred Doederlein) is found dead over the mutilated corpse of a young woman he becomes really disturbed. Some digging reveals that Hobbes and his colleague Linsky (Joe Silver) were working with parasites as an alternative to organ transplant. Hobbes decided to experiment on human… and it all went downhill from there. St. Luc becomes convinced that the parasites are multiplying in the apartments and warping the minds of the residents. Does he have any hope of stopping the infection, or will he fall prey to it? Horror favorite Barbara Steele is on hands to add to the Shivers.

Good Points:

  • Creates a disturbing concept and runs with it.
  • Has some excellent moments of dread and unease
  • Takes straight aim at the free love concept

Bad Points:

  • Never quite feels as claustrophobic as it wants to be
  • A few moments are more funny than scary
  • Feels a bit exploitative and trashy at times


Cronenberg’s main concept and themes are ready and raring to go in this film. The concepts of parasites spreading among the population of the apartment building, is creepy enough. But to have them spread like some venereal disease and increase the libido of the host makes it even more disturbing. There’s plenty of gross out moments in the film. But there are a few limitations because of the budget. The setting doesn’t feel as closed off as it could, and sometimes the parasite attacks looks silly. But overall there is enough here to get under your skin and see that Cronenberg was a talent to be watched, even in a movie as exploitative as this one.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 3
Music: 2
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Starcrash (1978) – MST3K Review


The Emperor of the Universe (Christopher Plummer) has it rough. He sent a top secret scouting mission to find the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) and his super weapon. But the scout ship was lost with all hands, including Prince Simon (David Hasselhoff). Without the location of the secret base, the universe is doomed to even more ridiculous outfits.

Luckily the beautiful outlaw Stella Star (Caroline Munro) and her navigator (and resident know it all) Akton (Maroe Gortner) have the skills to help out. After some persuading by the gruff Chief Thor (Robert Tessier) and his country western robot Elle (Judd Hamilton with the voice of Hamilton Camp – no I’m not making this up), the four begin their quest. Along the way they will find strange new worlds, face off against amazons and troglodytes, witness the horrors of lava lamp creatures and unleash the power of Stella’s space bikini. Science Fiction will never the same again.

Movie Review:

Stella is ready for space adventure!
I watched and reviewed this movie a few years ago, and it instantly became one of my favorite bad movies. Starcrash hits a level I like to think of as beautifully bad. It is a movie that is completely entertaining in its ineptitude, lovely in its horrible acting, plot points, framing, lighting and overall aesthetic. It is a wonder to behold, and one of the rare types of movies that is artful because of the way it fails. Not too many movies can achieve such twisted perfection. Some examples include Samurai Cop for action movies, and Hawk the Slayer or the Ferrigno Hercules would be a good fit for fantasy films. But I may go out on a limb and say that Starcrash is the queen of them all.

The most impressive set in the film.
One look at the date this film was released, and you know exactly what it was going for: Star Wars. But like many of the cash-in films released during this era, Starcrash knows only that Star Wars was popular, but not the reasons why it worked overall. It tries so hard to please and entertain, and in some ways it does, but never in the way it intends to. At each turn, Starcrash goes hard left when it should go right, and you end up with a movie that is as bizarre as it is ridiculous.

Where to begin? Lets start with the overall visual approach to the film. Star Wars was famous for going for a “used universe” style with its visuals. It avoided the shiny newness that 2001: A Space Odyssey perfected. Instead it had a lived in look, something that grounded the science fiction and fantasy of George Lucas’ world.

Leaping cavemen! Are we in the right movie? Is this
Cave Dwellers?
Starcrash goes in a different direction, something that feels closer to comic books and specifically European comic books. The space opera is a ripe genre in European comics and with artists like Jean Giraud who worked on Heavy Metal and whose style influenced The Fifth Element and Blade Runner. It is no surprise that the visuals in Starcrash look more like these films, than they look like Star Wars or even the Star Trek television series.

The visuals are eye popping with the amount of color on display. Creatures like the red blob monsters and the energy weapons used seem to leap of the screen. The costumes are outlandish and over the top. Stella is sexy, so she has to dress in a space bikini. Count Zarth Arn is eeeeeviiiillll so he has to dress in black. And then there is the Emperor of the Universe himself, looking like a high priest of a metallic pagan festival… or space god… or something. Make up follows the same path, with so much color that it distracts more than compliments. And this being the disco era… well you know exactly what to expect.

Hyperspace looks cherry flavored.
The visual effects are all over the place. Starcrash does use a variety of techniques to bring the universe to life. None of them are very convincing, but all of them are a lot of fun. The previously mentioned red blobs look like a lava lamp superimposed over action. You get stop motion robots of various sizes. There are plenty of space ship models. A lot of them look like obvious kit bashing (again making you appreciate how good the ships in Star Wars looked). You even have a lightsaber that Akton wields in a couple scenes. The scenes where the ships travel through hyperspace involve some really bizarre visuals that may have been inspired by the star-gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Sound effects end up in the same boat. Lots of creative stuff, and some of it is pretty goofy sounding. But it isn’t as bad as the fight sound effects in something like Angels' Revenge so that is positive. I do wonder when it comes to sound effects in this era of Star Wars rip offs, if the creators realized how difficult it was to come up with unique sounds for everything. Or if they just sorted through the sound effects library and pulled out something that seemed to fit.

"Well of course I'm evil. Look at my clothes!"
Now there is an elephant in the room, and it has a 007 on its trunk. When it came to the music to Starcrash the creators wanted to capture that golden age sound that John Williams so masterfully captured. So they went to John Barry. Yes, that John Barry, the man who gave us memorable scores to Goldfinger, Dances with Wolves and The Lion in Winter. At the time Barry was dealing with some tax issues, so it is possible that Barry took the job for financial reasons only. But maybe he figured he might as well have some fun with the score.

"What do you mean I'm overdressed?"
Barry actually scored three science fiction films in the late 1970s, and all of them have similar tone and style. Starcrash has an easy going melodic feel to much of its score. Even the action music is dominated by whole notes and slow but deliberate pace. This is a style that Barry came to rely on around this point in his career (although you can hear the seeds of it as far back as The Lion in Winter). These long slow themes give everything in Starcrash an overly majestic and momentous quality. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it makes everything a bit more ridiculous. There are even a few callbacks to other famous scores. His main theme was certainly inspired by John Williams. And during a scene where Akton battles cavemen, Barry uses a fanfare that nearly mimics the famous Strauss piece from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Compared to his similar scores for Moonraker and The Black Hole it is probably the least of the three, but Barry fans will enjoy it.

"I think we'd get out of here faster if you call KITT."
And now we come to the acting. For a movie that is more Barbarella and less Close Encounters of a Third Kind it is a bit hard to judge. You get the feeling that the cast involved in Starcrash knew exactly what type of movie they were making. So there is a spirit of fun overlaying the whole thing. But you also get moments where you can tell the cast is losing interest (especially Gortner who is obviously staring off into a corner in some scenes). But I have to say Caroline Munro is giving it a great try, balancing sexy and tough fairly well. Hasselhoff also seems to be giving the silly film a solid effort, delivering some very ripe dialogue at times.

But my favorite performances are by Joe Spinell and Christopher Plummer. Spinell embraces his dark side as Count Zarth Arn. He is the opposite of subtle, and seems to be having a great time ranting, raving and chewing all the scenery he can find. His flourishes with his cape, his eye-popping anger and his booming voice all make him a highlight of Starcrash. Yes Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon was impressivly evil, but Zarth here, he’s just bombastically evil.

"Am I that transparent?"
On the opposite end is The Emperor of the Universe. Plummer also seems to be embracing and ludicrous nature of the plot, the characters and his costume. He delivers long speeches with his wonderful Shakespearean diction. Many of his lines are so stupid, and yet Plummer makes them sound so overly important (and John Barry’s music boosts them even further). It is an amazing mixture of stately and silly. Plummer is having a good time and you can’t help but enjoy his time on the screen, even when he is monologuing whole chunks of silly exposition.

Most of the acting is fairly broad across the board. Gortner bursts with zest and energy. Robert Tessier growls and glowers as Thor, who could be a prototype for Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy, you know, if he was in a cheap rip off of that movie. And then you have Judd Hamilton stumbling around and flailing as the robot hero Elle with the country fried voice acting of Hamilton Camp to give everything just that added touch of the surreal.

Stella is looking for Diana... wrong planet.
Like most of these type of knock off movies, not a lot of time was spent fleshing out a good script or solid characters. The idea was to rush something into the theaters as quickly as possible to cash in on a popular film. Starcrash certainly has those problems. But it also seems to really be into the idea of capturing the feel of some of the more experimental European space comics of the time. And maybe I’m giving the movie more credit than it deserves. But comics like Heavy Metal often featured stories where the plot flowed from one event to another with very little connective tissue. There weren’t established characters, but archetypes thrown into outlandish and visually expressive situations. The focus was on letting the visuals carry the mood and plot, such as it was. This is not at all like what we are used to in North America and especially in a Hollywood film. In fact it is the main different between Star Wars and Starcrash. Star Wars was inspired by plot centric serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Starcrash may have been inspired by material that was less concerned with plot and more concerned with imaginative visuals and sexy women shooting robots.

Frosted freaks?
With that in mind Starcrash actually captures that feel very well. The script does this strange thing where it has a simple concept, and yet feels overly convoluted. Our heroes have to find and stop the villain. But the journey to find him takes the form of a puzzle, taking them to different worlds to work it out (and that ignores the first third of the movie setting all this up). In some ways it is like the search for the Galactic Leyline in the anime series Outlaw Star. But that series managed to build clues over its 28 episodes. Starcrash isn’t that clever. It just has our heroes happen into things, or just have Akton reveal another power we didn’t know he had and figure things out.

Pumaman in a special appearance.
That is my main gripe with this movie. We have Stella Star who we are told is this fearless space outlaw. She does get a few good moments, especially during the prison break and on the planet of the Amazons. But about halfway through, Akton becomes our main character. He starts figuring everything out. He’s always right (and always smug about it). He starts obtaining all kinds of crazy powers like deflecting lasers with his hands and conjures a lightsaber out of nothing. Akton even gets to have a Disney fake-out death moment. Stella gets relegated to the sidelines making googly eyes at Hasselhoff. It is an odd turn of events and I’m not sure if that reflects the script or just how things ended up after editing.

Evil gets ready to fight. But are they ready for Akton?
Starcrash is a bad movie, but it an entertaining one. That might have to do with the fact that man directing it knew exactly how silly this whole thing was and didn’t care. Luigi Cozzi has made a career of making these kinds of movies including the Lou Ferrigno Hercules films and a knock off of Alien called Contamination (which is also a hoot, with lots of gross visual effects). Sometimes these movies play out like fever dreams, but they are so visual imaginative and populated by actors who are going for it that you can’t help but be entertained, as long as you don’ think about the plot too hard. That might cause you to see red blobs that destroy your brain.

If Starcrash has any painful issues, they revolve around the pacing. There are a few sequences that just take too long to play out. Sometimes I can’t tell if they are proud of the special effects and showing them off, or if they are padding the run time, or they figure, we’ve got Christopher Plummer, let’s have him talk for five minutes straight!

This reminds me of nothing at all, not a single thing.
In any case, these scenes often slow the momentum down a bit. There is an extended sequence where Stella finds a starship on a beach. She very slowly approaches it. Then very slowly boards it. Then very slowly makes her way to the bridge. Then very slowly turns around for the big reveal. John Barry’s music does its best to make this whole thing seem mysterious and impressive. But mostly you are wondering if Stella got hit by an Amazon slow motion blast or something.

These moments aside, Starcrash is a wonderfully bad film that I had always dreamed of getting the full Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. And when I saw it on the episode list for season eleven, I did a happy dance of joy. The question is, are Jonah and bots ready to take on this masterpiece of cheese?

Episode Review:

Plummer is trying to out-shiny his throne.
I’m biased; I’ll admit it right now. Because any time I get to watch Starcrash, it is a fun happy day in my book. So combine this movie with my favorite television series and it is like chocolate and peanut butter. Even if the riffing is only middling, I’m going to love this episode. So it should come as no surprise that I do, in fact, love this episode.

Starcrash is a movie that gift-wraps each scene for a riffing crew. Jonah and the bots are up to the challenge taking each of these scenes and going to town with it. Yes, there are quite a few Star Wars based riffs, but these are pretty much expected when it comes to this film. You also get some very funny moments where Tom starts singing improvised words along with John Barry’s thunderous score. During a scene where the Emperor of the Universe cruises over in his giant golden starship and the music swells with majesty, Tom croons about “The Space Church” which caused me to nearly laugh water out of my nose.

No one wants to talk in any elevator, Crow.
This episode also has a lot of moments where the bots get out of their seats and interact with the film. My favorite is during a scene where we travel in an elevator. Crow gets up and stands next to one of the troops and tries to engage in some small talk with him. The guy just ignores poor crow.

The heroic Akton is the source of many hilarious riffs. When we get a look at Stella and Akton from behind, Gortner’s blonde fluffy hair stands out enough for Tom to declare him “some kind of human/luffa hybrid.” Later on Jonah starts to sing, “Believe it or not, I’m not William Katt” to a familiar tune from the 1980s. When Acton begins to shoot waves of energy from his hands, Johan declares that “Akton’s hands have great WiFi.”

There is also quite a bit of singing in this episode. Tom usually improvises along with the score, but all three of the riffers make up a hilarious song about how stupid it is to enter an abandoned spaceship during the long slow scene where Stella does just that.

I bet the Amazon robot hits the gym daily.
But maybe my favorite riffing sequence takes place on the Amazon planet. Yeah I have a thing for warrior women, but besides that, the jokes are hilarious. When Crow gasps, “Amazon’s on horseback!” Tom replies with “That’s on my bucket list.” Me too! Later the bots get really excited when the huge Amazon robot lumbers around attacking our heroes in a hilarious homage to Talos in Jason and the Argonauts. Tom says, “Finally, a little something for the robots,” as the  busty robot stumbles around. In fact the riffs get a bit risqué in this sequence, but I was cracking up at the robots getting turned on by the stop motion giantess and Jonah’s growing discomfort.

Each torpedo comes with a surprise inside!
As they get near the end of the movie, the boys start to lose patience with some of those long slow sequences of filler. An armada launch sequence does provide them with a terrific opportunity to come up for silly names for each space ship, but they start to gripe a bit about these scenes. Luckily one of the funniest bits comes at the end when Plummer delivers a long and stupid monologue, and the boys add even more ridiculous lines to the whole thing.

For me the riffing in Starcrash is just about perfect when it comes to pacing. The riffs are plentiful but never run over each other. And the guys allow enough of the film to play out so you can enjoy the insanity before they chime in. This was the highlight of season eleven for me. Even rewatching it brought out more riffs that I missed the first time. Great stuff all the way around.

Is his cameo about nothing too?
The host segments don’t quite measure up to the riffing, but they are enjoyable. The episode starts with Jonah and the bots playing spin the bottle and it gets awkward. For the invention exchange, the Mad scientists create a Bandit of Condiments that may or may not have been inspired by the sombreros in The Beast of Hollow Mountain. Jonah reworks Tom Servo into BB-Servo inspired by the cute droid from StarWars: The Force Awakens. Unfortunately the Lucasfilm lawyers descend and beat Tom up! At the first break Crow creates a new space opera franchise called World War Space. It seems about as thrown together as Starcrash is. At the next break, the bots are so impressed with Akton and his myriad of abilities that they idolize him. Jonah arrives as Akton to show them the error of that kind of thinking.

Did Crow and Tom break the space time continuum?
We get a special celebrity guest in this episode. Kinga and Max get a visit from the brilliant marketing mind of Freak Masterstroke played with zeal by Jerry Seinfeld. For each marketing idea Kinga has, Masterstroke makes it even better, or at least more outrageous. It is all very silly, but fans of Seinfeld will get a kick out seeing the comedian on their favorite puppet show. The episode ends with Jonah in full Count Arn garb (including magnificent cape) and the bots arriving in torpedoes just like the Emperor’s soldiers in the film. Things get out of control very quickly. All fun and games until someone gets a dome smashed.

When Lava Lamps attack!
For me, this is the best episode of the season. I cracked up the first time and laughed a bit harder the second time I watched it. The combination of an immensely ridiculous and outlandish film combined with some top not riffing and plenty of energy from the cast makes this a real winner. Even if you are familiar with Starcrash, it I worth watching with Jonah and the bots along for the ride.

I give it five giant Amazon robots out of five.

This episode is available Netflix Download.

"And now we fight over whose hair is most spectacular."