A battle beyond time…beyond space…
From Roger Corman, the king of low-budget filmmaking came…Battle Beyond The Stars!
Following the success of Star Wars which became a worldwide phenomenon instead of just a movie, every studio was green-lighting imitators in hopes of having their own successful space adventure.
BBTS was produced by Corman’s New World Pictures which made a string of low-budget exploitation films in the 70s.
Our story opens with Sador, ruler of the Malmori Empire, tooling around the galaxy with his starship and its weapon with the ability to destroy an entire planet. He encounters rural farm planet Akira and will return in seven days to rule over it or they face destruction. Farmboy Shad boards a hunk of junk spaceship to find mercenaries to fight the Empire…stop me if this sounds familiar. However, the story of BBTS borrows more from 1960’s The Magnificent Seven (which itself is essentially a Western remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai from 1954) than it does from Star Wars.
Along the way, Shad (played by John-Boy himself Richard Thomas) picks up space cowboy George Peppard, assassin Robert Vaughn, buxom female warrior Sybil Danning (complete with adhesive-taped metal push-up bra), Morgan Woodward-unrecognizable as reptilian Zymer, and a few others to battle warlord John Saxon’s Sador.
While you probably won’t recognize most of the behind the scenes names, a few stick out. James Cameron was the art director and worked on the visual effects and this was his first industry credit following his 1978 short film Xenogenesis. Cameron was reportedly fired and re-hired twice during production. Cameron brought on friend Bill Paxton to work on carpentry and set construction. Cameron also met future collaborator and wife Gale Anne Hurd on the set.
James Horner provided the musical score, which you may recognize beats of later in Krull and Star Trek II. The BBTS score would be reused in its entirety on Corman’s Space Raiders-1981 as well as Wizards of the Lost Kingdom-1985 and would appear on the trailer for Corman’s infamous Fantastic Four, which never saw the light of day.
The spaceship flown by our hero Shad was anthropomorphized as female, both in the form of an AI named Nell, as well as in the obvious female…attributes the ship was endowed with, courtesy model maker Chuck Comisky.
BBTS recycles sound effects from Battlestar Galactica, which faced its own legal issues with accusations of copyright infringement from 20th Century Fox, the studio behind Star Wars. Scenes and effects from BBTS are later seen in numerous additional films; Corman’s Space Raiders-1983, MGM’s Ice Pirates-1984, Star Slammer-1986, Dead Space-1991, Starquest II-1996, and Star Portal-1997.
This was Roger Corman’s most expensive feature up to that time, costing $2 million; much of this going toward the salaries for Vaughn and Peppard. The film ended up grossing between $7.5-11 million (depending on the reporting source) and was a moneymaker for New World Pictures. The foreign distribution rights alone recouped the budget, and it was also sold to HBO who endlessly ran it throughout the 80s. A side note; in the 90s, New World ended up being purchased by 20th Century Fox, the studio that released Star Wars.
Today Battle is easily found on Bluray/DVD, Prime Video, Vudu, and is being featured on Shout! Factory TV’s ‘May The Fourth Be With You’ marathon.
Socially Distant Cinema is a column that will regularly point you to content from the 70s/80s currently available on various platforms that may bring you some entertainment during these periods of physical distancing.