My Bizarre Adventures

Monthly Archives: November 2017

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Star Wars: Are They Missing Any Limbs?

As one of the biggest breakout characters in the original Star Wars trilogy, the mischievous smuggler Han Solo has been widely imitated in many works inspired by (or plagiarizing) the films. With 1983’s Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Columbia Pictures and director Lamont Johnson (The Twilight Zone) reached what they felt was the logical conclusion: make an incredible simulation of the Millennium Falcon’s captain into the hero of the movie.


Forbidden Zone? Say hello to George Taylor for me.

The results are mixed, to say the least. As the interstellar bounty hunter Wolff, Peter Strauss (The Jericho Mile) does his best Harrison Ford impression but he’s not given the chance to show the vulnerability that made Ford’s portrayal of Captain Solo work. It doesn’t help that the performances from the rest of the cast are all over the place. On one hand, Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) gives a surprisingly natural turn as Wolff’s old rival and Michael Ironside (Total Recall) is fairly menacing as the cybernetic heavy, Overdog. On the other hand, Niki, the young scavenger played by Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club), comes across like every stereotypical annoying teenager ever known. These eclectic performances seem to obscure what Strauss is going for and, as a result, Wolff is lost in the shuffle. On a more positive note, the film is visually appealing, if derivative. Of particular interest are some of Overdog’s mutant henchmen, with unearthly designs that wouldn’t look out of place in your average 80’s horror flick.

Overall, Spacehunter’s willingness to throw as many bizarre concepts at the audience as possible is both its greatest strength and flaw. Though the film’s short run-time hampers its potential to fully realize its numerous settings and characters, it never drags out or complicates the exciting story it wants to tell.

Credit: Mondo Digital

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Star Wars: A Nut Inside a Tomato

There’s a lot to examine when it comes to understanding how Japanese cinema has influenced the Star Wars films. From the overall concept of the Jedi to direct homages to the works of Akira Kurosawa and Toho Studios, George Lucas and his team have made their appreciation of Japanese films very open. Toei’s 1978 space opera Message from Space (Uchū kara no Messēji) is an obvious cash-in on the Star Wars craze that takes a cue from Lucas’s creation by drawing inspiration from an acclaimed Kurosawa film.


JFK once said space is the new ocean but this is ridiculous.

Compared to the more subtle allusions to 1958’s The Hidden Fortress in Star Wars, Message from Space, directed by the innovative Kinji Fukasaku (Tora! Tora! Tora), is a space-age retelling of the 1958 classic Seven Samurai, in which a band of misfits are chosen by fate to defend the denizens of an oppressed planet from deadly invaders. The performances range from overly energetic, like the Jerry Lewis-esque schemer Jack (Masazumi Okabe), to the surprisingly grounded. Vic Morrow (Combat!) and Sonny Chiba (The Street Fighter) easily carry the movie with their understated depictions of warriors seeking to regain their personal honor by protecting the captive planet. In the same vein, the film’s art design is fittingly erratic, combining the standard “used future” look with the more whimsical fairy-tale imagery.

In its best moments, Message from Space matches the expeditious storytelling and bizarre spirit of the sci-fi serials that motivated Star Wars. It may not be as timeless but it’s certainly one of the most earnest films released in the wake of Lucas’s groundbreaking production.

Credit: The Museum of Classic Chicago Television

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Star Wars: Up Is Hell

We’re a month away from a new Star Wars film that’s apparently so incredible, Lucasfilm is giving director Rian Johnson his own personal Star Wars trilogy to play around with. With hype for the eighth installment of the Skywalker saga at a fever pitch, whet your space opera appetite with a series featuring some of the strangest films inspired by George Lucas’s opus. First on deck is the 1985 animated feature Starchaser: The Legend of Orin.


Look familiar?

Directed by Steven Hahn and written by Jeffrey Scott (Superfriends, Muppet Babies), Starchaser is essentially the store-brand equivalent of the original Star Wars trilogy, the Sam’s Choice to the OT’s Pepsi. To wit, here’s a tale of a brave but reckless young worker who discovers a magical sword that once belonged to a band of warriors. With the aid of an arrogant outlaw, the courageous daughter of a ruler, and a pair of bickering machines, the young man comes of age and fights a cybernetic warlord. It’s not just the basic story either. Certain shots, set-pieces and even sound effects have been pilfered, almost verbatim, from the classic trilogy (pay close attention to the sounds of the titular starship’s engines as it flies by the camera).

On the plus side, the movie looks good. The animation is fluid and highly expressive in a Rock & Rule/Heavy Metal sort of way and the overall art design, though conventional, shows a good deal of skill and pulp sci-fi influence. By far, the most intriguing designs belong to the flesh-harvesting Man-Droids, who look appropriately nightmarish in their only appearance in the film. For that matter, there are times where Starchaser feels more like a family friendly Heavy Metal, especially in scenes involving Dagg Dibrimi (Carmen Argenziano), the amoral space pirate who could give Captain Sternn a run for his money in the sleaze department. The film seems to find its real voice when it drifts away from its routine nature-versus-technology plot and into these crasser moments.

On balance, Starchaser holds up fairly well. It’s incredibly simple but its infectious zeal and breathless momentum keep it from getting boring. Don’t let the somewhat derivative story keep you away from checking out this visually appealing animated space opera.

Credit: The Popcorn Drop