Friday, July 11, 2008

BEAST IN SPACE

DISCLAIMER: The author of this review holds a strong affinity for science fiction, especially swashbuckling space opera adventures, and makes no excuses or apologies for his predisposition towards liking the genre or these sorts of movies; no matter how silly they may seem.



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Country: Italy

Year Filmed: 1978

First Video Releases: 1980 (Italy & Germany)

DVD Release: 2008

Starring: Sirpa Lane, Vassili Karis, Lucio Rosato, Roberto Undari, Umberto Ceriani, Maria D'Alessandro, Giuseppe Fortis, Venantino Venantini, Dada Gallotti, Giuseppe Lauricella, Marina Hedman, Iren Szeremi.

Director: Alfonso Brescia. (AKA: Al Bradly)


Director Alfonso Brescia's movies tend to be overlooked and largely forgotten. Which is a shame since they are gems of an bygone age of Italian cinema. From tongue-in-cheek sword-and-sandal epics like Helen, Yes... Helen of Troy and Battle of the Amazons to action movies like Miami Cops he'd chased most of the popular trends during his career. However it is his spaghetti space operas that really take the cake. One can not watch movies with such teasing titles as BATTLE OF THE STARS (1977), COSMOS - WAR OF THE PLANETS (1977), WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978), or STAR ODYSSEY and not come away with a sense of incredulous wonder. BEAST IN SPACE is the final entry in Alfonso Brescia's space opera quintology and Severin's R1 DVDs mark the first video release of it in the U.S. or Canada, and the first time the movie has had a legit DVD release anywhere.

The movie itself is a jaw dropping wonder to behold. The costumes in BEAST IN SPACE, which were recycled from the previously mentioned Brescia spaghetti space opera epics, were obviously patterned after uniform costumes from the golden age of sci-fi. .


A look that was much imitated in B-movies for many years. This gives the movie a peculiar retro look that modern audiences may find silly. Alas while this uniform was the look FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS began life with in both comic strips and matinee serials it had long since been rendered obsolete by the fabulous fashions of the seventies. Too, television series like STAR TREK and movies such as STAR WARS broke the mold and created clich├ęs of their own. Indeed, by the late 70s to early 80s sci-fi costuming had become revitalized with fresh and unique designs as seen in such series as Space: 1999, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and the numerous Saturday morning series targeted at kids like Ark II and Space Academy.

Even contemporary Italian movies of the time like The Humanoid and Starcrash had moved beyond the campy 40s and 50s era 'space fighter pilots' look. Which is why, I feel, these movies were produced with tongue planted from in cheek. From the silly caps, the change from vinyl "space suits" to cloth uniforms, just about everything in the movie feels like a send-up of sci-fi movies from earlier decades, including the GAMMA ONE movies, just done on a shoe string budget. This look is really bargain basement sci-fi at it's best. But what Beast in Space really seems to be poking fun at is the Italian space opera PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES. .

A movie that obviously had a large influence on the style and look of Brescia's movies (not that you can see the images very clearly, but that's the best Blogger can apparently manage). .


However the less said about SFX and the model spaceships the better. All things considered this is worth seeing by film students and genre fans purely as a curiosity. BEAST IN SPACE is just one of those movies you have to experience for yourself. There's no other way to fully assimilate the weirdness. That said. .


***WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD***




***WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD***




***WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD***


THE PLOT

A mustached lothario walks into a spacebar, glances around the room with the devilish grin of a cat in heat, and quickly notices a lonely beauty sitting in a corner. Glancing up the hot space honey smiles coquettishly, the lothario's mustache rises in expectation, and with a peacock strut he saunters over to the bar. Meanwhile a slimy lounge lizard "Trade Federation" merchant wearing Han Solo's cast-offs zeros in like a greasy heat seeking missile on the sultry space siren, who endures some of the worst pick-up lines since Captain Kirk's shore leave on Regulus. That is until she is rescued by the mustachioed lothario who, of course, shows her that real men use their fists not their mouths.

After the pointless brawl our space siren and lusty lothario surf naked under red and green lights. All of which is an important set-up for the "morning after" scene in which seductive space siren wakes up screaming, which leads to her recounting the tale of a nightmarish dream of her being chased through a forest on a mysterious planet by sinister forces. Then the movie starts for real!

What follows is a story so convoluted that one may wonder if the writer didn't use an Enigma machine to type the script on and neglected to pass on the cipher to the director. Long story short the previous scenes were merely foreshadowing things to come. The lothario is actually Captain Madison, the seductive space siren is really Lieutenant Richardson, and the brawl with the merchant from the trade federation turned up a substance called "Antalium" and that is what sets the stage for the rest of the movie. That's right this entire mess is ostensibly about the search for Antalium on a distant mysterious world.

Confused? Not surprising. This movie is a send-up, a parody, and comedy doesn't translate well. But, and this is important, Severin's sub-titles appear to be a fresh translation, at least they are different from what appeared on the bootleg dubs I have seen. However it's amazing how a few words can change the substance of a scene. .


THE STORY ACCORDING TO SEVERIN

A mustached lothario walks into a spacebar, glances around the room like a curious cat in heat, and quickly notices a lonely beauty sitting off in a corner. Glancing up the hot space honey smiles coquettishly, the lothario's mustache rises in expectation, he walks toward the bar and the sub-titles read: "Hurry up. One bottle of Uranus milk."

Wait, he said what?

The injection of that one word "milk" in the subtitles changes the entire texture of the opening scene. Take it away and it's a fairly simple, straightforward, and even mildly amusing drunken bar scene in which a guy is ordering some strange space brew. Now I don't speak Italian, and the dialogue is spoken so fast the words meld together, but I'm not hearing the word "latte" so why it's called milk is anyone's guess. But when you're reading the dialogue that’s the sort of non sequitur that makes your mind come to a screeching halt as it attempts to figure out if your eyes really just read that, thus you end up playing catch-up with what's happening on screen; and we're not even a whole two minutes into the movie yet!

But it gets better. Just around the two minute mark our sultry space siren is approached by a greasy Han Solo type with a Kirk complex who sits down uninvited and tries to chat her up with such wonderfully smooth lines like: "My name is Juan. And, as you can tell, I'm a member of the trade association. At the trade association, we are experts at judging women. You have something special. You're fabulous!"

That’s just horrible. I mean, honestly, what sort of a sleazoid comes up with line like that? But even worse is this minor detail. .


Doesn't that badge look familiar? Makes you wonder who they got to do the translation. Maybe it was someone's elderly aunt who doesn't know much about science fiction because me, I look at that badge, and I can tell you exactly what the sub-titles should have read: "trade federation". That's the joke. That's why the camera zooms in on it right when the sleazoid mentions who he is. It's so obvious that it's painful. Alas this is how reference comedy gets lost in translation. Still a fairly funny scene though the reference obviously went over the poor translators head.

However I should point out that the sleazy guy in the bar actually says he's from something that sounds like "federation di americante" but I am not certain of the last word, it could be an attempted double entendre on "ammirazione" (admiration, to admire) or "ammiccare" (to wink), either way it seems like the translator was listening to an entirely different audio track. The word "federation" is clearly spoken and unmistakable. If I, a non-Italian speaker, noticed this it does make one wonder what else the sub-title translations got wrong. And we're not even three minutes into the movie yet!

The remainder of the subtitles tell a pretty straightforward, sometimes dull, story. Alas, since this is a comedia that's bad. The subtle nuances of this farce may have been either ignored or just not picked up on alas, as I don't speak Italian, all I have are questions. Still it's better than the dubbed dialogue of the movies mentioned above. (If there's any native Italian speakers out there who have either of Severin's DVDs I'd love to hear your views of the actual spoken dialogue.)

THE DVDs

Before we compare the DVDs, and for purposes of fair and full disclosure, let me state that I received three DVDs from Severin. The first actually being a DVDr of the raw pre-release movie. Content wise the commercial DVDs are virtually identical to this raw pre-release which had a run time of 1 hour, 32 minutes, 33 seconds. Picture quality of all versions is light years beyond any of the VHS presentations. Note that the Unrated DVD clocks in at 1 hour, 32 minutes, 3 seconds; while the XXX version runs 1 hour, 32 minutes, 5 seconds. At a glance both movies appear to be identical to the DVDr presentation, sans extras, and, of course, the minor differences made to create a softcore vs. hardcore edit. Also each of the commercial releases have their own unique menus. A nice touch that!

But what are these differences? Mostly they're superficial. Completists will want both DVDs. And their may be reason to get both as seen in the comparisons below. .



It's hard to see in the thumbnail Blogger produces but there is a slight difference in contrast and darkness levels. The difference is so subtle you may not notice it unless you make screen caps or play the two version side by side on different sets. Also there's the content differences, which are fairly substantial.


AVAILABILITY & ALTERNATE VERSIONS

For full details of the various pre-DVD releases of this title click here. That link will take you to the archived copy of my old Beast in Space review.


APPRAISAL

Considering the number of releases, each under an astonishing assortment of alternative titles, this director's other spaghetti space operas have received on "PD" labels it's a real treat to finally be able to see BEAST IN SPACE, and see it on a proper R1 DVD release! Alfonso Brescia's spaghetti space operas are unique hybrids that stick to a formula of emulating established and well-known movies and stories with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Movies such as Antonio Marguerite's "Gamma I Quadrilogy" and George Lucas' Star Wars. They aren't just knock-offs or cheap copies, rather they are unique movies unto themselves.

Alas the look chosen for the costumes was already well dated and past it's expiry date by the time these movies were made. Combined with the fact most audiences, in the wake of Star Wars, had long since grown accustomed to a far more refined costuming thanks to television series like Star Trek (1966-69) , Space Academy (1977-79), and Space: 1999 (1975-77) modern audiences are likely to find the retro costumes laughable and thus dismiss the movie before giving it a chance. Which is a shame because that's part of the movie's charm.

But the real question to be asked here is: How does Severin's release compare to previous video releases?

The answer, quite simply, is it puts them to shame. The video quality is outstanding. The run time is longer than any extant video release known, and while an English track is not included at least English sub-titles are present. Which is probably for the best since these sort of movies too often got dubbed incompetently.

In short Severin has done a superb job bringing this obscure space opera to DVD. While Beast in Space had received multiple VHS releases to the best of my ability to research the facts there were no LD or Beta releases. Until Severin's release this title was not just AWOL on DVD there was serious doubt it even existed in the English speaking world as it lacked mention in print resources. Compared to extant VHS releases Severin's appears to be more complete, has better video quality, and is the only way this movie should be seen. However, like every other movie in this series I have seen, Beast in Space has left me utterly dismayed. The editing is quirky. At times the pacing seems better suited to a television series.

Of course I heartily recommend this movie to all fans of science fiction. Beast in Space may not be the best space opera ever filmed but it's far from the worst. Perfect for bad movie night and an excellent choice for a stocking stuffer or birthday gift for that special sci-fi fan in your life.

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Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

1 comment:

Robert Monell said...

peculiar retro look

Yeah, I like that look and it's great fun to watch this in a decent DVD presentation. This and ODYESSY are probably my favorites.