Starcrash - Special Edition Blu-ray Review
Shout Factory knock it out of the park again with an excellent transfer for Starcrash. Luigi Cozzi shot his flamboyant film for 1.78:1 and the image on this fine Blu-ray comes via AVC MPEG-4. The resulting picture is often beautifully clear and colourful, with steady and impressive saturation that stays within its borders and does not reveal any banding or smearing. There hasn't been any detrimental DNR or horribly artificial sharpening employed to embellish or enhance the image – save for a couple of shots of distant terrain along the rim of the volcano. Grain is intact throughout and edges are soft and smooth amidst a frame that retains its film-like texture. Print damage still appears and there are a couple of frame judders and wobbles, but this is a much cleaner transfer than I had expected.
Detail can be very good, but the very nature of this production, with its often shoddy effects shots and visuals, can lead the overall presentation of the film to looking somewhat variable. Matte shots and composites obviously stick out a mile, but actual detail on faces, bodies, costumes, bodies, weaponry, bodies, spacecraft hulls and, erm, bodies, is rewarding. You can clearly see all the individual bits of model-kits and salvaged bits and bots that have been stuck on the sides of the Imperial Cruiser, lending the bigger vehicles a huge sense of goofed-up fakery. When live-action characters are seen near the effects, there is massive disparage of quality within the frame – even far more so than in the old Harryhausen days of Jason and Sinbad, but, hey, we don't really care do we? The most important things on show very definitely aren't fake!
Although you will have seen plenty of brighter, deeper and more resplendent colours, there is no doubting that this is the best and most vibrant that Starcrash has ever looked since its initial theatrical release. The primaries are as bold as they probably ever can be, with the wacky colour scheme suitably garish and psychedelic. The rather quirky looking stars and nebulae in the marvellously deep black cosmos are incandescent and entrancing to behold. Lasers are sharply etched and vigorously rendered with neon-sliced colours that look just fine – shonky, but fine. The shimmering light effects for energy beams – from Acton, for instance – have a TV cartoon look, but the transfer literally gives them a spectacular makeover. Flesh tones aren't all that convincing, but then I doubt that they ever would have been giving the makeup and photography. The black eye-liner that Stella wears (as well as Joe Spinell!) is clearly delineated and we certainly have some fine eyelash separation … which proves that detail and visual nuance are there, all right. Embroidery and stitching is also apparent in some shots, as are the ice-particles on Stella's frozen face and body, and the mechanical detail on the big giant robot offers more than just the blobby lumps and bumps that older prints have presented.
Contrast makes no errors, with clean delineation across the board, even during the occasionally hazy photography. Blacks are very good indeed. I haven't seen a version of this that had black blacks before … but this one does. Shadow delineation isn't exactly finite, but the depths of the darker elements really add integrity to the image. Look at the atmospheric lighting down in the caves, for instance, some nice blues brought into the image.
Aye, you'll have fun with this one, folks! Well done, Shout Factory!
Well, we have a choice of two audio tracks here, folks. Shout Factory provides us with a DTS-HD 2.0 stereo option, but I stuck with the DTS-HD MA 5.1, which did sound a bit wider and possibly a touch more dynamic by comparison.
Now this isn't the most aggressive or active 5.1 set-ups that you have heard. But that doesn't surprise you, does it? Cozzi's film did apparently have a proper Dolby Stereo soundmix upon its theatrical release (which the alternate track here must replicate), but this was hardly an aural competitor for the likes of the wildly detailed and well-thought-out mix that Suspiria, say, had a couple of years before. Yet, I can't imagine anyone actually being disappointed by the environment that this disc creates.
Don't rule out the sub, folks. Bass isn't bad when called for, and it is pleasantly stretched around the rest of the channels, but there are a couple of moments – a metal giant hitting the deck, and a mighty eruption in space that merrily bag the extra weight of the sub for emphasis. Directionality is pretty decent. We get some effort to convey the passage of spacecraft, and there is some degree of depth to the rumbling of the bigger vessels as they power through space. Laser-blasts whip and sizzle about, although they are mostly confined to the frontal array. Impacts, body-blows and kicks are dealt with that typically enhanced Euro-crunch that rips out from the mix with delicious might – just listen to the dust-up between Acton and Thor to hear what I mean, and with the explosions getting a little low-level boost at times, this is a much more active and entertaining track than I had initially feared. Listen out for the pristine reproduction of the steam-hissing effect of Acton's lightsabre as it cuts down cave-men! It even audibly slices across the front soundstage with each swing. Dialogue is dubbed for the most part, so you will have to put up with that spaghetti bugaboo of misplaced gob-activity, but this goes with the turf and shouldn't bother anyone. However, there is a moment when Thor, even with his back to us, sounds terribly disembodied.
As you would probably have expected with a new mix for an old soundtrack, it is the score that benefits most. John Barry's rolling, lush melodies have impressive sweep and vigour. Instrumental presence is recognised and separation and warmth sounds natural and energising. The rear channels do carry some minute details, but mostly the rare occasions when they are used it tends to just be for score and ambience bleed-through. While this track won't worry the neighbours are wow your AV friends, it remains a solid piece of remixing that doesn't make any errors, enervates the original elements and certainly adds to the overall experience.
With our own UK label, Arrow Video, proving on a regular basis that they are, perhaps, the ultimate fan-friendly Blu-ray supplier, Shout Factory appear to be doing their utmost to go toe-to-toe with them. Their lavish presentations are simply beautiful. We have the now-regular double-sided cover-art and a great little 12-page illustrated booklet, written by none other than Mr. Romano, himself. But the real meat and potatoes that embellishes this bountiful Special Edition come in the form of comprehensive featurettes, extensive deleted and alternate scenes, huge stills galleries and a whopping 71-minute interview with Caroline Munro. That's right - 71 minutes!
You didn't expect this 2-disc deluge of material for a much-cherished/derided turkey like Starcrash, did you?
But Shout Factory pull out all the stops and present a veritable wealth of bonus features that cover every aspect of Luigi Cozzi's kitsch offering with incredible enthusiasm. You think that you're a fan, huh? Well let me tell you are nothing - NOTHING - when compared to Starcrash (more like Starcrush) uber-devotee, Stephen Romano. This guy supplies us with not one, but two overly ecstatic, pumped-up to the gills commentary tracks for a film that very patently changed his life. Now, I would relish the opportunity to wax lyrical over the top of the likes of Gladiator, Jaws, The Dollars Trilogy, The Thing etc, etc, but there comes a time when fan-boy obsession takes over and I would wind-up just drooling nonsensical geekery and praise-heavy gibberish, and our Stephen, bless him, falls into the same trap. There can be no doubting that he knows his stuff – jeez, he's made it his life to celebrate the film – and his enthusiasm for his pet-project (he was instrumental in getting this release produced) is fairly addictive and amusing, but having two tracks is definitely pushing it some. I'm sure, if he could have done, he would have recorded more. And more. In fact, if he could have done so, he would used elaborate CG trickery to place himself inside the movie too. Mind you, if there was the chance of tussling with Stella Star, I'd go for it myself! All things considered, these tracks are fine. In small doses. So take your time with them, or just dip in and out occasionally.
On Disc 1 (the Blu-ray) we also get an Interview with Luigi Cozzi which lasts for 41 minutes and reveals the schlock director to have a very sincere passion for the movies. This guy, who did, most unashamedly rip-off Alien with Contamination (see DVD review), runs a fabulous movie-memorabilia and collectibles shop in Rome with Dario Argento – a haunt that has been the subject of featurettes on other releases already. Cheerful and evidently still very fond of Starcrash, Cozzi speaks good English and comes over very well.
American Deadhouse Music composer, “Mars”, supplies a nice little critical overview of John Barry's lush score, which is good to see. We can't be surprised by this, however, since beyond Caroline Munro, the score is probably the best thing about the film.
We also get a huge assortment of imagery in various Galleries. Behind The Scenes offers us storyboards, artwork and rare photos, whilst the Promotional Art section offers up a wealth of fabulous stills, posters (Star Wars rips and some Olympian physiques), lobby cards and some early conceptual promo material. Then we are treated to some all-new, super-sexed-up Stella Star artwork from fantasy illustrator Robin Greenville Evans in the Fan Art Gallery.
As well as smattering of international theatrical trailers, including one with a commentary from the Eli Roth (from Trailers from Hell), plus one from the great Joe Dante, we get some TV and Radio Spots.
But this isn't all.
Over to disc 2 (a standard DVD).
Now we come to the interview with Caroline Munro. Sadly only a static session without the benefit of any clips or cutaways, this is nevertheless an extraordinarily in-depth and entertaining trip though the gorgeous actress's career. Whilst the lion's share of the session revolves around Starcrash, for obvious reasons, the genre-dame and cult queen discusses very candidly her modelling days, her Lamb's Navy Run ad-campaign, the Hammer forays – she only made two films for the Studio That Dripped Blood, you know, folks – her relationship with Joe Spinell, and her family and the convention circuit. Whilst the fanboy in me finds this extravagant interview an utter delight, I can't help thinking that the feature would have been much improved and somehow more spontaneous if the interviewer had, at least, been seen asking some of the questions to sort of provide some dynamics to the show. As it is the one-camera set-up and sheer relentlessness of the discussion might, inevitably, become a clock-watching marathon for some people. Me, however? Well I loved it.
There is an exhaustive 17 deleted and alternate scenes on offer here. This is stuff that was found in the longer European Cut of the film, as well as a lot of material that never made it into any version. Here you will find the crab monster, as well as some other shonky critter trying to put the hurt on our Stella, as well as some extended battle sequences and an alternate end title piece from John Barry. Text-based introductions, presumably from Romano judging by how they are written, provide contextual background as to why they were cut.
A nice extra is the complete original screenplay in PDF format, that also contains original storyboards and full-colour concept art. And, besides this, we also get to enjoy a weirdly put together montage of stop-motion monsters, cobbled-together spacecraft, props and other miniatures in an exclusive film from Armando Valcauda called Making Of The Special Effects Of Starcrash. Some reasonably cool early effects sequences from before the production of Starcrash have some definite Harryhausen influences, such as a skeleton attack. Shots of Caroline Munro posing beside some of the model-work add some much-needed glamour. But there is even more, folks, as besides this, we also get to see 19 minutes of Behind The Scenes Footage from the production. These are silent black and white home-movies that have the now-dubious addition of a commentary from Stephen Romano.
Well, you certainly can't say that Shout Factory have just allowed Starcrash to creep out on BD uncelebrated, can you? This is an unbelievable amount of material. You could argue that a fair chunk of this is rather over-egged – Romano's detailed and passionate contributions are likely to irritate as much as they entertain – but this care and attention for such a lowly, even crass little space-ploitation flick from the 70's is possibly everything a fan could wish for. Except for a gift-wrapped Caroline Munro, of course.
A lot of us never thought we'd see the day when something like Starcrash would arrive on Blu-ray … let alone in such an amazing special edition as this. Fans have simply got to hand it to labels like Shout Factory, as well as Criterion, Blue Underground and our own Arrow Video, for putting such fabulous product out. Films like these B, C and Z-grade exploitationers don't deserve such fawning treatment – some would say. But to those of us that recognise what people like Luigi Cozzie were trying to do and appreciate the insane creativity and flair for the imagination that goes into such productions, these releases are like manna from heaven.
With its awesome colour scheme paid such respect from a great transfer and the soundtrack being brought to life so enthusiastically, we should be happy enough. But then the vast plethora of bonus material comes along and wallops you over the head. Okay, so Stephen Romano goes on a bit, but you find yourself admiring such passion and devotion after a while. A whopping big selection of deleted scenes provide us with enough material for another couple of voyages with Stella Star. And, in the coup of the Spaghetti Sci-Fi century, we get to spend well over an hour in the company of the still-delectable Caroline Munro, herself. Surprisingly gentle, almost coy and shy (“Oh, golly!”), she nevertheless supplies us with a cornucopia of genre anecdote and a fantastic set of reminiscences about her time in the venerable studios of Rome's Cinecitta. Despite the static nature of the interview, I would happily have sat through another hour or two with her.
Starcrash, eh? It's a train-wreck of a movie … so long as that train had been carrying the brightest candy that Willy Wonka had ever concocted. And, hey, when the eye-candy on offer is Caroline Munro, the grand dame of the fantasy genre, at her absolute goddamn sizzling sexiest, you just cannot go wrong, can you?An awesome film for all the wrong reasons as well as, ahem, a couple of the right ones, this gets the treatment that it deserves and a fabulous new lease of life on Blu-ray. I have no choice but to recommend this … but remember I'm not the one who called it an “important work of art”, okay?
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.72
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