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BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980)
GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (2004)


Battle Beyond The Stars Starring: Rochard Thomas, John Saxon, Robert Vaughn. Director: Jimmy T. Murakami. Screenwriters: John Sayles, Ann Dyer.
Everyone calls this film “The Magnificent Seven in Space,” so I will too.  Battle Beyond the Stars is The Magnificent Seven in Space.  It even has Robert Vaughn from that earlier film (everyone also points this out as well).    It’s also a lot of fun, never really taking itself seriously but still providing a lot of thrills (on a Roger Corman budget, of course). 

That about sums up what you can say about this film.   Oh, sure, you can go on at absurd lengths about this or that aspect, tying it into some grand post-modern scheme, but that usually has the tendency to drain the fun out of fun things, so I think I’ll just talk about the trivia. 

One of the things that struck me the last time I saw it (a week or so ago) was how many of the spaceships look like sea creatures.    The obvious one is Nestor’s glowing ship, which looks like a giant jellyfish, but Robert Vaughn’s ship looked like a stingray, and the Cayman’s ship looked a lot like some giant filter-feeding fish, with its huge open end gaping out in front.  Cowboy’s ship and the Girlfriend’s ship looked like crustaceans, and the Valkyrie’s ship looked like something you’d find in the ocean as well.

The big exceptions here are John Saxon’s ship, which looks like a big hammer, and Nell, the heroine ship, who looks…well, she seems to look different from different angles.  What she most looks like is the torso of a naked woman with the head of a hammerhead shark.   Tell me that isn't something you'd enjoy seeing.

You might think this would preclude landing on a planet, since she doesn’t look aerodynamic, but you’d be wrong.  This film isn’t really interested in being scientific, or even plausible; it’s all about having a good time at the movies.  And while some of it is contrived, most of it is fun and there are some surprising scenes as well.  The Nestors’ plan to assassinate John Saxon is unique, to say the least.   Naturally, though, they gotta have that “what is kissing?” scene that’s been a staple of “isolated cultures” since Forbidden Planet.  Also, the guy called “Cowboy” plays the harmonica and has tapes of old westerns.

What other trivia can I talk about?  One cool thing is that the lead Nestor is played by Earl Boen.  Apparently, special effects technician James Cameron liked him, because he went on to play the police psychiatrist in the Terminator films (and he survived all three).   He’s done tons of voices for video games.  Good for him!

One of my favorite moments is when we see one of John Saxon’s evil minions gleefully firing the ship’s weapons.  This guy rules.  He hunches down, and, crab-like, runs his fingers up the firing buttons like he’s Erik the Phantom playing the organ in the sewers of Paris.  I always enjoy seeing this guy.  When, at work, I’m at the server and have to type stuff, I always do it with grand sweeping gestures like this evil guy. 

James Horner wrote the score, and James Cameron liked him too, since he did Titanic.  I tend to like James Horner’s scores, but even I have to say he’s…um, he has a limited repetoire.  I can imagine the director talking to him, “So, James, what do you see here?”

”Well, I think heroic brass fanfares!”

”How about this part, where there are dead people?”

”Low rumbling strings!”

”Sounds good.  Now, about this part—“

”Heroic brass fanfares!”

”Um…”

”Low rumbling strings?  Oh—menacing percussion!  I forgot!”

Richard Thomas’ last line, and the last line of the film, is this (in response to a question about all the dead heroes): “No form disappears until all the lives it touched are gone.”  Okay, cool, but, uh, well, wouldn’t that apply to the bad guys, also?  They touched a lot of lives too.  Of course, most the lives they touched were gone anyway, but still…

Are you still reading this?  Damn, you should just stop, and watch this film.  It’s fun.  It’s inventive.  It takes a bunch of clichés and says, “Hey…baby…we’re all new ideas,” and if you say, “No.  No, you aren’t,” well, you’re just as bad as John Saxon in this film.  So you should find your own low, menacing strings to carry around with you.  Jerk!



Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Starring: Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Atsuko Tanaka. Director and screenwriter: Masamune Oshii.
Like its predecessor, Ghost in the Shell 2 is visually stunning.  Actually, "stunning" is an understatement.  Sound-wise, too, it’s a remarkable movie.  What it reminds me of most are those short CGI films which are no more than machines assembling themselves or vehicles moving around in sync to a techo soundtrack.  If you could disengage the story from the film, this would make a great demonstration video for some DVD store; they could play this in the window and people would be drawn in and, if you’re lucky, buy a lot of DVDs.  Maybe even this one.

Story-wise, it doesn’t seem to do anything different from the first film.  Actually, I think it did less.  I just watched it last night, and I still have trouble figuring what the film was “about” per se.  It doesn’t help that there are these long sequences where huge parades or flocks of birds spin and whirl through the streets (or over them) and we spend a lot of time watching this.  The film itself seems to say that its plot is secondary.  Which is fine; can't say this is unknown in Hollywood.  At least here you have the picture and sound.

The plot seems to be this:  there’s a company that makes female pleasure androids, and these androids are going berserk and killing their owners.  Batou, the cyborg cop from the first film and his almost completely human partner (I forget his name) are sent out to get to the bottom of this, and they eventually do.  The woman cyborg from the first film also makes a couple of unexpected appearances. 

Again like the first film, there are a lot of philosophical discussions, but none of them are really all that thought-provoking.   And everyone here quotes constantly.  I'd almost bet that over half of Batou's dialogue isn't his at all.  I guess the quotes are from Japanese philosophers; I didn’t recognize any of the sayings, but they had that sort of Zen-like air to them.   People here quote, quote, quote, even when they're shooting killer androids.

The question of why these androids are going crazy is addressed near the end, when it’s revealed (SPOILER) that it was some kind of protest against how some people are dehumanized.  Even Batou thinks that’s kind of stupid—killing people to protest people being oppressed?  

But this film, in my experience anyway, had a plot only so they could move the characters around the city and show us some dazzling stuff.  And make no mistake, the stuff is dazzling in the extreme.  It’s still a city I wouldn’t want to visit, let alone live in, but the visualization is astonishing.  The film is realized with a mixture of cel animation and CGI (there’s some live action footage in there as well), and this can be somewhat jarring at times, but then I suspect that was the point.   When people say, "You've never seen anything like this," Ghost In the Shell 2 is part of that elite group.

An interesting film, which you should see if you want a total audio-visual sensory experience.  Less ground-breaking than the first film, this is more of a “we built this world, let’s see what else is in it” sort of adventure. 

My one complaint, if you can call it that, is that (at least on the DVD I have) there’s no English soundtrack.  Philistine that I am, I prefer to watch animated films in English.  Yes, yes, I know that makes me an evil idiot.  (I watch live-action foreign films subtitled, thanks.)  Films like this one, which are almost all visual, suffer if I’ve got to shunt my eyes down to the bottom of the screen to read what someone’s saying.  And if it’s just some guy quoting a philosopher, well, that’s annoying.  And I’d rather not be annoyed at this film, I’d rather like it as much as I could.

Just a smidgeon below highly recommended (the first is more ground-breaking, and more entertaining) but recommended nonetheless.