Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sci-Fried Theater: STAR ODYSSEY (aka METALLICA; 1979)

You don’t need me to tell you that STAR WARS (1977) changed the movie industry forever.  And you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know the Italians would be cranking out carbon copies of that film quickly in the hopes of confusing audiences and reaping some of Lucas’ blockbuster success.  Titles like STAR CRASH (1978) and THE HUMANOID (1979) hit theaters quickly in the hopes of catching some of that newfound sci-fi fever.

One of the first Italians, however, to start digging at that Lucas mine was Alfonso Brescia.  Under his delightfully dull pseudonym Al Bradley (isn’t he on 60 MINUTES?), Brescia churned out the first Italian STAR WARS rip-off in BATTLE OF THE STARS (1977).  Original title, eh?  He returned with two more sci-fi titles over the subsequent years.  WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978) was the second one and featured Antonio Sabato, Sr. in the lead role.  The loose trilogy of sci-fried madness wrapped up with STAR ODYSSEY (1979), an absolute mess that will have you begging for a SyFy Channel movie after all is said and done. Yeah, it’s that bad.

STAR ODYSSEY opens in the distant future (we know this because doors slide open with a “whoosh” and everyone wears TREK-like jumpsuits) as evil Lord Kess zooms toward his latest purchase, the planet Earth.  Kess, whose gold face looks like it has been pressed on a waffle iron, plans to enslave the population of 10 billion earthlings and sell them off to the highest bidder. Hey, he didn’t blow his 100 million credits on Earth for nothing.  What he didn’t count on was these pesky humans not being keen to the idea.  Earth’s laser cannons are primitive against Kess’ endurium (?) fused force field, but we have a trick up our sleeve in psychic Professor Mauri.    

This about sums STAR ODYSSEY up
Mauri is visited by military official Lt. Oliver “Hollywood” Carrera (yes, Hollywood) to convince him to fight for humanity.  Mauri seems to know how to create some anti-edurium and this requires getting the old team back together.  He sends his niece Irene (Yanti Somer) out to recruit gambler/pilot/part-time psychic/old flame Han Solo, er, Dirk Laramie (Gianni Garko) to help bust two chemists, Shawn and Bridget, out of suspended animation prison.  In addition, Irene recruits boxer/gymnast Norman and his two robots Tiki and Tili. So they all head to a villa in the woods (really) to work on this stuff. Kess, who snaps onto Mauri’s psychic wavelength, sends his army of robots to kill but they fail to execute the team.  And since the team has just finally stabilized the anti-endurium, you know what this means – wars in the stars!  Or, more accurately, lots of footage of some cheap models zooming around getting zapped.  You've probably made more impressive space battles as a kid.

The feeling is mutual
Good lord!  What did I do to deserve this?  STAR ODYSSEY is quite possibly one of the most mind numbing sci-fi flicks I’ve ever seen. If Brescia is the mad chef behind all this, it is as if he rummaged through the kitchen grabbing anything that said “science fiction” on it and threw it into his big melting pot (“Thisa science fiction? Into-ah de pot!”).  This flick manages to lift not only from STAR WARS but other popular sci-fi mainstays like BARBARELLA (1968), BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978), FLASH GORDON comics and serials, the STAR TREK series and BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY (1979). Sure, they were probably shooting around the same time as BUCK, but I know they were riffing on everyone’s favorite robot Twiki.  Unfortunately, the final concoction offers none of the tasty morsels from the aforementioned films and ends up like a spongy looking steak you get slapped in front of you at Denny’s.  It kinda looks like the real thing but the mere sight of it frightens your innate “somethin’ ain’t right” sensibilities.  Just imagine what it does to your guts.

Brescia pretty much fails on every level here.  His androids are guys painted gold in blonde wigs that make them end up looking like an albino Emo Philips. His two robots, Tiki and Tili, look like they were crafted out of left over vent pipes.  And annoying can’t begin to describe this duo (you can tell the female one by the fact that she has eyelashes) as they argue about love, cheating with calculators and why they want to commit suicide.  Let’s just say that Tiki and Tili are no Twiki. Bee-dee-bee-dee-bee-dee.  Brescia’s aliens look even worse, like two drunken Italian guys were given $50 and told to head to the local costume shop. Seriously, check these aliens out. I’m sure Rick Baker started sweating when he saw the competition the Italians were bringing in the make-up field.  Seriously, who gave this the thumbs up on the set?

Even funnier are the miniature effects on display for the spaceships.  Now I know a horrid fullscreen transfer of a widescreen flick can bring forward more flaws in miniature work (we’ve all seen GODZILLA films on TV as a kid), but this stuff is wretched.  How bad is it? Famed UFO hoaxer Billy Meier took one look at it and said, “You expect me to believe this shit?”  Check it out:

To make matters even worse, about 30 minutes into the print I watched some reels are apparently shown out of order.  You get Dirk’s set up to the gambling hall scene where he uses his psychic powers to allow a hottie to win.  Even worse, it appears the film’s opening where Kess buys Earth at an auction is planted here.  What…the…hell? So the film opens with him heading towards Earth as he comments on his latest purchase and then we are show the purchase a half hour later?  If that doesn’t make you scratch your head, imagine the ending where the evil villain who wanted to enslave Earth’s population gets away during the finale while being chased by Shawn and Bridget.  The film’s last scene has him selling Earth for a huge profit that Shawn and Bridget want 50% of. Justice, yay?

On a related note, I’ve had an odd relationship with this film. Back in the mid-90s, I spotted it at a video store in San Jose, CA on the Mogul Video label under the title METALLICA. What? LOL! How could this movie not rule? Unfortunately, if memory serves me correctly, the clerk couldn’t find the video behind the counter and I was left METALLICA deprived. It wasn’t until recently that the bug to see this got to me again and I found it on Amazon for close to $50. Damn it! Well, a quick Google search showed it was available in tons of cheap releases under the name STAR ODYSSEY, so I scooped one up and finally (fatally?) got my fix. Even paying $3 for it hurt my sensibilities. So let that be a word of warning for all you junkies out there that might suddenly start craving some METALLICA. Stay away. I’m talking “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” away.

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