Year Released: 1978
Starring: Yanti Sommer, Gianni Garko, Malisa Longo, Cristea Avram, Ennio Balbo, Roberto Dell'acqua, Aldo Amoroso Pioso, Pino Ferrara & Filippo Perrone.
Director: Alfonso Brescia.
I am fascinated by Italian movies from the seventies and eighties, especially those strange and wonderful 'exploitation' titles that were produced, often on shoestring budgets, solely to cash in on Hollywood box office hits. Movies like Starcrash, 2019 - After the Fall of New York, Conquest, Hercules (1983), Ator the Fighting Eagle, Thor the Conqueror, Lisa and the Devil, Robowar, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, The Humanoid, and, of course, Star Odyssey.
Star Odyssey (Sette uomini d'oro nello spazio) is the third entry in a quadrilogy of space opera's produced by Italian director Al Bradley- AKA Alfonso Brescia- that used to play on TV back when Creatures Features and midnite movies were big. The features included BATTLE OF THE STARS (1977), COSMOS - WAR OF THE PLANETS (1977), and WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978); which have ample information available on them. Sadly there's an data black hole where Star Odyssey is concerned. Neither Google or Yahoo search turns up much of anything on it under any of it's various title permutations, save for it's less than stellar IMDB entry and a scant handful of reviews. Worse my print resources are about as helpful, which leaves only the movie itself to turn to.
So what's the story?
The short answer: At a galactic auction attended by a menagerie of aliens rejected from the cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope up on the block is Sol 3, otherwise known to it's inhabitants as Earth, which is promptly sold off to an evil alien pinhead looking to go into the slave labor business. That's right Earth is little more than a font of material resources, it's native inhabitants to be culled like sheep and sold to the highest bidder as cheap slave labor to a gaggle of aliens decked out in bargain basement Halloween costumes.
What right do these aliens have to buy and sell the Earth? About as much right as our European ancestors had when they "colonized" the so-called New World displacing the indigenous peoples in the process. Alas what might have been a scathing social commentary on imperialism and manifest destiny gets lost in bad editing and one of the worst dialogue dub jobs since the Bible in Esperanto for books on tape.
However, as always happens to evil alien entrepreneurs who gaze upon our pretty blue marble planet with covetous eyes, these would be overlords soon discover that we Earth folk aren't about to go quiet into that last good night. For as the self-proclaimed landlord of planet Earth arrives to greedily suck up our resources his saucer is met by blazing 'atomic canons'. Silly alien don't you know that Earth is full of an angry trigger happy Humanity! Of course we all know what happens next. The evil alien lands in some remote part of the globe where he unleashes a sinister army of golden robot men to exact vengeance.
Sounds great so far, right? Well there's chronoton particles in our warp matrix. While War of the Planets and War of the Robots can be found in various budget bin sci-fi collections- the most notable release being a Retromedia boxed set- a proper release of Star Odyssey has remained elusive. Indeed until recently the only available R1 DVD release had been from a bargain bin budget label; Brentwood. The bad news is this label is notorious for shady "PD (wink wink, nudge nudge)" releases. While Star Odyssey could be found in their numerous PD multi-movie sets the transfer was less than optimal. Enter Target and PC Treasures. While the source appears to be identical the quality is very different. Behold:
The Brentwood release is not only darker but suffers from a faux letterboxing effect that squishes the image whereas the PC Treasures edition, while the brightness is off giving the video a washed out quality, is a proper full screen presentation. However, to be fair, this is a minor problem that probably won't be noticeable on most standalone players. Alas there's also this:
Video dropout. It's the sort of blip that happens when a VHS tape either isn't tracked right or hit's a bad spot in the tape. That's not the sort of thing you want to see on a DVD. Yet there it is. Otherwise the Brentwood release is virtually identical to the PC Treasures edition. Which isn't to say the PC Treasures DVD is free of problems. Behold what happens at the 1 hour, 12 minute, 56 second mark:
That's evidence both releases were sourced from a pretty beat-up tape. However there is one main difference about the PC Treasures DVD that makes it better than the Brentwood release; it can be purchased for a mere dollar. Better still you get more bang for your buck as this edition comes with a number of extras:
1 Superman cartoon (Electric Earthquake), 1 Felix the Cat cartoon (Astromeous), 1 episode of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (Escape into Space), 1 The New Three Stooges cartoon (The Littlest Martian). So given that and the fact the video quality of the main feature is a step up from the Brentwood edition that's not too shabby for a single saw back, right?
Sadly I suspect both DVD releases of Star Odyssey have been sourced from the same bootleg hack. By which I mean the movie, as presented, appears to have been re-edited by a dyslexic mental patient. The correct sequence of events should be Galactic Auction > Alien Craft Approaches Earth > Space Battle > Alien Craft Crashes. Instead what we get is Alien Craft Approaches Earth > Space Battle > Alien Craft Crashes > Galactic Auction.
How do we know we aren't seeing the proper structure of events? Simple the alien comments on having purchased "Sol 3", AKA Earth, during the battle sequence. Obviously a character cannot comment on an purchase made at an auction they haven't attended yet! Whoever did the re-edit on this must have either been on some heavy-duty drugs or just didn't pay attention to the dialogue. I'm guessing it was probably a bit of both as I can't see why anyone would bother to re-edit an Italian spaghetti space opera unless they were medicated beyond all common sense and basic impulse control.
Is it possible that the reels were merely played out of sequence?
That is a possibility that must be considered, however I don't think so for two simple reasons: First, at one point during the "attack" on Earth we suddenly see black and white stock footage of things exploding. This just feels like something a video hacker lifted from a PBS war documentary. So we really aren't seeing the movie as intended. I can't prove it but those are my suspicions. Second, the events described so far occur within roughly the first 10 minutes. So if this were a problem with the film elements it would not be a problem with reels but splicing, which would still make the problem a editing issue.
Why spend so much time talking about the first 10 minutes?
Because it gets worse, much worse. The intro leads us to believe this is a alien menace film patterned after Antonio Marguerite's "Gamma One" space opera quadrilogy with costuming influenced by Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires. Alas what follows is inexplicably one of the most convoluted prison breakout schemes interrupted by the auction, which is shown around the 34 minute mark (remember the attack, with the comment about buying planet Earth, occurs in the first 10 minutes), and then there's the junkyard rescue of two suicidal robot lovers.
I kid you not; suicidal robots that try to off themselves at a junkyard! I barely believe it myself but it's true. See for yourself:
Those have to be the worst C3PO knock-offs ever. As if that's not bad enough the prop designer went out of his way to rub our noses in the badness for we also get this little fellow:
But wait Star Wars isn't the only sci-fi series to have it's character likenesses unceremoniously stol- er- borrowed and butchered by this bargain basement hodge-podge of Italian weirdness. Behold Hercules, the wrestling android-bot-man thing:
The costume is very rough around the edges but it's obviously patterned after a Dr. Who Cyberman. If you purchase Star Odyssey for no other reason get it because it is chock full of costume strangeness. Just look at the what the main protagonists wear:
To recap there's a galactic auction, evil alien invaders, robots, wrestling, a prison break, light sword duels, more robots, and a ton of footage recycled from whichever of Brescia's space operas preceded this one. The only real problem, aside from the dubious video sourcing, is the action jumps all over the place making it impossible to know what in Hades is going on. Whether this is a result of bad dubbing, poor editing, a video hacker, or a combination of the three the end result is a movie that walks the fine line between incomprehensible gibberish and incoherent crazy with the swagger of a drunken sailor.
Then again what do you expect when your alien villain is a pinhead? I know you think I'm just cracking a bad joke but, seriously, he's a pinhead. See:
Makes you wonder if Clive Barker might have been traumatized by this movie as a child. If so, terrible as it is to say, at least that would mean this movie gave us something good; the childhood nightmares that spawned Hellraiser!
Okay, that was terrible. I humbly apologize to Mr. Barker. Back to Star Odyssey. . .
To attempt to extricate a coherent plot is like pulling teeth with tweezers, there's no point trying. However I am curious if this is the result of a demented armchair director who re-edited this, whatever distributor created the original English edit/dub, or if the movie was really originally this bad. Alas, try as I might, there's just no information to be found. I can't even confirm this was ever released theatrically.
So what it appears we have here is a shifty "Public Domain" release that's yet another in a long line of shady releases. Sadly these sorts of low budget features almost never generate the level of interest from the mainstream companies that could undertake even the most minimal of restoration efforts. Thus we may never know if a good movie was at the core of this incoherent mess. On the other hand an edit is only as good as the source material.
Remember you get what you pay for. The video quality here is poor at best. Worse there's no way to know if the movie is being presented as intended. Had I not caught that bit of dialogue about having purchased Earth while making screen caps I might just have written this off as utter crap. So what's the verdict? This is a tough call. Al I have are questions.
Is this a video hack? Possibly. Is it sourced from tape? Most definitely, but what sort of tape? Was it a VHS, possibly an ex-rental, or- as seems more likely- someone's aged broadcast master?
My money is on the latter. I'd bet even money someone who had a local creatures features type TV show, possibly on cable access, re-edited Star Odyssey and that this, lo these many years later, is what made it into the hands of whoever sold the video the unsuspecting DVD companies sourced. It's just a suspicion. Now you know and knowing is half the battle. Caveat emptor.
Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan
[This is an archived review. The original appeared here.]