Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi outer space creature feature send-up Starship Troopers (B) is both an exciting tale of fresh-faced young people fighting galactic aliens and a parody of such films. It works best if you simply succumb to the silliness. There are no acting standouts in this one, just wall-to-wall action. It’s well-filmed pulp and exactly what a B-movie should be.
This is the way the universe ends. It’s a far-fetched frontier where the tenets of good filmmaking hyperwarp into an otherworld of haywire folly. Transcending earth, wind, fire, ice and more, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (F) exists in a sphere of stupidity reserved only for the rarest of films. Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman are poorly used, and Chris Tucker is so thoroughly grating that I wish in space no one could hear him act. Not just a bad sci-fi flick, it’s also a bad absurdist comedy. In general, for a bad time, take the Fifth.
Sand. Lots of sand. That’s the big takeaway from StarGate (D), a pricey science fiction epic about an intergalactic doorway to an alternate world of phony pyramids, an androgynous pharaoh and jumbo jumbo amidst dusty dunes. Writer/director Roland Emmerich gives James Spader, Kurt Russell and Jaye Davidson little to do in a story that quickly sinks like quicksand amidst the bombast.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (A-), directed by Richard Marquand, concludes a magnificent saga with an adventure to save Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, an excursion to a forest planet where Princess Leia confronts some family secrets and a battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader for control of the universe. Treading some familiar territory, we have to blow up another Death Star and endure a few other retreads of movies past. And we may have some Ewok teddy bears as a merchandising tie-in. But it’s still wall-to-wall action, amazing new creatures (Jabba the Hutt! The Rancor Monster! Admiral Ackbar!) and lots of great moments in the details. No matter which of Lucas’ special editions you may be watching, you’ll be humming a tune as you complete the saga – and that tune will include the unspoken lyric, “I just watched awesome.”
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (A), directed by Irvin Kershner, deepens the human emotions of the Star Wars characters, giving Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia a witty repartee and Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker a more self-assured step into his destiny to becoming a Jedi Knight. But the villains – Darth Vader and his boss The Emperor – are ready for some payback, and tragedy and disappointment may be on the menu. This is the movie that introduces us to AT-AT imperial walkers that move like giant beasts through frosty terrains, freezing people in carbonite, a fantastic city in the clouds, Tauntauns, Wampas, Yoda and so much deepening of the folklore. Billy Dee Williams joins the cast as Lando Calrisean, and he’s a refreshing addition; like many other elements in the film, it’s hard to know whose side he’s on! It’s lush and lyrical, passionate and poetic and all the while still adventurous. This is the epic “space opera” that comes from George Lucas’ story with someone else directing and Lawrence Kasdan writing. The stakes are higher, and the adult drama comes brilliantly to life. It’s still basically a comic book storyboard come to life, but it’s epic as hell.
George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (A) is a swashbuckling outer space adventure inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Reluctant hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) teams up with a surly smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and a mysterious wizard (Sir Alec Guinness) to help rescue the strong-willed Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the clutches of the Evil Empire, lead by villainous Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones). Exotic desert spaceports filled with amazing creatures, just-in-time escapes in battleships and military-precision missions all factor in to the plot as our heroes venture forward to save the “Rebellion.” This film is amazing fun for all ages and is the one movie from this series that stands alone or can be viewed as the first part of the “classic trilogy.” Borrowing from fantasy serials such as Flash Gordon, the film creates its own good-versus-evil mythology and consistently entertains with cliffhangers and close calls. John Williams’ superb score and many of the film’s classic lines have simply become iconic.