Saturday, June 03, 2017

176-177. Alfonso Brescia's Italian Star Wars

Jump to 176. War of the Robots (1978)
Jump to 177. Star Odyssey (1979)

*. Cosmos: War of the Planets aka Anno zero - Guerra nello spazio (1977)
Director: Alfonso Brescia
Writers: Alfonso Brescia and Aldo Crudo
From: Science Fiction PD Project
Watch: archive.org
A spaceship makes an emergency landing on a planet after intercepting a mysterious signal only to find the planet ruled by a robotic monster.
An unnumbered entry with a link to the PD Project archive? What’s going on? Well, I saw that the next movie was Alfonso Brescia’s War of the Robots, the third in his series of four (some sources say five) Star Wars rip-offs. So I decided to do a master post with the entire series, going back to the first one which I originally watched nine years ago (how is this my life?). Here’s what I wrote then:

The movie is trying to be a high-tech John Henry tale. The hero, Capt. Hamilton, resents having his life and actions dictated by machines. He thinks humans are innately and eternally superior. However the world he lives in is governed by a supercomputer and every act, even sex, is performed via machine. Think Woody Allen's Sleeper but in earnest.

So naturally the planet they land on used to be home to a great civilization that eventually let robots do everything for them—including designing and building new robots. Robots revolted, destroyed the society and now have their eyes on Earth.

Overall not a bad idea—hell, it was great in 2001—but it's so poorly done. The movie drags along, beats you over the head with its at best muddy anti-technology ideology (how do we travel to space without it?) and, like the malevolent computer intelligence, refuses to die. The amazing thing is there are some remarkably rough jump cuts in the film. The original version may have been longer. Yikes.

Upon rewatching, I don’t have much to add except that it’s worse than my previous description implied. All these movies are exhaustingly dull. They’re an odd mix of Star Wars epic space opera and 2001 meditative sci-fi: they have stupid action and silly ideas done really slowly. The space battles are drawn out by orders being given to individual crew to prep this, adjust that, calibrate the other thing. I don’t need the mechanics of shooty-splodey and there are no ideas in these movies to meditate over. So it's just dull.

However, I will expand on the “rough jump cuts.” All the connective tissue in this movie is missing. The who and why of anything is never clear. I can’t name the characters, can’t describe their motivations, or explain what their mission was, and I’ve seen this twice now while taking notes.

This movie is followed by Battle of the Stars which I’ll say very little about because I haven’t seen it.

Not for lack of trying. All these movies are public domain and available all over the Internet, derisively referred to as “Italian Star Wars” (here included). However, this movie is particularly rare. Trash Film Guru’s post about it details both the confusions surrounding the film and the difficulty in finding it, but I’ll give just a quick summary here:

This was shot back-to-back with Cosmos using much of the same cast and sets. It was just random chance that Cosmos was released first. Because of their similarity, many people ignored Battle of the Stars because they thought they were the same movie which has made copies very scarce. It’s so rarely seen, in fact, that it’s the only one of these four movies without a Wikipedia page and its IMDB page is filled with reviews for Cosmos instead.

I’d love to get my hands on a copy to upload to archive.org. Plus, I think there’s a fun editing project that could be done with all these movies.

176. War of the Robots aka La guerra dei robot (1978)
Director: Alfonso Brescia
Writers: Alfonso Brescia and Aldo Crudo
From: Chilling; Sci-Fi Invasion
Watch: archive.org
A scientist working on artificial life and his assistant are kidnapped by an alien race intent on immortality. A rescue crew from Earth has 8 days to save them and return before the scientist's experiment explodes, leveling a city and killing thousands.
"Is it because I have cabbage for a head?"
This is when the movies get strange and the “Italian Star Wars” comments make sense. The Prof and his lovely assistant (I’m not looking up anyone’s names for this crap) get kidnapped by Prince-Valiant-looking robots and I had my one moment of real pleasure in imaging this was a Kids in the Hall bit directed by and starring Bruce McCulloch. Then there were three more hours of movies to watch.

Lovely assistant’s boyfriend leads a ship to track down the aliens since the Professor’s nuclear reactor will go critical in 8 ½ days and only the Professor can disable it. They stop to fix a satellite, basically repeating a sequence from Cosmos, fight the aliens, land on an asteroid, get captured, and find the Professor controlling the robots with the supercomputer that was destroyed at the end of Cosmos. He’s the villain now! And lovely assistant is the Empress of the aliens. Empress betrays the aliens, gets everyone out, but turns out she’s actually a traitor, big space battle, Earth wins, town saved, no one could possibly care.

During the movie, the robots start attacking the humans with really crappy lightsabers, and this is where the Star Wars comparisons become clearer. Honestly, the first movie felt a little more like it was ripping off Battlestar Galactica, but whatever. It’s so cheesy, so poorly done. There’s a love-triangle where one of the crew is in love with the Empress’ boyfriend and the joke is he’s literally the only person who doesn’t know. They even pick up an alien from a species that’s been oppressed by the robots and he comments on it. At the end, she’s the one who saves the day. In fact, the boyfriend who’s coded as the “hero” doesn’t do much at all. All the heroic actions are taken by the two women and the alien and I don’t really need to reiterate my lack of patience for films focusing on useless white guys, do I? My apartment has a mirror in the kitchen. I see a useless white guy in action every time I make breakfast. Focus on characters who do shit.

177. Star Odyssey aka Sette uomini d'oro nello spazio (1979)
Director: Alfonso Brescia
Writers: Alfonso Brescia, Massimo Lo Jacono, and Giacomo Mazzocchi
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org
An alien comes to Earth planning to enslave all humans. It’s up to a scientist and his band of ragtag thieves and scammers to develop the solution to save the planet.
The waffles have come for revenge!
David Hasselhoff wearing oatmeal is leading an army of the robots from War of the Robots to gather humans from Earth to sell as slaves. As his ship approaches, monitoring stations on Earth go crazy since this is their first contact with an alien species. That doesn’t matter for the movie, I just want to mention it for later.

The alien ship is made from an impenetrable substance so a genius scientist convinces his neice’s showboating space officer boyfriend to break a pair of the scientist's friends out of prison. This “convincing,” by the way, is done via hypnosis. Later, a scammer who’s going to help the officer uses his psychic powers to manipulate small objects and dominate someone’s mind. Yep, we’re into “use the Force” territory and 100% fake Star Wars.

A good three-quarters of this movie is “getting the band back together,” except we don’t know who the band is, how they work together, or why each of them is being selected. So it’s basically an hour of a bunch of nobodies reaching out to yahoos for reasons, maybe.

The original Covfefe.
They also have a pair of suicidal robots that look like Howard the Cyberduck and his girlfriend. They agreed to a suicide pact, but forgot why. At the end of the movie, they remember they wanted to kill themselves because they couldn’t fuck. The scientist offers them a happy ending by promising to make them genitals so they can screw like anyone else.

Were these pornos? This feels like a porno. The acting gets worse from film to film until we arrive at this one that feels like it’s supposed to be a farce, that’s it’s supposed to be the goofy bits between people getting down to fucking, but all the fucking’s been cut. That math doesn’t work, though, because this movie is nearly 100 minutes long. What got cut?

And I’m not going into the plot in detail because it doesn’t make sense. All the shots are out of order. So the alien is approaching Earth, the scientist is getting his plan ready, the scammer is brought in to help in the prison break, and then it flashes back to the alien bidding for the Earth in an interplanetary auction, the scammer in the scene preceding the one where the niece recruited him for the job, both of these intercut with the niece at a wrestling match between a scrawny guy and a robot.

In the end, the escaped prisoners find the solution, big space battle where aliens are driven back, heroes who created awkward love triangles die to simplify the relationships afterwards, and the escaped prisoners follow Breakfasthoff back to the auction house where they sell Earth off again, the prisoners getting a 50% cut. Which is a big, “What?” to end the movie on.

As I mentioned, this uses the same robots as the previous movie. Hoff and oats with syrup’s ship is also the same as the ones used by the heroes in the previous films. I wanted to note that this movie features Earth’s first contact with aliens because it really feels like the movies go in reverse order, that you could watch them 4, 3, 2, 1 and see an epic about Earth’s space program developing over time to ultimately combat the evil supercomputer that’s been angling for galactic conquest the whole time. It’d make a hell of a lot more sense that any one of these movies do on their own.

In fact, because there’s so much overlap in sets and costumes, it’d be really easy to cut up all these films and make something new that makes sense and looks like one coherent thing. You could even redub it since the original dubbing is so bad.

These movies are trash. Watching them literally wore me out. They’re highly mockable because they’re so silly, but I’d say Star Odyssey might be so bad that even watching it to make fun of it would be a challenge. As I suggested, there are editing projects you could put together using these movies and, luckily, they're all public domain. I didn’t realize this when I set out to watch all of these, but I already uploaded Cosmos way back when. It’s the 2nd most downloaded movie I’ve posted after Bloody Pit of Horror and beats the 3rd most, The Phantom Planet, by just over 50,000 downloads. I’ve added an MPEG-2 of War of the Robots to archive.org here and would have added one of Star Odyssey, but Mill Creek decided to rub themselves all over the crusty deliciousness of Spam-and-eggs-and-Hoff by squirting their logo onto my copy. Fortunately, someone else posted one to archive.org here. If you're particularly masochistic, you can watch them all, but I'd recommend doing so only after several "tall glasses of water."

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