Filmed back-to-back with the much-more-widely seen Cosmos : War Of The Planets in 1977, director Alfonso Brescia’s “spaghetti space opera” Battle Of The Stars (or, as they called it back home, Battaglie Negli Spazi Stellari) is something of a curiosity. My best guess — and mind you, it’s only a guess — is that the flick itself never played any cinemas in the English-speaking world, and in fact it sat on the shelf for a nearly a year in Italy and was only released when our guy Alfonso’s first flick for the Nais Film production company had finally run its course in theaters.
I don’t know why, but I kind of like to imagine that the decision as to which one to put out first probably came down to a coin toss, and if it had gone the other way, I have no doubt that Battle Of The Stars would be the one “everyone” has seen, while Cosmos : War Of The Planets would be largely unknown.
So — just how “unknown” is this movie? A quick perusal of the IMDB reviews page for it reveals that of the 17 users who have opined on the flick there, all but one are actually talking about Cosmos : War Of The Planets, and a further Google search turns up precisely zero English-language reviews of the film. There’s one in German, one in French, and that’s it. Every other review of it online is actually a review of, you guessed it — Cosmos : War Of The Planets.
I’ll be honest — I’d never seen it myself until a few days ago, but I wanted to check it out for this little “Attack Of The Clones” review series, so I gave it the old college try — and discovered along the way where all the confusion between the two films stemmed from.
As it happens, a good number of people who thought they’d just watched Battle Of The Stars really hadn’t. That’s because the only DVD release of this thing was on a ten-movie box set from the late BCI/Eclipse entitled Space Odyssey that features, depending on which version of the set you’ve got, Cosmos : War Of The Planets, Battle Of The Stars, or Brescia’s 1979 Star Wars knock-off, Star Odyssey. To further complicate matters, when Battle Of The Stars was replaced, for reasons only the company itself probably knows, by Cosmos : War Of The Planets, they didn’t actually bother to print a different version of the box’s cover sleeve, so even if you buy the version that supposedly contains Battle Of The Stars, you might be getting Cosmos : War Of The Planets anyway, and when you pop it in and press “play” and see the titles run, odds are that you’ll just think Cosmos : War Of The Planets is an alternate title for the movie listed on the case — which is, of course, Battle Of The Stars.
Rest assured, though, that they are two separate films — even if they do feature more or less the exact same cast, and utilize the same costumes, props, sets, and even theme song. Yes, friends, “We Are Not Alone Here In Space” makes a return appearance in Battle Of The Stars, and this time the horribly-dubbed English version of the film features the full song rather than a few lonely snippets. Oh, lucky us.
Anyway, back to my search for a moment — I found precisely one copy of Space Odyssey for sale on eBay a couple weeks back, and even though the title list in the seller’s description specified that it was, indeed, the version that contained Battle Of The Stars rather than Star Odyssey, purchasing it was still something of a crap-shoot because I wouldn’t know until it arrived whether or not it really had Battle Of The Stars or Cosmos : War Of The Planets. Still, for $1.99, it wasn’t too pricey of a gamble to take, so I hit “but it now!” and waited for the mail to arrive. If this didn’t pan out, I’d just have to go the VHS route, I guess (the box art for which is pictured above).
The seller promised “quick shipping,” and they turned out to be every bit as good as their word, with the discs arriving in just five days. Now for the moment of truth. I unwrapped the package, stuck the disc claiming to contain Battle Of The Stars into the player, held my breath, and — bingo! It was the real deal, folks. So I guess what you’re reading here is a slice of internet B-movie history — the first-ever English-language review of Battle Of The Stars to appear online. I’ll try to take the weight of my responsibility seriously, I promise.
On second thought — fuck that. Let me get one final item of “housekeeping” out of the way and then we’ll dissect this pile of celluloid nonsense.
The last thing I noticed that I want to bring to your attention, as you’ll be able to see from the pictures above and below, is how virtually indistinguishable stills from this movie and stills from Cosmos : War Of The Planets are from each other. A Google image search turned up only a small handful of pictures even purporting to be from Battle Of The Stars, and, having now seen the film for myself, I can only say with absolute certainty that the two I’ve included with this review really are. The rest all turned out to be from — shit, do I even have to say it at this point?
So, yeah — the movie. It’s actually pretty straight-forward alien invasion stuff, with a lame horror twist : John Richardson is back in essentially the same role he played he played in Cosmos : War Of The Planets, only this time the brash young hot-head he portrays is a Captain named Mike Layton, who’s the designer of a “defense system” of some sort that is supposed to protect the future Earth he inhabits from marauding extraterrestrial threats. Naturally, when an evil race from several galaxies over called The Gonians decides to take a crack at conquering the planet, we’re going to need a super-protector — and he’s the man for the job, I guess.
The Gonians aren’t showing up empty-handed for the fight, either : they’re guided by a super-computer that makes all their decisions for them (yes, the same one that ran the planet with no name in Cosmos), and they have a (very small, by the look of things) army of — get this — mummies at their disposal. Plus, they’re shape-changers and can disguise themselves as anyone. They’ve got a big problem, though— see, greedy slobs that they are, they went and used up all the natural resources on their own planet and, as a result, they’re all physically decaying. Even though they can, once again, change their shape and assume any form they want. Their “plan,” such as it is, then, appears to be to take over our bodies with their consciousnesses or something. But before they can land their entire invasion fleet, they need to sabotage Captain Mike’s ingenious — and never really fully explained — “defense system.”
Not to worry (too much), though : with the help of his perky scientist girlfriend, Diane (Yanti Somer) and trusted sidekick, Frank Bimble (Aldo Conti), we’re in good hands — and we’ve got allies in the form of a friendly alien race known as the Ganymedeans. Well, two Ganymedeans, at any rate : the rest were apparently offed when the Gonians invaded and then conquered their planet. So, ya know, these guys ought to be a living, breathing treasure-trove of good ideas on how to stop them, right?
In case you haven’t pieced it together yet, Battle Of The Stars is pretty lousy movie. The outcome’s never in doubt — of course Mike’s going to foil this whole dastardly invasion scheme before the end credits roll — but then the outcome in this sort of flick is never in doubt. The question is whether there’s going to be enough jaw-droppingly bizarre nonsense between “Point A” and “Point B” to make your roughly-hour-and-a-half (in this case precisely 87 minutes) watching it time well-spent. Sadly, the answer here is that there just isn’t. It’s not for lack of trying — Brescia and screenwriters Massimo Lo Jacomo and Giacomo Mazzocchi throw out every cheap quasi-psychedelic trick in the book to try to maintain your interest — but nothing on offer here rises to the vaunted level of “so bad it’s good,” and the film’s plodding pace and utter inability to have fun with its own inherent ridiculousness really drag things down. Preachy as Cosmos : War Of The Planets no doubt was, there was still a sense that the director knew his project wasn’t worth taking all that seriously — but, ironically, the far-less-topical Battle Of The Stars sees him in full-on grim-faced mode. Or, at least, as grim-faced as you can get in a movie about body-thieving shape-changers and mummies from outer space.