Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin (US - DVD R1)
Scott McKenzie takes a look at another one of his childhood sci-fi favourites...
In the distant future, the human race living on the planet Trinnia has been enslaved for 1200 years and must mine for crystals to appease their God, Zygon. Orin is a young member of the slave tribes, who discovers a mysterious object buried in the rock. He uncovers a sword that talks to him, telling him to seek freedom for his people. The blade then disappears and Orin must go on a quest for the blade, which will allow him to free the slaves.
He decides to escape and discovers that the world outside the mines is not the hell he was led to believe in. After his girlfriend is killed by the evil Zygon, Orin is assumed dead after a cave collapses on top of him. He swears vengeance and ignores the rule to never dig up (for up is hell) and meets up with crystal smuggler Dagg who helps him to free his people and they manage to foil a plan to take over the universe along the way.
I watched Starchaser: The Legend of Orin on video countless times when I was about ten years old and I knew then that it owed more than a little to George Lucas’ original trilogy, but watching the movie now it’s blindingly obvious where it gets its inspiration. The setup should be instantly familiar: a young plucky kid from the ass-end of the universe teams up with a wise-cracking smuggler and a pair of bickering robots to defeat a mechanical bad guy who is trying to take over the universe. Throw in a beautiful princess and a super-cool spaceship and you could be forgiven for thinking I watched A New Hope.
But what if one of those bickering robots is a foxy fembot who gets together with the smuggler, women and old people are beaten and killed on-screen within the first few minutes, and the screenplay contains profanity that would make Han Solo blush? Even though it takes huge bites out of Star Wars with its storyline, characters and even contains some identical shots, Starchaser has a lot going for it. It has an edge to it, which is the reason why it has a PG rating rather than the ‘suitable for all’ rating of its older half-brother. There are sexual undertones, including the love between a man and a fembot and even a throwaway line implying paedophilia.
The original parts of the story are well-written, with plenty of one-liners and the inspiration even comes full circle, the final battle showing similarities with Darth Maul’s demise in The Phantom Menace. The universe created by the ambitious writers is huge and the worlds different visited by our heroes are detailed and interesting. Zygon, voiced by the actor who played Blade in Masters of the Universe, is a great bad guy with just the right balance of menace and camp (check out that outfit!). My only problem with Zygon is the fact that he is revealed to be a robot. I think the story would have had more impact if he had been human because it begs the question—who made him?
Starchaser was the first animated feature produced in 3-D and received a limited 3-D release in the United States. There are several moments that I imagine would have looked really good on the big screen with a pair of blue and red specs, especially the battle scenes with the spaceships constructed in 3-D then painted by hand. The quality of the animation varies from scene to scene. While the spaceships look very convincing, the animation of the characters can by wobbly and in some action scenes they even look like they’re standing in front of a blue screen, which is certainly unique in an animated movie. Obviously the standard is significantly lower than any animated film released nowadays, twenty-one years later so I don’t sign up to the opinion that the animation is not good—I’d say it’s of its time, which should be borne in mind before watching Starchaser if you’re a newcomer.
I’m very happy to say that revisiting Starchaser with the unfortunate addition of specks of grey hair has not changed my opinion of the movie. Yes, it liberally rips off Star Wars but it filled a gap in the 80s left behind after Return of the Jedi and now if you can get past the occasionally dodgy animation, it still stands as an entertaining movie that you probably shouldn’t let your youngest kids watch.
Fans of Starchaser have been waiting for this release since the arrival of DVD and very few thought it would ever see the light of day. However, they say if something seems too good to be true then it usually is. Here we run into the problems with releasing a twenty-year-old animation when the print probably hasn’t been well looked after down the years. There are quite a lot of scratches and patches of dirt on the picture and the tone can change suddenly from one frame to another, particularly the skin colours. The picture appears to be interlaced as well, which is apparent from the fuzzy outlines of the characters. A plus point is that this is the first home release ever to present Starchaser in widescreen and we get the full 2.35:1 theatrical print.
More bad news I’m afraid, but not quite as bad as the video quality. The 2.0 Surround track is adequate and not much better than could be expected from this bare-bones release. The dialogue can sound fuzzy and the characters sometimes sound like they’ve got a slight lisp, although there are some nice touches with echo in Zygon’s voice at appropriate times. The music fares better, sounding more powerful than the dialogue, which is very welcome because Starchaser has a really rather good space epic soundtrack.
Nothing to see here. I have to say that the menu is horrible as well.
Although it’s difficult to see how Starchaser: The Legend of Orin will garner many new admirers based on this DVD release, it’s good to see it on DVD at all and for the fans to expect anything other than a vanilla disc would be setting sights too high. We can live in hope though.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 21st June 2005
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Easter Egg: No
Director: Steven Hahn
Cast: Joe Colligan, Carmen Argenziano, Anthony De Longis, Tyke Caravelli
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Sci-Fi
Length: 100 minutes
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