Saturday, February 23, 2013

Spacescapes: The Ship Designs of Starcrash (1978)

As I mentioned in my very first video review for the Cinemologists, I absolutely adore Luigi Cozzi's Starcrash. It's a camp masterpiece: lovingly made, incredibly fun, and stunningly stylish. One of my favorite aspects of the film is the glorious outer space sequences, featuring a sci-fi vista that is at once visually arresting and totally unforgettable. The Christmassy void that comprises space in the film is lovely, and I can't help but let out a sigh every time the story takes us there. However, such a view would be incomplete without some super cool spaceships, and Starcrash delivers the goods! These vehicles were, for the most part, designed, built, and filmed by Armando Valcauda, a talented Italian special effects director, and his valuable contributions should not go unnoticed! Let's have a look, shall we?

The Murray Leinster
Up first is perhaps the most famous ship from Starcrash, the Murray Leinster. This spacecraft appeared at the beginning of the film, where it succumbed to a mysterious attack and was destroyed, kicking the plot in motion. It was also featured in the theatrical poster, although the artist painted it upside down for some reason. My guess is that the ship was filmed upside down during the special effects shoot - a common practice used to hide wires, mattes and the like - and the artist only saw pictures of it from the set. I really like the shape of the Murray Leinster, which the film showcases from several different angles. The craft sports a starkly tomb-like white paintjob, but what it lacks in color it more than makes up for in detailing. The Murray Leinster was christened after the penname of notable sci-fi author William Fitzgerald Jenkins, who was known for, among other things, creating the term "first contact" (something which eventually led to an unsuccessful lawsuit against Paramount Pictures for using the phrase in the title of the Star Trek: The Next Generation film).

Poster featuring the upside-down Murray Leinster.

Count Zarth Arn's Fighter Ships/Amazon Air Fighters

Up next is one of my favorite designs from the film: the Count's fighter ships. Shark-like in appearance, these sporty little vehicles spend most of the movie zipping past the camera at high speeds, to the point where it was actually difficult to get any pictures of them without heavy motion blur. Thankfully, I was able to get some decent screenshots of them for this article. It's interesting to note that these ships were also inexplicably used for the "Amazon Air Fighters" that feature in the Space Hawk's exciting getaway from the planet of the amazons. The reason for this was that another space battle featuring the Count's ships (climaxing a scene where Akton is broken out of prison) was to have been included, and some of the effects footage was shot. When that scene was scrapped, the footage was thankfully reused here. I say "thankfully" because having that additional scene allowed for both quite a few more outer space shots and also some of the greatest reaction shots and over-the-top exclamations in the entire movie. It's beautiful and must be seen to be believed. Another tidbit about the fighters is that they were obviously much more light-weight than the other spaceships used in the film, and they can at times be seen wobbling on the tracks as they whoosh by.

 The Space Hawk

The "Millennium Falcon" of this epic space adventure is the rodent-like Space Hawk. I dig the simple and memorable look of the ship's exterior, covered with some good surface detail and a slick silver paint-job. However, the interior sets made for it are especially stunning, full of sensuous lighting and shapely architecture.

Count Zarth Arn's Base Ship

Star Wars just wouldn't be Star Wars without the Death Star, and Starcrash would certainly be a little less Starcrash-y without Count Zarth Arn's base ship. This design is nothing short of brilliant: a space station in the shape of a very dangerous-looking left hand... which CLENCHES INTO A FIST when it goes into battle mode (shown in the second and third pictures below).

Also of note is this owl-shaped little number, the Count's transport vessel from the final planet to his eeeeeeevil base ship. It's a very strikingly designed model, and I really wish it had been given more screen-time.

The Imperial Navy

My absolute favorite ship in the film has got to be the Imperial flagship. Its gold-plated palatial design is both stunning and slightly bizarre, with a fish-like silhouette, triangular protrusions, and what appear to be stained glass windows. Valcauda did an especially good job filming this model, and you can really get the sense of scale when the Space Hawk and flagship fly together in frame.

Another really great imperial ship is the battleship shown below. The craft recalls the golden elegance of the flagship, though the design incorporates some different add-ons, including scattered minaret-thingies and an unspeakably awesome weapon capable of halting the flow of time itself. It is from this ship that the fighters and torpedoes are launched for the final battle, and it is here that Christopher Plummer's super stylish throne room is located, complete with a modern-art throne and a very handy viewscreen.

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