“You really don’t understand what’s happening here.”
“Oh, I think I do. You teamed up with some bad guys… tried to kill your brother… some sort of plan for world domination… blah, blah, blah… my job was to find you, I’ll let you sort the rest out with your people.”
If I had to come up with a one sentence description of this film, I would probably compare it to coming in on Chapter Seven of one of those Republic Serials from the Forties. As befits a movie that is defiantly Space Opera in an age when anything that much fun in the world of Science Fiction is frowned upon, Star Raiders takes place in an incredibly dense universe. We have alien races, complex histories, alliances, politics, intrigue, ancient myths which may not be quite as mythical as they seem, We have the classically larger-than-life hero, the loyal sidekick (even if she is an alien girl), lots of cool vehicles, masked henchmen and, of course, some truly evil villains. You have to have that!
My other reaction, curiously, was that it also resembled a lost Glen Larson SF series from the 1980s . Which actually makes sense as Mark Grove first created his swashbuckling hero (complete with sword and wardrobe by Han Solo’s favorite designer) back in the Eighties – and even named his son Saber Raine.
Don’t worry, I’m sure he’s forgiven his Dad by now. After all, he created all the masks – and probably did half-a-dozen other jobs as well. This is that sort of film.
In fact, Mark created his film with help from a Kickstarter campaign, and on a limited budget. Frankly, I’d tell you that the overwhelming majority of truly distinctive – and interesting – films out there are being made on tiny budgets, by people driven as much by their love for film as anything else. I almost find myself wondering whether “Mark Grove” is really the psuedonym for an entire committee as it seems hard to believe that one man could be a master of Ninjitsu, run his own stuntman company, edit the sound effects, write, produce, direct, play a big part, design publicity artwork and the other dozen or so things he did here. Yeah, I know I talked to him, but no one capable of doing half those things could possibly be that humble.
I have to confess that I’m a little surprised to see Casper Van Dien here. I think the last time I saw him was in some time travel movie he made years and years ago. But he succeeds in making Saber the sort of near-mythic figure that you need in this sort of story. He’s the kind of hero who gives everything up to do the right thing, and who sees himself as an adventurer, not a mercenary.
Okay, this film would be better if Mark could pay for top dollar Hollywood acting talent, and, yes, the CGI is fairly shiny. But his cast performs well enough – and, no matter how shiny they are, his spaceships are things of beauty, from Saber’s Flash Gordon-ish ship, loaded with Baroque details; to the wild scorpion ships the bad guys fly; to the sleek Aresian flagship.
It may not be a classic, but then those Republic Serials weren’t ever classics, either. This is classic B-movie territory we’re exploring. If you’re worried about scientific errors, or whether the aliens look plausible or the costumes look like something someone might really wear out on the street, this isn’t the movie for you. If you can relax enough to watch a classic Pulp-style hero take on secret conspiracies, powerful ancient weapons, legendary villains, balletic martial arts moves and romances with girls with bright red eyes, then you should have a good time, particularly if you can add plenty of popcorn and an appreciative friend or two.
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