Arena (1989)

How can you sum this one up…

A human contender fights alien monsters in a big, sporting competition.

That was easy.

This one was one of the final handful of films Charles Band made at Empire films before it collapsed, and like Robot Jox, it got tangled up in the resulting mess and wasn’t released for several years.

Now the biggest difference between the Empire Pictures movies and Band’s later Full Moon efforts is that they were a lot more expensive…

Which is a strange sort of thing to say about anything this cheap.  But yes, even though it may seem hard to believe, Full Moon makes cheaper films.

And like many of those he made at Empire Pictures, this one is obviously far more ambitious than the films Charles made in the Nineties.

As I explore the backwaters of science fiction, all those films turned out in the Eighties and Nineties, mostly on video, I find myself constantly running into Charles Band.  Like them or love them, his films are often blessed with something truly strange that lifts them out of the usual cheap SF rut.  “Strange” isn’t always good, mind you (TerrorVision, anyone?) but at least it keeps you awake until the end of the film.

There really isn’t much more you can say about this one beyond it’s basic premise.  We have the basic story of the contender who gets his shot at the title; the good girl; the bad girl; the corrupt fight promoter; the new kid who stands up for clean fighting; a devious manager channeling Burgess Meredith’s Rocky character (except he has four arms); and a lot of nasty looking aliens.  This is the sort of film where we know almost before we see the effects shots of spaceships and the space station that hosts the Arena that the good guy will win the title, and detour to the bad girl before getting the right one in the end.

Some of the aliens are quite impressive (well, almost):  they were done as practical effects and look quite real.  They are even  reasonably expressive.  The problem is that the biggest ones just don’t move well enough to be convincing as fighters.

Which, come to think of it, is usually what happens when you try to do these things as big puppets or guys in suits.

…Unless you are James Cameron and have Stan Winston’s crew building it.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this one is the presence of Babylon 5’s Claudia Christian (Ivanova) and Deep Space 9’s Armin Shimerman (Quark) who both show up, years before their moments of fame.

And that’s about it.  It’s mindless fun, not quite as much fun as those giant robot movies they did, but more fun than Full Moon’s (shudder) Magic Island.

So turn off your brain and pass the popcorn!

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