Kino Lorber Resurrects Star Crystal (1986),
But Should They Have?
By bad movies, I mean that the film just isn’t all that good, though some of its performances and/or technical details and/or narrative merits might deserve a bit of thoughtful examination. And by BAD movies, I generally mean that the motion picture fails on perhaps every single level to achieve any measure of praise much less consistency. The truth is that all of us have probably suffered the misfortune of viewing both types of flicks, and we’ve probably confused one with the other on more than one occasion.
Still, somehow storytellers persist in exploring good ideas in flawed ways, and that’s probably part and parcel of how something like 1986’s Star Crystal got off the ground in the first place. It’s a feature quite probably conceived by amateurs, staffed with wannabes, and eventually handled by studio laypersons who either never sat through a single viewing or did, realized it had some “issues,” and then tried duping audiences with advertising that had little to nothing to do with the principle tale of space exploration gone equally as awry as this film’s attempt.
But I still have something to say about that ...
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“In the year 2035 scientists discovered a new life form … they wish they hadn’t. It was found during a routine expedition to Mars, buried just beneath the surface of the angry red planet. But what was initially thought to be just a curiously shaped rock turned out to be something much more: hidden within was an unknown alien species unlike any that science had ever encountered …”
There’s more, but I’ll leave it at that as the synopsis goes into more plot detail than I typically involve myself with, though I will say this: I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the web of available reviews, and I could consequently build a case that many have done a disservice to Star Crystal by ignoring the film as a whole and merely picking apart the plot (endlessly). Yes, I concur: the feature is perhaps boundless with errors, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies, but (I’m paraphrasing) “nitpicking will never make an author great.”
As I’ve always said, there are two ways to be exceptional in this great big world of ours: you can either visibly work to be the best you can be OR you can tear down those who’ve come before. Just as Star Crystal suffers from its own shortcomings, it quite possibly has found new life on the web and in various B-Movie forums thanks to those constantly dissecting it. So – let’s just get this out of the way right up front: this is a BAD movie.
But I’m still going to give it the time of day it deserves. After all, someone put it together. Someone wrote its script. Someone built its set. And plenty of someones starred in it. Something needs to be said about those someones as well, and I’ll try in my own humble way to set the record straight.
In fashioning their tale, Woster and Lindsay clearly drew upon some influences of like-minded motion pictures, of which Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982) are top contenders. (One might question how to seamlessly blend perhaps the polar opposites of alien encounter films – the Xenomorph is the ultimate space killer while E.T. is the lovable stuffed animal – so let it be said that, minimally, these writers were indeed ambitious!) But there are also hints of ideas explored in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Silent Running (1972) in there as well, though it’s hard to conclude all of this was deliberate. My point here is that Woster and Lindsay occasionally pushed for higher ideas (Crystal’s vicious alien reformed itself when exposed to the influence of religion) over the obvious crowd-pleasing elements (the hunting and killing of the helpless human crew), and that alone shows some forethought. (Granted, it could’ve been handled better, but it is what it is.)
As B-Movies go, Crystal occasionally benefits from its more practical elements, that being in-camera effects work and set construction. The evolving creature effects – though ultimately uneven – do flourish from time-to-time the way pictures used to do in the era bereft of CGI; and the modelmakers showed an understanding of what it took to make handsome spacecraft with respectable detail. (Thankfully, the space station highlighted in the film’s set-up isn’t around for long, as it’s probably the weakest of the bunch.) Also, the shuttlecraft’s bridge interiors are good to look at, though someone should’ve walked the technical staff through the ways and means to alternate the blinking panel lights as obvious stock patterns are detectable thanks to the long takes. Still, I suspect budget limitations probably required so many interiors be designed as crawlspaces (think of Star Trek’s ‘Jefferies Tubes’) rather than corridors, and this construct made it somewhat difficult to increase tension given human beings can only crawl so fast to begin with, much less when they’re being chased.
Any reasonable view of the available IMDB.com profile suggests that most of the on-camera talent appeared in just Crystal and maybe one or two other films, another clue as to the availability of resources to pay for name players. (Again) I could be wrong, but this also suggests to me that the film was a labor of love – think of it as the ultimate “community theatre project” – thrown together by folks who wanted to make their own SciFi flick, and all did the best they could with the skills God and man had given them. Lines are delivered like words off a page far too often, and – on a few occasions – they aren’t even lines so much as they are ‘asides’ filling space between the action, another reason why I suggested some of the feature was ad-libbed. And, yes, a few scenes are downright cringeworthy – the ultimate happenstance long tied to (you guessed it) B-Movie failures.
Still, I’m a SciFi junkie. Always have been. Always will be. So you’ll have to pardon me if I conclude that there’s enough charm in here – some of it good, much of it bad – to make for a single viewing. Definitively: no, I’ll probably never watch this one again, but if you’ve a knack for some slow pacing, stilted storytelling, and curious failures then this one might be worth your time as well. Again, knowing that so many have found this a BAD movie didn’t keep me from enjoying my 91 minutes with it: in fact, maybe I did it for spite.
Ultimately, I suppose it’s fair to say that Star Crystal deserves an awful lot of the derision its suffered throughout the decades since its release. The story is a hodge-podge, the acting is unintentionally laughable (at times), and much of it makes little sense … who’s to say that isn’t how it was intended?
(MODESTLY) RECOMMENDED but only for serious, die-hard SciFi junkies like myself OR cinema buffs interested in the occasional curiosity. As I said above, I wanted to check this one out for two reasons: (1) I’d never seen it, and (2) so many who had seen it ripped it to shreds. While I do find it hard to argue against the feature’s obvious failures, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out that Star Crystal still represents what SciFi was for so many of us who grew up on 70’s and 80’s disposable films: it’s great that Kino Lorber has given this one what’ll probably still be a short second coming.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a Blu-ray of Star Crystal (1986) for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.