Certainly, I wasn’t alone in my appreciation as the B-Movie culture of the 1970’s and 1980’s fueled an assortment of similar storytelling, with an entry occasionally breaking through even to mainstream theatres. These releases caught fire in the home video market of that era when it was learned that consumers were perfectly happy renting something they were a bit too embarrassed to sit through on the silver screen but was acceptable Saturday-Night-With-A-Sixpack viewing. Still, most of these films pushed more toward splatter and gore, leaving the Science Fiction and Fantasy elements mostly the stomping ground for syndicated television programs.
Folks like Roger Corman and Lloyd Kaufman did what they could to satiate audiences hungry for more cinematic fare … and it’s largely in that tradition that a flick like STAR RAIDERS: THE ADVENTURES OF SABER RAINE earns its street cred. Granted, it may not be as flashy or garish as some of what came before, but it’s got more heart and chutzpah than much of what’s come since.
From the publicity materials:
“Rocket ships, Rayguns, and Robots abound in this heart-pounding tale where the stellar adventurer Saber Raine is hired to guide three elite soldiers on a rescue mission to a mysterious planet on the outer rim of the galaxy …”
Now, let me be perfectly clear: I like pulp. Always have. Always will.
Pulp sensibilities have long-fueled a seemingly endless array of B-Movie pictures, a class of film that today’s younger viewers rarely understand or appreciate. For that reason, you may find this review is a bit more forgiving than the next with respect to enjoying what STAR RAIDERS: THE ADVENTURES OF SABER RAINE had to offer. In short, I “got” it. I don’t think most of today’s YouTube-obsessed, ADD-stricken media will, though they’ll say they did and maybe even suggest that you can find better. (Helpful tip: you can always find better.) Sure, when it comes to pulp there are varying gradations of quality, but it’s the sense of wonder, fantasy, and adventure that matter most, and – in those measurables – RAIDERS performs affably though a bit inefficiently if not downright clumsily at times.
And – like Flash Gordon – Raine is destined to meet an assortment of characters along the way who’ll start as adversaries but end up as allies. Fade (the lovely Brit Laree) hires Raine to lead her through these ‘Badlands,’ and she’ll slowly turn from ‘unimpressed employer’ to romantically interested. Her companions – Commander Voss (Andy Hankins) and Ryll (Will Beckingham) – are soldiers who initially cringe at Raine’s casualness but eventually embrace his derring-do. Of course, there’s always an “old friend” wrapped up in the mix – one who begrudgingly allows Raine his unconventional ways – and that role is handily filled by Crotalus (Holly Westwood), an alien who’s tied to her friend’s past professional disgrace.
Where STAR RAIDERS’ fails to live up to its potential as pulp is in the creation of its villains: Sinjin (James Lew) totes a galaxy-size grudge against the Aerisian people due to the theft of ancient secrets, something he needs to recover if he’s going to make good on his conquest of known space. To achieve his ends, he’s kidnapped the royal heirs from Ares – Tyr (Tyler Weaver Jr.) and Caliope (Sara N. Salazar) – and tortures them … though it remains a bit unclear what he hopes to extort. (There’s a later hint at power and technology, but nothing of a real threat materializes until the film promises a sequel when Caliope joins Sinjin in a last reel reveal.) To complicate matters, Sinjin’s brought along a cadre of conspirators, none of whom is all that ‘evil’ except for looking decidedly inhuman.
So while I was completely smitten with RAIDERS’ embrace of its obvious pulp roots, I found the second half a bit floundering, much of it owed to the fact that I had little idea of what its evil really wanted to accomplish. It’s never enough to merely want power unless that wish is backed with what’s truly at stake; and that’s sorely missing here. Also, at times its players seemed to forget the fact that this was a pulp feature, occasionally not performing “big enough” to sell me on their characters’ convictions: Van Dien never quite established his tongue in his cheek, Salazar never quite understood she needed to emerge as the focus of evil, and even Laree never quite swooned deeply enough as the love interest.
The galaxy is a big canvas, and I’d welcome Saber Raine’s return, if nothing else for a chance to truly get it right, play bigger than life, and save the day against all odds. Some audiences still cheer (and always will) for the good guy, even when the budget’s a bargain, the aliens are obviously talent under a mask, and effects are on-the-cheap. In fact, that’s part of the charm!
RECOMMENDED. STAR RAIDERS – as imperfect as it may be – represents a form of cinematic storytelling that these days is far too often considered substandard for all the wrong reasons, usually being outright dismissed by highbrow critics because it was fan-funded, direct-to-DVD released, or conceived and produced outside of a more traditional studio system. However, that’s part of what makes these efforts endearing: they’re greater labors of love, meant to tickle the fancies of those who appreciate a bit of shlock in their entertainment diets and maybe a little more “swash in their buckle.” Fans of 80’s cinema or even mid-1970’s Science Fiction still eat these things alive; and I, for one, would welcome the promised sequel of the last reel, though I fear it’ll never see the light of day.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Gravitas Ventures provided me with an online means to view STAR RAIDERS: THE ADVENTURES OF SABER RAINE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.