We're all hoping if Star Trek is a blockbuster, it'll bring space opera back to our screens. But space opera hasn't always hit the high notes. Here are some examples of space opera done wrong.
The worst space operas are not just campy or silly. They're idiotic and braindead. They're so intent on cramming the cliches of Westerns or adventure serials into an outer-space setting that they not only leave behind even the most basic space science, they actually strip the danger and excitement out of space travel itself. They're usually derivative of better works, and have little undigested chunks of pilfered greatness floating around... like a debris field.
So here are the dumbest space operas of all time, according to us:
Battlestar Galactica (original series.) Sorry. Ron Moore pretty much summed it up when he explained why this version of BSG had so much wasted potential: You have the destruction of an entire civilization in the first episode, and then in the second episode they go to the casino planet and par-tay. Plus the dorky helmets. And the daggit. And Boxey. To be fair, though, this wasn't the dumbest space opera Glen Larson gave us. That honor must go to...
Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. Oh man. We rushed out and bought this on DVD as soon as it came out. And it is just unbelievably atrocious. Like the original BSG, it features a post-apocalyptic setting... which is forgotten right after the first episode. There's Twiki the penis-headed robot, who goes around getting into one hilarious scrap after another, and Princess Ardala, who's always trying to collar the tight-pantsed Buck so he will be her husband/boy-bitch. But mostly, this show is known for its amazing disco set pieces, including this bizarre rock band, Andromeda:
Guardians Of The Galaxy (the original comics). Marvel Comics' answer (sort of) to the Legion of Superheroes, Guardians Of The Galaxy charted the adventures of Vance Astro, who spent 1000 years in suspended animation before arriving at Alpha Centauri and realizing that humans had long since discovered faster-than-light travel. In the mean time, Earth has been invaded, first by Martians and then by the cruel Badoon. So Astro gathers a team of interplanetary misfits to free the Earth. In a typical later storyline, they find Wolverine's metal skeleton still intact (even though Wolverine is long dead) and Wolverine's great-great-granddaughter fights Doctor Doom for it. But Doctor Doom can control the metal skeleton with his mind. Snikkt!
Starslayer. I'm tempted just to say "look at the cover." But if you want more info, here goes. He's a Celtic barbarian, who's about to die in the distant past, but then his wife's descendant, in the distant future, summons him forward in time. Where he frees Earth from some alien invaders, reignites our sun, becomes a space pirate, and then dedicates a black hole to a Celtic goddess. Or something. Oh, just look at the picture.
Warlock. Another weird comic book hero. He's artificially created, his face is so radiant that only blind sculptor Alicia Masters can sculpt it into a human likeness. He gets hold of the Soul Gem, which sounds like the name of a mid-1970s R&B band, and goes around the universe fighting Thanos.
Space: 1999. Okay, I'm fully prepared for some pushback on this one. But even though I love this show, think about it for five seconds. The Moon is blasted away from the Earth at such high speeds that it visits a different planet every week. And somehow this doesn't kill everyone on the Moon, because of their protective Moonbase. Okay. Even though the Moon is hurtling through space at speeds much faster than the speed of light. Also, just how many Eagles do they have? And every planet is like a sillly horror movie or a crazy mind-trip. And then there was the crazy-browed shapeshifter.
The legion of Star Wars ripoffs. Not surprisingly, in the wake of Star Wars' success, a huge wave of incredibly vapid Wars knock-offs flooded theaters, from all over the world. (And we've presented many of them in our regular "found footage" feature.) There were the Italian Star Wars knockoffs, like The Humanoid, Star Odyssey, War Of The Robots and many others. You had your Japanese knock-offs, like Message From Space. There were animated Star Wars fakes, like Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin. And don't forget Galaxina. And of course, Turkish Star Wars. These knockoffs all have one thing in common: they borrow from the trappings of Star Wars, and completely skip over what made the original movie great. It's like a generation of B-movie directors watched only the Star Wars Holiday Special, snorted a mountain of cocaine and crushed Dilaudid, and then fired up the cameras!
Here's the whole thing of War Of The Robots in just ten minutes:
Cosmos: War Of The Planets. This Italian space opera, which came out around the same time as Star Wars, is just sort of brain-dead, with very little direction or originality. Our heroes drift through set-pieces ripped off from 2001 and Barbarella, before coming to a planet ruled by an evil computer. Which they overthrow, of course. It's all thanks to the positive power of red headgear with funny ear-circles. The whole movie is public domain and you can watch the whole thing (if you really want to) online.
Battle Beyond The Stars. It's Roger Corman's space opera, which is really all you need to know. Oh, there's an evil overlord, Sador, and he's going to destory a planet unless they submit to him utterly. And only one plucky young hero (and eventually, his girlfriend) dare to stand up to Sador, stealing an old spaceship and going off to hire some mercenaries to help. Actually, all you really need to know is that there's a spaceship-shooting babe with a ridiculous boob window:
Event Horizon. They travel to the aid of a long-lost spaceship, which turns out to have punched a hole into a universe of pure oatmeal... sorry, I meant pure chaos and pure evil. Not oatmeal, because a universe of pure oatmeal would make no sense whatsoever. Unlike a universe of pure evil, which makes perfect sense. Anyway, it makes them have wacky head trips. Mmmm... Oatmeal...
Supernova: I have to admit, any movie that features James Spader traveling through space naked can't be all bad... but the rest of it? Ugh. There's an alien artifact and a giant star that's about to (you guessed it) go supernova... and everything is messed up, until Spader gets naked again. Why can't he just always be naked?
Solaris (remake). We loved the original Tarkovsky film, but the Soderbergh remake? Just sort of navel-gazey and pointless, with just a few too many trippy moments for trippiness' sake. George Clooney explains it best in this video: "Uh, all sorts of strange things start happening."
Captain Eager. A recent direct-to-DVD British movie about an old space hero who comes out of retirement to save the day one more time, this film sort of rides the line between pastiche, homage and copy, trying to channel Dan Dare and falling a bit flat in the process. Although Tamsin Grieg is great, as always. And we love Scamp the Rocket Dog. Here's the trailer: