A 3D Menace
Published on March 6, 2012 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

It’s difficult to understand why anyone would want to see Jar Jar Binks in 3D.

Nevertheless, George Lucas is giving the movie-going public that opportunity with "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D." A lot of ink has been spilled criticizing the first installment of the Star Wars prequels. But the bottom line is that "Phantom Menace" simply doesn’t lend itself to multiple viewings. This may explain why Lucas had to add something new – 3D – for this re-release.

There’s no doubt it’s a monumental task to produce anything that stacks up to the classic Star Wars trilogy, which can be watched over and over. But "Phantom Menace" doesn’t even stack up to the slew of little-known movies released in the late 1970s and early 1980s to cash-in on the success of Star Wars.

There are several movies from this period that can be watched multiple times, even if it’s just to gather a few friends to enjoy a fun B-movie. Two sci-fi films from this period that definitely fit this bill are "Message from Space" and "Laserblast."

"Message From Space" is a 1978 Japanese film that draws heavily – to put it politely – from the original "Star Wars." There are many familiar elements. The plot centers on a ragtag band of adventurers brought together to defeat an evil force – a group of Samurai-like space warriors known as the Gavanas – that has conquered the peaceful planet of Jilutia. There’s a princess, a beeping robot named Beba-2, a cantina scene and a climactic finale where spaceships must cruise along a trench to defeat the Gavanas. Sound familiar?

But "Message From Space" has its own distinct personality that makes it more than a Star Wars clone. It is certainly ambitious, reportedly costing $6 million to make at the time. And there are unique elements. For example, the heroes are brought together by eight magical seeds, which look like glowing walnuts. The seeds are released into space and find their way to a chosen adventurer.

One of the spaceships is literally a flying ship – it looks like a Spanish Galleon. The leader of the Gavanas has an elderly mother who moves about in a wheelchair throne. She’s played by Hideyo Amamoto in drag. There’s also Vic Morrow as the grizzled General Garuda, who is grieving the loss of his robot, Beba-1. Sonny Chiba – yes, that Sonny Chiba – appears in "Message" as Prince Hans, the rightful heir to the Gavanas throne.

Viewers may scoff at the production values, the Star Wars similarities and the sheer absurdity of the movie, but "Message From Space" is a fun movie with enough charm and action to bring a viewer back for second viewing even if it is just for a few laughs.

"Laserblast" has the ability to do the same. This 1978 American film doesn’t attempt to replicate the plot of "Star Wars," but it was part of the wave of movies attempting to capitalize on the popularity of sci-fi. The plot centers on a teenage boy, played by Kim Milford, who discovers an alien’s laser gun. The gun possesses him, turning him into a green zombie-like creature as he wreaks havoc in his small town. The movie even features a cameo by Roddy McDowall as a doctor.

The result is the definition of a B-movie. "Laserblast" was even featured on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." There are plot holes, bad acting and Claymation aliens that look like turtles without shells. These elements are sure to leave viewers questioning if they are actually seeing what is unfolding on the screen. But that is what makes this movie fun and memorable. "Laserblast" even includes a few jokes at the expense of Star Wars.

Both "Laserblast" and "Message" give viewers reasons to watch them again. Their special effects may be laughable and the stories and acting flawed, but these movies have a sense of fun and adventure that’s missing from "Phantom" and arguably the rest of the prequels. When a sci-fi movie doesn’t have a sense of fun and adventure, it’s a fatal flaw that no amount of money or 3D effects can remedy – even in a galaxy far, far away.

J.K. Eisen writes about entertainment and the world around him. He lives in the Deep South.

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