Tuesday 25 May 2010

Galaxina (1980)

Director: William Sachs
Stars: Stephen Macht, Avery Schreiber, James David Hinton and Dorothy R Stratten

In 3008, space travel is routine, as are bad movies ripping off the Star Wars opening text, but this one is a guilty pleasure of mine. For some reason I remember it with fondness and one particular joke still makes me crack up even though it was patently awful. We're here to watch the very pink and phallic police cruiser number 308, the Infinity, and its token robot, a machine with feelings. She's Galaxina, a name so powerful that galaxies have to explode behind it for emphasis with tumultuous classical music to boot. Once the credits finish, we switch from Star Wars to Star Trek and Captain Cornelius Butt takes the role of Kirk. They have a seven year mission, galaxy date 3008 point 1, yaddah yaddah and there are Klingons on the starboard bow (well it looks like like a bird of prey). They have to police the trans galactic corridor but the crew ('if you can call them that', says Butt) get to stop off for a 72 hour rest period first.

Galaxina just chills in her glowing chair, Sgt Thor does his exercises with a cigar in his mouth and Robert 'Buzz' McHenry leans back in his chair and tilts his cowboy hat over his face so we only see his Dodgers shirt. They listen to some weird green frog thing singing opera on the United Galactic Network until an unknown spaceship turns up and Buzz wants to turn on the sirens. Thor points out that sirens can't be heard in space but realistically that's the level of humour we have to work with. It somehow speaks to me though. I love how everything goes almost right. I love the lack of CGI. I love how down to earth everything is, pun not intended. I love how the crew of the Infinity engages Ordric from Mordric, the unknown alien. 'Please respond,' pleads Buzz, 'this is a space police cruiser!' Capt Butt has a little more sass. 'I'm not going to engage a battle of wits with you,' he tells Ordric. 'I never attack anyone who's unarmed.'

I love these lines. The whole script is full of them. 'Quivering Venusian blubbercups!' cries the Captain in one memorable exclamation. Many of the lines are aimed at Buzz, because he's such an easy target. 'What's on your mind, if you'll forgive the overstatement?' the Captain asks him. Sometimes they include Sgt Thor too: 'If a jackass had both of your brains he'd be a pretty dumb jackass!' Even the minor characters get memorable lines. 'We not good enough for you, space honky?' spits the token black guy with Vulcan ears and a pair of bat wings. He's the engineer with an elderly Chinese sidekick who spends his entire time inhaling opium and spouting aphorisms like Charlie Chan. They're like a low budget version of Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto from Alien, which is spoofed when Capt Butt eats an egg that turns into a monster that grows up a little while they spend 27 years in cryogenic sleep on the way to Altair 1.

Galaxina is played by the lovely Dorothy Stratten, Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1980. She tried to escape her nutjob husband, Paul Snider, by moving in with director Peter Bogdanovich, but he suckered her back to his apartment where he raped and murdered her before turning the shotgun on himself. There have been a number of films about her life, including Star 80 and Death of a Centerfold, in which she was played by Mariel Hemingway and Jamie Lee Curtis respectively. She's very lovely here in a robot maid outfit but she's off limits, at least initially. 'Why did they make her like that?' asks Sgt Thor after getting electrocuted by slapping her backside. 'Why didn't they build her out of tin stove pipes?' Butt replies, utterly deadpan, 'You know that it's forbidden for space police to fraternise with machines. It's against the laws of nature. You might go blind.' Only Avery Schreiber can be this deadpan.
Galaxina fixes herself though. After all she has a 27 year journey to do so, given that she has to spend it awake, or as awake as a cute robot in a revealing outfit can be, while everyone else gets to ignore it in hypersleep. She teaches herself to talk, to put on lipstick and to regulate her temperature. She even reprograms her shocking mechanism so she can get it on with the good sergeant. Kinky human on robot action in the thirtyfirst century! Well, if she had certain parts. They're in the catalogue. Anyway they go to Altair 1 because Cmdr Garrity orders them on a side trip to find Frank Future. He's apparently discovered the blue star, so huge a deal that there's a fanfare to accompany the very mention of it. To compensate them for the 54 year journey there and back, they do at least get overtime. Talk about a quick way to get rich! Go to sleep, wake up a rich man, especially when you can sue for whiplash too. They all get whiplash.

'Altair 1 is entirely populated by the scum of the universe,' we're told, set up as a penal colony like Australia where Galaxina gets to go find the blue star. Unfortunately the bar is a Star Wars Cantina type with an 'Aliens Only' sign, tended by Mr Spot, who looks like who you think. It's a human restaurant, not because it serves humans but because it serves humans. Literally. You know, things like knuckle sandwiches, fruit of the womb or black bottom pie, washed down with an Earth Cola, of course, or a bloodshake. Frank Future is long gone. 'I remember him,' says Mr Spot. 'He was delicious.' At least they kept his room intact so the blue star is easy to find. She just has to tangle with Ordric from Mordric in a Wild West showdown at high noon. Yes, this has everything. We haven't even met the bikers down at the hop yet, who worship the great god Harley Davidson so we can have a chase. Hey, petrol survived in Battlefield Earth, right?

There's plenty of more deliberate commentary on bad scifi, with references everywhere for those who care about working them all out. That was Buck Rogers spinning by early on, right? The doors sound like Star Trek and the lasers sound like Battlestar Galactica. Stephen Macht plays Sgt Thor like Starbuck, the original one played by Dirk Benedict, of course. Buzz may be another tribute to Dark Star, as there are a few of those. Some of it is more obscure, just quirky rather than quirky reference. Capt Butt takes the time to make galaxy log entries that say, 'Nothing new.' The crew eat pills at an oak table with ornate chairs and candelabras, washed down with wine, a Venusian Thunder Ripple, 2001. The engineers just get chicken pills. They have a rock eater as a prisoner because he ate the queen's jewels. 'What did I do to deserve this?' it rages in a New York Jewish accent as Capt Butt tells him bad jokes and throws rocks at him.

There's also a second Star Wars Cantina, this time a brothel called Kitty's to which the crew venture for a 24 hour furlough. Other science fiction isn't quite as honest, but here they take full advantage, chanting their lyrics to Porno Patrol ('any old port in a storm, any old hole'). Yes, there's a three breasted woman and every type of alien you can imagine, from classic grey to scary monster to blue girl via Creature from the Black Lagoon. Writer/director William Sachs threw every Mae West joke he could into the mix too. 'I make it a habit to never forget a face but in your case I'll make an exception,' quotes Kitty. 'I've had a wonderful time but it wasn't tonight,' Butt tells her when they leave. He picks a gorgeous girl who turns out to not have a gorgeous face, like Nina Hyena. 'At least you're not two faced,' he tells her as he puts a bag over her head, 'or you wouldn't have chosen the one you have on.'

Make no mistake, this is a terrible movie, but it knows it and it revels in it. Made in 1980 and released shortly after Dorothy Stratten's tragic death, it's a spoof ahead of its time. Its closest comparison is probably the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker movies, but they were brand new, Airplane being released the same year. Looking with fresh eyes after a couple of decades away, the first half still made me crack up but the second half drags. The turning point may be the journey to Altair 1 as things get a lot less controlled and a lot more strained once Galaxina starts turning human and the planet turns to infrared. It's still way better than the rating at IMDb gives it credit for. This may not be a true classic but it deserves a lot more than a paltry 2.5 rating. I enjoyed this at least as much as Mel Brooks's Spaceballs and might even suggest that the jokes are better. Give me Ordric from Mordric, whose mask is his face, over Dark Helmet every time.

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