Saturday, 2 June 2012

Starchaser: The Legend of Orin

I don’t often watch The Nostalgia Critic, but I happened upon a link to his thoughts on Orin and it brought back a heavy rush of nostalgia. Not because I had ever seen it before – it never got a cinema release in the UK and I was tiny when it came out in 1985 – but because as with The Adventures of Mark Twain, the trailer had been on a favourite video and stuck in my mind. Not nearly so keenly – I had entirely forgotten it until I saw that link. And it piqued my curiosity, even while it was getting slated.

It is indeed a pretty poor film – but it’s much better than I expected. For an early 80s production from a no-name studio (animated partly in LA and partly in Korea) it has some remarkably good art and animation, and CG spaceships that are leagues better than I had expected and fit into the film’s aesthetic perfectly. There’s also some incredibly dodgy animation, continuity slips and bad rotoscoping, especially near the start, but Zygon in particular is superbly realised.

The trouble is that the story is both badly-conceived and poorly delivered. It starts out with some good ideas that make it seem like an influence on later properties, but eventually it becomes so derivative of Star Wars that it’s absurd – as was pointed out in reviews at the time. The film opens with a highly clunky exposition showing that young, luxuriously-coiffured Orin and a whole society of humans are enslaved to work in the mines. Even though it seems he’s too volatile to have lasted this long without rebelling, especially given powerful weapons to work with, Orin breaks loose only when his drilling uncovers a strange weapon that is key to a new power. If you think this all sounds like Gurren Lagann, you’re not the first person to have noticed the connection. After the evil but excellently-animated (and, unlike most of the characters, distinctively and for the most part very well-acted) Zygon kills his girlfriend (she’s soon forgotten/replaced), Orin escapes and makes it to the surface. He is nearly cut apart by the nightmarish Man-Droids, whose aesthetic and desire to harvest parts in some ways prefigures AI: Artificial Intelligence, but escapes and runs into the rough-talking, roguish smuggler Dagg – and here it really starts to rip off Star Wars, only with even more reliance on prophecies, a lame lightsaber ripoff far too close to the centre of the story, sound effects lifted almost directly from Lucas’ films and an uncomfortable misogynistic streak that extends to a robot girl who is sexualised in a really cringe-inducing way. Orin’s journey is sloppy and based on a lot of made-up rules, and Zygon is thwarted in very unconvincing ways – plus the importance of the characters much like Navi from Zelda grates somewhat.

For all its useless plotting, its lazy resolutions and its bad storytelling, though, it was oddly enjoyable. 80s cheese is in vogue for a reason, after all – and it really is better than it seems at first glance. It’s usually very nice to look at, it moves along briskly and there’s plenty of unintentional humour. That said, the film would have been much aided by less attempts at intentional humour, especially when it came to Dagg’s weird delving-into-a-robot-girl’s-butt-to-reprogram-her-to-be-a-sex-slave antics, and the random ‘lol you are hanging out with a young boy so you must be having sex with him’ jibe from one of the film’s several offensively stereotyped non-white characters…yikes! Still, for all that, it was oddly entertaining.

It would also be interesting to see it in 3D, too, as it was the first ever 3D animated film… 

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