When you think about it and take into account the style, sound and actual scale of score that James Horner composed for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS it was a pre-cursor for what we were about to experience two years later in STAR TREK ll THE WRATH OF KHAN, and in fact it was also the forerunner and blueprint for many of Horner’s early film scores as in ALIENS, WILLOW, COCOON, KRULL and to a degree THE ROCKETEER. He was a composer that was no stranger to experimentation with orchestration and the utilisation of certain instruments that were of the unusual kind. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was in effect a remake of THE MAGNIFICENT 7 but set in space and although at times the effects were not that realistic, and the performances could be less than convincing, it is a film that I return to regularly just for the sheer adventure, thrill and escapism that it can create.
The movie was released in 1980 by NEW WORLD PICTURES which was a company established by well known film maker Roger Corman, it was Corman who produced the movie and gave Horner a chance to write the score, as with many of the composers early works it was a large-scale score in proportion to the budget of the movie. But, Horner would do this on several his early assignments often funding the orchestra himself when the music budget did not stretch to it. When you listen to the score for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS it obviously pays homage to the style of Jerry Goldsmith and in certain moments is very evocative of his score for STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, and at times utilising the echoing trumpet flourishes which Goldsmith employed in his memorable theme for PATTON -LUST FOR GLORY.
Plus, there is the Goldsmith trademark melancholy woodwind and strings in the scores quieter moments. But. Listen closer to Horner’s at times complex writing, and his intense and unrelenting tense atmosphere that he creates via strings, percussion and brass, which are at times underpinned or embellished by electronic support. For a composer who was not at that time 30 years of age this is a score of immense maturity. The film was also a milestone for filmmaker James Cameron who was responsible for designing the FX on the movie, of course Cameron and Horner’s paths would cross more than once in the not too distant future, most notably on TITANIC in 1997.
The movie had quite an impressive cast line up, which included Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon and Sybil Danning. The films budget was quite merger for a Hollywood production the total cost of production being just $2,000,000. It re-cooped $ 7.5 Million at the box office. So not a huge success but nonetheless it did not lose money. Many say that the best thing about the movie was its score by James Horner, and although I do agree the score was outstanding for such a low budget film, I would also have to add that I think the movie is entertaining.
The distant Planet of Akir is under threat from and evil warlord Sador played by John Saxon, this unsavoury power crazed individual is the ruler of the fearsome and mystical Maimori Empire, he has told the people of Akir to surrender to him or face the consequences, which are to be blasted into pieces by his STELLA CONVERTOR (shades of the death star). The oldest and wisest of the Akira Corsairs, Zed, suggests that they should hire mercenaries to help them. Akir is a planet that is not wealthy but has ample food and shelter to offer those who will help them. Zed is too old to go himself, so he does the next best thing and offers his spaceship for the task, all they must do is find a pilot that can fly it. The ship is a formidable craft complete with Ai Navigation/tactical Navigation, but even with all its advanced technology it is unable to defeat the combined strength of Sador and the Maimori Empire.
Enter then, Shad a young man played by Richard Thomas, Shad has flown the ship before and is known to the on-board computer called Nell. Shad decides to volunteer for the job and thus the adventure begins and what an adventure, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is certainly one of those movies that allows the audience to be whisked off to other worlds, although highly unlikely and total over the top it’s a good yarn with a wonderfully expansive and thematic score to suit. I think the first time I saw the movie it was on video and I had the soundtrack in my collection already, but I think that’s a thing we soundtrack collectors do at times we don’t actually go see a movie and think I like that score, we buy on name or reputation or on what the composers last score was like, don’t we? But I got to thinking how did I buy BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS by the reputation of the composer?
I did not have anything else by Horner, in fact was anything else released at that time, I don’t know? If not, I know I snapped up things like GORKY PARK, BRAINSTORM etc when I saw them in the racks at the local record shop after hearing BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. At times I did get a soundtrack because I liked the look of the art work, so maybe that’s how I ended up with the LP record in my possession. Anyway, for a low budget affair BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was very entertaining and it also introduced us to the magical, mystical, romantic, anthemic and dramatic theme laden style of a composer we all miss so much. James Horner.