Director: Peter ManoogianReleased: 1989
Starring: Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Claudia Christian, Marc Alaimo, Shari Shattuck, Armin Shimerman, Michael Deak, Ken Clark
Plot: In the year 4038 an intergalactic boxing style sport simply known as “The Arena” takes place on an isolated space station. Now short order cook Steve (Satterfield) prepares to compete as the first human in 50 years to enter the contest.
Review: Back when the “Rocky” franchise was in its death throws following the abysmal “Rocky 5” there was an enduring rumour that the next film would see Rocky sent into space for some intergalactic boxing. I mean it worked for Muhammad Ali Vs. Superman so why not for the Italian stallion aswell? Thankfully this idea never happened but for those who felt it was a good idea, unsurprisingly via Charles Brand who ran with the idea for this DTV release which would be one of the last films to be distributed by his “Empire International Pictures” label a few years before it folded, with Band going on to form the now legendry “Full Moon Pictures”. Its also a film which I remember originally watching as a kid when my dad rented it for me from the video shop, based just on the fact I thought the cover was cool.
Paul Satterfield here plays the aspiring fighter Steve Armstrong who dreams of fighting in “The Arena” were humans have been essentially counted out as lesser fighters unable to compete with the more dominate races which it attracts. However after he unwittingly knocks out an arena fighter he finds himself being given a shot via Quinn (Christian) whose fighter he left unable to compete. At the same time his six armed best friend Shorty manages to land them both on the radar of the underworld boss Rogor (Alaimo) who is also the manager of the current champion Horn (Deak).
Encase its not clear already, this film honestly could not be more of a Rocky clone if it tried as here we get the underdog fighter aiming for the title and battling against the heavily stacked odds to make it. We even get a number of bizarre training sequences including one where Steve spars with a T-rex looking alien called Stitches who has tiny arms and essentially is there just to be punched by Steve. At the same time it’s also a film when there’s not a fight happening the film starts to drag.
It’s a shame that this film doesn’t have a tighter script as there really is something here with Manoogian creating a believable “Star Wars” inspired world full of interesting character / alien designs who inhabit the station and who are brought to life via practical effects, with some elements of stop motion for some of the bigger creatures. Instead due to the hit and miss script the film is left to try and carry itself on the entertaining fight sequences with questionable results.
Satterfield is a likeable lead and here receives strong support from the rest of the cast who include cult sci-fi legend Claudia Christian who brings her usual sultry charms to this film several years before she got her breakout role on “Babylon 5”. Marc Alaimo makes for a decent if subtle villain which is hardly surprising that he chooses to play it this way when he comes with his sneaky and appropriately henchman Weezil played by the legendry character actor Armin Shimerman as well as his fighter Horn, a monosyllable monitor who seemingly can’t say anything without turning it into a brag about his abilities.
The fight scenes are pretty varied while at the same time are equally varied in their quality, with the setup of the arena meaning that Steve can essentially put up against any fantastical creation that Manoogian could cram into the film. What only adds to this is that while in the arena, both fighters are balanced via a handicap system so that neither fighter has an advantage over the other while also meaning that we get to see such fun scenes as Steve taking on the towering Sloth with some sense of believability, even if the matches frequently seems to be wildly one sided even with this supposed handicap in place. The fact that the film is using practical effects though only helps these scenes as they have the sense of presence that you just don’t get with CGI effects.
It frustrating when the fight scenes are so fun that the scenes inbetween are frequently so tedious with Steve lusting over Rogor’s girlfriend or the unfocused direction of his character who whines about coming to the station to compete, only to turn down the shot when its offered to him. We also have him wanting to head back to Earth only again to change his mind as soon as he gets enough for a ticket. As such it drags things down and really stalls the pacing of the film, especially when it leaves you hankering for the next fight scene.
While a flaws film it’s still watchable enough to give it a casual glance even if its to say you’ve seen “Rocky in Space”!