November 05, 2012

Starchaser: The Legend of Orin

This 1985 animated sci-fi adventure film was written by Jeffrey Scott and was one of the first animated movies to mix traditional and computer animation. Long time actor/fight choreographer and stuntman Anthony De Longis played the evil Lord Zygon, most notably the best voice performance of the film. It is also one of the first animated films to be made and released in stereoscopic 3D.

The film has since gained a small cult status, but have been criticized over the years due to the obvious similarities to Star Wars and He-Man.
Set on the subterranean Mine-World, a band of human worker are treated like slaves under the power of the evil overlord Zygon until one, Orin, unearths the hilt of a mythical sword that only he can master. Escaping the planet, he runs into the rogue smuggler Dagg and a pair of helpful droids and the princess. They all team up to return to the Mine-World with a plan to defeat Zygon and free Orin's enslaved people.
You can't deny the fun 80's style space-adventure epic of this fantasy/sci-fi rotoscoped animation blend, despite the blatant ripoffs of other sci-fi films of the time. It looks like 1983's Fire & Ice set in outer space, the voice acting is solid at times and pretty dodgy at other times, and the animation is a mixture of Ralph Bakshi meets Filmation. With some impressive 3DCG animated ships that blend in perfectly with the 2D animated characters and hand-painted backgrounds.

The setup should be instantly familiar: a young plucky kid from the ass-end of the universe teams up with a wise-cracking smuggler and a pair of bickering robots to defeat a mechanical bad guy who is trying to take over the universe. Throw in a beautiful princess and a super-cool spaceship and you could be forgiven for thinking you just watched STAR WARS.

But what if one of those bickering robots is a foxy fembot who gets together with the smuggler, women and old people are beaten and killed on-screen within the first few minutes, and the screenplay contains profanity that would make Han Solo blush? Even though it takes huge bites out of Star Wars and Heavy Metal with its storyline, characters and even contains some identical shots, Starchaser has a lot going for it. It fuses elements from a variety of sources and regurgitates them into an enjoyable slice of interplanetary hokum. But it has an edge to it, which is the reason why it has a PG rating rather than the ‘suitable for all’ rating of its older half-brother. There are sexual undertones, including the love between a man and a fembot and even a throwaway line implying paedophilia. The original parts of the story are well-written, with plenty of one-liners and the inspiration even comes full circle in the end.

Some of the names featured in the credits have gone on to greater things: among them most notably are Bill Kroyer, who along with John Lasseter was a CGI pioneer that went on to become a director (of the great short Technological Threat, the feature FernGully, and supervisor of effects for such films as Scooby-Doo and Garfield), and Darrell Rooney, mostly known for directing direct-to-video sequels to The Lion King, Lady And The Tramp and Mulan.

Also in the animation line up are veteran animator Tom Sito, who has since hopped between Richard Williams’ studio (on Raggedy Ann And Andy, Ziggy’s Gift), Disney (Lion King, Pocahontas, Roger Rabbit, Aladdin, Dinosaur, Fantasia/2000), DreamWorks (Prince Of Egypt, Antz, Spirit, Shrek) and Warners (Osmosis Jones, Looney Tunes: Back In Action, Son Of The Mask) and is now President of the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists guild, and Chris Bailey, recently of the Clerks cartoon series, Mickey’s Runaway Brain short and the Kim Possible show.

Finding information about how this film was made is next to impossible. Some sources say Filmation did have a small part in the development of the film, other sources say it was a co-production between a couple Italian animation studios and a few more in South Korea.

Either way, there's lots of care taken into the film's production design and animation, their budget was low, but they had lots of passion for this project. It's definitely not for kids, mature conten in the form violence, frightening monsters, three-boobed women, and man-droids that look like creepy mutated cyborgs are just some o the reasons why this probably traumatized 10 year old kids at the time.

If you're fan of He-man, Thundarr the Barbarian, The Last Starfighter and Star Wars, then you can't miss this!

The Trailer:

The Film:


Anonymous said...

If yould like more information on the film, I's be happy to add any knowledge that I could. This is the film that brought me to Los Angeles for work. I was the Layout Supervisor and one of the Background Designers on the show. There was a tremendous about of work put into this production by some of the best people in the business. I met some of the most talented people here. It looks a little like a Bakshi film because most of the original crew came on board after Bakshi finished Fire and Ice, and let everyone go. They moved on to this project. Dick Sebast was the original director, and I believe the one who devised the program for the 3-D ships. Steven Hahn, who at that time was one of the original founders of Hahnho in Korea, wanted to do this production using both American and Korean animators on this joint venture. The real unsung heroes of this project were the Korean cameramen who had to do multiple passes for the 3-D layers, effects, and adjust them for each eye without mistakes. It was an incredible job. The 3-D ships were computer drawn onto paper, then transferred to cels which were inked just like the characters so they fit right in. It was a wonderful experience for me.

Unknown said...

Forget the internet, there's a 4-page article in American Cinematographer from December 1985 by Les Paul Robley. All about the 3D computer animaton in the film.