Although STAR QUEST: BEYOND THE RISING MOON amounts to one small step for the science-fiction genre, it's one giant leap for low-budget, independent filmmaking. This imaginative outer-space tale traverses the galaxy, offering three different planetary environments, aerial dogfights, and a climactic duel with atomic warheads, all on a production budget of...read more
Although STAR QUEST: BEYOND THE RISING MOON amounts to one small step for the science-fiction genre, it's one giant leap for low-budget, independent filmmaking. This imaginative outer-space tale traverses the galaxy, offering three different planetary environments, aerial dogfights, and
a climactic duel with atomic warheads, all on a production budget of about $175,000--which could buy about half a minute's worth of screen time in TOTAL RECALL. The story begins with a dizzying amount of exposition efficiently presented. By the middle of the next century mankind has made fantastic
technological progress due to the discovery of a derelict alien spacecraft, the only known remnant of the vanished "Tesseran" culture. Thanks to the scientific knowledge gleaned from the oddly shaped hulk, humans routinely travel between the stars. Then comes word that another Tesseran ship has
been found by a Norwegian space expedition. The explorer who staked the salvage claim dies in an accident, leaving ownership of the priceless relic in a legal limbo. Enter Kuriyama (Ron Ikejiri), a ruthless tycoon with his own paramilitary force and a giant interstellar dreadnought, the
Promethian. But for this hostile takeover Kuriyama calls upon "the most subtle and effective tool of corporate warfare," a woman called Pentan (Tracy Davis). Although she is normal in appearance, Pentan isn't your average woman; endowed by her "creators" with enhanced mental and physical
abilities, she knows all forms of combat. Dispatched to the North African spaceport of Star City, Pentan ambushes the returning Norwegians. But, fed up with her job as a professional killer and recognizing the alien vessel as her ticket to wealth and independence, she records the much-sought-after
data relating to the Tesseran ship in her brain and takes flight. For this disobedience Pentan's masters activate a "stroker" device in her head that will kill her in 72 hours unless she surrenders. Pentan latches onto Brickman (Hans Bachmann), a Han Solo-type star pilot, who reluctantly agrees to
take her to the only person who can save her, Thorton (Rick Foucheux), Pentan's "designer," another ex-Kuriyama employee, who now resides on the planet Inisfree. After a skirmish with Kuriyama's "Tulwar" fighter craft, the heroes get to Inisfree in time for Thorton to remove the stroker. Using
Thorton's computers to retrieve and decode the Norwegian data from her brain, Pentan learns that the Tesseran ship is now located on the barren planet Elyseum. She and Brickman head for Elyseum, with the Promethian in pursuit. Along the way Brickman declares his love for Pentan, but she
disappoints him by stating (during sex, no less) that she was given only rudimentary emotions required for deception; she really feels nothing for him. Upon arriving at the abandoned Tesseran ship, Pentan and Brickman are surrounded by Kuriyama's soldiers. Pentan coolly rejoins Kuriyama, leaving
Brickman to his doom, but--surprise--she's only fooling. Commandeering a Tulwar fighter at the first opportunity, she handily blasts the enemy fighters and soon threatens the orbiting Promethian itself. As a last resort, Kuriyama sends out Tulwars armed with thermonuclear bombs, but Pentan
survives their first salvo and chases them back to the Promethian. The villains on board panic and fire a missile that accidentally detonates a Tulwar's bomb; the resulting holocaust appears to envelop all the combatants. Back on Elyseum, a disconsolate Brickman is left with the Tesseran treasure.
Suddenly Pentan lands, safe after all, and embraces him warmly--a double miracle even Geppetto might have trouble explaining.
Most of this intriguing film was shot inside a warehouse near Alexandria, Virginia, with but few forays to exterior locations. A farmer's field became the plain of Elyseum, and an access tunnel near the Pentagon was used for a portion of Star City. Working with 16mm stock, the filmmakers, whose
backgrounds are in music-videos and commercial graphics, accomplished the movie's 270 special-effects shots using basic camera techniques almost as old as moving pictures themselves--double exposures, matte split-screens, semi-reflective mirrors, and stop-motion animation. Director-effects artist
Philip Cook carefully selected studio lighting techniques, set designs, and color schemes to ensure that the best image quality would be maintained in the anticipated blowup to 35mm. But BEYOND THE RISING MOON, as the film was originally titled, received only scattered festival screenings before
going to video with a title change.
Though Cook's visuals lack the hypergloss of modern George Lucas-scale space epics, they're usually convincing and often striking (indeed, only the panoramic sprawl of Star City looks like the table-top model it was; ironically, it was also the most expensive effect in the production). With its
design inspired by the Fiero sportscar, Brickman's bright red spaceship looks sleek enough for the parking lot of some cosmic Spago's, and Kuriyama's headquarters, a slender structure towering over an iridescent sea, lingers long in the mind.
Much thought went into the film's smallest details, including the naming of the characters, planets, and space hardware. The planets Elyseum and Inisfree were named, respectively, after a mythical paradise for the soul of warriors and the hero's ancestral home in John Ford's THE QUIET MAN.
"Tulwar" is an old Persian word for a sword. According to producer John Ellis, the evil Kuriyama was conceived not to bring Japan-bashing into the 21st century, but to invest the film with the feudal pageantry of his banner-waving, samurai-armored troops. Such internationalized touches disguise
the film's regional origins.
Ron Ikejiri's stoic demeanor is well-suited to the part of Kuriyama, but the film's standout performance is by Michael Mack, who brings humor and charm to his role as the villain's strategist and chief henchman. On the other hand, Bachmann is stuck with a stock science-fiction character that was
old even when Harrison Ford made it his own, and as Pentan, Davis struggles with a part that uneasily combines "Star Trek's" Mr. Spock with "The Avengers" Mrs. Peel. Furthermore, her martial-arts skills appear to be minimal; like a lot of B-movie action heroines, Pentan unconvincingly snaps spines
with the merest brush of her fingertips. Finally, Davis' Pentan is simply too cold and aloof to be really engaging.
The plot generally falters in the second half of the film, falling back on chases and battles instead developing in an innovative fashion. Tellingly, nothing whatever is learned about the mysterious Tesserans. A peek inside the alien vessel reveals only that, like the Monolith in 2001, it's full
of stars. So despite the proliferation of nukes at its climax, STAR QUEST: BEYOND THE RISING MOON ends with less of a bang than it should have. Still, it provides a number of thrills, and neither the filmmakers nor viewers can say they didn't get their money's worth. (Violence, adult situations,sexual situations.)
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