This is probably one of the biggest riddles of the history of film music. Why did John Barry, the man behind such scores as Goldfinger and Born Free, accept to score Starcrash, one of the most lamentable movies of all times ? Money ? Perhaps, but it is difficult to imagine him tackling this just for the cash considering his next job was the space-bound Moonraker.
But here it is, and, as usual with John Barry, it is great. Too great probably for a film like Starcrash. This extremely low-budget Star Wars rip-off is guaranteed to blow your mind, only with incredulous bursts of laughter. If you ever dream of a film that combines bad scripting, bad direction, corny special effects, and actors let loose in impossibly tacky outfits, here it is in one great package. The stuff of legend.
Did John Barry see the film when writing the score ? Did he have any idea of what it was all about ? Difficult to know, but from the first seconds of the main title, something seems wrong. Is this supposed to illustrate a space opera ? Probably not. A thriller, a giallo, an actioner maybe, but we're far, far away from science-fiction.
And it's getting worse with 'Escape Into Hyperspace', which takes us into spaghetti-western territory. And somewhere in the middle, there is a song called 'The Ice Planet'. It is supposed to conjure a glacial atmosphere, but instead of frostbitten kingdoms what we have here is a kind of Dances With Wolves warm-up. And if you close your eyes, you can imagine the cornfields swept away by a benevolent wind, while you're holding hands with your dearest darling, ready for a night of romance.
Don't get me wrong, while the whole thing is superb, as a soundtrack it just doesn't work, it seems to be made for another film. But as a standalone piece, it is wonderful. It is way too good for Starcrash and deserves to be listened to in its entirety without the embarrassing legacy of this "so bad it's good" movie.
'The Emperor's Speech', for instance, is particularly impressive, It is a minimalist piano piece, accompanied by what seems to be a clarinet (or an oboe) far in the background, before a romantic string section enters the picture and makes the whole thing soar above the clouds. It's just unlikely to hear an emperor speak on a tune like that.
And when the last notes of 'Starcrash Suite' (what a name!) fade away and wither, the puzzled listener sits and wonders. Did that really happen ? Yes it did, not so long ago, in the Seventies, when everything was possible. It must have been fun...