Somewhere in Space, none of this may be Happening Right now
DIRECTED BY PIETRO FRANCISCI/ITALIAN/1966
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JULY 4, 2023/RARO VIDEO (VIA KINO LORBER)
In 1966, filmmaker Pietro Francisci took a chance on a space adventure unlike anything on your planet. The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe. And another girl, at least four other boys, and some ape creatures. Actually, these are all grown adults, so best not to infantilize them. At least, not any more so than the screenplay might already be doing…
Anyhow, the film is Star Pilot– a big sprawling space saga of rebellion and romance. Although, considering that the visitors from outer space wind up kidnapping several Earth people and taking them into deep space, there’s not as much rebellion as one might think there’d be. And as far as romance goes, that stalls out cold when it comes to the dudes. No matter how aggressively the comely actress and model Luisa (Leontine Snell) makes with the flirting, posing, and unending changes of quite revealing outfits, the lunkheaded male doofuses can’t take a hint. Will Luisa ever get the “romance” she so desires? One will have to make a round trip through the cosmos to arrive at the answer. (By that time, she will have changed clothes for no reason approximately seventeen times).
While Star Pilot (original title: 2+5: Missione Hydra… because, there are two women and five men on a space mission to the ship’s home constellation of Hydra) has sufficient design elements to retroactively admire, the storyline is chronically less than coherent, and in the first half hour, the plot changes shape every few minutes. In the plus column, Star Pilot is a remarkably colorful film, evoking (as others have pointed out), such pulp/comic book-inspired films as Italy’s own Danger: Diabolik, Barbarella, and Japan’s The Green Slime. Heck, Star Pilot actually beat all three of those 1968 releases to the saturated sci-fi punch bowl by a good two years. And those aren’t all! One could also say (but maybe shouldn’t say) that Francisci (whoever he is) successfully anticipated 1968’s Planet of the Apes with some humanoid space apes of its own, as well as 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, because there’s a rectangular monument that looks like a monolith in one part.
Peplum actors Mario Novelli, Alfio Caltabiano, and muscleman Maciste himself, Kirk Morris, fill out the crew if not exactly energizing the proceedings. Top- billed Leonora Ruffo (another peplum veteran, as so many Italics performers would be), dressed like some sort of S&M Vegas showgirl, makes the most of her serious role as the ship’s captain. Leontine Snell, however, is an absolute hoot the whole way through, undeniably the pulse of this otherwise thematically dour endeavor. French actor Roland Lesaffre plays her character’s father, the professor who is tasked with explaining how all of this somehow ties into Einstein’s theory of relativity and the atomic bomb. If you say so, Doc…
The disc’s newly recorded audio commentary by author and film historian David Del Valle and writer/actor Matteo Molinari verifies that, regarding any head scratching and guffawing over Star Pilot, it’s not just you. Del Valle seems to blindly take on commentary gigs the way that adventurous collectors blind buy Blu-rays such as this one. (A point of discussion: no one in North America has really seen this movie prior to this disc). In his case, this is perfectly fine. He’s got enough critical chops on his scorecard for a few lifetimes, not to mention a sharp sense of humor. He can (and does) rattle off the history and state of Italian adventure movies in the recent decades up to this point with no prompting or discernible effort. He’s having fun, but we never forget we’re in expert hands. Molinari is happily along for the ride as Del Valle’s unlisted guest. While this never becomes an MST3K-type of outing, the pervasive levity towards the picture helps. Del Valle is of the opinion that Star Pilot is intended as satire. Whether it succeeds in that or not… Well….
While not exactly a spectacle lightyears ahead of its time, nor for that matter, convincingly a billion years in the making, Star Pilot moves at a cosmic clip through its galaxy of goofiness. Despite being a valid predecessor of several other better films, Francisci seems to have stumbled into whatever accolades may be due. Whether one decides to watch the original ninety-one-minute Italian version (with English subtitles) or the eighty-six-minute American English-dubbed version (that eighty-sixes several superfluous minutes of Snell’s character filming a couple of sexy bits for commercials in workaday studios), the actual space mission to the Hydra constellation doesn’t get going until almost an hour in. A star war, this is not. Prior to that, it’s earthquakes, car chases, flirting that goes nowhere, eerie sound effects, unadvisable investigations, muddled intrigue, science buzzwords, and physical altercations with pesky Chinese agents who hang around the story far too long.
Yet, for all the above reasons and more, fans of vintage sci-fi and/or mid-century Italian movies will be grateful for Raro Video’s splendid looking new Blu-ray. Though the story is muddled and there are too many underdeveloped characters doing too many different things, Star Pilot (2+5: Missione Hydra) absolutely pops off the screen, however one does its math.