1985 in Film – Starchaser: The Legend of Orin

Release Date: Nov 22nd
Box Office: $3,360,800

By the mid eighties animation was in the doldrums. Well, at least in the cinema it was in the doldrums. In the living room Saturday morning cartoons were king, and the merchandise behind them even bigger.

Disney had just reached its lowest point with The Black Cauldron, an expensive flop. Don Bluth, after leaving Disney, had set up his own studio that hadn’t quite yet found its feet. The industry had been shifting to TV for decades, the rise of the VHS market was accelerating this and causing the theatrical releases to struggle and decline. If even the House of Mouse was struggling to get a wide audience to watch their films, then for a smaller studio without the mainstream recognisable characters it would be even worse.

Which is where Starchaser The Legend of Orin appears.

There are several things about the film that don’t make a lot of sense. Firstly, the film was theatrically released in 3D. Secondly, there’s the fact that the film liberally borrows from Star Wars for its basic plot. Thirdly, it’s not even attached to a well known franchise nor did it have a toy line.

So what did the $15m production cost get you? It got you a story about a young man in a slave mine who finds a magic sword (not a lightsaber) who escapes and joins up with a smuggler (not Han Solo) to help stop an evil Empire (not that Empire).

So a pretty generic tale all told but it helps that the animation is of a pretty good standard. Of course, you’d expect this given the money being spent on the film but given the growth in cheap animation studios over the last few decades quality wasn’t always a guarantee.

The tone of the story is a bit iffy, swinging from sparkly helpful fairy thing to slaves being whipped to death in an underground mine. The first people Orin sees when he gets out of the mine are pieced together part robot part human cannibals who want Orin’s various bits and pieces to replace their bits and pieces that no longer work. Body horror in a kids sci for animated movie? Fair enough.

The monsters are helped by the fairly realistic art style of the film; in parts it feels reminiscent of the later 70s/early 80s Flash Gordon animated series which was produced by Filmation. This was the company that also produced the Masters of The Universe series only Starchaser doesn’t employ the limitied animation style of that company. Whilst the design of the ships and so forth look good the simple human characters are good enough. The film was a mainly Korean animated production and doesn’t exactly push the boundaries with its art design. The whole thing being produced in 3D was something that no one else was doing.

The 80s saw a mini 3D boom although the quality of the film’s was set by Friday 13th 3DJaws 3D and Amityville 3D. So not that high a bar. Animated 3D shorts had been around, mainly during the original 3D boom in the 50s. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an animated 3D feature film until the recent 3D revival that started in the early 2000s, and that needed CGI animated feature to become the default feature film technique over hand drawn animation to really work.

So as a technical historical artefact the film has its place. New production techniques were used on the film to create it, but it ends up all being a bit of a wasted effort.

The story falls flat, not helped by the plodding voice acting. It’s not a bad film, just an okay one. Even at the time none of us were fooled and quickly went back to Star Wars.

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