49 thoughts I had while watching Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine

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Mar 5, 2018, 7:06 PM EST (Updated)

Now, based on the title of this post alone, I know what you’re thinking—did Star Raiders, the iconic 1979 Atari game featuring a battle between Earth and Zylons, secretly get a film adaptation that somehow nobody knew about? Or, if your tastes are more literary and romantical, did Elysa Hendrick’s second installment in the Star Chronicles series make it to the small screen?

No, I must report, Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine is neither of these things. Instead, it is a small budget sci-fi movie finished via Kickstarter and filmed in and around my very own old stomping grounds, Denver, Colorado. According to writer and director Mark Steven Grove, it’s meant to be a throwback to the straightforward heroics of heroes like Flash Gordon.

I have established that I love big budget speculative fiction films—give me an S/F flop that has too much money thrown at it any day of the week. But I also grew up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Renaissance Festivals, so low budget S/F holds a special place in my heart. In some ways, the lower the production values the higher my emotional investment.

So alright, Saber Raine. Let’s roll.

  1. One of the first production logos, for Uptown 6 Productions, is a literal runaway train, which bodes well.
  2. We open in a CGI battle in space between the human Terrans and the lizard people Saurians that features PlayStation 2-era graphics and Phantom Menace-level sound mixing. Writing this joke was how I learned that Phantom Menace was nominated for sound mixing and didn’t win, which is somehow shocking to me.
  3. The Saurian prosthetics are actually quite impressive, especially on such a small budget, save for one thing: their lips don’t move.
  4. Terran Squadron X has one last Saurian in its sight, but are stopped by the entrance of one… SABER RAINE! Saber Raine appears to be some kind of secret agent in space who also enjoys military historical cosplay. Seriously, he’s wearing a Mr. Wickham-esque coat that would have any Bennett daughter’s knickers in a twist. Even his ship is old-timey, featuring one of those viewfinders, which seems… purely for aesthetics.
  5. The crosscutting between Squadron X feels like a proof of concept for a live action Voltron movie. What do you mean, there’s already a Voltron movie in the works?
  6. I actually really love how we’re seeing actors who look like people here, as a happy byproduct of the small budget? Except, of course, for Saber Raine, because Casper Van Dien looks like Jack Kirby carved him out of oak and dreams.
  7. Saber insists that Squadron X let this Saurian escape, which pisses off the Rear Admiral in charge of Squadron X. Incidentally, the Rear Admiral is the best actor in the movie so far, with the amazingly petty line read of “I can see that, Orion” to an underling. He is my favorite so far.
  8. Based on the ship designs, this kind of visually feels like Battlestar Galactica vs. Star Trek: The Original Series.
  9. Aaand it was all a dream to establish Saber’s character as a dashing man of action and appreciator of fine historical jackets, as he comes to in a forest in another fine specimen. The film decides to further drill the idea of Saber as a charming piratical type in our heads via jaunty Tortuga-esque music. Too literal, movie, you were doing just fine.
  10. Saber wanders calmly off-screen, which launches an extremely intense late nineties’ title card and credit sequence. However, this sequence is where we learn that Cynthia Rothrock, action icon, China O’Brien herself, will be in this film, as she receives a “FEATURING” credit. You’re goddamn right when Cynthia Rothrock graces your film with her presence, it’s a featuring role.
  11. We now come to my favorite speculative fiction conceit: people wandering around the woods. Fun fact: I happen to own a DVD copy of a The Lord of the Rings fan film filmed in my hometown, because there’s just so much goshdarn woods, how could you not.
  12. We come across a serious trio, who are all serving up different looks. Blondie is serving up an ice-blonde, red-eyed late nineties vibe—the peachy frosted lip is an A+ from me, though I question the front lace-up jumpsuit situation. Dad looks like your dad who really got into cycling (NOT BICYCLING, KYLE, CYCLING, DO YOU EVER LISTEN TO YOUR FATHER) after he retired, just in kind of a uniform. And Mustache is serving the greatest look of all: sculpty helmet, sports sunglasses with only one lens for an eye patch, one red contact, and a luxurious, carefully manicured beard. THAT IS A LOOK.
  13. A pack of unidentified assailants attack our trio, and Mustache immediately guts one, so I’m thinking he’s probably the most capable of the three. Luckily, Saber’s jaunty hike has led him here, and he helpfully finishes off the rest of them.
  14. And then he explains what they are, which is… confusing. According to Saber, they’re called “mutates,” even though they’re dead people. But they’re not zombies, because they haven’t been brought back to life (or hideous undeath); they’re animated by CORPSE MAGGOTS. So, basically, they’re corpses being piloted by maggots and are, nonetheless, called mutates. Okay, cool, just wanted to be sure.
  15. So Saber has invited Blondie, Dad, and Mustache to this planet full of corpse maggot mutant zombies because they’re offering a bounty in return for help in rescuing their kidnapped prince and princess. See, they’re from the planet Ares—pronounced AH-RES, not Air-ries, because it’s spaaaaace—and because they were the royal guards at the time of the kidnapping, they are duty bound to rescue the royal kiddos. Also, the kidnappers took a flash drive that has some really important top secret information on it. Also the king is dying? Maybe? This is unclear at this point in the film.
  16. Oh, Blondie—heretofore referred by her actual name, Fade—has a little zip on her jumpsuit, approval heartily granted.
  17. We then cut to the prince and princess. Our villain, unsurprisingly, has kidnapped these kids for the flash drive, which contains information that will help him conquer the universe! We also learn that his name is Sinjin, like Jane Eyre’s creepy cousin who wants to marry her.
  18. Princess Caliope is wearing a long-sleeved tee underneath a corset. Interesting.
  19. Back in the woods, Mustache is taking potshot after potshot at Saber, who he does not trust. When Saber protests, Mustache basically says “Uh, Siri, pull receipts,” and his ship’s computer patches in to helpfully provide Saber Raine’s backstory, which features Saber getting blacklisted for sparing a Saurian’s life, because her intel turned the tide in the Terran-Saurian War. (Why… why isn’t this the opening sequence?) Saber shoots back with “I don’t need to know about my past, I lived it,” which is kind of amazing in its childishness.
  20. I also very much appreciate that Fade and Saber are clearly D2F as soon as the mission is over, a la Wai Lin and James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies.
  21. In order to gather intel, Saber and company travel into Annelid territory, which appears to be composed of a janky old construction site on the outside and the Senoia, Georgia The Walking Dead museum on the inside, to see a buddy of his.
  22. They manage to get the intel out of Saber’s old “buddy,” a creepy Space Australian Dad played by comics writer Mike Grell, but not before killing or at least mortally wounding his poor man’s Korg, which leads to this amazing interaction: “Sorry about your Rock Guy.” “It’s okay, I have more in the mines.”
  23. I have to commend the guy playing Prince Tyr, who is giving his CW-level all to this performance and is great at stunts. (Which makes sense, since he’s played by Tyler Weaver Jr., an extreme martial artists specialist who seems like a super-rad, inspirational dude.)
  24. Fade looks like the kind of girl who highlights her shoulders, in the best possible way.
  25. In order to penetrate Sinjin’s defenses around his Once Upon a Time-esque castle, they need to enter the mire, which appears to be a wi-fi-free zone with no cell service. So, you know, an active nightmare.
  26. Sinjin assembles his lackeys: Godzilla Cenobite, Skeletor, Mad Max White Lin Manuel Miranda, and Big Head Snoke. Blah blah blah, I’m sure their conversation is moving the plot, but I only have eyes for Big Head Snoke. Step aside, Rear Admiral, Big Head Snoke is my new favorite; he has some excellent dismissive hand movements. I could learn from him.
  27. Two humans attempt to escape the ruins, and are pursued by a pack of mutates. Cut-rate Alan Tudyk meets David Anders fares slightly better than his distaff counterpart, who gets stabbed by a mutate with a giant straw, which the mutate then uses to suck giblets out of the woman and into… themselves… what… So far Star Raiders has been a jaunty adventure, I was unprepared for the horror of “I DRINK YOUR INTERNAL MILKSHAKE”.
  28. Our heroes stumble across these murderin’ mutates, and dispatches them to bombastically heroic music, but Dad gets killed! At which point we learn that Dad is, in fact, a dad; he’s Fade’s dad. This does not really make his death scene in her arms any more emotional or affecting, but it’s a nice note, I guess?
  29. Unfortunately, the mutates get the better of our heroes, via hypnotic… slugs? Okay, these mutates seem too smart to be just corpses driven around by maggots. Like, they have feeding tubes and hypnotic slugs. Sure, they run like zombies, but are they just… faking it? Alternatively, how smart are these maggots? I’m fascinated. As Saber throws out what appears to be his catchphrase—“Always have backup!”—a Saurian woman enters the frame…
  30. Back to the royal kiddos—we learn that the king is ill, so they cook up a plan so that Caliope will be sent back to their home planet in exchange for the flash drive. The flash drive contains information on mana stones, which are important and powerful for reasons, ok, but Sinjin would need time to build a refinery (mmm, shades of WarCraft II, I love it), Caliope can then launch an attack. Just one thing: Tyr has to tell Caliope what’s on the flash drive, so he knocks out their cellmate… and fails.
  31. So, that Saurian dame? Welcome to my new favorite character in the movie, Crotalus. Crotalus is the Saurian from Saber’s backstory. She is a cute lizard woman with a British accent who has dispatched all of the mutates and beheaded their priestess to display her head as a warning, which is both metal af and confirmation of my theory that the mutates are smarter than they appear, if they have a functioning society. True, Crotalus’ lips don’t move, but she can roll her eyes in such a way that Liz Lemon would be impressed. I love her.
  32. Sinjin lays out his evil plan and it turns out, he’s got some colonial beef! The Aresians stole mana stones from his people millennia ago, and used it to build an empire with violence. Which, to be fair, is what Sinjin wants to do, just with more magic and less science. What’s really shocking is that Caliope has been in on this the entire time and revived Sinjin herself. What!
  33. Sinjin describes Caliope’s about-face to Tyr as “She is a woman, about to become a goddess,” which needs to be a cover of “I’m Not a Girl” right now.
  34. Fade asks Crotalus if she and Saber ever… you know… and Crotalus immediately sets the record straight. “He’s attractive on the inside, but we’re incompatible”, she tells Fade, which I believe is Saurian for “uhhhh, he’s like okay for a Terran I guess but I don’t do xeno?” I really appreciate that Saber and Crotalus have this strong friendship that’s completely platonic. Good movie!
  35. Tyr’s cell mate walking into the torture chamber that is also clearly someone’s office and just yelling “OH HELL NO” is the most relatable part of this movie.
  36. We return to Caliope, who has acquired a headdress. I hope she puts on a new accessory in every scene. Might I suggest a ribbon choker, to go with the Hot Topic vibes that I am thoroughly enjoying?
  37. Sinjin deploys his lackeys to deal with Saber and company, and Big Head Snoke continues to prove he’s the best villain. “But what of the mire?” he asks the big boss, like his follow-up question is going to be “Surely this is something covered in our training or maybe a handout from HR.”
  38. Crotalus is straight-up just wearing a windbreaker. I love her.
  39. Caliope tries to tell Saber and company that her brother is dead, which Tyr ruins by showing up in the middle of. When they ask, she says “He is! He just doesn’t know it yet!” which is a power move if she can pull it off. (Spoiler alert: she does not.)
  40. I would just like to say that we are twenty minutes from the end of the movie, and Cynthia Rothrock is nowhere to be found.
  41. During their attack on the ruins, Crotalus runs out of ammunition. She gingerly steps away to reload, asking the others to cover her, and then leaps at her enemy to maul him and rip out his throat. Everyone is impressed, as well they should be. Does Crotalus need a girlfriend or at least someone to take to a costume party as Madame Vastra and Jenny? Because I am available.
  42. Caliope is running around the woods like an evil version of Adrianne Palicki’s Wonder Woman. She and Saber have some banter, but finally seeing Caliope in full natural lighting makes me realize just how Twilight-y the red contacts look.
  43. Sinjin goes full Minority Report to send the last of his forces after Saber and company, which they dispatch via setting their weapons to maximum and then remote flying Fade and Mustache’s ship into Sinjin’s ruins. Which… does the job! Hooray!
  44. Tyr, who was shot in the last attack on the ruins, is totally fine now, except for the fact that his dad is dead and he is now the King of Ares. He takes a conference call from an elf who looks like the albino FBI agent in The Heat, an English composition professor who is just wearing a zip-up fleece underneath a blazer, and Cynthia Rothrock at friggin’ last. This isn’t a featuring role, it’s a cameo!
  45. Rothrock establishes that character is the head of the Sentinel Sisters, who are a galactic force of badass ladies, which is a movie I should be watching right now. Gosh. Can Crotalus come? Can we Kickstart this right now?
  46. Earth appears to be ruled by total buttholes, because Professor Zip-Up Fleece asks Tyr if they could have Saber back to punish him for… you knwo… stuff. Tyr refuses, because he’s actually hired Saber, which technically makes him an Aresian citizen. So… eat Tyr’s shorts, basically.
  47. We then cut to Saber and company on Saber’s old-timey ship. Fade has switched to a red lippie (A+) because she and Saber are finally going to get down. Crotalus, in her perfection, walks in and rolls her eyes because everybody saw them hooking up coming from a mile away.
  48. And then nothing else matters, because Mustache strolls onto the bridge without his helmet, revealing a beautiful cascade of mahogany curls. My God. What a look.
  49. Meanwhile, in green screen hell, Sinjin tells Caliope that he’ll teach her how to use magic—of course, that means her head will turn into a soft-boiled egg of evil, but! She’ll get to control giant robots! Why this is the sequel hook and not the Sentinel Sisters is beyond me, but, hey, I’m game!
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