From their amicable work together over the late 1950s and early 1960s, Roger Corman produced several small, now-forgotten Francis Ford Coppola-directed features. Battle Beyond the Sun, technically, is his first feature-length film. How much involvement he had in the creation, direction and editing processes is beyond me, although I cannot imagine he had much say in anything so early into his career. It is better that way, with the clunky narration opening audiences up to a nuclear holocaust that wiped out much of the Earth. Rival powers wage war, because what else is there to do? Space exploration in film is fuelled rarely by peaceful notions, and often by simmering rivalries between two great nations. Battle Beyond the Sun opts for that latter option within seconds, leaving no room for change.
Fuelled by the waning days of the Atomic Era, it is at least interesting to see the effect it has on the script. Battle Beyond the Sun is filled with its Cold War fever but never amounts to anything. Narration holds the hand of the audience far too much. The idea of “show, don’t tell” is lost on Coppola and, to a greater extent, directing pair Mikhail Karzhukov and Aleksandr Kozyr. Their framing devices are odd and mismanaged, very amateurish at times too. They cannot control where their camera is placed or why, often cutting mid-dialogue or, broadly, when it is not necessary to do so. Still, it makes for a flash of distraction, away from the mindless, broken English that flows from the mouth of anyone on screen.
Noticeable dubs are not a problem, but poor dubs are. Battle Beyond the Sun has, unfortunately, the worst of both sides. Dialogue that presents conflict but no depth, characters that are asinine and forgettable, yet are expected to keep the plot moving. There is nothing inspired, quotable or insured in its right to exist. They are on shaky ground for much of the running time. Whenever they speak, they say nothing of note or interest, yet it is of absolute integral desire for the story to process their wordy jargon and lack of interest. What battle they speak of, I am truly not positive on its effect, nor am I sure on the effect of their empty gestures and wordplay. For a film to base itself so frequently on its script relies on the premise that the writing is up to the challenge. It is used to hide away the rougher edges, but when the writing itself is rough, it’s hard to hide behind it.
Perhaps its ambition flies too high. There is a great style buried within, again that post-Atomic Era, but it is not realised until it is too late. We are stuck exploring the tonal formalities of space travel. Still, at least Coppola is there with us, and I assume he is as scared for the future as we are. Not of the Earth, but of his own career. How much impact he actually had on Battle Beyond the Sun is unknown, and I doubt it is more than minimal. A Soviet film that was re-dubbed and bought out by Corman. The quality was never going to be a stunning display of ingenuity for any director. A similar state to What’s Up, Tiger Lily? from Woody Allen, whose actual stylistic and directing choices on the film itself are minimal. Coppola has merely been locked away in an editing room with Roger Corman and a few days to kill.