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Movie of the Day – Arena (1989)

Posted on the 22 May 2012 by Plotdevice39 @PlotDevices

Wow, I am pulling this movie memory from way back in my childhood spent staying up late at night and watching that free HBO my parents had.  I only remember this movie because I rewatched Real Steel a couple of nights ago and instantly thought about that one movie that was like Rocky, but in space.  Arena is the schlockiest of B-Movies, something that SyFy would be proud to make but wouldn’t even come close to the level of originality and effects that Arena had.  I distinctly remember this film for the ridiculous cast of aliens and the fact that boxing in space is way more exciting than Earth boxing.  But after rewatching this film on Netflix (go watch it it now) this film really was something special.

Movie of the Day – Arena (1989)

Though bereft of budget, the 1988 sci-fier Arena has its heart in the right place. The scene is a distant planet, where extraterrestrial gladiators square off in an arena. Earthling Steve Armstrong would like to prove his fighting skills, but the evil planetary ruler Marc Alaimo won’t let him. After an intensive series of training sessions with martial-arts expert Claudia Christian, whose father used to run the arena, Armstrong is at last permitted to display his prowess in public. He also gets a chance to topple Alaimo’s despotic regime, and, hopefully, to win himself a trip back to Mother Earth. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

I will hand it to director Peter Manoogian for working with what was a small budget and making a memorable B-movie.  The plot is ripped from every other boxing movie out there, except for the intergalactic space setting, and the characters all fit the familiar archetypes from the seductive vixen, slimy fight promoter, overzealous champion and downtrodden boxing champion.  It’s that all too familiar tale of climbing up the ranks of the boxing universe to become the champion, but that is not why I like this movie or even remember it for that matter.  The main reason I love this movie is because of the effects.

Movie of the Day – Arena (1989)

Keep in mind that was made in 1989, so computer graphics were terribly limited and that required the purest imagination to come out and develop convincing makeup and animatronic villains to inhabit the intergalactic world in which Arena exists.  From Horn, the cybernetic bi-pedal bull champion, to Sloth, the lumbering grasshopper blob that fighter Steve Armstrong fights, are all created with prosthesis, makeup and mechanized puppets.  It’s really kind of amazing seeing these creatures walk and fight in a world that is farcical, but captivating.  It all looks convincing and as a kid, when I watched this, it looked pretty damn sweet seeing these aliens slugging  it out in the Arena.

Arena is that perfect mix of earnest effects with the B-movie grandeur that is a hallmark of cult status films.  The fact that I still remember the film is a strong indicator at how memorable this film can be.  You got far out looking aliens, the familiar underdog story that permeates sports movies and the harsh, grimy slugfest that takes place in the arena is a fantastic mixture for a film like this.  The aliens still look impressive when you take into account the small budget and era when this movie was made, but regardless of those factor, Horn is still a pretty imposing figure in the space boxing federation or whatever it’s called.  The fighting is interesting, if not illegal in boxing terms, but the nice twist and take on the sport is what makes this movie unique.  Overall, just give it a watch.  I mean it is streaming on Netflix and if you like Rocky, well this is sort of like Rocky, except with cybernetically enhanced aliens.

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