Arena (1989) — It’s Rocky in space, what’s not to love?

“A hand for the boys in the band, and remember, I hate your guts!”

Justin’s rating: Deep Space Nine vs. Babylon 5!

Justin’s review: For some of us who grew up on Star Wars: A New Hope, the Mos Eisley cantina scene was the most captivating part of the film, what with its wild assortment of bizarre alien getups. And if that was true for you, too, then I’ve got a movie that’s basically an hour-and-a-half of kooky alien costumes and abrupt violence: 1989’s Arena.

On a space station deep in the cosmos, everyone’s totally crazy about gladiator bouts in the titular arena. Aliens, robots, and humans alike fight for prize money and glory, usually with artificially induced handicaps to even the odds between wildly mismatched species.

Our hero is the aptly named Steve Armstrong, a naive dork who can’t make it as a short-order cook but perhaps has the makings of a decent fighter. He’s recruited by Quinn (Babylon 5’s Claudia Christian) to fight on her team and earn enough money to get out of there. But first he’s got to learn the ropes and help his four-armed friend Shorty to get out of some trouble.

Let me be frank: Arena is all about groovy alien designs first, with actual plot and deep character acting a very distant second. But I’m actually cool with that, because the eye candy is a total blast here. This isn’t the alien roster of the Enterprise, it’s a collection of seedy types that would populate a run-down station and run all sorts of scams and double-crosses.

I was really impressed how they pulled off a four-armed alien or some of the more grotesque characters. I don’t know what the budget was here, but whatever it was, it had to have been small — and stretched to creative lengths with some of these creature designs.

The idea of an interstellar Rocky is not a terrible one, even if Steve is somehow less charismatic than Sly’s original character. He’s surely as much of an underdog, especially since some of the aliens outweigh him by a pickup truck or so. At least he’s plucky and can take a punch!

A better Steve aside, my biggest wish for this film would have been for fights that were better choreographed and edited. These here lack a lot of the visceral impact and weight that boxing really needs.

Ultimately, I guess the question of whether or not you should see Arena comes down to this question: Would you watch a Star Wars if Luke was a bit more dense and tried to break Han Solo out of carbonite by knocking out Jabba the Hutt in a boxing ring? Those that say “yes” may not be operating with a full deck but at least they have their movie.

Didja notice?

  • Those are some thicc matte lines
  • Is that a robot or a cyborg in the opening fight?
  • The arena’s handicapping system
  • The four-armed alien is well done — and he’s got 27 kids
  • And now a musical holographic interlude
  • The alien stand-up comedian
  • Three future Star Trek actors to two future Babylon 5 actors
  • “No one’s been able to get into that INFERNAL COMPUTER!”
  • That is some rather unconvincing kissing
  • Space bedsheets should always being highly reflective silver

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