Before it became a global franchise to rival McDonalds, it’s worth remembering that when George Lucas first set out to make Star Wars, it was only because he’d been thwarted in his attempt to get the rights to Alex Raymond’s comic strip hero Flash Gordon.

Growing up, Lucas had loved the creaky old Universal film serials of the ‘30s starring a former Olympic swimmer as the square-jawed hero defending the Earth from the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless on the planet Mongo and, after trying and failing to get a Flash Gordon movie off the ground, Lucas decided to make his own science fiction swashbuckler, an epic space opera that would capture the spirit of the serials, the adventure, the romance, featuring exotic creatures, a beautiful damsel in distress, an evil empire to be overthrown, space pirates and a hero who saves the day. And just like his beloved serials, it would have an explanatory front crawl, explaining the story so far to the audience. The rest, as they say, is history.

In its wake, Star Wars inspired a tsunami of space adventures, studios rebooting existing properties like Star Trek or throwing money at anything with a spaceship and a guy in a hairy dog costume, the smaller, independents churning out cheap, low-budget knock-offs, some good, some bad. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, our video stores were full of the likes of The Ice Pirates and Battle Beyond The Stars, where invention and fun made up for their lack of polish and big-budget special effects. We may not have video stores anymore but Aussie writer/director Shane Abbess’s sci-fi throwback Origin Wars (known in most other territories as Science Fiction Volume 1: The Osiris Child) would have been prime Saturday night rental fodder, going down great with beer and a takeaway.

Origin Wars sees Daniel MacPherson’s alcoholic starship trooper Kane patrolling the skies above an Earth colony on behalf of the obligatory evil corporation who are terraforming the planet. Down on the surface however, evil prison warden Temeura Morrison is busy experimenting on his more troublesome charges, turning them into genetically engineered monsters, half man/half dinosaur, the Raggeds, that the corporation can use to clear other planets of their populations to make way for more colonies.

When a riot at the prison releases the Raggeds and they immediately head for the nearest human settlement and start eating the inhabitants, evil general Rachel Griffiths decides to nuke the planet, and its population, in order to cover up their secret experiments, leaving Kane just a few short hours to go rogue and find his young daughter Indi (Teagan Croft) who’s alone in the capital city, Osiris.

Crash landing on the surface, Kane is forced to join forces with laconic escaped con Sy (Kellan Lutz) and a semi-incestuous pair of meth heads (Isabel Lucas and Luke Ford), the mismatched crew of antiheroes venturing into a virtual warzone to save the missing Indi before time runs out…

Selling itself as the unholy offspring of Star Wars, Mad Max and Riddick with a non-linear structure and chapter headings filched from the Supreme Cinema Magpie Tarantino, Shane Abbess’s Origin Wars rattles along at warp speed, never pausing long enough to let you pick holes in its comic book, ticking clock plot, creating a believable, lived-in universe where actions have consequences and peopling it with fallible, all too human, protagonists.

Following Gabriel and Infini with Origin Wars, Abbess is a virtual one-man Aussie B-movie sci-fi revival, making the most of his shoestring no-budget, performing Roger Corman-esque miracles to deliver a quality slice of hokum and there’s a loving, handmade quality to the Raggeds, eschewing CGI in favour of a mix of puppetry and actors in costume which may not be particularly believable but lends their interactions a character often lacking in a collection of pixels. They look great close up, like the resulting issue of a night of passion between a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback, but in longer shots their creaky immobility looks arthritic and Abbess wisely only allows us glimpses of them on the rampage.

While Morrison chews the scenery like it’s prime beef, seemingly drawing on Tommy Lee Jones’s similarly diabolically unhinged prison warden in Natural Born Killers and Lucas and Ford are about as likeable as a cranked up Die Antwoord, there’s strong chemistry between the mismatched MacPherson and Lutz and, for once, Teagan Croft’s Indi, the Osiris Child of the international title, is a child protagonist you don’t want to see die horribly.

For all its creativity, there’s little fresh or original about Origin Wars. There’s a planet that looks like the Australian desert, a highway out of a Mad Max film, a floating space station in the clouds that calls to mind Flash Gordon, nippy space fighters dogfighting, an obligatory bar scene and some really big guns but the film’s cheeky charm and Abbess’s obvious love of the genre breathe fresh life into the familiar old tropes making Origin Wars just the shot of adrenaline us old B-movie addicts crave on a Saturday night.

DVD Review: Origin Wars
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (8 Votes)

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