Arena (1989)

Charles Band’s “Arena” is a blast. And for a movie with such a small budget that is dated beyond belief, that’s quite an endorsement. There’s something about the imagination and creativity behind “Arena” that makes it such a treat to sit through. It’s such a simple and straight forward science fiction action film that it doesn’t even try for anything complicated or adult. If there’s ever a film that could use the remake treatment and become a fantastic action genre picture it’s this 1989 film from director Charles Band that sets down on an intergalactic wasteland where aliens do battle in a ring for sport and money amidst crowds of onlookers and fanatics.

We meet chiseled underdog Steve Armstrong, a human being in the middle of an alien world who is reduced to cooking in a restaurant to make ends meet with his boss Short, a four armed humanoid. Desperate to prove himself, Steve watches the Arena tournaments daily, studying tactics and skills. One day after a mishap with a customer, Steve battles a tough alien and is discovered by local agents who recruit him to do battle in the Arena and redeem the nearly extinct human race once and for all. But as he meets success and championships, he must also face a crooked alien mob boss who is intent on fixing matches and controlling Armstrong, all the while hoping to control the competition once and for all. “Arena” has a lot going for it, as it’s mainly a fun action film that can appeal to mostly any audience. The budget primarily is in the make up and special effects as most times, the film presents quirks that reveal chinks in the armor.

The make up and creature effects are often above standard, with most of the alien breeds popping out on screen, but if you look closely in the crowds during the arena matches you’ll notice that the audience watching are nothing more than cardboard cut outs, slickly draped in shadows. There’s a lot of editing skill involved that works around revealing the low budget quirks that bog down the production and that has to be respected. Shorty’s four arms are so well cut it’s tough to notice when they’re using an extra to mimic his extra arms or when they’re implementing a dummy for the actor. A lot of “Arena” involves Steve working to battle the corruption behind this competition and Band focuses on the battles for a better portion of the film giving the audience something to chew on between the character dynamics and dialogue.

Paul Satterfield is apt as hero Steve Armstrong, presenting a humility and bravery that makes him a great protagonist for the story, all the while the choreography involving the characters are almost seamless and performed quite well. I had a good time watching these monsters do battle in the ring and it makes for some good action fodder to see the story revolve these competitions. “Arena” is a film that deserves a second look because it has a great concept and a good head on its shoulders. I had a really good time seeing where the fate of Steve Armstrong would take him in his journey to become champion. While dated and cheesy in some respects, it doesn’t hold down what is a considerably entertaining and action packed science fiction film that is worth a watch for its entertaining premise, and sheer imaginative creature effects and prosthetics. I guarantee a good time going in to this “Star Wars” clone.