Movie Review – Arena (1989)

Director: Peter Manoogian

Stars: Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Marc Alaimo, Armin Shimerman, Claudia Christian, Shari Shattuck, Michael Deak, William Butler

It’s been decades since a human has won the intergalactic fighting championship. But when chef Steve Armstrong (Satterfield) gets fired, he’s forced into the arena to pay off his debts. As he tries to show the world that humans can last in the ring, machinations behind the scenes threaten to derail his challenge. Will he manage to overcome impossible odds? Only time in the arena will tell.

Arena definitely falls into the category of ‘so bad it’s good’. There’s so much wrong with the film and yet I loved it (my flatmate did not share this opinion). There were a couple of things I genuinely liked. The fact that humans are seen as a bit rubbish is rare in films, and in this one they’re just another race of aliens. There are some nice external shots of the station on which the arena is located, and most of the make-up on the aliens is good. The actors also seem to give their best, even though the script is weak. Speaking of the make-up it must have eaten up a large chunk of the painfully low budget, and there’s a prevalence of fish and lizard heads.

The film is striving for a vibe like Rocky but never has the depth of emotional intelligence to be anything other than a cheesy flick. The fight scenes, which should be the foundation of the film, lack dynamism and are repetitive. Satterfield, while bearing a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeve in facial structure and in his earnestness, plays a character who it’s hard to feel any sympathy for and when he wins it feels like a hollow triumph. The less said about his costume, which looks like an adult nappy, the better.

However, as a Trekkie it was cool to see a couple of Deep Space Nine actors share the screen together, and Alaimo added some menace. This is the kind of film that I think would benefit strongly from a remake because the core concept is fine but the story structure needs a lot of tweaking. So it’s a fun movie to watch if you want something that’s bad without being a waste of time. I can affectionately trash this movie but I don’t hate it at all.

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