Turkish Star Wars
In the annals of 'so bad they're good' cinema, one film came from humble origins to shock the internet. Opening the eyes of many to the glorious world of Turkish 'mockbusters', it quickly came to be known as Turkish Star Wars...
During a fierce space battle, two Turkish fighter pilots, Murat and Ali, crashland on a mysterious planet, formerly known as the Earth. They soon discover it is under the tyrannical rule of an evil wizard, who seeks a human brain to give him dominion over the entire universe. Will these earthlings be strong enough to stop him and his armies?...
Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, translating to The Man Who Saved the World, is a 1982 sci-fi picture, starring Turkish action sensation Cüneyt Arkın, and reliable star Aytekin Akkaya. After releasing in its home country, it was obscure for decades, until film buffs in the west discovered it, earning it a new fan name that stuck fast.
Turkish Star Wars has been labelled as one of the worst films ever made, and given the complete lack of budget, 'borrowed' footage, and the unbridled lunacy, it's hard to argue with that, but it is so entertaining, and wholesome in its DIY nature that it's hard to dislike.
Turkey is known for its 'mockbusters', making their own unauthorised versions of properties like Superman, Batman, James Bond, Rambo, etc. While most of these films were content to simply copy the ideas, Turkish Star Wars is an outlier in that it actually pinches footage, directly from A New Hope! This wasn't common, and it makes this a pretty unique film, even among its own type. Certainly the most audacious!
In terms of local mockbusters, Turkish Star Wars actually comes quite late! The majority of these films were from the 60s and 70s, and after the Yeşilçam era ended abruptly at the dawn of the 80s (due to political turmoil), films were still made, but there was a definite change [in the air]. Although, while this does come as late as 1982, you wouldn't know it to look!
The story in Turkish Star Wars is completely nonsensical. If you watch this without subtitles, you won't have any idea what's going on. If you watch with subtitles, you're gonna be even more confused! The film begins with a massive infodump about the future, space, nuclear war, shields made from magical brains, planetary destruction, and more. The lore is never kept straight either. All humanity became one tribe, but Turks still exist, and humanity flourished in a space empire, but the earth was also destroyed, sort of. These futuristic pilots come from Earth, yet the primitive planet they visit is also Earth? We see lots of ancient Egyptian landmarks, but are told they're futuristic? The wizard needs a human brain to rule the galaxy...so the humans here are apparently not human, otherwise he could just steal their brains? And this is all without getting into what the wise man says later. If you're looking to make sense of the story here, good luck!
In-case you're wondering if the story itself actually has anything to do with Star Wars, the answer is No. If anything it's got more in common with Flash Gordon. The film is set on a desert planet, and we do get a cantina scene, but that's it.
The two heroes are an entertaining pair. Stoic, but comical, and most definitely badass, their exploits range from tearing off monsters' arms and using them as weapons, to catching swords in their mouths and karate chopping them to pieces! The main hero is Murat, who eventually finds a sacred golden sword and brain (Arkın had a thing for impractically large swords!), which he eventually melts down and shoves his hands right in, which somehow manages to create a perfect pair of gauntlets!
Ali meanwhile is captured during the midsection, and makes a mistake due to desperation, which you think he'll die from. But then he survives, only to die quite suddenly and randomly later on.
One point of interest is the film's Islamic themes, which don't seem to be talked about as much in comparison with the wilder aspects. These make for a pretty unique sci-fi film, even if it can verge on the slightly patronising.
The Star Wars footage used here is almost exclusively from the Death Star Battle. What's going on is tenuous at best, with ships being good or evil at complete random, scenes are reversed, or played out of order, and at one point during the final battle we even see the earth (aka Alderaan) being destroyed, despite that not happening.The pilot scenes are hilarious, with the leads just being seated in front of projectors as they play Star Wars behind them, sometimes even changing scene as they fly.
Besides Star Wars, there is footage from other films here too, such as Sodom and Gomorrah (which I had to google), to The Magic Sword (which I recognised on my own!). These are spliced in pretty well, and there's a decent(ish) amount of effort to mesh the different footage.
Once you get past the pinched footage, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam has some decent visuals, if not high-budget. The film is shot in Cappadocia, which fits well for an alien landscape. There's a good amount of extras, and sense of scale. Say what you will about how the film looks, but you don't direct 100 films without picking up at least a little experience.
The editing is insane, going all over the place with many quick cuts. This all adds to the almost hallucinatory feel the film has. Some scenes are showm through a viewfinder for no apparent reason. It's particularly funny at the end, when the wizard is karate chopped in half, and this is shown by blacking out either half of the screen.
The effects here are cheap, hilarious, and adorable, in equal measure. The props are like cardboard, and the imagery for things like lasers can get pretty creative, like actually scratching the film. Special mention must go to the costumes. They are designed seemingly at random, with strange devil genie masks, to giant red teddy bears, skeleton knights, and more. While they look straight from a kids' TV show, what genuinely impresses is just how many there are! They come apart really well too, with the heroes often karate chopping off whole limbs and heads, or knocking them right in half.
The music is likewise taken from various sources. Most notably, the soundtrack to Indiana Jones, with the famous theme playing non-stop. You're bound to get a laugh every time it plays, from the sheer brazenness, to the fact that it's from the wrong George Lucas movie! The most original piece is the opening theme, which is surprisingly mellow muzak. Whether it's an original composition I'm not sure, but it's a fun listen, and a neat alternative to the Star Wars theme.
The acting here is cheesy, but the cast do their best. Cüneyt Arkın and Aytekin Akkaya are fun leads, and have charisma, even if Akkaya's stoicism can look wooden at times. And they're real troopers too, not only for some of the conditions they deal with, but also for taking such an insane film so seriously.
The action in Turkish Star Wars is a highlight, and one of its most distinctive features. It is ridiculous, in the best way! The heroes use karate and jump around like they're on trampolines. The best bit is by far the training montage, now one of the film's most famous scenes. From karate chopping rocks in the fakest way possible (for good reason, since those are real rocks!), to hurling styrofoam boulders till they explode, and strapping giant rocks to their legs as they run and jump, it's the funniest thing you could imagine.
One thing that helps the action excel is that as cheesy as it is, the performers do know what they're doing. And the film certainly delivers! Some people wonder what the Turkish reaction to this was, and if it was pure embarrassment, but considering they went in to see these stars kicking ass, I don't think any audience members were disappointed!
Turkish Star Wars is a bonafide cult classic for good reason, and more than lives up to its reputation. If you're looking for a fun popcorn time with friends, or just curious about out-there cinema, it's well worth a watch...
Turkish Star Wars 2: Turks in Space
In the year 2055, a Turkish spaceship flies through the stars on a rescue mission. Flighty captain Kartal is searching for his missing friend Gökmen, but after 8 years the bored crew has pretty much given up. They finally get a new lead after a collision with an alien craft, and explore the alien world of Lunaticia. Now they must contend with Zaldabar, son of an evil alien warlord. But why does he look so similar to Kartal? And can he save this world, just like his father saved Earth so many years ago?...
Turkish Star Wars sat in obscurity for many years, before exploding in popularity once the internet discovered it. Following this, it got a chance very few of its kind, if any, ever got. A sequel! The Son of the Man Who Saved the World (Dünyayı Kurtaran Adamın Oğlu), or more simply, Turks in Space (but most commonly referred to by the bootleg title), came out in 2006, 34 years after the original.
Since its release, Turks in Space has been little seen, and has garnered a reputation as being worse than its predecessor. Some of this is put down to it trying to be a knowingly bad movie, while but others were disappointed it had real special effects, rather than continued use of Star Wars footage. That first point I can understand, and I'll get into my own opinion later. As for the second, I'm sorry to say but copyright laws have in fact improved in Turkey since the 1970s. You'll still see a few knockoffs, and unoriginality is rife, but as the world gets smaller and lawyers get more vicious, I'm not exactly gonna blame the filmmakers for not going the lazy route and stealing footage.
I went into this with an open mind, hoping to like it, but expecting it to be bad. Having finally seen 'Turkish Star Wars 2', I can safely say it's a hidden gem! =.
While it may be a cash-grab on the first's sudden internet popularity, the film never tries riding its predecessor's coattails. This has good and bad sides. The good is obvious, while the bad, if you could call it that, is that is doesn't really have much to to with the first film's story, and is in no way consistent in time or place. Ordinarily that'd be a warning sign, but remember how incoherent the first film is? What we're told doesn't match with what we see, and what we see doesn't match with what's happening.
Interestingly enough, this makes more of an effort to be like Star Wars, with a few gags here and there, although it's predominately its own thing. It also climaxes in a lightsaber battle that hinges on the villain not being someone's father!
The film is low on callbacks or in-jokes, the biggest being a funny comment on the 'brainless' aliens of the first entry. Besides being a Turkish Star Wars sequel, the film also pays respect to the original Turkish name, The Man Who Saved the World. The only problem however is Cüneyt Arkın's fleeting appearances.
As I said, I've heard some criticising Turks in Space for being self aware, but I disagree. The film is comedic, but not strictly a comedy, per se. The plot is lighthearted, but takes itself seriously, and is never obnoxious about being a sequel to a famous 'bad movie' ("HA HA, aren't our effects so terrible? It's funny because we know we're bad!"). At its worst, this is just a random lowbrow comedy, and people who call it one of the worst films ever made need to see more movies, and stop jumping on bandwagons.
The story is fairly basic, and has a few cliches, but it moves along quickly, and is always enjoyable. There are a few twists and turns, and while you can generally see how things will play out, it's never boring. The ending felt weird at first, like the movie was already over, but it kept going. But by the end I thought it was a good coda, and really wraps up the movie well.
The humour here is pretty successful. While it may be a bit lowbrow at times, it's not like it's an American Pie film, and there's a level of sincerity to it that makes it go down easily. The focus on shipboard antics make this feel more like a Turkish Red Dwarf, which is definitely not a bad thing. One favourite joke was a crewmember trying to figure out the direction to Mecca in space.
As the English title says, Turks in Space makes a lot about the novelty of having Turkish sci-fi heroes, with plenty of over-the-top patriotism. It could be annoying if it was serious, but you can tell it's just a harmless joke. Also of note is that Turks understand a key element to science fiction-Put the word Space in front of everything!
Something that interested me is how the film appears to be influenced by 2004's sci-fi comedy G.O.R.A. They make for interesting companion pieces, and each do things better than the other one. For example, GORA has more planets and proper aliens, while Turks in Space has more spaceships and better pacing/runtime, and GORA is cruder in its humour, while this is milder. So if you found the former too obnoxious and want something similar, but toned down, this is for you. I wouldn't say one is better-They're both pretty equal.
While we're on the subject, I don't think it's fair to call this a ripoff of GORA either. If one film popularises a genre, it doesn't make every new film a cash-grab even if they do owe it their success. I find that a needlessly cynical attitude. If a kung fu film is popular, you're gonna get a lot of new kung fu films-Why complain?! Frankly the world needs as many Turkish sci-fi films as it can get!
The characters are a high point. Kartal is endearing if crazy, and not incompetent. There's variety in the crew, with a robot, AI, men, women, a cheeky but goodhearted kid, adorable little dog, a dotty old lady, etc. We've also got a bit of diversity in the form of a black crewmember, with a neat accent. They have amusing personalities, and get some funny moments, like when discussing past jobs. As lazy or annoyed as they can be, they band together well when the time calls for it.
The villains are a fun bunch. The true baddie rarely appears, but is distinct, and has good scenes. It's Zaldabar who has more screentime, and his character is well-crafted. As Kartal's long lost brother, and the other son of the Man who saved the world, you know he's gonna switch sides, but he has a believable turnaround. He may be villainous, but in more of a comicbook way than being genuinely evil. He does lose a bit of villainous identity after he gets a shave/haircut, but the reason is funny, and the change in appearance works overall. Also you can actually tell they look the same now.
An important crewmember is Gonca, who has an unreciprocated passion for her captain, before being kidnapped by Zaldabar. She takes no guff from him, and even gives out romantic advice! And soon enough, she starts to like him instead. After all, she's stuck on Kartal, but he clearly doesn't love her back, while his twin Zaldabar loves Maya, who hates him. The chemistry between these two then comes naturally. Their whole dynamic reflect well on Gonca too. She falls for him, but instead of betraying all her old friends, she's able to bring everyone together. Quite a surprising arc for someone who started out as a bit of a ditz!
Alien princess Maya doesn't appear a lot, but is a spunky enough character. In their short time time together, Kartal and Maya share good chemistry. It is goofy that they're so in love after literally only a day, but it's presented well.
Not only is the human crew after Gökmen, last seen lost in space, we also get some random references to him from the aliens. There's no context to this, just mentioning him out of nowhere. This eventually makes sense and gets decent payoff, but it is weird how he remains an unseen character for so long. This plays into one of the few problems I had with the movie. It's not that it has a few too many characters, since they all have their place, but not all get as much screentime as they should've, like Gökmen, and the assistant captain. The same is true for the Man who saved the world. I understand not giving him a huge role, and there's a good image of him built up through conversation, but he just appears too little!
The acting here is good all round. The lead is Turkish comedian Mehmet Ali Erbil. Vast as my experience with Turkish cinema may be, I'd never seen him in a film before, except for Hababam Sınıfı Güle Güle...which was made almost 30 years before this, so I didn't recognise him. He does a great job with his dual role. He's meek, friendly, and slightly clumsy as Kartal, then stern and authoritarian as Zaldabar, successfully making near identical characters feel different.
The rest of the sizable cast do well, with one highlight being Ayşen Gruda. I was excited to see her name in the credits, and while her role is a minor one, it's always consistent and she's never wasted. She felt like a latter day Adile Naşit, which is certainly amusing when you're famliar with her old roles.
Cüneyt Arkın, star of the last film, only has a brief cameo, and we next see him an hour later, frozen in ice. He doesn't get a proper scene until the very end. This may sound like a cheat, and it kind of is, but part of me doesn't mind, since it allows the film to carve its own identity and not coast on his popularity...On the other hand, he has top billing and is on the poster, front and centre! Surely we could've had a bit more of last film's hero jumping about?...Well, not jumping. I think there's a law about 70 year olds jumping on trampolines.
The effects here are surprisingly good! A lot of it is done with computers, but it never looks fake, and I really liked some of the alien backdrops. Actors are integrated into these environments fairly seamlessly. The practical effects are decent. There's a greater emphasis here on costumes than prosthetics, which is disappointing for those expecting a lot of aliens, although I suppose it does lend an old-school 'aliens all look human' aesthetic. One of the few alien costumes we see is a cheap design which takes the bold stance of asking "What if the three-boobed lady from Total Recall wasn't sexy".
The film is directed by classic Yeşilçam actor Kartal Tibet, who found a second career behind the camera. As far as actors go, he's a pretty decent director, and does a good job here. I particularly liked some of the establishing imagery (although if that's his doing or the effects man I dunno).
The music here is quite good! It has a video game feel in some parts, which is usually a plus in my eyes. There's a surprising minimum on overtly goofy tracks, and there are more which feel rousing and adventurous. There's one particular moment during a reveal near the end that had an inspirational feel to it.
Son of the Man Who Saved the World is a real surprise, and one of the best Turkish films I've seen recently. It's nothing like Turkish Star Wars, but it is what Turkish Star Wars should have been. If you want to watch an eastern sci-fu flick, this is a great choice...