Directed by Peter Manoogian
March 29, 1989
It is the year 4038 and Steve Armstrong is the first human in 50 years to compete in the intergalactic fighting sport simply called “The Arena” but he must contend with a dangerous crime boss on his way to the top.
Our hero Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield) came to this far away space station hoping to break into the sport of Arena but once he got there he never quite could. That was until after beating the crap out of champion fighter Vang (Wayne Brewer) who is managed by Quinn (Claudia Christian) and losing his job on the station and facing deportation because he is unemployed, Steve gets a shot at the bigtime in order to save his friend Shorty (Hamilton Camp) from getting killed because Shorty pocketed money that belonged to local crime boss Rogor (Marc Alaimo) who rules the station through his control of the champions of the Arena sport. And that is all revealed within the first 30 minutes or so of the movie. And I have not even gone into real detail here.
For an hour and a half film that is a lot of events right there. And stuff just keeps coming at you at a rapid speed throughout. They introduced all the central characters and all the basic story elements right then and there and kept adding. A good chunk of the film is fleshing out Steve as a character who falls for Jade (Shari Shattuck), a nightclub singer who is actually the girl of the film’s villain Rogor.
The story in Arena is kind of like Rocky in space if Rocky fought in MMA while out in the cosmos. The Rocky vibe seems to be what they were going for here. Coincidentally the first Rocky was on the low budget side just like this film clearly is. Here they engage in many of the usual sports film cliches. We have crime bosses and the bad girl that turns the head of the hero while he is overcoming impossible odds to make it to the top and not only redeem himself but also help his friends. We even get the down on their luck fight manager that got everything from their dad that meant so much to them.
This was a Charles Band production through his now defunct Empire Pictures. They produced lower budget fare that was not the most sophisticated stuff. This is definitely on the lower budget side and goes through the sports film formula like me checking off a shopping list. And that is okay because it is entertaining and sometimes just being entertaining is enough at times.
The biggest hindrance here is the budget. Band often reached for the stars in concept and hit the hard realities of budget. Robot Jox (of which there is one set from that film in this movie) is a personal favorite of mine, but it did not have the budget to do what it did. Arena is set on a space station somewhere in deep space. It is implied throughout that there are a great many aliens on the station, but you only see a handful and the make up on them is so-so. Weezil (Armin Shimerman) for example has great facial make up but they do not seem to have tried anything else with his hands which are fully exposed. Buy some black leather gloves or something to cover them up! Rogor has slicked back black hair and the coloring of his makeup is reminiscent of Data from TNG. Truth be told Alaimo’s make up was probably their weakest effort in the alien department.
There are a few good aliens though. I am talking about the cyborg Horn (Michael Deak) and there is this one weird thing that reminds me kind of an insect that gives Steve his first championship win. But it is a cheap puppet. This is an obvious budget limitation, but they don’t allow the camera to linger too much on it so you are not pulled out of the moment.
Another issue is that the backgrounds in scenes are largely empty. They get the idea across but aside from the Shorty’s apartment, there is not much in any of them. There is virtually no furniture or more often than not individuals in the background. The night club, the eatery at the beginning, and the fight scenes are the exception. The rest of the time there is nothing. Even Rogor’s office is empty and he is supposed to be rich and powerful. I am assuming the production offices would have some stuff they could have used.
There is a good cast though with the weakest one being Paul Satterfield. He is more reading than acting here. Being a Charles Band production he got the part because he was easily affordable and looked good. Apparently he got better and is still active in entertainment. I cannot imagine if he had not that he would still be working. Claudia Christian would go on a short time from this to make a name for herself in Babylon 5. Marco Alaimo and Armin Shimerman would show up on the far superior DS9 (which is said to be a rip off of Babylon 5). Another DS9 connection is Hamilton Camp who plays Shorty showed up as a Ferengi in the 10th episode of season six called “The Magnificent Ferengi.”
For an extremely low budget film the script is not that bad. It has some interesting ideas if they are going for the underdog giving hope. It does not do too bad of a job executing that but if it had a better budget, I think they could have gone further. Even if the budget is so-so and Satterfield’s acting is mediocre in a good scene the script is decent enough. A good story can overcome a lot and in the end the story is good.
As of this writing this particular film has yet to see a DVD or Blu-ray release that I am aware of. And that is unfortunate. I will say it is a bad movie but it is a bad movie that those involved gave their all to make as good as possible and that makes it good in my opinion. Bad movies that the people behind them never tried to make good come across as just that and there is no enjoyment to be found in them but a movie where the people actually tried their hardest with what they had does contain enjoyment and this one you can tell they tried their hardest.
Arena is a better than it should be low budget science-fiction film. The link below is the only available way I know of to see it. Watch it!