by Dan Collacott
One of the best things about straight to VHS films was the fact they often toyed with insane concepts that would usually only be reserved for video games. Arena is exactly that, it's like someone went 'what if Tekken was a movie' only Arena actually predated Tekken and is far more crap than that idea.
Arena tells the story of a futuristic fighting tournament where alien species dominate. Only this time lead Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield doing an amazing Christopher Reeve impersonation) is fired from his job as a cook and persuaded to become the first human in a thousand years to try and win (easy right?). The competition also uses some kind of equalising system that levels the fight for each participant, no matter what their physical/strength/limb to teeth ratio differences are (and yes despite this they still cheat like absolute bastards). Steve is assisted by mentor/manager/companion 'Shorty', a Bilbo Baggins-a-like who looks like he wandered from the shire onto the set of Arena, where some FX experts then attached two new but non working arms to his body without telling him.
Directed by B-Movie helmer Peter Manoogian, Arena has plenty of cliches and goofy acting plus a garish 80s wardrobe of horrendous outfits, featuring a lot of make up and clothes borrowed from starlight express, including lots of silver, gold, big perms, wide shoulders and shiny/sparkly things. Steve's initial fighting outfit is so weird and camp it looks like something from a very bad Eurovision pop video. Weirdly most of the creatures Steve fights are incredibly slow and cumbersome looking, one of them is even called Sloth and you can kind of see why.
There is a bit of romance between 'no nonsense' fighting promotor Quinn and Steve and the directors clearly spent most of the film trying to recreate the Cantina scene from Star Wars only with the budget and attire of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.'
Aesthetically watching this film made me feel like they had got extras and actual actors from Babylon 5 and every 80s B-Movie FX specialist to create some insanely weird creature FX on their coffee break (the film is alleged to have had a $10 million budget). In a world before CGI the physical effects are great despite this being a low ball B movie (ok maybe 'great' is an over statement but they sort of work). Released at a time when Rocky was absolutely huge, Arena is a true against all odds underdog story, where humanity gets its mojo back when it realises one of their own can win the biggest tournament there is.
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