There’s a certain point during Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (the title translates as The Man Who Saves the World, though the film is generally better known as Turkish Star Wars) when you realise that what you’re watching isn’t like other bad films. It isn’t really like anything else at all. For some, that moment will come when two Turkish space pilots crash-land on a barren planet and the one who looks like Ronnie Wood in a Thriller jacket starts doing a special whistle that no woman can resist. Or perhaps it will be when brightly coloured felt monsters slaughter terrified children in a sequence that suggests a massacre by the cast of Sesame Street. Or it may be right at the start, during an opening voiceover that is convoluted and oddly blase (“However, at some point in time, Earth shattered into pieces …”)
But the real mark of distinction, and the audacious touch that has ensured the film’s notoriety since its release in 1982, is that the makers blithely used shots, music and sound effects from other movies. With a budget of $300,000, and with many of his original spaceship sets having been destroyed in a freak storm, the director, Çetin Inanç, opted instead to simply steal footage from a print of Star Wars, which he projected behind his actors as they sat in their cockpits wearing motorcycle helmets and swaying this way and that to mimic the motion of intergalactic flight. Behind them the Death Star looms, and the Millennium Falcon whizzes past; at one point, the back-projection footage even cuts from one shot to another while the actor in the foreground remains unchanged. Star Wars rip-offs are as numerous as Ewoks, but none has been so cheekily, charmingly brazen.
The film has a plot of sorts: the space pilots are pitted against the Wizard, a tyrant in spiky red headgear who needs a human brain to make a weapon that can penetrate Earth’s force-field. Try as he might, he can’t seem to subdue our heroes. After Cookie Monster and friends fail to do the job, the Wizard dispatches skeletons on horseback, a platoon of mummies and a giant teddy bear with tinsel hanging from its claws. When the Wizard buries the heroes alive, they simply climb out of their graves.
But none of this matters as much as the film’s naive tone and its unbridled chutzpah. As well as cannibalised Star Wars, there are chunks of newsreel footage thrown in and unmistakable musical thefts from Flash Gordon, Battlestar Galactica and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Coming across a copy of the movie 10 years ago on Google Video, the film-maker and film historian Ed Glaser was agog. “I’ve never seen a film so brutally, relentlessly entertaining. It keeps chucking unbelievable new things at you. There’s an all-out mummy free-for-all. Then a training montage where the hero punches rocks and overcomes gravity by strapping boulders to his legs. Then a bar-room brawl with red yetis,” he says.
There was every reason to suppose that the film would be consigned to video-sharing platforms and bootleg DVDs for the rest of its days. But in 2015, an advertisement appeared online offering a 35mm distribution print of The Man Who Saves the World for sale. It turned out that back in the 1980s, a Turkish projectionist had held on to a copy, claimingthat it had been so severely damaged it wasn’t worth returning to the studio.
Now it was the only print in existence. “Countless screenings, before and after our heroic projectionist absconded with it, resulted in a lot of wear and tear, with bits and pieces getting chewed up and snipped out,” Glaser says. “So by the time I got hold of it, it was not a pristine print. The colour had faded, and I had to reconstruct parts of it from video sources.” Audiences who see the film on its forthcoming UK tour as part of Scalarama 2018 may be surprised by its fruity, overripe richness; any blips, wobbles and imperfections only add to the retro thrill.
In a way, the resourcefulness, tenacity and – in the case of that projectionist – sheer gall involved in preserving and reviving Turkish Star Wars mirrors the efforts that İnanç and his cast and crew had to undertake to get the film made in the first place. Glaser even thinks the picture has an inspirational lesson to offer to film-makers everywhere. “Sometimes you have to aim above your means,” he says. “The results can be incredible.”
Turkish Star Wars is on tour in the UK from 14 September