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Arena (1989) finds producer Charles Band cashing-in on the popularity of kickboxing and pro-wrestling in the late eighties. In a stroke of what could be called marketing genius, Band dresses his sports movie up like Star Wars (1977) with a bevy of alien creatures and futuristic outfits. Arena is pure escapist fun with just a hint of political messaging that is anti-capitalist and anti-class segregation.

Arena, directed by frequent Charles Band collaborator Peter Manoogian, follows a by-the-numbers sports script. What elevates the film are the creature designs. For a low budget Empire Pictures release the aliens in Arena easily outshine their progenitors in Star Wars. Arena accomplishes a similar kind of instantaneous world building through its alien characters as Total Recall (1990) and its Mars mutants. The alien beings suggest a world of the future whose complexity cannot be communicated in a single film. This conceit is one of the more alluring aspects of Star Wars and Arena recreates it effectively.

Fans of science fiction will revel in the casting of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine regulars Marc Alaimo and Armin Shimerman as heavily make-uped bad guys in Arena. The Star Trek connections go even further than the casting. The plot of Arena itself owes something to the Star Trek episode “The Gamesters of Triskelion” which aired in 1968. In addition, the costume worn by Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield) in Arena resembles the quasi-bondage gear that William Shatner sports in “The Gamesters of Triskelion”.

But, unlike Star Trek, Arena never manages to articulate the high concept themes implied by its drama. The film is set in a de facto “Mojoworld” but without the pointed social commentary. The rules of spectatorship and sportsmanship in Arena are tied to class and race, but the ramifications of this social economy only exist as set dressing. Arena is exactly what the X-Men villain aspires to: mindless entertainment. Sometimes mindless entertainment is enough.