Friday, November 30, 2007

PLANET OF DINOSAURS

Uber-low budget sci-fi schlock saved solely by some stunning stop-motion animated prehistoric beasts, PLANET OF DINOSAURS (1978) chronicles the adventures of a group of spaceship crash survivors on an uncharted world populated by, well, dinosaurs. As they struggle to survive on the hostile planet, they find themselves plagued by the attentions of a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex, and soon come to the conclusion that if they are to have any future at all, the savage carnosaur has to go.

The acting is terrible, about on par with porno films of the same vintage (seriously, these folks are horrible!) -I mean, c'mon, the only "name" in the cast is James Whitworth (THE HILLS HAVE EYES)! - and the story is paper-thin. Even the locations - mostly Vasquez Rocks and its environs - are overly familiar from TV shows and B-Westerns. But the stop-motion effects are great, and many of the people who worked on them went on to bigger productions, like TV's JASON OF STAR COMMAND and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Like I said, it's not a good film. But I've also been pretty honest in admitting that I can put up with a lot of crap in order to enjoy well-crafted, handmade special effects. And the stop-motion sequences in this film - if not quite up to Ray Harryhausen or Jim Danforth standards - are very well done and very enjoyable. The animation models are nicely detailed and move believably, and the animators even throw in a few nice homages to previous stop-motion films. There's a monster in one scene that's a dead ringer for Harryhausen's "Rhedosaur" from THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, for example.

In fact, much of the animation footage from this feature has been cannibalized over the years by other low budget filmmakers (like Retromedia's proprietor Fred Olen Ray, who's used shots from PLANET in several of his B-movies, including THE PHANTOM EMPIRE and WIZARDS OF THE DEMON SWORD).

Retromedia’s 30th Anniversary Edition (although it says "20th" on my DVD cover) presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, sourced from both 16mm and 35mm elements. Some parts of the film show serious damage, while the rest looks surprisingly decent. There’s a commentary track with director James Shea and effects artists Doug Beswick and Steve Czerkas, as well as a couple of vintage TV spots and two silent stop-motion shorts by KING KONG’s effects genius, Willlis O’Brien.

Recommended for fans of Ray Harryhausen-styled effects and dinosaur buffs.

BUY: Planet of Dinosaurs - 20th Anniversary Widescreen Edition