DVD Review: PLANET OF DINOSAURS (1977)
My only memory of this movie is when this Styracosaurus chases this guy up to the edge of a cliff, impales him on its horn and throws him over. This is one of two movies I remember where I was shocked to see a stop-motion monster kill someone. Most of the stop motion movies I watched when I was a kid were from Ray Harryhausen and the most violence they ever had was having some monster fall onto a person in it’s death throes and crush them, or in the case of the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) pick up a tree and squash them with it. No blood, just out of sight and you get the impression they were killed.
Equinox (1970) and Planet Of Dinosaurs (1977) were different. The former had a gigantic simian demon pick up someone, whale them against a tree and slam them against the ground with an audible splat. Towards the end of the film a stop-motion Satan swoops down and embeds his talons into this poor chick, it then reverts to human form showing it’s human hands embedded in her flesh. In the latter flick we see the Styracosaurus’ horn impale a human being, and then we see that human lying at the bottom of the cliff, stomach covered in blood, blood gurgling out of his mouth.
For a young kid who was heretofore brought up on G-rated monster movies seeing something Ray Harryhausen may have had a hand in creating shedding bloody violence was traumatizing. And because they were those two movies became cauterized into my wounded mind thus making them “memory movies” in the extreme. And for me most of my “memory movies” are my favorite ones.
I don’t believe I ever watched the rest of Planet Of The Dinosaurs, though having just seen it again, the second time since childhood, the giant spider attack suddenly brought back memories, and that occurred after the Styracosaurus attack. It’s possible now I may have seen more of it afterwards.
Planet Of The Dinosaurs is about a group of humans aboard a spacecraft in some unnamed, far-flung future, when the rector goes belly up they jump into the escape ship and get away just as their mother ship vaporizes. Lucky for them they were near an earth-like planet. They crash land and that’s when the fun begins.
None of them know what they are up against until one of the surviving chicks tells the others she forgot to bring the escape transmitter to shore. See they crashlanded in a lake and had to evacuate right quick before the ship sank. She says it’s probably floating out there somewhere. One of the guys takes off to get it and the chick jumps in to help; within seconds an aquatic dinosaur gobbles her up.
Hottest chick in the movie and she gets offed right in the beginning.
It’s not long before they all realize they’ve crashed onto some kind of planet of dinosaurs and it’s not long before they are fighting moments of melancholy for their earth home, each other, and, yes, the dinosaurs themselves.
For a B-movie I found myself noticing the subtext of future man with all his technology being rendered nearly inoperable the instant it gets taken away and then thrown face first into a survival of the fittest situation he’s never been, or even evolved to have been, prepared for.
What is man without his technology?
Answer: a caveman.
But no one watches a 1977 B-movie titled, Planet Of The Dinosaurs, for the subtext, you watch it to see humans battling, ah, dammit, what’s the word I’m looking for, oh yeah… DINOSAURS!! Especially when someone who knows what the fuck they are doing animates those dinosaurs expertly in stop-motion fashion. Enter Doug Beswick who’s done stop-motion work on When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970), Ticks (1993), Evil Dead 2 (1987), Beetlejuice (1988), A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1986) and even that Sunday morning religious series we all loved back in the day, Davey And Goliath (1971-1975).
Before putting this on I was a little worried it wouldn’t hold up. Not the stop-motion, but the movie around the FX. I have encountered a few “memory movies” from childhood that have shockingly not held up to the memories I had of them (i.e. The Eye Creatures, Zontar: The Thing From Venus), but I was relieved I was able to fall right into the story once they crashed on the planet. It’s pretty much hard not to identify with any stranded-on-a-desert island scenario, or in this case a stranded-on-an-alien-planet scenario no matter how low or high budgeted the movie is. We can all relate to the feeling of never seeing home again and trying to survive on nothing more than our own wits.
Dammit, there I go with the subtext again.
The stop-motion FX is integrated very well into the live action and Jim Danforth’s matte paintings. The movie reminded me of Equinox (Danforth worked on it, too) and I swear I saw a similar location used in that movie, as well. Checking the filming locations on IMDB for both indicated, however, they were shot in two different places.
Okay, so, I was wrong.
Inevitably the cast is whittled down and the ending is pretty much what you can guess it is. No one makes it off the planet, despite their previous attempts to set out some beacons a rescue ship might see when scanning the planet. We shoot ahead to an indeterminate time, enough to show how the survivors have chiseled out a niche in their alien-familiar ecosystem, built a domicile, created a farm, rid themselves of their futuristic clothing in favor of more caveman-like attire and started a family evident by the presence of a 3 year old now.
Ever since I got on the net on a regular basis (from 2010 on) and gotten integrated into the collecting movies community, especially those in the horror and science fiction genre, I’ve noticed there are some “memory movies” whose 35mm elements have been either deliberately/accidentally thrown out, not properly stored and taken care of (I’m looking at you Roger Corman) or have gone just MIA, resulting in sub-par DVD transfers from whatever remaining elements have been left behind.
Retromedia’s The Jitters (1989) DVD was mastered as perfect as Fred Olen Ray could get it from it’s only surviving source, a professional grade VHS tape. On the commentary the director even states all the original elements of this film are just no longer in existence.
Roddy McDowell once said Hollywood has no sense of history. That may be true but I can’t totally blame them. Who could have foreseen DVD technology, HD televisions or the DVD collecting community that would arise and demand high-grade transfers, deleted scenes and everything else we love that comes with these celluloid special edition memories.
Who could have foreseen there’d me a market for any of this?
I remember being a kid and having a brief moment of wonder about the shows I was watching. I am now 45 and my God there’s a couple of channels in existence that actually cater to old TV series. I never could have foreseen those shows would have had any kind of long lasting shelf life.
So it was of no surprise that when I popped Planet Of The Dinosaurs on this disclaimer comes up before the movie begins:
Due to time and circumstances the original 35 mm elements of PLANET OF DINOSAURS are no longer fit for transfer. This presentation has been created from one of the few remaining 35 mm prints and is reconstructed in the most distressed areas from the producer’s 16mm film element.
I’d say 95 % of the transfer is pretty damn good looking though. But even with those less than perfect frames on display it’s still very much watchable.
This particular release Retromedia made is actually a re-release. They originally released this DVD back in 2007, and after a while it went out of print. The old specs have been transferred over which contradict the new specs on the right. I’m talking about the aspect ratio. The old specs say it’s a 1.85:1 transfer but the new specs have it listed as a 1.78:1. The difference between the two, I believe, is minimal and shouldn’t impact your viewing pleasure. It would have had the old transfer been 2.35:1. There’s a big difference there. But have no fear the current transfer is anamorphic (aka enhanced for 16×9 televisions).
The audio is also the same, English Dolby Digital mono, and it sounded just fine to me.
There are no subtitles.
Extras from the old release have been ported over as well. To date all of Fred Olen Ray’s commentaries have been great. Here he moderates, asking all the right questions, to Director James K. Shea, Writer Jim Aupperle, Executive Producer Steve Czerkas and stop-motion animator Doug Beswick. Listening to it I became aware of the all the nods to stop-motion artists Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen they inserted into the film.
Speaking of O’Brien you also get two silent shorts titled, Ghost Of Slumber Mountain and Dinosaur And The Missing Link. Last but not least you also get two TV spots for Planet Of The Dinosaurs.
I missed this release when it first came out, but have obviously rectified that travesty. I think what we need now is a sequel that uses good ol’ fashion stop-motion again. It’s too bad that FX is now a lost art. Well, at least, we still have these memory movies to bask in.