Planet of Dinosaurs (1979)
By: Trist Jones on August 5, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Good Times Video (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 1.0. 84 minutes
The Movie
Director: James K. Shea
Starring: James Whitworth, Pamela Bottaro, Louie Lawless, Harvey Shain
Screenplay: Ralph Lucas
Music: Kelly Lammers, John O'Verlin
Tagline: Trapped in a nightmare world of prehistoric monsters.
Country: USA
I love dinosaurs. My earliest memories all involve dinosaurs in one way or another. When I was young, I could sit through all kinds of terrible movies just for a glimpse of a dinosaur. Even if it was only for a minute fraction of the film's running time, the whole cinematic experience - be it good or (more often) bad – was completely justified by the appearance of a single prehistoric beast. Of course, I'm a bit older now and my tastes in films have developed substantially. I still love a good old fashioned dinosaur flick, but I now know the difference between a good film and a bad film, and Planet of Dinosaurs is indeed, a very bad film.

I'd been dying to see this film ever since I was really little, and I'd never been able to find it anywhere. Some people may remember this – back in the Eighties, there was a television special called Dinosaur! which, hosted by Christopher Reeve, talked generally about dinosaurs, but had a large number of clips from various dinosaur classics such as One Million Years B.C., The Valley of Gwangi, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and King Kong (to name just a few). There was also a slew of fantastic stop motion sequences (courtesy of stop motion and effects guru Phil Tippet) that have been reused here and there for other documentaries (prior to the advent of CGI technology). However, having seen most of the films that were featured in the special, there were a number of fantastic stop motion sequences that I didn't recognise, but loved nonetheless. It took me around sixteen years to find out what this film was called, and just the other day, I finally had Planet of Dinosaurs in my grubby little dinosaur-loving mitts.

Now, if you're not a dinosaur fan, you have absolutely no reason to watch this film. It's awful. Really, really awful. Made somewhat surprisingly in 1979, Planet of Dinosaurs sees a group of tracksuit clad astronauts escaping the imminent destruction of their starcruiser thanks to a runaway reactor – whatever that means. You're immediately treated to possibly the most spectacularly crap opening sequence that pretty much sets the standard for acting and technical proficiency for the rest of the film. Anyway, seven of them get away in an escape pod before the ship blows and end up crash landing on an uncharted planet, which just so happens to be inhabited by dinosaurs, and as their ship sinks into the swamp they crashed into, the crew soon find themselves stranded with no way to communicate off the planet and hunted by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. As the film progresses you begin to realise how futile their efforts to escape actually are, and ultimately, how pointless this film really is.

As soon as the actors open their mouths, you know that you're watching a movie with a haggard script. The general mis-en-scene is flat out atrocious and the acting is amateurish at best. The only cast member to really do anything vaguely recognisable outside of this film is James Whitworth, the mutinous survivalist who also played Jupiter in The Hills Have Eyes parts 1 and 2. Everyone else just seems to meander through with their generic characters in their rather comfortable looking tracksuits from the future and it becomes another hilarious game of "Who Dies Next?" The entire male portion of the cast is probably the most formidable collective of stale acting you'll ever lay eyes on (except for one guy, who plays it up so much he looks like a complete jackass), and it's even harder to take them seriously when they all have hilarious 'porno' moustaches and sideburns and wear space suits rivalled only by the Robinson family in terms of fashion sensibility and practicality. At least the women try – especially Mary Appleseth, who plays Cindy, the comms officer. She tries really, really hard – so hard in fact it looks as though she's passing a stone with every line. She's also the only member of the female cast to wear a bikini under her space-tracksuit… they must have had Jacuzzi's or something on their cruiser…

As much effort seems to have gone into the camera work and lighting as the acting. It may have just been the budget DVD transfer, but there are portions of this film that are almost visually unwatchable (thankfully, none involving dinosaurs). They're so poorly lit or exposed that all you can see is a mass of black and blue and a couple of blurry shapes ambling about on screen. The only way to tell what's going on is by listening to the dialogue – if there is any. This could come down to being a fault of the DVD transfer, or the print it was sourced from, as I'm sure the clarity in the Dinosaur! documentary was light years ahead of this. Every shot is a static shot, so there are no neat little tricks with the camera here, and some of the shots go on way longer than necessary. Some are even repeated a few times over, especially in chase or travel sequences.

On top of all this bumbling hilarity of a film is one of the most bizarrely inappropriate soundtracks you are ever likely to hear. The whole time, I was picturing some New Wave, experimental, German synth guru wearing big sunglasses, surrounded by keyboards and gigantic Apple computers, randomly tapping keys to create the most bizarre cacophony of noise he could, then loudly proclaiming it to be his finest work. The sound that accompanies the laser beams is equally hilarious.

Still, in spite of all of this, chances are the only reason you've bought a film called Planet of Dinosaurs is to see some dinosaurs. In fact, if you have bought this film, or are planning on doing so, you have a care factor of zilch when it comes to anything but the dinosaurs, and thankfully, this is where Planet of Dinosaurs truly delivers the goods. The stop motion in this film is pretty damn good. No scratch that – it's really damn good. It's not Harryhausen for sure, but for a no-budget film almost completely devoid of talent anywhere else, the dinosaur effects are surprisingly awesome. The only sad part is, much like any other stop motion dinosaur flick, the actual dinosaur sequences are far between, though not as few as others have been in the past. It's obvious that the people who made this film realised that people want to see dinosaurs when they come to these films, so they appear a bit more frequently than in films like Gwangi and One Million Years B.C., even if they don't serve any purpose other than to be seen. The Tyrannosaurus Rex pretty much owns this film and dominates everything it comes up against, and it's one of those forces of nature that you really wish would come out on top in the end. There's a hilarious sequence where the jackass I mentioned earlier disturbs the eggs of a Styracosaurus, and finds himself chased across a plateau. He tries shooting it with the laser, only to discover it has no effect on the beast and winds up being gored and dropped over the edge of a canyon. The editing that follows is a comedic goldmine!

I'll be honest in saying I was genuinely surprised by just how many dinosaurs were present in this film, and quickly realised where the budget for this film had gone. The choices of dinosaurs was also a little surprising, but each made for something cool to look at, as they were (for the most part at least – the close up shots of the Tyrannosaurus Rex opening it's maw weren't exactly crash hot) really well done and thankfully don't become victims of the terrible print. One little bit of trivia too, the lizard-like dinosaur the Tyrannosaur head chomps is actually the creature used in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
The more I think about it, the more I'm sure the print used for the DVD transfer is less than spectacular and contributes largely to the shitty visuals present. The clarity on the Christopher Reeve documentary leaves the DVD for dead, and we're talking about a VHS tape that's been around almost as long as I have, so there must be better prints available, or at least were at some point. The colours are horrible and a lot of night shots have colours bleeding all over the place. In the same stead, the night shots are so dark it's almost impossible to see what's going on (rest assured though, none involve the dinosaurs). There're also huge amounts of damage in some sections of the film. Nothing that really gets in the way of watching the film (or skipping to the next dinosaur) but it's definitely there. The film is also presented, unsurprisingly, in full frame.
The audio is clear, though it's obvious little to no attempt has been made to clean it up at all (remember though, this is a very, very cheap DVD). It's a straight mono track here, and nothing really spectacular.
Extra Features
None whatsoever. No surprise though.
The Verdict
Let's see, you've got an awful DVD of a film with nothing really going for it outside of the dinosaurs. Unless you're a sadist, or a fan of terrible cinema there are better things for you to spend your hard earned three dollars on. It really is a horrendous film with little redeeming value in the eyes of the general public – outside of dinosaurs, Converse sneakers and figure hugging trackie-dacks. However, if you're anything like me and can overlook the garbage in favour of unbridled stop-motion dinosaur mayhem then Planet of Dinosaurs really will endear itself to you. So for that select group of us out there, this is a bargain, as the effects (for us dino-boys/girls at least) really are quite good and the dinosaurs have plenty of screen time to make you happy. The dinosaur fanboy in me gives it a three for the dinosaurs alone, but ultimately this is a film review site, and the film reviewer in me would only give this half a star, so the two are going to come to a two star compromise. Remember… it did only cost three dollars…
Movie Score
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