1/30/07

902 The Phantom Planet

(1961, SciFi/Religious-ish, color)

You know, Captain, every year of my life I grow more and more convinced that the wisest and best is to fix our attention on the good and the beautiful, if we’ll just take the time to look at it.

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

A lost astronaut helps a race of extraterrestrial Lilliputians fight their canine enemies.

Summary:

You know, Captain, every year of my life I grow more and more convinced that the wisest and best is to fix our attention on the good and the beautiful, if we’ll just take the time to look at it.Intrepid Air Force Space Explorers fly their rocket through a hail of popcorn-esque meteors and endlessly repeating credits in search of…something or other. A giant piece of fried chicken looms out of space to end the expository banter before it becomes informative.

Fortunately, (or rather, unfortunately) the exposition continues back on the lunar base, where a minor general orders crack space explorer Frank Chapman to hunt down the missing rocket. He leaves amid official farewells and in-flight sermons, and soon a bombardment of high-velocity negative scratches breaches his hull. He and his homily-spouting sidekick Makonnen climb the outside of the rocket to repair the damage, taking fire as they work. Makonnen drags the unconscious Frank back into the rocket, and then loses his grip on the door. He floats into space while reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

The rocket crashes on the aforementioned piece of fried chicken, where Frank is immediately taken down by the intense gravity and a number of six-inch men in smocks. He opens his visor, and the chicken planetoid’s atmosphere shrinks him as well. The smock men take him captive and drag him before their diminutive leader, Sesom, for trial. Sesom finds Frank guilty of being an alien and sentences him to get married as soon as possible (I think). Frank must choose between the lovely blond Liara (Colleen Gray, a.k.a. The Leech Woman) or the lovely mute Zetha, but he can have a few days to think it over.

The predatory Liara subsequently takes over Frank’s care, providing exposition while Frank alternately canoodles with Zetha and demands a ride home. Attentions from both women rouse the ire of Liara’s lover Herron, who challenges Frank to a duel. They doff their shirts to sweat and grunt while trying to push each other onto disintegration plates. Frank wins, but spares Herron’s life.

Eventually, Liara shows Frank their prisoner (Richard Kiel, unrecognizable under his fuzzy dog mask), a Solarite who once tried to kill everyone on the planetoid in order to steal their gravity technology. His brother Solarites attack shortly thereafter, riding their flaming granola clusters in for another try. They all perish under Sesom’s withering gravity beams, but the damage to the planetoid allows the captive Solarite to escape. He mauls Sesom and kidnaps Zetha, prompting her to find her voice and scream. Frank and Herron work together to push him onto a disintegration plate, saving them all. Herron takes over government of the planetoid while Sesom recovers, and decides to let Frank go home. He and Zetha express their undying love for one another (apparently the Solarite’s attack taught her to speak as well as scream) and he uses his old spacesuit’s air tanks to grow big again. A search party takes him back to the lunar base, and the last words to appear on screen say, “The Beginning?”

Introduction:

Good thing radiation doesn't affect robots.Crow has challenged Mike and Tom to an Andy Rooney-Off. They all don enormous prosthetic eyebrows and take turns waxing philosophical on the subject of soup.

Host Segment One:

Gypsy tries to end the contest, but the Andy Rooney trio won’t stop jabbering long enough for her to announce the winner. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl reiterates her desire to rule the world. To this end, she has purchased a doomsday machine, only to find it requires some assembly, and the important radioactive “thing” was shipped separately. She and Brain Guy struggle to put the doomsday machine together while Mike et alia discover the “thing” was sent to them by mistake. The ‘Bots want to keep it as a pet, even as the ambient radioactivity causes Crow to grow another eye.

Host Segment Two:

As per the in-film advice of Lieutenant Ray Makonnen, Mike and Tom fix their attention on the good and the beautiful—where “the good” is represented by a Nut Goodie, a plate of sauerbraten, and Eggs Florentine, and “the beautiful” is represented by photographs of Anna Nicole Smith, Tawny Kitaen, and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Crow assemble a model while Mike floats outside in the vacuum of space, frantically banging against the window for them to let him back in. Pearl calls, and the flashing light reminds Crow that Mike asked him to do something, but he can’t remember what it was. Down in Castle Forrester, eerie moaning and metallic clinking agitate Pearl and Brain Guy into fear-induced breakdowns. Turns out it’s Bobo, yawning while he walks around with a bit of chain stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

Host Segment Four:

Tom and Crow take up water glass rim music, and get through the first seven notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star before they invite Mike to join them. Mike declines at first, but is soon persuaded to give a virtuoso performance. The sullen ‘Bots kick him out before they start practicing again.

Host Segment Five:

Crow dresses up as a Solarite, and then berates himself in front of the others. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl’s failed attempts to assemble her doomsday machine have discouraged her. She perks up when a mob of torch-and-pitchfork-wielding villagers arrive, but it turns out they’re bringing her a casserole to welcome her to the neighborhood. She and Brain Guy pour boiling oil on them anyway.

Stinger:

You know, Captain, every year of my life I grow more and more convinced that the wisest and best is to fix our attention on the good and the beautiful, if we’ll just take the time to look at it.

Thoughts:

Extraterrestrial stick-pushing--tonight on ESPN Classic.My children’s favorite recipe usually goes something like this: Take one bag of raisins. Add two splashes of milk. Mix in half the contents of the salt shaker and three fistfuls of curry powder. Add water to taste and stir until Mommy notices what you’re doing and sends you outside. It’s not that I don’t like the ingredients listed above; it’s just that they taste better in moderation, preferably in other recipes.

Naturally, I’m going to wrench this into a metaphor for the movie, whose recipe is as follows: Take one square-jawed hero. Add two splashes of religion. Mix in a pair of alien women and a jealous lover, a fleet of flaming alien dogs, and an old guy in a dress. Add exposition until messy and thin, then stir until the end, which you should rename “The Beginning” for no discernable reason. Any of these elements would work as the center of a better (or at least, more entertaining) film. The problem is that it doesn’t pick one and develop it. Is it a space exploration film? Is it a religious film? Is it a love story? Is it a monster movie? Do its thematic elements imply that the lessons learned will alter the course of humanity as we know it? The answers to all these questions are both “yes” and “no”—where “yes” means “it was in there somewhere” and “no” means “but no one seemed particularly concerned about it.”

In the host segments, the folks at Best Brains finally abandon the overcomplicated plot in favor of straightforward jokes, which turns out better for everyone. The “haunted castle” segment, for example, is just Pearl and Brain Guy working themselves up over Bobo, but without a story to get in the way, they actually get to concentrate on making it funny. My favorite segment has to do with Mike’s casual expertise with water glass rim music, though Tom missing the point about the good and the beautiful, and Pearl “accidentally” pouring boiling oil on the welcoming committee are also quite well done. Oh, and these guys all have Andy Rooney down pat.

The film segments are filled with dry, nonsensical exposition, most of which doesn’t have anything to do with the plot. Fortunately, Mike and the ‘Bots are here to guide us through it; their Herculean efforts manage to lift the explanation-heavy film well above the source material. When the opening credits try to represent space as a tiny screen of blurry dots, Mike says, “Makes you feel really huge and significant, doesn’t it?” During yet another irrelevant speech, Tom notes, “This movie is a filibuster,” while Crow identifies a vague platitude as, “Chicken droppings for the soul.” Much is made of Makonnen’s “the good and the beautiful” speech; thereafter, whenever we see him framed with Frank, someone will say, “You know, Captain,” to which the other two will reply, “Shut up.” The movie’s talky, inconsistent, and dull, but the Satellite crew’s expert mockery makes it worth at least one viewing.