2/24/09

R081 Planet of Dinosaurs

(1978, SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

The Least-Interesting Nature Hike You’ve Ever Been On: The Motion Picture

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:

Shipwrecked space travelers are marooned on the eponymous Planet of Dinosaurs.

Summary:

There were dinosaurs in the 1970s, right?Cheesy low-resolution dinosaur graphics float through space behind endless opening credits. The upper deck of a really cheap spaceship detaches moments before the main body of the ship disintegrates without warning. Hirsute talking heads on monitors shout incomprehensible jargon at one another. They crash in the waters of an alien planet; the crew manhandles each other’s polyester jumpsuit-clad buttocks while they jump through a porthole one at a time. A badly superimposed ship-like model slides downward through footage of a river, by which I assume the filmmakers wish to imply that the ship fragment is sinking. (By the rate and angle of descent, I’m guessing they also wish to imply that the river in question, thirty yards wide at maximum, is more than half a mile deep). The survivors heave themselves up on shore to take stock of their situation.

Their situation is not good. They’re on an uncharted planet, millions of light years away from the nearest inhabited planet and the top-heavy dim bulb redshirt in charge of the homing device lost her grip on it during the swim to shore. Shirtless Chuck and Top-Heavy Redshirt strip to their skivvies and swim out after it, but a pair of rubber jaws and a lot of fake blood pull Top-Heavy under. Shirtless Chuck abandons their last hope of rescue and retreats to shore.

Shirtless Chuck in all his glory.For lack of anything better to do, Captain Lee marches somewhere between six and twelve bejumpsuited castaways across the countryside. Occasionally they stop to gawk at stop-motion dinosaurs that the makers of Gumby would be ashamed of, and once the smarmiest (and second hairiest) character gets gored and dumped over a cliff by a monoclonius. Dinosaur footage only takes up four, maybe five minutes of the travel scenes at best, though. The rest is walkin’ and restin’.

Sixty to seventy minutes later, the castaways finally arrive at their arbitrarily chosen destination. At Captain Lee’s insistence, they put up a palisade to keep out predators. The hairiest crew member, Savage Jim, rather reasonably protests that this defense is weak and porous. Then he less-than-reasonably demands that they arm themselves with primitive weaponry and head out to hunt the local tyrannosaur, thus proving their alpha predator status and warning all the other predators to stay away. The captain whines the rest into reluctantly hiding behind the palisade for a while, but then the local tyrannosaur shows up, stomps right through their poor attempt at a fence and chomps the Half-Shirted Slut.

Savage Jim takes command. First they stuff a stegosaurus carcass with poison berries and leave it outside the tyrannosaur lair, waiting just out of sight to see if he eats it. The tyrannosaur stomps out, ignores the poisoned meat, and chomps down Faux Jeff Foxworthy. Next, they set up another palisade of sharpened, poison-coated stakes. Struggling to regain his lost authority, Captain Lee irritates the tyrannosaur into leaving the others alone until the stakes are finished, and then leads the dinosaur through them. Impaled and poisoned, the T-Rex dies.

Years later, the last survivors and their children wear skins and live on dinosaur meat. Frizzy-Head Nurse opines that it doesn’t matter whether they’re rescued or not, but she’s paired off with Shirtless Chuck, while her only fellow female survivor Fragile First Officer had previously expressed a preference for Savage Jim. As the odd man out, Captain Lee would probably have a different opinion.

Thoughts:

This poster gives a false impression of the movie by featuring way too many dinosaursDirector James Shea apparently studied at the Roger Corman School of Filmmaking. Sure, there’s the occasional special effect and a half-hearted action sequence or two, but mostly this film’s about walking. Walking and resting. Walking, resting and mustaches. Walking, resting, mustaches and form-hugging polyester. And, okay, maybe six or seven minutes of dinosaurs.

Also, more than any other film I’ve bothered to look up on imdb.com, Planet of Dinosaurs makes a very strong case against user-driven rating systems. As of right now, imdb rates it at an average of 4.3 out of 10, with most users scoring low and a large minority scoring high. However, at least one of the high scorers praises it for being “the first film to utilize flatulence as a soundtrack”. While I concede that this is an accurate statement, I'm puzzled as to why we need to consider it in the movie’s favor. I mean, if the movie was about flatulence, then sure, maybe (but probably not). It’s not, though. It’s barely even about dinosaurs. But hey, if fart-based film scores are your thing, and you don’t care about context... Okay, I guess what I’m trying to say is that imdb commenters tend to use rather suspect rating criteria.

Since so much of the running time is taken up with aimless wandering, much of the commentary has to deal with this. By the time the marching/resting/marching has gone on for twenty minutes at least, Mike says, “This is leeching every last bit of hope and joy from my soul. I wonder if that's what [the filmmaker] was going for?” A while later, Bill chimes in as the Captain to remind everyone, “The plan, once again, is to walk around silently without purpose.” Kevin fixates on the groovy hair and revealing polyester. “How did the cast of a seventies porn movie get their own spaceship?” he asks. The comment made most often had to do with the casual way the members of the cast touch each other at almost every opportunity: “You feel good. You been workin’ out?” By itself, Planet of Dinosaurs is one of the worst films they’ve done since Rifftrax’s inception, and yes, I’m counting all those dreary social guidance shorts and the raft of the moldy “classics” they re-riffed earlier this year. On the other hand, they’ve filled the movie’s many empty spaces fairly well, somehow managing, against its will, to keep the film from dragging. The riffers manage to pull the whole thing right out of “tedious” and just over the border of “reasonably entertaining”.