American International Pictures’ JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET is a Danish/American entry in the science-fiction sweeps of the 1960s which came to fruition though the combined efforts of director Sidney Pink and Danish writer Ib Melchior (PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES). This cultish matinee space mission flick now lands on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
The story begins with a narrator speaking as a rocket prepares to lift off. "There are no limits to the imagination. And man's ability to make reality out of his visions is his greatest strength. Through this skill he has been able to conquer time and space. The story you are about to see takes place after man has solved the complex mysteries of space travel. The year is 2001. Life is changed now. The planet Earth is no longer wracked by wars and threats of annihilation. Man has learned to live with himself." The countdown ends and the rocket is off! "The United Nations is the sole governing body of the world and the great hunger now is for knowledge. All the planets near the sun including Saturn have been explored and chartered by the UN Space Fleet. But as yet no sign of life in any form has been discovered. The search goes on, and systematic exploration continues. Spaceship Explorer 12 is now on a mission to survey, land and investigate the seventh planet, Uranus."
The five UN astronauts are Captain Don Graham (John Agar, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS), Commander Eric Nilsson (Carl Ottosen of REPTILICUS fame), Barry (Ove Sprogoe, THE OLSEN GANG), Svend Viltoft (Louis Miehe Renard) and Lt. Karl Heinrich (Peter Monch). They have no idea their lives will be irreversibly altered as they speak about their favorite topic: the women in their lives. An evil force dominates Uranus, a gigantic brain that emits wavelengths which cause the astronauts to hallucinate their greatest fears and most cherished desires. First, the frozen nitrogen/ammonia atmosphere and foreboding Uranusian landscapes transform into idyllic Scandinavian forests with cabins and campfires. Our spacemen encounter some really sexy female companionship in the form of some lovelies, starting with the aptly named Greta (Greta Thyssen, TERROR IS A MAN) and a host of other seductresses. As Captain Graham blithely remarks of one of his conquests, "She was German, a biological expert. And was she biological!" To further manipulate the men with fear the omniscient brain-force (voiced by Julian Burton, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) makes a giant spider and a one-eyed dragon appear and menace them. All of the men aboard the Explorer 12 are well on their way to temptation, danger and a wild ride to nearly the end of the Solar System!
Imaginative or at least different in execution, JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET owes a lot to the previous decade, when space travel pictures to strange planets with even stranger creatures were in vogue, but somewhat updated in that its story predates similar themes found in “Star Trek” years later, adding a bit of early psychedelia. By today's standards, the special effects are very dated and slapdash in a campy sort of way; however, one has to consider that all of this looked pretty good on a big drive-in theater screen back in 1962. The cavern-dwelling Cyclops-dragon (which is called a “rat thing” in the movie, referring to one of the spacemen's fear of rats) isn't exactly up to prime Harryhausen in the quality department, but it’s actually the work of special effects greats Jim Danforth (WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH) and Wah Chang (MASTER OF THE WORLD), creating monster scenes which replaced ones in the original Danish version (and the roar of the Cyclops-dragon was actually taken from the Toho film RODAN). There is a giant spider attack which is actually blue-tinted footage from AIP's earlier EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958), shot in black and white, and this U.S. version also uses some footage from an earlier “Cinemagic Inc” Melchoir/Pink/AIP collaboration, THE ANGRY RED PLANET. Also, look for a brain monster constructed from a large piece of tripe!
Astute listeners may recognize music tracks in JOURNEY that had been utilized in other American-International product. As John Agar falls into an ice pit made of shaved styrofoam (referred to as "quick ice") the music is definitely that of the late Ronald Stein and is recycled from Roger Corman's 1957 hymn to reincarnation, THE UNDEAD! Additionally, the song "Journey to the Seventh Planet" by Jerry Capehart and Mitchell Tableporter with the velvet voice of crooner Otto Brandenburg is again restored here (during the film's end credits), as it was missing from an earlier VHS release but present on MGM’s previous DVD. Otherwise, the music score, credited to Ib Glindemann, is a dreamlike passage into the dark regions of the solar system, and is very fitting to the shenanigans in the movie. In all its cheapness, JOURNEY has a fairly remarkable look to it, in the form of its haunting cavernous sets and vibrant colors. Not only are the babes in the movie eye candy, but so are the colorful spacesuits with electric blues, neon reds and phosphorescent yellow helmets with clear front-pieces which look like the were taken from welding masks. The terrain and landscapes for the most part are equally rich throughout and employ all colors in the spectrum.
John Agar had been a fixture in science fiction films for years, so it’s not surprising he was cast here in his last really decent film of this type (the future brought WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, ZONTAR: THE THING FROM VENUS and CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE, the latter two for director Larry Buchanan). Agar is grinning throughout the film, and obviously never taking things too seriously (and certainly not phoning it in), though the optimistic attitude of the story rather calls for that (that and the fact that the actor is playing opposite heavy-accented foreigners who were then re-dubbed). The lovely Thyssen, Miss Denmark of 1952, basically plays herself (her last name is mentioned) as a pin-up girl that Agar’s Captain Graham is planning a big date with and later lusts after when on Venus and all the mind tricks are in play. So there’s not much for the actress to do, and she was actually better utilized in the Philippines-lensed TERROR IS MAN (aka BLOOD CREATURE), as well as several late 1950s Joe Besser era Three Stooges shorts which she was spotlighted in and quite delightfully so. Out of all the other lovely European actresses, Ann Smyrner will likely be the most familiar, having also appeared in REPTILICUS, THE BLACK COBRA, HOUSE OF 1000 DOLLS and MISSION STARDUST.
JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET was previously available on DVD through MGM as part of their “Midnite Movies” line on a double feature with INVISIBLE INVADERS. Since the previous DVD transfer was non-anamorphic, there’s a nice jump in quality here with the new HD transfer for this Blu-ray (the same transfer is also being released on standard DVD), presenting the American cut of the film in 1080p in a fitting 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It looks fantastic, especially considering that the film was shot on a shoestring budget with the photography and color processing not of the caliber of most Hollywood productions of the time. Colors are now distinct and bold, and fleshtones now appear more realistic. The image is well-detailed and clean with the expected instances of built-in film dirt which surface during the optical effects scenes, as well as scenes which use stock footage. The organic look maintains some welcomed filmic grain which is never too excessive. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English language track is fine, with dialogue, music and sound effects all playing through clearly. There are no subtitles options on the disc.
Tim Lucas is on hand for an audio commentary, as he eloquently covers everything you want to know about the film over its 77-minute running time. Lucas mentions that Melchior supervised this version but was never invited to the Denmark set, and that Pink’s version was considered unacceptable by AIP, who removed scenes and added new bits (including the Danforth/Chang effects) and different music under the post-production supervision of Melchior. Lucas covers the differences between Pink’s original cut (Lucas indicates that it may no longer exist) and the final release print, and also gives details on the actors (Agar came in to LA to shoot a few extra bits for the new cut), the dubbing, special effects, the sets, music, and he includes quotes from Melchior and Pink (both no longer with us). A trailer for the film is included, as are trailers for DONOVAN’S BRAIN, INVISIBLE INVADERS and THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (all due out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber). (George R. Reis and Christopher Dietrich)
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