The cinematic magic and wizardry
of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen inspired a number of young monster movie
fans to dabble in the art of stop motion effects. Some of these individuals
went on to have very successful, long-lasting careers in this field, while films
such as EQUINOX, FLESH GORDON and LASERBLAST are good showcases of just some
of the talent at hand. Like those three movies, 1978's PLANET OF DINOSAURS was
another independent (produced outside the studio system) effort, obviously paying
homage to the grand Harryhausen creature fantasies which proceeded it. Extremely
low budget (the way we like 'em!) this effects-driven sci-fi adventure actually
won the "Science Fiction Film Award" for its stop-motion monster designs.
Due to a malfunction, a spacecraft is forced to land in a body of water of an unknown planet. After the first causality, a busty communications officer (Mary Appleseth), succumbs to an underwater reptilian creature, the remaining crew comes to the conclusion that the planet may not be as peaceful as it looks. The obnoxious "boss" Harvey (Harvey Shain), the commanding officer Lee (Louie Lawless) and the no-nonsense, sensible Jim (James Whitworth, "Papa Jupiter" from THE HILLS HAVE EYES) all try and run things their own way as they encounter a number of prehistoric creatures, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Stegosaurus, a Brontosaurus, a Policanthus and a menacing oversized spider. The other members of the crew (Pamela Bottaro, Charlotte Speer, Chuck Pennington, Derna Wylde and Max Thayer, the latter the star of ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS) fight for survival against the mammoth threats thrown upon them, as well as ponder whether or not they'll ever make it back to their home planet.
Featuring actors sporting bushy hair and mustaches (many viewers have made comparisons to porno performers), colored jumpsuits doubling as futuristic space-wear, overall clumsy acting, a grating synth score and an spaceship interior which looks like it was built in some neighbor's garage, PLANET OF DINOSAURS can't hide its bargain basement production values. Shot mostly on location with some very scenic natural California locations, the film has gained a reputable following because of its excellent stop-motion dinosaur effects, which come very close to what we've seen in much higher budgeted, higher-profiled big studio endeavors (the matting work here is credited to the great Jim Danforth). Most impressive is the T- Rex, though all the dinos look great, and this humble little effort also makes homages to 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS during its proceedings. A mix of no-budget sci-fi action and very impressive animated monsters, PLANET OF DINOSAURS is a must for stop-motion enthusiasts, and those allured by "bad" movies will also want to give this one a stab.
A staple of budget label VHS and DVD companies, PLANET OF DINOSAURS has finally been given an official digital release, with this 30th Anniversary Edition (though the cover mistakenly states "20th") from Retromedia, now being distributed by Infinity Entertainment. An onscreen notice before the film warns that the film was mastered from different 35mm and 16mm sources, as the original materials are no longer in presentable condition. The transfer does exhibit some lines, splashes of blotches, and muted colors on several occasions, but all in all, the presentation is very watchable, with decent colors, good picture detail, and only occasional grain. The film has been presented anamorphic in its original 1.85:1 ratio, and the framing looks proper throughout. The mono audio is also fairly clean, with no noticeable problematic issues.
The disc features a commentary with director James K. Shea and FX artists Doug Beswick, Steve Czerkas and Jim Aupperle. Nicely moderated by Retromedia-head Fred Olen Ray, the commentary is very informative and enjoyable, touching upon how the film came to be, the actors involved, the script, the locations, and most predominately, the special effects, which are discussed here in great detail. Rounding out the extras are two original TV spots for the film, as well as two silent-era animation shorts from Willis O'Brien: "Ghost of Slumber Mountain" (1918) and "Dinosaur and the Missing Link" (1915). (George R. Reis)
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