In 1965, Italian director Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony Dawson) directed the first of four science fiction films set aboard the futuristic space station Gamma One. These films were co-produced with American producers Joseph Fryd and Walter Manley and three of the four films were partially financed and released in the United States by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. THE WILD, WILD PLANET was the first of the series which enjoyed considerable box office success both in Europe and at the United States drive-in circuit. Today, that particular film is remembered for its kitschy futuristic sets and special effects and more-than-campy fashion design. Shot back-to-back with THE WILD, WILD PLANET was its immediate follow-up, WAR OF THE PLANETS. Now the folks at Warner Home Video have made this film available as part of their very successful made-to-order DVD archive collection.
In the 21st century (remember this film was shot in 1965 and the 21st century seemed light-years away), the astronauts and scientists aboard space station Gamma One are joyfully celebrating New Year’s Eve in a very peaceful galaxy. However, that peace is soon shattered by shapeless aliens emitting a strange green light. They are the Diaphanoids from Mars and their intent is quite clear…to inhabit the bodies of the astronauts and scientists on the space station and eventually conquer the world. It is up to the intrepid leader of Gamma One, Commander Michael Hallstead (Tony Russell) and his crew including Captain “Jake” Jacobitz (Franco Nero in an early role) and Hallstead’s girlfriend, Lt. Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastoni) to declare war on this menace.
WAR OF THE PLANETS was originally released in Italy under the title I DIAFANOIDI VENGONO DALLA MARTE (THE DIAPHANOIDS COME FROM MARS). Like THE WILD, WILD PLANET, the acting is equally wooden although unbilled French actor Michel Lemoine (PLANETS AGAINST US and Jess Franco’s SUCCUBUS) does reasonably well as a possessed scientist. There are also some atmospheric scenes such as when the astronauts investigate Gamma One’s sister space ship, Delta One and discover everyone frozen in a weird, green-tinted type of suspended animation. This scene looks like it was inspired by a similar scene from the 1963 Czech science fiction classic, IKARIE X-B1 (U.S. title VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE). Like THE WILD, WILD PLANET, the director of photography was Riccardo Pallotini. In addition, like the previous film, the musical score is also by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (who also scored GORGO, GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, amongst others) and features a rousing opening theme over the credits. However, the overall film itself is rather boring without the campy appeal and involving story of THE WILD, WILD PLANET.
This film was successful enough to encourage two more follow-ups…THE SNOW DEVILS (1965) (reportedly being issued on DVD by the Warner Archive Collection in 2011), and WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS (1966). In both films, Tony Russell’s Commander Hallstead was replaced by no-nonsense Commander Rod Jackson (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart). THE SNOW DEVILS also had a U.S. release through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer while WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS was later picked up by Fanfare Films in 1971. This film is most remembered by genre fans under its television title PLANET ON THE PROWL when Teleworld Films syndicated it to television in the 1970s. On DVD, WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS is available from Dark Sky Films on a double bill with the 1962 laugh-riot, CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS.
As part of the Warner Archive Collection, WAR OF THE PLANETS was not re-mastered specifically for this release, but overall is good, although not as good as THE WILD, WILD PLANET. It seems this DVD was taken from an older print source and although the picture is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 television sets, there is evidence of some scratches and other print blemishes throughout. The colors are good however and the sound is fine as well. As with many of the Warner Archive DVDs, there is no menu page or a chapter stop menu. The viewer can move ahead though at ten minute intervals throughout the presentation.
Italian science fiction fans will definitely want to get WAR OF THE PLANETS as a companion to THE WILD, WILD PLANET. It is by no means a great film (THE WILD, WILD PLANET beats this one hands down), but there are worse ways to spend 94 minutes. (Joe Cascio)
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