In 1960, Italian director Antonio Margheriti entered Italy into the space race (at least as far as the cinema was concerned) with his low-budget “epic” ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE. This small film was a considerable success when American International Pictures distributed it stateside on a double bill with THE PHANTOM PLANET in 1961. That same year, Margheriti returned to the science fiction genre with a slightly larger budget and a name actor (Claude Rains) in LA PIANETA DEGLI UOMINI SPIENTI which was released in the United States in 1963 under the title BATTLE OF THE WORLDS on a double bill with the bizarre ATOM AGE VAMPIRE. After taking a hiatus from the science fiction world for a few years, Margheriti became something of a rival to Mario Bava in the horror movie department with such films as CASTLE OF BLOOD (1963) and THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) both starring Barbara Steele and HORROR CASTLE (1963) starring Christopher Lee. In addition, Margheriti jumped on the “sword-and-sandal” bandwagon with HERCULES: PRISONER OF EVIL (1964) which was issued directly to United States television via AIP-TV. In 1965, American producers/writers Walter Manley, Ivan Reiner and Joseph Fryd along with funding from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer entered into a co-production with Margheriti to produce four science fiction adventures set on the futuristic space station, Gamma One. The first of these campy cult classics is 1965’s THE WILD, WILD PLANET. The folks at Warner Home Video have now made this film available as part of their very successful made-to-order DVD archive collection.
On an Earth of the not-too-distant future, scientist Dr. Nurmi (Massimo Serato) is experimenting with human organs in a bizarre effort to create perfect human specimens. Working with Dr. Nurmi is a man-made race of beautiful female robots and their equally robotic male servants who miniaturize hapless citizens of the United Democracy in order to kidnap them and take them back to the planet Delphos where they will be subjected to further experiments. Working to save the United Democracy is the intrepid commander of space station Gamma One, Mike Hallstead (Tony Russell). Together with his fearless crew, they race against time to save Mike’s girlfriend, Lt. Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastoni) from the clutches of Dr. Nurmi who plans to “fuse” part of his body with that of Lt. Gomez to create a bizarre hybrid.
THE WILD, WILD PLANET was originally released in Italy under the title I CRIMINALI DELLA GALASSIA (CRIMINALS OF THE GALAXY). The title was most likely changed to THE WILD, WILD PLANET by MGM to cash in on the wildly popular television show, THE WILD, WILD WEST. The actors play their roles about as woodenly as people can get and the special effects are somewhat less than special in certain scenes (especially some of the miniature space cars…somewhat similar to the cars from THE JETSONS), however, the film does feature some interesting ideas such as the look of the female robots and their eerie looking male robot slaves. No doubt the female robots were an inspiration for the “fem-bots” from the Austin Powers films of the 1990s. Also, some of the futuristic settings are interesting and eye-catching. In addition, the musical score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (who also scored GORGO, GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, amongst others) is suitably eerie in spots and lends some atmosphere to the darker scenes. The scenes in the Proteo Theater are a riot however as viewers are treated to a strange futuristic revamping of Madame Butterfly.
In both the United States and Italy, the film was very successful and Margheriti directed three more adventures set on Gamma One. These include WAR OF THE PLANETS (1965), THE SNOW DEVILS (1965) and WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS (1966). WAR OF THE PLANETS and THE SNOW DEVILS also had U.S. releases 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, THE WILD, WILD PLANET was not re-mastered specifically for this release, but is an overall good effort nonetheless. It is not pristine by any stretch of the imagination, but the colors are very rich and the overall picture is quite clear. There is some evidence of scratches (VERY minor and not really a significant detriment to viewing enjoyment). The picture is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement for 16x6 television sets. The sound is excellent 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 film.
Hardcore Italian science fiction fans will definitely want to check out THE WILD, WILD PLANET. The film is nowhere near as good as such Mario Bava science fiction classics as PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and DANGER: DIABOLIK however on its own campy terms, it is quite a harmless way to spend 92 minutes. (Joe Cascio)
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