Friday, 18 July 2014

Rocket Number 9 Take Off To the Planet Venus... On Second Thought, Maybe Don't

So I've recently been working my way through a collection of "sci-fi classics" (or more accurately, a bunch of b-movies, some of which I have no idea where the science fiction aspect is) that I got for Christmas a few years ago. Unfortunately, since I don't know how to make robots out of the parts of my blu-ray player that control when the movie starts and ends, I had to do the riffing all by myself.

There's a total of 100 films and I've so far watched 11. At best, most of the movies have been tolerable or at least enjoyably bad. Some of them are flawed but have interesting enough ideas to keep you going (The Incredible Petrified World), and some are just horrendously bad. Horrors of Spider Island had absolutely no logic to it, almost no spiders (the real antagonist was one of the main characters who somehow turned into an indestructible monster after being bit by a spider) and at one point the plot is literally abandoned just for a party sequence.

Still, the worst so far have been a strange pair of films. The first was Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. This one was really hard to sit through. It's supposed to be about a group of astronauts on an expedition to Venus. I'd call their vision of the planet dated but it makes no sense even by the standards of 1965. 

For those of you who aren't fluent in astronomy, the true nature of Venus was a very recent discovery. At some point in the 20th century, someone looked at Venus and saw that it had clouds. Since as we all know, those could only possibly be created by water, the logical conclusion was that Venus had an Earth-like environment. Then one day we did some further studies and it turned out to be a dry inferno with acid rain. Before that discovery, however, many science fiction writers liked to imagine the possibility of life on Venus. 

That said, the vision of the future in this film makes almost no sense. There's two groups of characters to follow and they're both made up of men who are impossible to tell apart. I've seen this problem crop up before but here they don't even have much of a personality to distinguish them. The only character of any interest is a female astronaut named Marsha, who serves more as a controller from orbit.

It's also another good example of a film that shows it has no idea what it's talking about. It's taken a tip from the Jean-Luc Godard school of science fiction writing: just use throw the word "galaxy" into your script and you'll instantly have a great vision of the future. At the very end we hear a narrator talk about how humans exploring "other worlds and other galaxies".

I think they're missing a few steps there. What about other star systems within our own galaxy? We'd have a far better chance of reaching one of those than we ever would leaving our own galaxy. I hate it when science fiction writers just throw around astronomy terms "galaxy" and "nebula" like that when they clearly have no idea what they mean.

Of course, as if the plot of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet wasn't confusing enough, there's another film tying in with it and I can't make heads or tail of what the intention was. This was called Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women. At first glance, it appeared to be a sequel, attempting to pick up where the first film left off, in which case it would be completely unwarranted as there was nothing in the first film that made me want to see the story continue. 

It looked like it was going to address one unresolved plot thread in the original version, which concerned one of the astronauts hearing the voice of a woman on Venus but never managing to find her. That was until the narration recapping the events of the previous film ended up taking far too much time. It ended up going on for at least twenty or thirty minutes before we got to any of the "prehistoric women", though the sad part is that this summary of events made a lot more sense than the original plot.

However, it turned out to be nothing more than a bizarre and unnecessary re-edit. Basically, the story was more or less the same as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet except it cut Marsha's scenes (some of the more tolerable parts of the original version) and spliced in a bunch of shots of scantily clad women with a sub-plot of their own. They're apparently supposed to be alien, but as you can expect from any b-movie of this sort, it's an exclusively female society. Apparently they reproduce asexually and have a language that by total coincidence is identical to English. Seriously, why do b-movies that do this kind of thing never make an effort to address the obvious questions they raise.

Basically once the "prehistoric women" finally enter the picture, something like 40 minutes in, their plot concerns a creature killed by the protagonists in self-defense. In the original version, this was just a minor action scene that unsuccessfully tried to build tension. In this version, it claims that the creature in question was worshiped by these women, and they want to avenge it by killing the astronauts. It was so bad I didn't even finish the movie, but from what I could gather their scenes are mostly just spliced in among re-edited footage from Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and never really connects to it much.

What was the point of this film? Why does Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women exist? Was the original such a hit as to warrant a director's cut, or is this just supposed to be some kind of sequel or midquel? What was the idea behind making this movie? Why was it necessary to re-edit the film and splice in these scenes of mostly nude women? In what way did the plot of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet warrant any kind of follow-up at all? I can't imagine it was because the film was so gripping people wanted to know about the woman whose voice that astronaut kept claiming to hear.

I have no idea. Whatever the filmmakers intended, don't bother with either of these films. All you'll get is a painful hour (and an extra 20 minutes in the case of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women) of an incoherent story in which you can't even distinguish the actors you're supposed to be rooting for. As far as b-movies go, unless you have a couple of robots on hand who can riff either of them to help you get through it, these films are ones that you can certainly skip.


  1. Yeah these two movies are pretty much edited and dubbed versions of a much more coherent film. And the "Prehistoric Women" one is the worse of the two. I like Mamie Van Doren and all, but even that blonde bombshell an't save that horrible movie.

    I think there are some interesting effects, location shooting and visuals in the film, but these versions are really a slog to make it through if you're not in the mood for some bad dubbing.

    1. It actually does make me curious to see if it's possible to find the original to see if it really does make as much sense as you say. Some of the effects and visuals could have worked with some better execution so I might just do that some time.