PLANET OF DINOSAURS (1978)
I first read about this flick in the immortal Forrest J. Ackerman’s legendary Famous Monsters magazine, but sadly didn’t catch up to it till VHS years later. This would have been a lot of fun to see in a theater…
Planet Of Dinosaurs is a cheesy, fun 1978 flick that tells the story of the crew of the spaceship Odyssey who are marooned on a primitive Earth-like planet when a reactor explosion destroys their ship. Now, not only are the surviving men and women stranded with little to sustain them, but must also find a way to protect themselves from the planet’s ferocious dinosaur inhabitants, including a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose territory they have landed in.
This flick has become a bit of a cult classic mostly due to the really cool stop motion model animation used for its monster effects. The model animation FX are not only very good, but quite abundant, too, with carnivorous critters and other beasties showing up to hassle and snack on our valiant crew members regularly. Aside from that, the acting is pretty bad, and the dialog is delightfully awful. Thankfully, it is in an entertainingly bad way, so we get some healthy chuckles while we wait for the next scaly, fanged threat to appear. It is a very low budget flick, but cleverly requires only a few Star Trek-ish costumes and props as it takes place in the outdoors with the creatures added in later. As it does resemble a dino-sentric Star Trek episode, it’s no surprise the movie was supposedly filmed in California at the same location as some original Star Trek episodes were filmed, Vasquez Rocks. Director James Shea directs in a fairly pedestrian manner from a script by James Aupperle and Ralph Lucas, who give their characters some very laughable dialogue here, especially when timid ship captain Lee (Louie Lawless) butts heads with the macho, alpha male engineer Jim (James Whitworth, Jupiter from Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes), who feels the best dinosaur defense is a good offense. Their exchanges are borderline hysterical at times as both men sound out of their minds and neither one seems fit to lead. The rest of the cast are equally bad with pretty Pamela Bottaro really trying hard as second in command Nyla, who is always caught in the middle when Jim and the Captain square off and is forced to play referee when not being attacked by giant stop motion spiders. Also adding to the overall atmosphere of the goofy goings on is a nostalgic 70s style electronic score by Kelly Lammers and John O’Verlin that mixes synthesizers with sci-fi sound effects and actually gives the film a surreal vibe.
I like this movie and have a lot of fun with it. It is bad in a laughably fun way yet, its heart is in the right place, and you can tell that the filmmakers were really trying to make a good movie on a low budget. Sometimes, in flicks like this, I think it is indeed the heartfelt effort that makes the difference between entertainingly bad and just…bad. Even if ‘so bad it’s good’ movies aren’t your thing, there is plenty of well-done stop motion animation to make it worth a watch. There is a nice variety of monsters, too, including one recognizable tribute to master Ray Harryhausen.
There weren’t many more movies made like this after Planet as more advanced techniques like Go-Motion and then CGI were introduced, and the stop motion dinosaurs give this little flick a nice charm that works perfectly along with the heavy 70s nostalgia. Planet Of Dinosaurs is not a widely known flick and despite its flaws it is entertaining in its own way and deserves more attention than it gets. It’s laughably bad in some ways, but surprisingly good in others. A fun monster movie in spite of itself and a welcome addition to any evening on the couch with other lesser-known stop motion flicks like The Crater Lake Monster and Laserblast… and some of your favorite beverages to go along with it!
Rated 3 (out of 4) stop motion, astronaut-eating carnivores.