Planet of Dinosaurs,
directed by James K. Shea
(Cineworld, 1977)

If only they'd known what the future of cinema -- post-Star Wars and Jurassic Park, among others -- would look like when they made this!

Sometimes, it's fun to look back at the special effects, such as they were, that existed before the movie-making revolution of the late 1970s and early '80s. Planet of Dinosaurs, which is every bit as bad as its title suggests, is as good a place to look as any. And, since I had was alone and experiencing an evening of holiday doldrums ... why not?

Some reviewers say the movie is so bad, it's good. The notion has some merit, although I wouldn't go quite that far.

The starship Odyssey blows up for, um, reasons, and only a handful of survivors make it to an escape pod. Among them is Captain Lee Norsythe (Louie Lawless), a milquetoast man who apparently never read the memo about ensuring the safety of your crew and passengers before disembarking from a sinking/crashing/exploding vessel. The survivors crash-land on a nearby planet, which is barren but has an Earth-like atmosphere -- and roughly shaped, claymation dinosaurs.

Really, you don't want to watch this one with expectations of realistic-looking monsters. Although, let's be honest, there are worse examples of stop-motion out there, and for what they were working with at the time, it's not all that bad.

Cindy (Mary Appleseth) is the first to learn the dangers of the planet. Stripping down to her underwear to swim out and retrieve a lost piece of equipment, the hapless communications officer is quickly and messily eaten by a barely seen reptile in the depths. Chuck (Chuck Pennington), who removes his shirt for the swim as well, never puts it back on; his role in the movie, apparently, is beefcake, which is, I suppose, why they keep him alive.

Then there's Harvey Baylor (Harvey Shain), the ship's owner, who tries to order people around and mostly gets ignored -- until he's impaled trying to run from a ceratops after plotting to poach its eggs. His navel-baring assistant Derna Lee (Derna Wylde) soon falls prey to a tyrannosaur after she falls down at its feet and screams while trying to recover a laser gun that has repeatedly proven to be ineffective against dinosaurs. The same beastie gets Mike (Michael Thayer), who similarly falls down and screams at its feet while trying to set a dino-trap.

By the way, it's rarely a good sign in a movie when nearly every member of the cast simply uses their actual first names for their characters. You begin to suspect the screenwriters -- I'm looking at you, Jim Aupperle and Ralph Lucas -- didn't put much time or thought into the script.

Anyway, that leaves us with Lee and Chuck, plus Jim (James Whitworth), a burly, bearded man who wants to go ape-man in his new environment and who often butts heads with Lee over strategy; Charlotte (Charlotte Speer), a medical officer who drops her -- ok, let's just call it a tricorder -- the first time a dinosaur gets close to her; and Nyla (Pamela Bottaro), the first officer who never seems sure if she should be supporting Lee or Jim. Together, they decide to muster all their resources for the object of killing the t-rex who lives in a nearby cave, because they apparently believe there's only one on the planet.

I think I've said enough about Planet of Dinosaurs. Honestly, I bet I'd have enjoyed this if I'd seen it in the early 1970s, and if I was, say, 8 years old at the time. Today, it was actually entertaining to sit back and watch science fiction/monster movies the way they used to be -- even if they were really, really bad.

review by
Tom Knapp

8 April 2017

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