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Monday, September 27, 2010

Wild Wild Planet

MGM, looking for some budget television products, contracted with Italian film makers for a series of movies. The Italian team wrote four unrelated stories, but used a common setting: Space Station Gamma One. So, the four films are often called the Gamma Quadrilogy. The Italian title of first film was I Criminali della Galassia (Criminal of the Galaxy). The actors spoke english, but with strong italian accents. The American release, dubbed with American english voices, was titledWild Wild Planet (WWP). MGM was pleased enough with the quality of the Italian films that they opted for a theatrical release too. As usual, the poster promised more than the movie could deliver. (the evil Barbies don't wield laser rifles, while wearing metallic bikinis and tall boots) The poster does suggest a story too ambitious for a 90 minute film. Several plot elements (some important) are easily lost in the rush of scenes. (see notes below)

Quick Plot Synopsis
Aboard space station Gamma One, a scientist from "the corporation" conducts experiments creating artificial human organs for transplant. There is no love lost between Gamma One's macho commander, Mike Halstead, and the creepy perfectionist, Dr. Nurmi. At a dinner party, Halstead is not especially kind to his girlfriend, Connie. She's drunk, so accepts Nurmi's offer of a vacation on planet Delphus: a Corporation research base. Meanwhile on earth, people have been disappearing at an alarming rate. The authorities suspect The Corporation, but can prove nothing. A bevy of evil Barbie women arrive in the city. Each has their own evil minion in a black trench coat. They make people disappear. Actually, they shrink them so they can be smuggled back to Delphus. The abduction of a Dr. Fried is interrupted ahd he's found half size and in a coma. After another failed shrink attempt, the authorities are alerted to the evil Barbies with black coated minions. The authorities find a dead minion. It has four arms and cat-like eyes, and appears to have been assembled. Halstead and Jake confront the evil Barbies in their apartment. They fight, but the men win. Some books are found with lists of names and ties to planet Delphus. Halstead and a team of men fly a rocket to Delphus. Nurmi is ready for them and takes them prisoner. Before executing Halstead, Nurmi gives Halstead a tour of his facility and explains his work and dream. Nurmi is creating a race of perfect humans. Part of that perfection is to merge a man and a woman into one body. Connie is to be Nurmi's merge mate. Halstead and his men start a big fight with the clones and minions, interrupting the merge process. Halstead and Nurmi fight, damaging the super computer which runs everything. Windows and doors break, allowing the red lake water to flood the subterranean complex. Halstead puts his men and Connie into stasis pods so they can float up. He and Jake use O2 cylinders to breathe through the swim to the surface. Once on dry land, two rockets arrive from earth. All is well again. Back on earth, Halstead, Connie and a few others lounge around a pool. Halstead offends Connie by being a jerk (again), but he kisses her and she melts into his arms. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The 60s vision of the future is entertaining. The very 60s evil Barbies, with tall hair and tall boots is amusing

Cold War Angle
There is more of a modern paranoia of big corporations than angst over commies.

Economy Four Pack -- Director Antonio Margheriti was given just three months to produce four movies. To save time and money, he shot all four in parallel. Sets and props were shared -- the interiors and exteriors of space station, the futuristic city, the rocket models, the jetson cars, etc. Location shoots would double up to avoid set-up and take-down of cameras and lights. Movies 1 and 2 used Tony Russell as the leading man and Lisa Gastoni as his girlfriend. Movies 3 and 4 starred Jack Stuart as the leading man and Ombretta Colli as his girlfriend.

Lost in Space -- The plot of WWP has too many complex facets for a 90 minute film to flesh them out. Here are a few that might help, next time you watch.
Dual Personalities: Dr. Nurmi's "perfect" human was a merging of male and female. That's why he wanted Connie. She would be his merged "other half". That's why the evil Barbies kept using the plural "we".
Cleaning Solution: Those chest pins contained a chemical that would almost instantly dissolve living tissue. That's why the minions or others disappeared when poked with one.
From Concentrate: Nurmi needed a lot of humans in order to find perfect specimens. This perfection was apparently genetic, not simply developmental, as youth and older guys were taken too. Somehow, the black-coated minions are able to shrink people to doll size. That way they can be transported to Delphus. (in the era of no luggage screening) Once on Delphus, Nurmni had a tanning bed that would reconstitute them back to full size.
Robota: Much like Karel Capek's 1920 original "robot", the four-armed clones in black rain coats are manufactured biological humanoids. The workers on Delphus create them, crate them, and ship them to earth for the evil Barbies to use.
Balance of Power: There are two separate (and competing)"authorities". The civil (and military) government is the United Democracies. The Corporation is the amalgam of science and industry. Both have people, resources and power. An uneasy cooperation exists between them.

Jetson Ride -- To car buffs, the two "modern" cars are a terrific look at the mid-60s view of the automotive future. There were just the two props: the white unit with two fins and the red unit with one.

They have a similar look and feel to the flying car in Planeta Bur ('62) which American audiences had only just seen in mid 1965 via the english dubbed version, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. Designers of the early and mid-60s were sure that the future would be pointy.

That is, until Mr. Nader convinced Congress that drivers are too stupid to actually drive correctly, and must be protected from themselves. This dulled the future into a bleak era (for car buffs) of mega-bumpered rolling safety cages with a style only a soviet tractor engineer could love. Ah, but in the mid 60s...

Seeds of Trek -- The Gamma Quadrilogy was an early attempt at a space adventure drama for the television market. It wasn't as cohesive as Roddenberry's "space western" in the works, but the Quadrilogy showed that the time was right for television series about space adventures, set in earth's future. Gamma One was more akin to Deep Space 9, perhaps, but the motif of a square-jawed tough-fisted captain and his loyal crew, battling earth's enemies, (both home grown and alien), -- oh, and lots of beautiful space babes -- are clearly features that audiences were ready for.

Bottom line? For a sci-fi fan, WWP is worth watching -- perhaps several times to catch the many complex threads. It is also a fun look at what the mid-60s vision of the future would be.


Randall Landers said...

I think it should be pointed out that GREEN SLIME appears to be related to the GAMMA ONE QUADRILOGY.

Nightowl said...

Hi Randall. I did point that out, in my review of Green Slime.

There is more than a passing family resemblance.