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Monday, November 22, 2010

War Between the Planets

The third film in the Gamma One quadrilogy was titled Il pianeta errante (The Errant Planet) in its original Italian. The english dubbed release in America was retitled War Between the Planets (WBP). Director Magheriti's economizing continued. Sets, costumes and props were reused from the first two movies, but the cast was different. WBP is yet another rouge-planet film, though not a strong one. Yet, the proto-Star Trek-like saga continues.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The earth is being wracked by earthquakes, tsunamis and storms. Scientists cannot find a source. Computers suggest an unknown planet may have moved into the solar system in Gamma One's quadrant. Space Command's leader, General Norton, sends his best "space man" to space station Gamma One to find the cause. Once back on Gamma One, Commander Rod Jackson barks out orders and is a jerk to his clandestine girlfriend, Lieutenant Terry Sanchez. Gamma One has been wracked by odd gravity forces too. Jackson's second-in-command, Dubrowski is miffed at having his earth-leave canceled. He belittles Jackson's love life. A fist fight breaks out, but is interrupted. General Norton and Jackson's finacee, Janet Norton, are coming. A faint distress call from station Echo alerts Jackson to the likely place to find the errant planet. He mounts a recon squadron of ships to find it. In his absence, the General arrives as also barks out a lot of orders. Dubrowski, Sanchez and some others take another ship and join the recon party. Dubrowski is intent to blow up the planet as revenge for the death of his wife in an earthquake. One of Jackson's ships finds the planet. It has many odd features, such as very low density, able to alter its direction and an ability to expel and recover a "school" of asteroids. it can alter it's gravity too. One of Jackson's ships is caught in a gravity burst/ It crashes on the surface and begins sinking in red goo. Eventually, the others go EVA to explore the planet's surface, some of which is solid. Dubrowski falls into the red goo and sinks away. Jackson, Sanchez and Perkinson go down a crater, into a labyrinth of caverns. The walls are lined with red "arteries", the floor has moving "breathing valves." They seek a deep enough place to plant their anti-matter bomb. An artery grabs Sanchez. She drops the detonator into some goo. Perkinson must use some extra circuits in Jackson's helmet as an alternate detonator, so they trade helmets. There is a tremor and a cave-in which traps Perkinson. Jackson must hack the arteries with an axe to open passageways so he and Sanchez may escape. Eventually, they do and float back to their rocket. All ships power away and the order is given to detonate. The errant planet is destroyed. At a solemn funeral for Dubrowski and Perkinson, Janet realizes she's lost Jackson. Jackson, Sanchez and Dubrowski's red-headed son Ricky walk off hand in hand. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
There are the usual charms of "spaghetti space opera" films. Of particular interest is the notion of a planet-sized life form. Commander Jackson's very tall, Trump-esque hair is amusing.

Cold War Angle
There is a subtle subtext about nuclear arms control that is late-Cold-War thinking. It is a capital offense to have weapons of mass destruction. Yet, there is early-Cold-War thinking too. The way to deal with an outside threat is to gather up one's nukes and go blast it!

Planet Life -- An intriguing trope in WBP which gets little exploration, is the idea of a planet-sized life form that can exist (and move) in space. It apparently has an outer protective shell with hard spots, soft gooey spots, and some breathing vents. It exhales and inhales its own air It has a circulatory system and a heart. (The narrator speaks of a pulse) Perhaps the planet-beast's ability to generate intense gravity is how it gets around? The script does nothing with this living planet -- no science-blather theorizing. The pianeta errante is just something threatening Earth which (therefore) must be destroyed. Sci-fi potential, but wasted.

Curse You Wells! -- The American distributors of Magheriti's movies must have been miffed that H.G. Wells took the best title: War of the Worlds. They kept dancing around it, getting as close as they could. War of the Planets, Battle of the Worlds, War Between the Planets. The Italian titles at least represented their films. The American titles were poor fits, but as close as the promotors could get to the ideal Wells denied them.

Tedious Triangle -- Repeating the character formula of the previous two Gamma One dramas, the commander of Gamma One is a macho hunk who has a back-story relationship with a beautiful officer aboard Gamma One. As a side note, Roddenberry's Star Trek pilots employed the same trope. An added, but pointless, wrinkle in WBP, is that commander Rod Jackson is engaged to General Norton's daughter Janet. Perhaps a politically expedient, Jackson doesn't really love Janet (apparently). Instead, he has real feelings beneath all his jerk facade, for Lieutenant Terry Jackson, the communications officer. The triangle adds nothing beyond banal drama.

Jerks in Space -- Similar to how, in the first two movies, Mike was frequently a jerk to Connie, Rod is frequently a jerk to Terry. Like Connie before her, Terry demurely puts up with his jerkness, and melts into smiles at any crumb of civility. Apparently, Magheriti liked these characterizations. Was this an Italian role model?

Prop Watch -- Viewers will see the cool "Jetson" cars from the previous two movies, in the first few minutes. The model city is the same too. Also reused are the various rocket models from the previous two and from Assignment Outer Space. The Gamma One sets are, of course, reused too.

Bottom line? WBP is a weak installment in the Gamma One series. The first 3/4ths of the film is slow, talky and filled with distracting drama. Once the recon squadron finds the mystery planet, things get brisk, but it takes a long time getting there. Fans of Magheriti and/or the Gamma One style of films, will be more forgiving. Viewers accustomed to bold action and deep plots, will probably be annoyed.

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