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Thursday, November 18, 2010

War of the Planets

MGM gave the second installment in the Gamma One Quadrilogy the rather incongruous english title of War of the Planets (WotP) and re-using the Italian poster from the first movie, Wild Wild Planet. The Italian title of the second installment was, I Diafanoidi Vengono da Marte, at least mentions the hostile aliens: the Diaphinoids. There really isn't a war of planets. It's the humans against the wispy energy beings. As part of a four-film package deal, WotP shared sets, costumes and cast with the first film, Wild Wild Planet, but much like a television episode, the stories are unrelated. Like the first episode, Wild Wild Planet, WotP suffers from a too-ambitious script.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Captain Dubois of Space Command gets out of his car to report for duty. He sees green lights in the sky which rush up to him and possess him. It's New Year's Eve on earth and all of its space stations are celebrating with parties. The parties aboard Gamma One are famous. The fun is interrupted by a distress call from Delta 2. Something is attacking them. The transmission is cut off. A rocket is sent to investigate. Inside, the crew are motionless (and slightly greenish tinted). Some are dead, but some alive, though catatonic. A green fog envelopes and invades Delta 2. The recon team fire their lasers. Their communication ends. Delta 2 disappears. HQ orders all stations evacuated. Halstead and a small team defy orders and stay aboard Gamma 1. The green fog penetrates Gamma 1, but Halstead and his men hole up in a room lined with lead-titanium. They fire lasers too. The fog leaves. Halstead is congratulated and chewed out by his superiors. The green lights appear in earth's sky. Dubois enters to deliver a message from the Diaphinoids. Join with the collective. Host a Diaphinoid, or die. HQ complies. Green-ified people, including Connie, are loaded into rockets. Halstead and others are too. The Diaphinoids take them to Mars. In an unmanned mining complex, the Diaphinoids plan to complete the "hosting". Some humans resist and are killed. Halstead and his men start a big brawl with the possessed humans. They break a window, escape and stagger through the thin martian air to a small supply rocket. Dubois and the possessed humans asphyxiate. An attack fleet of rockets from earth come to blast the Diaphinoids. Halstead and group barely escape in the little rocket. The mining base and all Diaphinoids are destroyed. Back on earth, Halstead gets a belated Happy New Year kiss from Connie. All is well again. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
There is something of an "old shoes" comfort in seeing the cast, sets, props, etc. from Wild Wild Planet again. The trope of alien-takeover is like an old friend too -- been around for ten years. There is also something entertaining in the Italian-style chaotic script. Never a dull (or at times, logical) moment.

Cold War Angle
Alien-takeovers are usually a Cold War trope. In WotP, however, it seems to be more sci-fi tradition than socio-political metaphor.

Old Possessions -- The concept of mysterious (incorporeal) aliens taking over human bodies was pretty old stuff by the mid 60s. It wasn't totally new in 1956 when Invasion of the Body Snatchers made the trope famous. Nonetheless, in the mid 60s, it was enjoying a new surge of popularity in Italy. Mario Bava used it in his Planet of the Vampires in 1965. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, Bava also had his evil intelligent beings exist as "lights" until they enter a human.

Diaphinoid Saga -- The possessed Dubois tells Halstead that the Diaphinoids are energy beings who used to live on the planet Diaph in the Andromeda galaxy. They existed symbiotically with corporeal hosts there, but the hosts all died off. The Diaphinoids want humans to be their new hosts.They promise peace and bliss in the union. The "hosting" is apparently more involved than mere take-over, which is what they've done thus far. They had a slick sales pitch, to try to sell the idea to the humans, promising utopian bliss. Their use of deadly force suggests that the symbiosis was going to be more akin to conquest.

Plugging Holes in Space -- A 90 minute screenplay was too small to contain all the subplots the writers had in mind. The result is a collection of odd holes in the plot. Here are some proposed solutions: The Diaphinoids, as energy beings, can travel intersteller distances without ships, at the speed of light. A few of them find earth and decide they're suitable host bodies. They inhabit Dubois and a few others, who send a message calling in the rest who beset the space stations. The Diaphinoids can "possess" a human, but it is a limited arrangement in which the human still has too much autonomy. (q.v. all the arguing Dubois does with his Diaphinoid) A true merger requires (somehow) the presence of uranium. Hence the need to ship all people -- the possessed and prospects for it -- to the mine facility on Mars. If the possessed human dies, the Diaphinoid does too. It must be harder to un-possess a human or the Diaphinoids would simply pop out before their host died. They don't. That's why the fleet can blast them all. How do they know they got them all? All of them were in the mine expecting permanent hosts.

Take Two -- The two cool future cars that debuted in Wild Wild Planet got a bit more screen time at the beginning of WotP. Also, note that in the final scene, Connie is wearing the same yellow and green blouse outfit that she was wearing at the dinner party in WWP.

Bottom line? WotP is weaker, as a story, than the first movie. It suffers many of the same flaws. It makes a bit more sense if viewed right after the first. Watch it as a sort of Italian prototype for Star Trek, the Original Series, and it's not so bad.


AtomicTiki said...

Oh man, where'd you get a copy of this?

I absolutely loved Wild, Wild Planet and want the chance to see the sequel.

I also gotta say that I love this blog and have been reading it for a few years now. It has led me to so many interesting films, I mean, I was always a Sci-Fi fan but I mostly stuck with stuff that was widely distributed like Forbidden Planet and never really went out thoroughly exploring the genre the way you are.

Thanks to your site my video collection has grown at such a prodigious rate that men in lab coats are making calls to the army as we speak, can nothing stop this monster from another world?

Nightowl said...

Hey Atomic,
Hope you can keep ahead of the white coats. :-)

Glad you've found the site helpful for your collecting. I know it's been a fun experience for me to get into the indie and the obscure.

AtomicTiki said...

Well, the collection just grew again, the first two Gamma One films are available on Amazon, pretty good transfers (the same quality as the TCM airing).

I think I'm gonna have to buy another DVD cabinet haha :)