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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Planetary Giants

This Mexican production is said to have played in the US in 1967. An english-dubbed version of Gigantes planetarios doesn't seem to exist, so perhaps it played in primarily spanish-speaking markets. Planetary Giants (PG) is the first of two sibling films by Director Alfredo B. Crevenna. Apparently patterned after tastes in populist Mexican television, the film's fabric is a mix of serious sci-fi, comedy (Marcos and Taquito) and "pro" fighting. (q.v. Santo and Neutron serials). The mix is definitely not in the Hollywood formula.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Flying saucers are landing at various spots around the world. People are killed with a beam weapon. Evidence suggests that the aliens are completely human in appearance, so undetectable. They are sabotaging key earth installations. Professor Daniel Wolff seeks the advice of Dr. Walters (dismissed by the scientific community as a crack pot).Walters tells of receiving transmissions from a "planet of eternal night," about a dictator there named El Protector. Walters suspects El Protector plans to invade Earth. First comes sabotage, then bribing vulnerable earth scientists to help. Finally, the invasion. Walters has one rocket for space travel. He says Daniel should use the plans to build a defense fleet. Daniel's pretty secretary Sylvia is pestered by a brash boxer named Marcos. Walters is killed by a ray gun blast. Sylvia suggests Daniel pretend a playboy gambler's lifestyle and complain of debts to attract an alien bribe, to gain access to the aliens. He does this, attracting the busty blonde Mara and her bald sidekick. Baldy wants Walters' rocket plans. He and Daniel fight. Baldy falls into a tub of water, fizzes and dies. Daneil must take Walters' rocket to the alien planet to defeat them. Marcos, the champion, boxes a contender. He bet against himself, then throws the fight in the first round. While fleeing a mob of bet losers, Marcos and his trainer, Taquito hide in the hotel room of the other two astronauts. They put on the space suits as disguises, but are put into hibernation and aboard the rocket. Sylvia joins Daniel too. The four zoom to the planet of eternal night. Once there, El Protector demands the rocket plans. He intends to invade and be the Emperor of Earth. Daniel refuses. They become embroiled in a palace coup that goes awry. Marcos escapes. With the help of the coup leader's daughter, Alice, manage to upset El Protector's plans. He takes Sylvia hostage, intending to flee to earth in Daniel's rocket, but is stopped. The planet is free to live peacefully. The four earth people zoom away. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Even though filmed in 1965 (or '63?), PG is a thoroughly 50s B-grade sci-fi. At times, it's even a 40s style sci-fi. Saucers, ray guns, pointy rockets, pretty alien women, PG is a nostalgic pleasure cruise.

Cold War Angle
It is uncertain how much the Mexicans worried about commie spies, so the themes of fifth columnist saboteurs and oppressive dictators may have had a more conventional intent. Yet, those elements were common to American sci-fi's Cold War themes too.

Unexpectedly Timely -- Watching PG in the early months of 2011, made some unexpected parallels to current international events in Egypt and Libya. El Protector was a dictator who ruled with an iron hand and had no qualms about turning his weaponry on his own people if it suited him. His people were happy to see him overthrown. Life imitating art.

Plot Medley -- Fans of 50s sci-fi will note some familiar plot tropes. The first half of PG, set on earth with alien agents (who look like us) engaged in sabotage, was a frequent theme. Not of this Earth ('57), War of the Satellites ('58), Planets Against Us ('62) and The Human Duplicators ('65), to name a few. The second half is a close parallel to Flight to Mars ('51) More on that below. The format of PG is akin to a variety show. There are moments of serious sci-fi, with shadowy alien agents, death by ray gun, etc. Then there are moments of extended comedy (such as Taquito's budding romance with Alice's plumpish maid named Frijo (bean). This is not just the Hollywood notion of comic relief. It is like sections of an Abbott and Costello movie were intercut into Crash of the Moons. Then too, there are many minutes of boxing, almost for its own type of entertainment value. The result is an odd mix by Hollywood's yardstick, but perhaps the way Mexican audiences liked their entertainment.

Serial Redux -- Much about PG's second half resembles the old Buck Rogers, or Flash Gordon serials of the 40s. Likewise, a resembles to the early 50s' Video Ranger episodes. All have: cigar-shaped rockets that take-off and land on a dime, and fly slow, alien worlds just a few days journey by rocket, alien civilizations somehow stuck in an era of earth's past, and aliens who are all plain ol' people. Oh, and ray guns.

Viva Aelita! -- The plot of the second half of PG is a close parallel to Flight To Mars. FTM was itself an adaptation of the 1924 Russian film, Aelita, Queen of Mars. Both PG and FTM have a planetary despot intent on invading earth if/when he can get the secret of the earthlings' rocket. In both, the alien planet is (or is supposedly) doomed. Both have a ranking cabinet minster who is the clandestine opposition leader. Both ministers have beautiful daughters who aid the humans. The coup succeeds. Aelita lives on in yet another retelling.

Galactic Lingo -- A common scoff for American sci-fi films is that the aliens, wherever and whoever they are, always managed to speak pretty good english. So it was amusing and refreshing to see that the people on the Planet of Eternal Night, spoke pretty good spanish.

Bottom line? PG is far from a slick production with cool sets or models. Nor does it have a thoughtful plot. PG is old fashioned low-budget sci-fi like it used to be done in the 40s and early 50s. Fans of Flash Gordon, et al. can enjoy the homage.

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