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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women

A curiosity, as a derivative work of prior derivative works, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (VPPW) is yet another story cobbled out of cuttings from two earlier films, themselves created out of prior Russian films. Details on that in the Notes section. Added to all the recycled footage was new footage of Mamie van Doren and a bevy of young beauties, playing the women of Venus.This expounds on things hinted at in the original. Peter Bogdonovich directed the new footage and provided the voice of "Andre" as narrator. VPPW was likely aimed the small screen only, (hence the DVD cover art in lieu of a proper poster) but is included here because of its theatrical roots.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The main body of the story comes from the english-dubbed version of Planeta Bur: Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet ('65). A synopsis of the original base story can be read here. VPPW is told as a narrated flashback of V2PP by the astronaut Andre. Instead of there being three Venus-bound ships traveling together, they travel one at a time. Cappella is lost to a meteorite. Kern and Sherman (and robot John) follow, but crash-land in the Vega. Lockhart, Hans and Andre are the third rocket as rescue mission. They land and explore, looking for Kern and Sherman. Interspersed with the PB footage is new footage of the venusian women alluded to in the original. Roughly a dozen platinum blondes with seashell bras live the life of harbor seals. They bask on coastal rocks, swim to catch and eat raw fish. Unlike harbor seals, they communicate telepathically, and worship a pterosaur they've named Tera. The astronauts and the babes never really meet, though two babes see the astronauts. Angry that the men killed their pterosaur, the queen blonde (Van Doren) invokes the god of fire mountain to erupt and kill the invaders. This doesn't work. She then invokes the sky god to rain and flood them. This almost works, but the astronauts depart anyhow. This second failure of local gods prompts the ladies to knock down their old pterosaur idol and prop up the lava-scorched hulk of the robot John as their newer "stronger god." Astronaut Andre voiceovers his desire to return and find "her." The End.

Why is this movie fun?
A third appearance of original footage could be as dull as recycled cardboard, but the new footage actually fits. Sure, it's campy and exploitive, but for all that, not so badly done for a B-grade made-for-late-night-TV movie. The additional footage from Nebo Zovyot was fun to see too.

Cold War Angle
There is none. VPPW is mostly an example of the Space Women sub-genre.

Copy of Copies -- Roger Corman (the uncredited real producer of the work) cobbled together footage from two of his prior adaptations of soviet sci-fi. Corman used footage of the rocket launches, spaceflight and space stations from his Battle Beyond the Sun ('63). BBS was Nebo Zovyot ('59) dubbed into english, telling a roughly similar story but without the soviet gloating over foolish capitalists. He used footage from his Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet ('65) for the astronauts in their rockets and on Venus. VPP was his english dubbed version of Planeta Bur ('62). The premise of VPPW is VPP retold as flashback, but revealing the unseen women.

Space Got Babes -- VPPW keeps alive the old mythos of there being out in space somewhere, a society of pretty young women (with no men). Like several others in the sub-genre, there is no explanation for why there are no men. There just aren't. These particular space babes are all 20-something platinum blondes (except for one redhead), led by Mamie Van Doren (who fit the role of buxom kitten better 10 years earlier). They live the primitive life of harbor seals in a semi-mermaid idiom. Only one of the venusian babes (beside Van Doren) had any acting experience, or did anything afterward.

Telling the Untold Story -- What the original movie (Planeta Bur) left as teasingly unexplored, with the haunting presence of at least one pretty venusian woman with some telepathic powers. She "sings" unseen. She rescues Andre with calls for help. She warns them of danger with her songs. Eventually, Andre finds her likeness carved in ivory. Her reflection is seen in a puddle at the end -- arms raised, beckoning. Writer Henry Ney filled in the untold story. He created a bevy of beauties, not just one. He played up the telepathy part. Ney also had the women be the cause of the two "natural" disasters in the original film -- the volcano erupting and the torrential rains. As campy as it was, Ney managed to fill in the implied story in the original.

Fading Marsha -- An interesting detail to watch for is the fading of Marsha. She goes from a Russian cosmonaut to a fairly useless American astronaut to a mere acronym. In the original film, Masha (no R) was a fellow female cosmonaut (and love interest for Ivan). She stayed in orbit in the Sirius while the three men go down looking for Kern and Ivan. In Corman's 1965 dub, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, most of the scenes plain looking Masha are replaced with new footage by not-quite-hot-anymore Faith Domergue as Marsha (with the R) but in a less useful role. In VPPW, we're told that "Marsha" is the acronym for earth mission control. That seems thin, but plausible enough, if it weren't for lines like "Marsha says she saw something on radar." Or, when Sherman/Ivan is despairing in the cave and moans about "Marsha, O Marsha." (A bit too attached mission control, are we?)

Fond of Older Women -- Audiences seemed to like prehistoric (or primative) women. VPPW is another member of the primitive women sub-genre. A partial list includes: One Million B.C., ('40), Prehistoric Women ('50), Bowanga Bowanga ('51), Viking Women and the Sea Serpent ('57), Wild Women of Wongo ('58), Women of the Prehistoric Planet ('67), Prehistoric Women ('67) and Rachel Welch in the remake One Million Years B.C. ('66). Perhaps primitive/prehistoric women (all young, pretty, shapely and scantily clad) were appealing on the presumption that civilization hadn't (yet) curbed their wilder "appetites". For whatever reason, the sub-genre proved popular. Corman knew some prehistoric girls could spice up his old soviet sci-fi footage.

Bottom line? VPPW is passably viewable as a B-grade sci-fi on its own. It has some archeological value. A tribe-of-women tale it has some value. For the average viewer, however, VPPW will likely seem too obtuse, or dated. (After all, most of the source footage was from 1959 and '62)

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