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  Planet of the Dinosaurs Leaping Lizards!
Year: 1977
Director: James K. Shea
Stars: James Whitworth, Pamela Bottaro, Louie Lawless, Charlotte Speer, Chuck Pennington, Max Thayer, Derna Wilde, Harvey Shain, Mary Appleseth, Michael Lee
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Starship Odyssey hits a crisis with its radioactive core, and the crew and passengers are forced to flee in the escape shuttle, just in time as it turns out as the spacecraft explodes mere seconds after they have got away. Luckily, there is a habitable planet nearby and they set a course for it; it seems Earthlike, so there's a chance they can rest there and radio for a rescue mission to come and find them. However, their vehicle crashlands in a lake and they just manage to disembark into the water with what important reserves they can salvage, accidentally leaving the radio floating behind them. When two of the party tries to retrieve it, they are in for a nasty surprise...

That's down to the inhabitants of this planet being dinosaurs, but you would have guessed that from the title, wouldn't you? This was a low budget independent effort from the year that Star Wars hit big, and though they had no idea while they were producing it that this would be able to ride on that blockbuster's coattails, it could not have hurt its prospects in the science fiction-hungry landscape of the nineteen-seventies. That was, perhaps, until audience witnessed it and realised this was basically an update of an Irwin Allen television episode of the sixties, only with a more cavalier attitude to allowing its cast to hang around to make it to the end credits that Allen would allow.

Although their methods of dispatch were not enormously gory, they were at the hands (or the teeth, claws and horns) of a selection of stop motion dinos, as created by a selection of animators who would go on to create effects for bigger budget efforts in the following decade, though perhaps the eighties was the last to feature stop motion in anything other than children's movies as CGI took over. Plus that style of animation would become so slick and computer-assisted that often, come the twenty-first century they were virtually indistinguishable from the more extensive computer graphics that had happened along and revolutionised the industry's effects market anyway.

Back at this Ray Harryhausen-emulating item, there was a lot of forgiving you had to do to enjoy Planet of the Dinosaurs, though maybe not so much for the animation which was actually very decent, and assuredly the highlight of the experience, unless you had a liking for cleavage-baring "futuristic" outfits (on the men as well as the women). Though they took their sweet time in showing up, with the first death happening in a Jaws rip-off sequence as the crewmember who lost the radio gets eaten by an unseen beast as she tries to swim out to it, leaving blood colouring the surface of the water, a strong indication of how happy the screenplay was to bump characters off. Yet that was more down to giving the reptiles something to do to be a menace than actively disliking them.

Though you are, of course, at liberty to dislike the surviving crew and passengers, and they did not offer ample reasons to warm to them, either because of wooden "this was all we could afford" acting, or because the script was unbothered about rendering them sympathetic before they were chomped. The women often came off the worst, forever messing up their group's chances by dropping something, but the men, who were intended to come across as macho, capable types, had you wondering if the title was referring to the characters instead of the locals on said planet. James Whitworth of The Hills Have Eyes, sort of an American George Eastman, was the most recognisable performer there, though Derna Wilde was often picked out of the players, either because of showing the most cleavage or because viewers were aware of her glamour modelling work. Only Harvey Shain seemed to deserve his fate more than the others thanks to sheer selfishness: try not to laugh as he is impaled on a triceratops horn. Though it was the T Rex that served as the big bad in a film some laugh at, others are bored by, but represents the old way of crafting indie sci-fi. Music, like an electronic tuba, by Kelly Lammers and John O'Verlin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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