The Planet (2006)

REVIEW BY: Jeffrey Long

Company: Stirton Productions

Runtime: 69 mins

Format: Screener

Plot: In the far future, a group of shipwrecked mercenaries must struggle for survival on an uncharted alien world; A world where death is only the beginning...

MTI Home Video recently sent me a whole bunch of screeners for some of the backlog of movies they've distributed over here in Canada and the U.S over the years, and the first of those that I wanted to check out was the ultra low-budget sci-fi/horror from 2006, simply-titled The Planet.

Now right out of the gate, I have to dock some points for such an unimaginative bland title like The Planet. It does nothing to help tell you what the movie is about, or even what genre it is. I personally can't stand boring bland basic titles like that (movies with similarly-bland and overused titles like any form and variation of The Possession or The Possessed are top offenders as well). Anything more would have been better, something like Death Planet, Planet of the Dead, Planet Trap, The Planet of Lost Souls, just anything more then simply The Planet would have sufficed and done a better job with informing the viewer what to expect from this movie. Please MTI Home Video, feel free to use any of those suggestions upon potential future re-releases!

As for the movie itself though, it has quite the very low budget, almost home video quality about it. If you've seen movies like Recon 2020, and its sequels Recon 2022 and Recon 2023, then you kind of know what to expect from The Planet, but with even less special effects then those movies. We get a pretty decent opening space battle between a cargo ship being piloted by Mercenaries transporting a captured terrorist/cult leader and their pursuers trying to get the terrorist leader back, and the special Effects for this portion of the movie are pretty much what you would expect from a 1990s Wing Commander game, which is to say really not good at all, however that's somewhat excusable if you know beforehand going into this that it will be a micro-budget affair. Once they crash on the mysterious uncharted and supposedly-uninhabited desert planet though, we get the occasional brief special effect shot of viciously-attacking near-indivisible alien energy beings that, while a simple effect, actually look pretty impressive, especially when they're gliding through the air like fast-moving killer ghosts. That's all we get in terms of special effects here, but I'm fine with that as I'm always saying that a low budget movie needs to know its limitations and work within those limits, and apart from the opening space battle that was pretty brutal to sit through, this movie does that quite well.

The acting is one of the areas where, surprisingly, this movie truly shines. Normally with micro-budget flicks like this the actors are beyond terrible and are mostly made up of the director's own personal friends. I'm not sure what the case was with where he got them for this movie, but whatever that case is, it works quite well because everyone here turned in pretty great performances, and far better then what you would expect. Unfortunately, the downside here is that the cast is a bit too big for its own good, as most of the characters are written as pretty one-note characters with little to no distinctive personalities and were so similar to one another that I kept forgetting who was who and most everyone kind of just ran together for me. Sure, there's the main character tough-as-balls muscular leader of the mercenaries, his trustworthy level-headed second-in-command, and the unit's old-and-wise personal medic, but then everyone else (which is a good seven or eight characters) are essentially identical to one another with no unique attributes to distinguish one from another. There's even one moment where one of their ranks is revealed to be a traitor and had purposely set up most of the events of this movie to play out the way they do, yet the impact of the reveal was totally lost on me because I was just sitting there asking myself “Ok, so who exactly IS this guy and what role has he had in the movie up till now?” because I honestly didn't know him from any of the other handful of secondary characters. If they had focused on a much smaller cast of characters, I think this issue could have been avoided all together.

And it shocks me even more that the writing of the characters were so piss-poor, because the writing in every other area of the script was actually really damn good. Sure, the movie's plot itself is pretty basic – that being a group of military-style space mercenaries crashing on a desert planet and have to find a way to send for help or get off of it, which is also at first meant to be void of life but they soon find out it's inhabited by savage lifeforms and half-buried ancient temples and statues – it's a plot we've seen some variation of countless times before in movies like Pitch Black and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder to name just a couple that instantly came to mind, but it's the extra unexpected world-building where the writing really shines. This may be nothing more then a very short (more on that in a bit) micro budget home movie style of flick, but the extra world-building really made it feel like this was just one small side-step in a much greater story, set within a fully-realized and thought-out universe, that even greater and bigger stories are happening in but we're just not around to see them. This is a fictional future that I wouldn't mind returning to from time to time to see further adventures and other stories told from other point of views and characters, however I know that's asking for way too much here.

The movie does, however, include many of the usual technical problems that micro-budget movies tend to have – some audio issues pop up here and there where there's some background static while characters are talking or sometimes the sound effects are louder then the dialogue, making it hard to pick out what people are saying at times, a few shots linger for just a tad bit too long and a few scenes probably could have been tightened up a bit and shortened, there's an overly-dramatic and overbearing music soundtrack present during some portions, it has some of the above-mentioned annoyingly 1990s videogame-style CGI effects in some parts, and piss-poor character development. Luckily though it doesn't have these issues quite as often or on such a high level as most of these kinds of movies do, but they are still present and pop up from time to time.

At just an hour and nine minutes (about an hour if you cut off the opening and closing credits), The Planet takes what I like to call the Full Moon Approach – it has a short runtime, moves at a brisk pace, and is over pretty quickly, so even if the movie may not be the best, at the very least it doesn't take much of a time commitment for you to check it out and decide for yourself. I mean, that's essentially just one episode of Masters of Horror (a show that was treated criminally unfair by its TV channel. Hell, I don't think Season 2 ever even got a proper DVD release). While I don't normally like movies of this much of a low budget (you're essentially paying for something that's the quality of an online fanfilm), The Planet was better then the average micro-budget flick by having some good acting, fun creature scenes, and excellent world-building. Plus, seeing as how the runtime is so damn short, I really can't complain much anyway.

7/10 rooms in the Psych Ward


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