austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Come on Thunder Child, Come on Thunder Child

War OfBetween The Planets is another mid-60s Italiany science fiction piece that must be from the same group which produced The Wild, Wild Planet. It's got the same-looking sets and costumes and even some of the same actors, although as best I can tell they're playing different characters, to the extent they have characters. Many of the background details, such as the mild colonization of space and the giving over of the democracies of the world to all-powerful corporate interests, line up as well. The major difference? The Wild, Wild Planet is that rare film about alien women sending inflatable robots to supplant the leaders of the world. Even in one sentence it feels ambitiously weird and goofy. War Between The Planets has no such inspirations of nuttiness.

It's New Year's Eve, and the spaceport is being haunted by glowy blobs of light that look like all the nonhumanoid entities on the original Star Trek that weren't just Kleig lights. The space station crew, looking like a team left over from Quark and wandering around sets that'd be pretty good for a late 70s Tardis, notices the glow and weird radiation effects but dismiss the impossible negative readings because why are their sensors set up to report negative readings which can't happen? The Gamma I team puts on spectaculars of twirling around on their wires while in space to the strains of ``Auld Lang Syne'' and reversed footage so they look like they're falling up. (An endearing point has a bunch of spacewalkers formation-flying to spell out ``HAPPY NEW YEAR'' and not even remotely looking like they aren't little plastic army men glued together.)

This is a lot of time to spend reviewing the irrelevant New Year's Festivities, but, the movie spends a lot of time on this. It affords some good color and showing off the attractive mid-60s sets and clothes and spreading the notion that there'll be swinging parties in the Future, but it does slow things down in getting to the actual plot point: that there's these clouds of space gas out to do nefarious things.

About twenty minutes in our investigating astronauts, wielding cyan hair dryers used as Space Science props, finally investigate a mysteriously silent space station and find everyone's either dead or just really, really motionless; they don't seem perfectly sure about this point. Anyway, they're getting induction on the scanners, which points out how adorable it is when movies like this try using science. Finally while prowling around clouds of green gas start spraying out, and the astronauts try shooting it, and I still really think you have to be pretty sure you know what you're doing if you're shooting guns inside a space station. It doesn't work anyway, since, they're trying to shoot clouds with guns. Millions of dollars for the space program and nobody thinks to bring up a fan.

The action starts to pick up with the astronauts trying to chase down the gas through the corridors of the space station, and between the music, and the speeding-up editing, and the lack of explanations given about just what they're fighting or how to overcome it, it starts getting pretty suspenseful, at least until they fire what are called lasers but are actually disappointing flame throwers. How do you make flame throwers disappointing as a cinematic weapon? Well, first, trim the flame so it never gets more than about a couple inches long, and second, call it a laser so people expect something more exciting than a fat sparkler.

``I admit, it was good thinking: an intuitive scheme --- and it worked. I commend you, and will put you up for a citation. Then, charges will be proffered against you.'' It's the kind of movie where that's the dialogue. (He ignored an order to get out, but, they drove the aliens off temporarily anyway.)

Well, finally the gas cloud starts taking over people to explain that the gas cloud comes as friends (``that's one for the stars'', a slightly genre-aware character snarks), and promising power and revelations and, oh, did we mention the takeover by a mass mind? Well, it's coming. First, the investigative team follows a trail of whatever it is, leading to this fine exchange of B-movie dialogue:

``There's no doubt about it, you were right. We're on a direct heading for Mars.''

``I remember now. There's a place --- Brackel? --- Right. A mining colony there.''

``A uranium mine.''

``Uranium? Radiation ... Maybe this does begin to make sense.''

I can dispute no part of that exchange.

Anyway, the aliens it turns out have kind of killed the Martian miners and tossed them in the radiation pit, which shouldn't be taken as showing their promise of goodwill and whatnot to be false because those miners were just defective, you know? Then on to prodding around the uranium mines of Mars and meeting the mind-controlled survivors of the first space station's crew. They promise that it's really the energy beings living in harmony and peaceful unity, with humans as hosts who gain all kinds of new freedoms, particularly in getting away from all those emotion things. You know, the usual.

I honestly wonder if Gene Roddenberry saw this around its 1966 release, since there are a bunch of Original Trek episodes and set designs and neat costumes, including this lovely flaked-silver hood one woman wears, that may be cribbed from it, if it wasn't just in the air. They also spend a lot of time tromping around unconvincing cave sets, although that's more something that the 1990s-era Trek would fall prey to.

After desperately escaping, Our Hero goes back in order to try freeing the women-folk that the space gas captured and is busy processing into suitable subject matters. This involves the women-folk being in bright red tubes, and Our Heroes have to break them out of the tubes, which is pretty visually striking at least. There are a lot of flaws in the movie --- for one, even though there's a lot of plot, it feels like nothing's happening --- but it's always interesting to look at, with wonderful compositions of light and shadow, color and shape. This is certainly not an important movie, but it's one I would say anyone trying to design a science fiction setting should look at, just because it has this strong flavor of its own, and it's not quite like what every other movie or TV show has, even when it's a little familiar.

Here's the sort of thing that makes this movie this: in escaping Mars at the end of the film, our heroes haven't quite got enough rocket power built up for it, and the Marines are going to be bombing the base to kill the aliens already. So they figure --- why, they can ride the shock wave of the explosions up and get away even without full power! It's the sort of thing that should make any eager twelve-year-old say, ``cool'', and you could probably get away with that as your implausible action climax in a movie today too. But it's not lively here. It's instead scenes of people in their spaceship seats making those funny faces supposed to be associate with high accelerations intercut with models being blown up, and you have to infer when the explosions and rocket blasts are going together.

The movie closes with our hero an his sidekicks hanging around what looks like the Elite Travelers clubhouse of any European airport of the 60s, sulking about how despite the commendations and honors they're also court-martialled for disobeying orders and now have to face 30 days off and, hey, let's get a woman in here in an appealing yellow-green tunic so he they can kiss. It's a corny bit but about the fitting ending for all this.

Trivia: Sakichi Toyoda sold his first power loom in 1897. It would swiftly displace the British imports and within a decade was being exported to Europe, even to Britain. Source: Car Wars: The Untold Story, Robert Sobel.

Currently Reading: The Secret Life Of Bletchley Park, Sinclair McKay.

Tags: movies

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