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Planet Terror (2007)
Dimension Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 10/16/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/11/2007
Over the years, the Weinstein Brothers (Harvey and Bob) have made a reputation for themselves as being vicious movers and shakers within the film industry. From their humble roots in low-budget horror films (The Burning) to their Oscar winning productions, they have always found a way to market their products. Which makes it all the more surprising that they took the unique theater-going experience of Grindhouse and changed it for the DVD release by putting out the two parts of that film separately. Thus, instead of the Grindhouse double-feature, we get only Planet Terror.
Planet Terror opens in a strip club, where we meet dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), who, tired of dancing, quits her job. The action then switches to a military base where Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) confronts Abby (Naveen Andrews) concerning a toxic gas. A gunfight erupts and the container holding the gas escapes, causing the soldiers to immediately begin acting strangely. We then meet Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) and Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin), a couple who are clearly having marital issues, who are preparing for their jobs on the night shift at the hospital. The action then shifts to a bar-b-q shack run by J.T. (Jeff Fahey) where Cherry has stopped for a drink. Into the place comes El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), Cherry's old boyfriend. They leave and are immediately involved in a wreck. El Wray takes Cherry to the hospital, where a man has arrived with an odd bite, which came from one of the soldiers from the military base. The man's infected bite mutates, and the hospital is quickly taken over by zombies. El Wray and Cherry band with the local sheriff (Michael Biehn) and attempt to find a way escape from the flesh-hungry zombies.
Due to the fact that I'm typically buried under a stack of DVDs, I rarely get to see movies in the theater. But, I did have plans to see Grindhouse. Unfortunately, it came and went so quickly that I didn't get the chance. This wouldn't have been so bad if the Grindhouse experience had been re-created for the DVD release. But, according to rumor, due to the fact that the movie was a box-office disappointment, the Weinsteins decided to separate Planet Terror and Deathproof, the two films which comprised Grindhouse, and release them separately on DVD. Not only was the double-feature aspect removed, but the intermission trailers, which many hailed as the best part of the Grindhouse, were nowhere to be found. Thus, we are simply stuck with Robert Rodriguez's zombie film. (In all fairness, the fake trailer for Machete is included here, setting the tone for the movie.)
With Grindhouse, Rodriguez and Tarantino reportedly set out to not only make films which were a homage to the kind of b-movies that they grew up with, but also to re-create the experience of seeing those films in a grimy, low-rent theater. Thus, the film is made to resemble a print which has been screened many times, as it sports cuts, scrapes, scratches, hair, burnt sections, and missing frames. But, when Planet Terror is lifted out of this context, what we're left with isn't very special.
Based on what I knew about Grindhouse, I had expected Planet Terror to be an intentionally cheesy genre film, complete with boom mikes hanging into the frame and stiff acting. Instead, we get a competently made film that truly looks like something which would have shown up in video stores in the 80s. So, is this a bad thing? Well, yes and no. If viewed only as a low-budget zombie movie, forgetting about all of the Grindhouse stuff, Planet Terror is a serviceable horror film, as it's chock full of action scenes and gore and it rarely slows down to catch its breath. On the other hand, it's no better than the films that it's indebted to, such as Return of the Living Dead. Sure, we have the novelty of seeing many well-known actors appearing in this grimy little film, but this wears off very quickly and all that's left is a run-of-the-mill zombie film.
If you're a horror film buff, then Planet Terror is certainly worth seeing, as you'll love how Rodriguez has worked so many genre cliches into the film, while still providing a slew of blood-filled action scenes. But, beyond some campy, clever dialogue and Cherry's machine gun leg, the movie doesn't offer anything outside of the norm. Seeing Planet Terror outside of Grindhouse is like having birthday cake with no party -- it's good, but you miss the gala.
Planet Terror loses a leg on DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Well, what can you say about a movie where the image has been degraded and damaged on purpose? Assuming that all of the grain, scratches, and washed-out colors are intentional, then the transfer looks good. I can say that the image is stable and that there is little in the way of artifacting or video noise. And while some of the colors are faded, the blood is always a strong red. The audio is an easier call. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track does sport some hissing and "pops", but, again, these are intentional. The stereo effects are quite good, as are surround effects. The audio really comes to life during the action sequences, where we are treated to an abundance of subwoofer action (especially during the finale).
Planet Terror's DVD debut consists of a two-disc set, with the extra features spread across the two DVDs. Disc 1 offers an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Robert Rodriguez. This is a good talk, as Rodriguez's laid-back style makes him very conversational and we never feel that he's talking down to us. While describing the on-screen action, he also talks about how the film came about and the casting choices. In a quality move, Rodriguez is nice enough to point out the footage which was added back in for the extended version. We also get an AUDIENCE REACTION TRACK, which gives one the feeling of watching it with in a packed theater. I would have rather had the intermission trailers. This disc features an "International Poster Gallery" and the "International Trailer" for Planet Terror.
The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. In "10 Minute Film School" (12 minutes), Rodriguez narrates a montage of behind-the-scenes footage as he describes how the stunts, visual effects, and the degrading process on the film were done. "The Badass Babes of Planet Terror" (12 minutes) profiles the woman in the film and contains comments from Rodriguez, Rose McGown, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, and the Crazy Babysitter Twins. Rodriguez also elaborates on his screenwriting process here. The men get similar treatment in "The Guys of Planet Terror" (16 minutes), which features appearances by Robert Rodriguez, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Quentin Tarantino, Tom Savini, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, and Naveen Andrews. Rodriguez talks about working with his young son on the film in "Casting Rebel" (6 minutes). "Sickos, Stunts, and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror" (13 minutes) takes us behind-the-scenes to see how the stunts for various scenes were done, including rehearsal footage. "The Friend, The Doctor, and the Real Estate Agent" (7 minutes) examines how three actors from the film, Tommy Nix, Felix Sabates, and Skip Reissig are all people from Rodriguez's everyday life.
On December 16, 2008, Dimension Home Entertainment brought Planet Terror to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20Mbps. If it was difficult to evaluate the video quality of the DVD, it's even harder with the Blu-ray. What should I say, the scratches look clearer? All joking aside, underneath the dirt, grain, scratches, and cuts, the image looks good. While the colors are intentionally washed out at times, those which aren't look very good, especially the reds. The image is never overly dark, although it does get dark in some scenes. The bottom line is that the Blu-ray version of Planet Terror looks really good at looking bad. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While there are some intentional pops and sputters, the sound here is very impressive. The stereo effects are good, and nicely detailed. During the action scenes, we get some very nice surround sound and subwoofer effects. Just jump to the finale to hear how the explosions rock the subwoofer and the helicopter fills the rear speakers. The audio is almost too good for this movie.
The Planet Terror 2-disc Blu-ray release contains the same extras as the DVD. A new feature on the the Disc is a "Scratch-free" version of the film. The video is a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. While it certainly looks better, it still has the look of a low-budget movie. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and runs at 640 kbps. So, as the Blu-ray has the same extras as the DVD, that means that the intermission trailers from the theatrical version of Grindhouse still aren't included here. Which raises the question; Do you buy this film and Death Proof now, or wait and see if the Weinsteins will ever release Grindhouse to home video? The full film experience has been shown on cable, so why can't we get it on a Blu-ray Disc?
Review Copyright 2007-2008 by Mike Long