Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965)

... aka: Prehistoric Planet
... aka: Voyage to a Prehistoric Planet

Directed by:
"John Sebastian" (Curtis Harrington)
Pavel Klushantsev (uncredited)

Russian director Pavel Klushantsev's ambitious sci-fi adventure Planeta Bur (or, "Planet of Storms") was never released in America in its original, uncut form. Oh, it was released here, all right. Twice, in fact; just not as it was originally intended to be seen. Uncredited executive producer Roger Corman had acquired the rights to the film, had it English-dubbed, re-edited and re-scored (by Ronald Stein) and then got his money's worth by incorporating it into numerous later releases. He first allowed director / writer "John Sebastian" (Curtis Harrington) to film brand new footage starring Basil Rathbone (who took half a day off from filming Harrington's Planet of Blood [which also featured effects shots from Planeta Bur] to appear) and Faith Domergue to add to it. The resulting film was Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet; released directly to television in 1965. The price tag for both of Harrington's efforts was just 33,000 dollars. A few years later, Corman allowed another director, a young Peter Bogdanovich (billed as "Derek Thomas" and probably also the credited writer, "Henry Ney") to tinker around with the same Russian film to create a second all-"new" feature, which had silly new footage of space babes led by Mamie Van Doren grafted on and was issued as VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN in 1968.

It's the year 2020. Since the moon has already been explored and colonized, astronauts plan on achieving their next goal: the first successful landing on Venus, "where so many physical conditions are like our own." (such as its mean surface temperature of 863 degrees Fahrenheit?). Three ships; the Sirius, the Vega and the Capella, have traveled 200 million miles to their destination. The Capella is hit by a meteorite and blows up, killing all on board. Because of the loss, Professor Hartman (Rathbone) at their home base, Lunar Station 7, alters their initial plans and instructs them to wait in orbit until a replacement spaceship can meet them there. Commander Brendan Lockhart (Vladimir Yemelyanov), Hans Walters (Georgi Zhzhyonov) and Andre Ferneau (Gennadi Vernov) aboard the Sirius, and Dr. Alfred Kern (Georgiy Teykh), Allen Sherman (Yuriy Sarantsev) and Dr. Marsha Evans (Domergue) quickly come up with another game plan. Dr. Kern, Allen and their "automaton" Robot John will take a small ship down to the planet while Marsha keeps their main one in orbit, and the men aboard the Sirius will stand by in case things get out of hand. They call in and get the approval of Hartman and Plan B commences.

Dr. Kern, Allen and Robot John crash land on the planet and lose contact with the other two ships. Feeling they have no other choice, the men aboard the Sirius break orbit and venture down themselves despite Hartman's advising them not to take any unnecessary risks. On Venus, a rocky, smoky, prehistoric land, the men encounter a tentacled plant monster, a swamp full of leaping lizard-men, a brontosaurus, a pterodactyl, a funny-looking bearded octopus and strange signs that there was a civilization there long before they arrived. They keep hearing siren calls, which sounds like a human female, and have to endure the treacherous elements; perpetual rain, a volcano eruption, an avalanche, etc. Every once in awhile, the film cuts back to the new footage of Domergue, whose character can't decide whether she should risk it and land or stay in orbit and wait.

Though the Russian footage that comprises the bulk of this film is fun, I evaluate hodgepodges like this exclusively on how the newly-added footage complements the original film. The Harrington-added scenes sadly don't really add much. Rathbone and Domergue both just sit around on cheap-looking sets talking over the radio and that's about it, though the scenes at least work in cohesion with the original story. Aside from those scenes, new credits utilizing the paintings of John Cline as backdrop have been added. The Russian actors either went unbilled or have been given fake Anglicized names ("Robert Chantal," "Kurt Boden" etc.) Stephanie Rothman, who later directed The Velvet Vampire (1971) and others for Corman, was the associate producer.

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