A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro
(originally published as a review on Scifiweekly; provided here as an appetizer as we put together the next column)
Here come the explorers from Earth, Boo-Boo. Let’s say Hi, Yogi
SAVAGE PLANET. Starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Roman Podhora, Reagan Pasternak, others. Directed by Paul Lynch. Written by Jeff Hare and Kevin Moore.
SAVAGE PLANET is so very cosmically lame a film that it seems a genuine waste of time to review it except as yet another specimen of a phenomenon we’ve observed many times in our years of exposure to really, really awful low-budget science fiction movies.
And that’s this: all too often, the more elaborate and promising the setup, the more half-assed the payoff.
We first noticed this in our youth, decades ago, with a notoriously awful movie named CHOSEN SURVIVORS (1974), in which the U.S. government gathers up a bunch of assorted people and locks them up in a silo somewhere, with the explanation that there’s about to be a nuclear war and that they’ve been picked by computer as the individuals best able to start a new civilization. Nice setup. Then they’re attacked by bats. Seriously. That’s what the rest of the movie is about. Bats. The end of the world, nuclear destruction, grieving civilians locked up against their will and forced to form a community they never wanted…and the very best the movie had to offer after that was … bats.
In past years this column has also reviewed such wonderments as THE DROP, in which a mysterious figure confronts a hapless young man with the cryptic words “Information is the key, and access is the goal.” Nice setup. Then all the characters spend the next hour and a half running circles around a parking garage. There was also CLIVE BARKER’S THE PLAGUE, in which the contagion of the title puts all of the world’s children into deathly comas; as we pointed out at that time, that was a nice setup too, which could have gone any number of interesting places, but all the movie had in mind was the tykes all sitting up and acting like zombies. Really. Zombies. Given the set-up, the imagination deficit is so extreme it feels like a medical condition.
You must now be really eager to find out all about the film under discussion today, which begins in the environmentally ravaged future and introduces us to a group of mission specialists in the employ of corporate shark James Carlson (Podhora). Earth is dying. Many cities around the world are suffering riots due to gas-mask shortages. The only hope is finding a new planet for the resettlement of Mankind. Fortunately, Carlson has developed a means of long-distance teleportation, and is ready to mount an expedition to Oxygen, the first successfully terraformed alien world.
There are, of course, hints that he has an agenda he isn’t sharing. But that’s okay. Even without that we have a vital mission of mapping and exploration, with tremendous stakes.
Nice setup, right?
Or so you would think, until his explorers teleport to Oxygen and are almost immediately…
…(wait for it)…
…attacked by bears.
No, I’m not kidding.
Honest to Betsy. That’s what the movie’s about. That’s all it has in mind. A group of interplanetary travelers, seeking salvation for all humanity, get picked off, one at a time, by bears.
True, we’re told many times that these are very large, very intelligent, very dangerous bears, unlike any human beings have ever seen, but we’re asked to take that on faith, because they’re played by ordinary bears, and they don’t do anything but stand on their hind legs, swipe at the air and make bear noises. From time to time, our heroines scream and our heroes fire their assault weapons and we get another close-up of a bear saying, “Woougaaaaghhh,” and what happens is, either another evil alien bear goes down dead or the cast of not very interesting people is reduced by one. Killed By A Bear. Though that is something else we have to take on faith, since we almost never see the bears and the human beings in the same shot except in extreme close-ups where screaming people are outfought by rugs and taxidermy.
Even the living bears are not all that impressive. There was a great bear performer named Bart who appeared in about a dozen films, typecast as The Bear; and he was an absolutely terrific Bear, even when the movies around him were not all that great. (You can find him in THE EDGE and THE BEAR. He presented at the Oscars one year, and his son Bart the Bear II appeared on THE AMAZING RACE. I am not making this up.) Bart was also pretty overweight, a chronic problem for domesticated Bears who don’t get all the exercise their kind would find in the wild. The best of the movies featuring him managed to hide this and make him look magnificent. This movie features several close-ups of chubby bear asses, waddling back into the woods in no particular hurry and with no sense of menace. These are, in short, Bears from Central Casting. Alien bears from Central Casting. Ooooh. Bears. Even more scary than goats.
All of this is filmed in a nice, sunny forest about as clearly terrestrial as any you could imagine. There are meadows and ferns and nice splashes of green. It’s a sunny place. It must have been pleasant at midday, when the shooting was done for the morning and the cast and crew was able to spread blankets on the grass, for picnic lunches. This is not exactly conducive to suspense. Seriously, you know how good thrillers make you forget that cameras are present and that the actors are just reciting lines written for them? It’s impossible to forget that for even ten seconds, here. Once our heroes reach their destination, there’s not a single location, not a single shot, not a single second, where anybody on this supposedly alien world looks like they’re more than a fifteen minute ride from a Motel Six. These people are not filming a movie about interstellar explorers fighting a monstrous alien environment. They’re filming a tampon commercial.
The result is a lot like what ALIEN would have been like had Ridley Scott filmed it in the park at Three O’Clock in the afternoon. Except not as interesting.