YOUR EYES WILL GLAZE
YOUR EARS WILL POP
YOUR HEART WILL STAND SHOCK-STILL!
The makers of the film do deserve credit for one out of three.
American International Pictures (AIP), over the course of 26 years,1 distributed over 500 films, most of them drive-in theater/exploitation fare. It saw the rise of one of the most successful (depending on how one defines the term) American directors of all-time, Roger Corman, and many of the people who worked with or for him that went on to more respectable films: Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorcese, and others. AIP and Corman are practically synonymous to the point where one might think it was his company. AIP released a lot of other movies of varying quality (even kind b-movie fans would admit that describes Corman's work): many low budget domestic flicks aimed at the teen market and imported European films of the same sort.
On that mythical Scale of Quality Variance 1962's Journey to the Seventh Planet ranks pretty low. The autopsy begins.
Magic 8-Ball says: "Outlook not so good."
Put together by writer-director Ib Melchior and director-sometimes writer Sid Pink (who, despite the name, never directed pornthough he did make a titillatingly titled feature in 1953 called I Was a Burlesque Queen), Journey... is pretty inept Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder. Looking at the pair's pedigree, should cause concern about the quality of the production. Pink (the director on Journey...) really had no career away from Melchior and his claim to fame (such as it is) is probably being associate producer on 1952's Bwana Devilmainly due to the film being the first commercially released 3-D feature. Melchior had more of a career outside his partnership with Pink, though other than a little television (he was a writer on The Outer Limits) the closest thing to making him cool was providing the story for Death Race 2000 (Paul Bartel's 1975 cult film). But only the story, not the script. Mr. Melchior and Mr. Pink co-wrote the script for Journey....
As noted, the two had worked together before. The important films of the "partnership" are 1960's semi-"classic" The Angry Red Planet (directed by Ib, screenplay from Ib, story by Sid) and the 1961 Reptilicus (Ib writes, Sid provides story and direction), a lively, but poor rip-off of 1954's Godzilla (Gojira; US release 1956). As an aside, Reptilicus is still probably the only movie in history in which a giant monster attacks Copenhagen, Denmark. With a track record like that, the next ambitious film had to be great, right? Obviously not. The problems with the other filmsgeneral ineptness, a mishmash of international actors, and all the consequences of poor fundingseem magnified in Journey....
Despite the "partnership," Ib was only involved in the script and the post-production phases. And, though more than a little self-serving, he believes that "It was a great pity that Pink decided to direct Journey and Reptilicus himself. The projects did have possibilities. Had I the chance to direct... I hope I would have done a better job and avoided the dilettante feel those films achieved under Pink's direction" (emphasis in original). Yeah, maybe.
Did the movie have some sort of potential? Magic 8-Ball says: "Most likely."
The men did have some real ideas for their film. Maybe not original but more thoughtful than most science fiction stuff at the time. It takes place sometime in the distant future when war is no longer a threat, space travel has been perfected and (to scare the black helicopter crowd) the world is governed by the United Nations. That year would be 2001. A group of scientists (all men, so apparently the glass ceiling still exists, only it probably looks more "futuristic") travel to Uranus (see: 'cause it's the Seventh Planet) where they come under the influence of an alien force. One that is able to exploit their fears and desires and use them against them (though this evil alien's plan seems to have a lot to do with making a gaggle of Danish women appear to the men). This force can take these memories and feelings and make them concrete. As premises go, it's not that bad. But execution is so important. And a means to do it paramount.
And the filmmakers couldn't do it on with the film's budget of $74,000 (with $25,000 going to the male and female leads)The Angry Red Planet made by the pair two years earlier had a budget of $190,000. Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s dirt cheap cult classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) was $60,000. The intrepid Sid and Ib would be forced to make do and instead of an interesting piece of garage sale Philip K. Dick or minor The Outer Limits episode, they made Journey....
In fact, in order to cut costs, the originally planned opening sequence was cut from the project. It showed the team being brought together (originally seven, cut to fiveprobably a good thing, one was a stock ethnic stereotype meant as comedy relief) and gave the reason why they were going to the Seventh Planet. See, dangerous radiation (is there any other kind in a sci-fi film?) was coming toward earth from the titular planet. This is why there are a few later references to radiation still in the dialogue.
Location? Effects? Can the ideas be saved? Magic 8-Ball says: "Don't count on it."
Like Reptilicus, the filming was to take place in Denmark. The studio used was small, the 2000 square feet divided into two smaller spaces, limiting the size of any stage work. To compensate, they did shoot a few scenes on location (in a forest). The original idea was to shoot some location work in Greenland but the production just couldn't afford it. And since the area around the studio didn't look like the frozen wasteland of Uranus, nor were there any mountainous areas nearby, those ideas had to be scrapped. Uranus as "frozen planet" only makes its appearance twice and both times, it's done with miniatures on the floor the studio. And it looks like it.
Fortunately, because the alien "mind" (a poorly made giant brain that is controlling things) is playing on the memories and desires of the men, once they land, (through sloppy stop motion work and hundreds of model railroad trees) the planet turns into a likeness of one of the men's childhood home. They find all the things expected of the forested land: plenty of trees, a brookthough it all feels a bit cramped because the lack of space made them double up props and film everything close together. The difference between the few actual outdoor shots and the studio work is highly noticeable (the actors walk in circuitous patterns so as to make the set seem bigger than it is).
Again, there are some nice ideas that are lost in the midst of all the surrounding banality. The men discover that none of the plants have any roots (because they aren't real). A tree that had nothing on it, suddenly has a full-grown apple (the nice touch lost because the tree is too small to bear fruit and the apple, given time, would probably break off the branch it's attached to). When the men realize they are inside a domed force field, the audience has to take their word for it because the field lies behind a wall of coniferous greenery. They peer between the branches, hanging like a wall of shrubbery and talk about it being there. They stick an arm in to find that it is extremely cold. But it only seems to serve the purpose of keeping out the cold and surrounding the fake world as it is made clear when they breech (they simply walk offscreen which is dark at the edge like the film was wasn't threaded properly) the field with their laughable space suitsbright blue and yellow with rubber gloves.
There is one shot that is really good. The men are sitting around a campfire at night, while one talks about his childhood village. As he mentions the windmill and the village, they slowly appear in silhouette on the horizon. A very nice touch. So out of place in a film where the laser blasts from the guns look like they were scratched onto the negative. In most cases the laser streams don't match up with the direction the muzzle is pointing and occasionally they don't quite begin at the end of the gun barrel but next to it. About what one might expect, one supposes, from what are clearly toy guns that are too small for the actors. (Though they are supposed to be from a few different countries and part of a world that's moved beyond war, they land in true "American" fashionas soon as the air tests safe, it's "get your guns.")
There's the forest of crystal trees outside the dome. Due to space limitations, the main part of the "forest" is about the area of a two-car garage and they wind through the same set while cameras film from the rafters and at various angles, desperately trying to make it appear much larger. There's some superimposed "mist" to blur the edges and it was filmed with a wide lens to try to hide the size of the set. The "trees" are thin, spiky, sharp prongs and actually look sorta cool (apparently the final props were tree branches painted silver, some with added spike projections). When it had been originally constructed, the builders had made it out of parts of street signs. Director Pink was forced to have them redone. It wasn't be the first time things had to be "fixed." Then there's the quicksand pit of frozen ammonia (portrayed like snow). It seems made of something akin to tiny Styrofoam pellets.
Then there's the monsters. An earlier monster, a one-eyed serpent, was dropped from the film because it was so badly made. Another monster was cut because when it "came out of the cave and you could see the chicken wire. It was so bad I couldn't believe it," according to Ib. In order to "fix" things, they reused shots of the "rat-bat-spider-crab" from The Angry Red Planet," retinting it to make it seem new. They also tinted footage (originally black and white) footage of the eponymous tarantula from Bert I. Gordon's Earth vs the Spider (1958). Silly "psychedelic" style swirls and circles as well as intermittent colored lights (for no apparent reason) are also used to spice up the visuals.
Other than the giant brain, the "big" monster is a one-eyed lizardthough they claim is a member of the "rodent family." It seems that it was supposed to reflect one crew member's fear of rats. Done on the cheap, using stop motion animation (and they ain't no Ray Harryhausen), effects workers at AIP took an armature from the harpy from 1962's Jack the Giant Killer (they removed the wings and made them arms) and built a new (bargain basement) monster. In an ever so slight defense of the script, it originally was furry but the people at AIP thought it looked "too cute" so the fur was removed (some remained on the head). Some of the shots of the creature are close ups that simply require an unseen puppeteer to hold the "rodent" and shift it back and forth. Its roar was stolen from a Rodan movie.
And the giant brain? Watch the light flash from its giant eye. You can sometimes see the filament in the bulb.
Dialogue? Acting? Magic 8-Ball says: "My reply is no."
The main actor is John Agar, who mostly did cheap, low budget movies...well, like this one. He did act in the first two parts of John Ford's cavalry trilogy (different characters) at the beginning of his career as well as The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949; he'd later work again with John Wayne in a few of his later period westerns), and a few of his films are genuinely appreciated by cult film fans. The female lead, Ann Smyrner, was a Danish actress who appears to have done plenty of movies similar to this and whose total biographical info at the Internet Movie Database (beyond her real first name and the date and place of birth) is: "Measurements are 36-28-35." Most of her films were made in Europe. The other male leads were all Danes and though a couple seem to have had a long and even respected careers (as best I can tell) they worked almost exclusively in Denmark. With the exception of Greta Thyssen (Miss Denmark 1952) the rest of the cast rarely or never worked outside of Denmark or non-English films.
This "international" cast presented problems for a movie meant for US audiences because of accent and language. In order to facilitate dubbing, the actors were told to "enunciate their English and speak very deliberately.... The unfortunate result was that the actors came off as stiff automatons." One wonders if this is why they can't seem to pronounce the name of the Seventh Planet, sometime saying "yoor-an'-is" or "yoor-ah'-nis." It just sounds weird. In the end, Ib dubbed several voices himself and at least one other person helped. The "stiff"ness followed into the realm of the acting, too. The whole enterprise comes off as clumsy and amateurish.
And though there were a few good ideas buried deep beneath the surface of the script, the often laughable dialogue manages to cover it up pretty well. A taste:
I'm like a commander. Space is my vocation. Women, that's my avocation.
There was a girl, Lisa, a real chick.... A UN biological expert. Boy, was she biological. I wish I could've taught her my kind of biology.
It's as if we're in the middle of a weird hallucination.
Our minds are being probed like mice.
The only answer that makes sense: to find out what makes us tick.
There are also the brain's offscreen monologues about how it will destroy them:
Your own fears have created the means of your destruction.
I shall drain your minds and bend your will to mine. You will submit and I shall possess you through your minds and bodies. I will rule you and make your world mine....
And more of the same.
Bad? Magic 8-Ball says: "It is decidedly so."
Perhaps it was doomed from the start. The stable of Danish actors, the b-movie writer and director, the z-grade budget and facilities. But sometimes a film will thrive and transcend its limitations. This film, however, does not. Even a bit boring between Mystery Science Theater-style laughs (one might try riffing along to get through it). Despite a few genuine ideas that barely peek through and a couple interesting visuals, the whole thing falls flat. Some enjoyment might be found in mocking along to it but it'd be best to avoid unless one really likes uninspired schlock that isn't always bad enough to be good.
What's this about the ending credits? Magic 8-Ball says: "Better not tell you now."
Sorry Magic 8-Ball, this has to be revealed. On the TV version of the film that aired in the US, one only has some music and the poorly done animated rocketship moving against the background but the original release (and the DVD) featured two and a half minutes of Danish actor Otto Brandenburg crooningyes: crooninga title song (over the same visuals). Surprisingly, his singing voice is far more polished than anything or anyone onscreen during the previous 75 or so minutes. And it is as dull and eyerollingly mediocre as the rest of the movie:
Journey to the Seventh Planet
Come to me, your dreams become reality
I wait for you somewhere on the Seventh Planet
Out in space, you and I will find a magic place
Like loves do and why....2
Doesn't get any better. Another good adjective: insipid.
"YOUR EYES WILL GLAZE." Yep, one out of three.
1Five hundred thirty-four movies under that imprint according to the Internet Movie Database. It began with The Fast and the Furious, under American Releasing Corporation and ended with Brian DePalma's Dressed to Kill, distributed under Filmways Pictures with which AIP had merged in 1978.
2The song wasn't subtitled on the DVD (and I didn't check for closed captions until weeks after seeing it). That was as far as I transcribed before writing in the notebook:
Just wasn't worth it....
Sources: MGM Midnite Movies DVD Double feature paired with Invisible Invaders (1959; an example of how a movie can overcome a low budget and be genuinely fun); the Internet Movie Database; "Worlds, Wars & Wonders: the Amazing Career of Ib J. Melchior" FILMFAX issue 58 (quotes from there); opening quote comes from the movie's trailer which appears on the DVD.
Movies referenced above which I have seen: The Angry Red Planet, Death Race 2000, Dressed to Kill, Earth vs the Spider, Godzilla (not sure about the Rodan one), Invisible Invaders, Jack the Giant Killer, Reptilicus, Sands of Iwo Jima, the John Ford movies Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and the other John Wayne movies: The Undefeated (1969), Chism (1970), and Big Jake (1971).