The Phantom Planet (1961)
I did two things this week. I watched 1961's The Phantom Planet and I passed a kidney stone the size of a Toyota. One of them was the most painful experience of my entire life, full of agonizing waves of shearing pain and bouts of nausea that left me curled up in a fetal position for hours, begging sweet death to come and take me to end my suffering. The other hurt a bit, but the doctor gave me some good pain killers and the stone came out when I was sleeping.
And now on to our show...
We start out in space. A narrator tells us this is the far-flung year of 1980, and men have ventured into space and walked on the moon. We open as an Earth spaceship is zooming through space, on its way to somewhere or another. Aboard are two crewmen, square-jawed Americans with crew cuts and cleanly-shaven faces. This opening is really not too badly done, though we're immediately put on notice for Extreme Techobabble Alert, which will be in effect for the duration of this movie. This is another in a long line of cheap b-movies (they still make them today) that tries to cover its complete lack of scientific reality with miles and miles of technobabble and gibberish. But, at least they try. [Editor Pam: I'm pretty sure I've seen the spaceship's control panel before in other science fiction movies. I wonder if it was for rent?]
Suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, the ship loses bearing. Something is pulling them off their course, and a look out the portal shows a lumpy, irregular asteroid looming in their path. Attempts at maneuvering fail, they're apparently no longer in control of the ship, and the impact is loud and splashy.
Next we go to the "Lunar Base", where we meet a few of our ancillary characters. A couple of military men are talking glumly about the lost spaceship, plus another similar loss earlier the same week. The two men are dressed in Class A uniforms, with service ribbons and decorations pinned to their chests. Please don't tell me that this is standard dress code for the Lunar Base.
Class A's in space!
They get a call just then, from some higher-up presumably back on Earth. He tells them to put their best man on the job, to discover what happened to their lost spaceships. They protest that the best man they have is currently slated for the "Mars mission", but they're outranked.
And so they call in Captain Frank Chapman, who's apparently the Stud Pilot of the space fleet. Chapman is played by 35-year old Dean Fredericks. Fredericks is a fine-looking man, but a lousy actor, with extremely limited skills and range. Perhaps he was instructed to play his role serious and wooden, but maybe this is just the best he has to offer. Fredericks' Hollywood career was mercifully short and uneventful, with few notable roles other than this one. The character of Chapman is a tall, muscular, blonde man, with an air of egotistical confidence that women seem to swoon over. Kinda like Captain James T. Kirk. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and call him "Captain Kirk" because he's indeed the prototype for the 1960s Kirk-style space hero.
So Kirk and his co-pilot blast off in their spaceship, headed towards the last known position of the lost ship. The ship model is identical to one in the opening sequence. This is a cost-saving measure and helped along by informing us that Kirk's ship is the Pegasus IV and the ship we saw earlier was the Pegasus III. It's a standard 1960s design, looking like a V-1 rocket with some elongated fins. It takes off vertically and has that whole "long tapering flame shooting out the back" thing that annoys me so much. It doesn't appear to be armed in any way and has a crew of just two. Helpfully, all the gauges and dials are identified by large placards, "Aft View Screen", "Altimeter", etc. The crew wear simple tight-fitting high-pressure suits like what test pilots wore in the 1950s, with no patches or adornments.
Must say though that they put some money into the sets.
His co-pilot is Lieutenant Ray Makonnen, played by Richard Weber, who was just Doctor Ruskin in 1960's 12 to the Moon. Weber apparently thought he was auditioning for a gay porn movie, because his short time in this film is spent gazing longingly at Kirk, and pouting and emoting. He also has enough gel in his hair to entomb a wooly mammoth.
At one point the Co-Pilot looks directly into the camera (!) and says..."You know, Captain, every year of my life I grow more and more convinced that the wisest and the best is to fix our attention on the good and the beautiful. If you just take the time to look at it." What the hell does that mean? This is really annoying, a movie rarely benefits when actors break the "fourth wall" like this. Well, unless it's Wayne's World or Zack on Saved by the Bell. Our movie seems like it's trying really hard to be socially conscious, to MEAN SOMETHING, to HAVE A PURPOSE, though it utterly fails to be relevant. Kinda like Green Day but without the rambling, bitter, pedantic diatribes on things they can't possibly understand because of their privileged celebrity lifestyles.
Kirk, being Kirk, decides to deviate from the established plan of following the same course as the last ship. Illogically, he does so without telling Lunar Base, which would seem to be in his best interest. He somehow thinks that his bosses would override him, which is probably true. His wanton disregard for his orders and the safety of his ship and crew is at odds with his US Air Force rank and position. If he survives this mess, I hope he gets court-martialed. Even the real Kirk was reprimanded for breaking Starfleet rules every now and then.
What ho? An isolated meteor shower approaches our ship? Can you even have a clumping of asteroids like this in deep space without a gravitational body to act upon them? And why do they look like popcorn puffs painted brown? Anyway, like a trawler riding out a squall, Kirk turns his ship bows-on to the incoming meteors and then "dodges" them.
They think they're through them fine, but suddenly they lose power after the ship vibrates from a glancing hit. Checking all the circuits and widgets, they determine that it must be some sort of physical damage to the engines, perhaps suffered by the meteor strike. They make a big deal about their tragic loss of power, but apparently they have some reserves as their life support systems seem to be working fine. They also have some sort of anti-gravity system operating as the crew cabin is a normal g, and they walk around like they would on Earth.
So the only solution is for them to don their spacesuits and EVA out to fix the power problem. Really? Bad design, you'd think they could access these control panels from an interior work space or something. And why do both of them exit the ship? Isn't this taking a risk, shouldn't one of them stay inside in case something happens?
They put on these glass-front helmets (which seem to have pretty weak neck seals) and large air tanks with lots of hoses and gauges. And what the hell, they're not tethered in any way (this is not going to end well) and they don't have magnetic boots or gloves or anything. Basically, they just are shimmying along the smooth hull of the spaceship, flattening themselves against the metal and hoping that they don't fall off. They're also acting as if there's some sort of wind drag affecting them, which there wouldn't be, of course.
So they work their way to a square access panel about the size of a microwave-oven door. For some reason, it's leaking a white vapor from the edges, which trails along behind the ship. The men open the panel and peer inside. Note that the access door is lost in the process, disappearing into space. That's going to make reentry a pain! A quick glance inside tells them that the "retro-rocket feed lines must be cut." Their sole "tool" is a standard crescent wrench (!) that one of them uses to poke around inside the panel for a bit. I'm confused, didn't they speculate that the loss of power was caused by a meteor strike? I see no external damage here, so maybe it was the strain of having to avoid the meteors that overloaded some critical system?
While they're out there tinkering away, we see a small shower of micro-meteorites whizzing by. Ok, I guess, do these usually follow in the wake of larger meteorites? One streak-of-light plinks into Captain Kirk's air hose connector, with the classic bullet ricochet sound foleyed in. And that's all, mind you, the rock doesn't then continue on and plow through the hull of the ship like it should have, it just disappears. The regulator is knocked loose, causing Kirk to go all groggy and limp.
The Co-Pilot notices the slumping Kirk and struggles to get him back inside the airlock door. This he does, but in the process loses his grip and goes floating off into deep space. With Kirk now fully unconscious, there's no one to help him and off he goes to his death like Tim Robbins in Mission to Mars, reciting the Lord's Prayer over and over.
Some time later, Kirk awakens and stumbles into the command cabin. In an over-acted Shatner-like moment, he realizes that his co-pilot is missing and the ship still has no power.
But no time for grieving, as on the view screen looms that darn hunk of rock from the opening scene. Helpless without power, the spaceship is ensnared in a pale white tractor beam and pulled horizontally down to the rocky surface of the asteroid. In one of those moments that you have to watch carefully to catch, when the ship starts to be pulled down, a shot of Kirk shows him in his left-hand pilot's chair. But another shot as his ship is almost down shows him now sitting in the right-hand co-pilot's chair!
Hmm...you know, this is really just an asteroid, all chunky and irregular and all. It has clearly not been trapped in a solar orbit, and is not part of an established solar system. The film's title is The Phantom Planet, but it really should be The Phantom Asteroid. Having a population does not make it a planet. And just where the hell is this planet anyway? Before they made a big deal about how the Moon had been visited, but the next planet out, Mars, had not yet. Kirk, remember, was pulled from the important Mars mission for this task. So, the first two spaceships that were lost, they must logically have been traveling somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the Moon, right? Maybe as far out as Mars, but certainly no further distant or they would have already visited the Red Planet, right? Am I thinking about this too much? Later we see an interstellar war is brewing between the people on this asteroid and some other folks. Is this happening relatively close to Earth then? Shouldn't we be able to detect this?
The "Phantom Planet".
So Kirk puts on his space suit and exits the spaceship. He's having some trouble, he keeps falling down and passing out. While he's down on his back, we see a strange sight. A gaggle of men, each but six-inches tall, warily approach his prone body. Dressed in identical outfits, which can be described as plain hospital scrubs, the men carefully peer into Kirk's helmet. One even raps his hand against the clear glass.
Waking up, Kirk is shocked to see these little people, now scurrying around like extras on a Gulliver's Travels movie set. Suddenly, Kirk begins to shrink! A fairly lame optical effect shows his head shrinking down into his helmet and his suit growing limp. Soon Kirk is also just six inches tall, now trapped inside his spacesuit. I'm guessing they want us to think he's nekkid, as he rightly should be, but in several shots you can see glimpses of the flesh-colored shorts he's wearing. Just as well, no one wants to see hairy man butt.
Hey, how did the visor get open? Did it open when he fell down that last time? What the hell kind of helmet design allow the visor to open from a jarring impact? Who was the contractor for the spacesuits, Mattel?
The group of men approach again, this time entering the helmet. One man in particular, clearly the leader of this group, moves quickly into the folds of the suit. Kirk grabs this man in a lame chokehold and is struggling with him when the other men come to subdue Kirk. They haul him out of the helmet and lead him away inside the planet.
The man Kirk fought with will be a major player for the remainder of our movie. His name is Herron and he's played by 48-year old Tony Dexter. Widely known for the starring role in 1951's Valentino, Dexter would never really parlay that into big screen success. Along with our movie, he would embarrass himself with turns in lame movies like 1956's Fire Maidens From Outer Space and 1960's 12 to the Moon. His last film was in 1967 and he seems to have retired after that. In our movie, he's the brash, arrogant future son-in-law of this world's leader and is not happy about this stranger landing on his planet and stirring things up. I must say, however, that he's indeed a fine looking man.
All the sets for the interior of the world are the classic "spray-painted styrofoam-cave walls with mood lighting" that all b-movie alien planets are made of. Star Trek was especially bad at this, with half the worlds the crew visited being underground caverns. There seems to be nothing beautiful down here, no gardens, no babbling brooks, no art for art's sake. Judging by the drab clothing and the lack of individual style, this must be one boring place to live.
So Kirk is led before a tribunal of men and women. He's now dressed in local clothes, though his shirt is left open Shatner-like down to his navel, exposing a whole lot of chest hair. The jury is made up of six young women, who stand silently while hearing the charges. If the honeys in the jury look abnormally pretty, it's because several of them are. Included in the jury box are two future Playboy Playmates of the Month; Marya Carter from May of 1962 (at the ripe old age of 30, no less) and Merissa Mathes from June of 1962. Looking at the lineup of girls, you can clearly see the changes in the "standards of beauty" that the last 40 years have seen. Maybe it's the hair, or the clothes, but none of these women would ever grace the pages of Playboy today.
The lovely Merissa Mathes!
The REALLY lovely Marya Carter!
There are two people here we're first introduced to. There's Sessom, the leader of the planet and then there's the lovely Liara, who is both Sessom's daughter and Herron's girlfriend.
Sessom is played by 78-year old Francis X. Bushman, a once-legendary actor who by 1961 had been reduced to these sorts of embarrassing roles in b-movies. From a high of Massala in 1925's Ben-Hur, Bushman fell to a low of 1966's Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. While he does try in this movie, he's still a 78-year old man and at times seems senile and half-cognizant. He sits a lot and at times is clearly reading his lines from cue cards. I have always felt so sorry for these elderly actors who end their once-stellar careers by appearing in trashy movies. Like Bela Lugosi and Marlon Brando, Francis Bushman is tainting his legacy here, and I'd love to know why. Did he need the money? Did he just love to act and these were the only roles open to him? Did his agent screw him over with a contract he had to fulfill? I hope to god that guys like Harrison Ford or Tommy Lee Jones don't end up in twenty years starring in some schlock-fest grade z movie. Well, Hollywood Homicide was pretty crappy... [Editor Pam: At least Francis X. Bushman was still acting. Very few of the early silent stars' careers lasted past the coming of sound. What makes it sad, though, is that he was once known as the handsomest man in movies, and you'd never know it from what you see in this movie. Still, he's not too bad for 78.]
Liara is played by 39-year old Coleen Gray, a fairly busy television and movie actress in the 1950s and 60s. To genre fans, she's known for roles in 1960's The Leech Woman and 1956's The Black Whip.
She's a mixed bag, with a strikingly cute body and legs, but with a barely-acceptable face. But for being almost 40, she's holding it together pretty well. She, of course, falls in love with Kirk as soon as she sees him. This whole "woman who falls in love with the stranger at first sight" bit is as old as film itself and just as cliched. It does, however, further justify my naming our hero Captain Kirk, as in every Star Trek episode ever made, the same thing happens. But then again, it seems like the breeding population on this small world is pretty limited, so maybe Liara is just interested in a little cross-species lovin'.
Anyway, back to the movie. The sole charge against Kirk is one of attacking Herron, the man who jumped into his helmet and was wrestled with. Kirk says that he was only acting in self-defense, and from what we saw he's completely right. However, on this planet, there's no such thing as justifiable assault.
Kirk further argues that he was brought down to this planet against his will. The judge does not dispute this, but says that if they hadn't controlled his descent, then he would have crashed and burned. I still think Kirk has a valid point here, he did not choose to come here and was attacked without provocation.
The women of the jury find Kirk guilty of injuring Herron and sentences him to "become a free subject" of their world. Some punishment, you say, but it entails that Kirk never leave the planet! Sessom claims that they value their secrecy and they can't allow Kirk to leave to tell others of their world. What a kangaroo court!
While this doesn't sit well with Kirk, his immediate protests are cooled by Liara taking him by the arm and leading him to his new quarters. This obvious display of affection and attraction does not fail to be noticed by Herron, who is clearly peeved at his girlfriend fawning over this handsome stranger.
You just know that they both are jonesing for some Earth astronaut lovin'.
In the corridor, Kirk asks Liara about the whole "six-inches tall" thing. With a cheerful smile she explains that "Our atmosphere, together with some acceleration from our gravitational control has shrunk you..." Further, she says that if he ever did return to Earth, "The oxygen in your atmosphere would immediately return you to your normal size."
Hmm...sorry, but that makes no fucking sense. If the atmosphere is what causes the shrinking, then Kirk should not be affected because he was wearing his climate controlled spacesuit with internal air supply when he landed. Am I right? And if the oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere will make him normal size again, then what the heck is he breathing now? If there's no oxygen in this planet's atmosphere, then what are any of them breathing? Perhaps only a certain level of oxygen can cause the re-growth? And, while I'm at it, all the shots of the surface of the planet show no signs of any sort of atmosphere to begin with. To have an atmosphere you have to have a certain amount of gasses and liquids present, right? I don't know, I'm not an astro-geologist. And what about the Law of Conservation of Matter? Growing so small would entail some loss of mass, which would have to go somewhere, right?
In fact, the entire shrinking and growing and six-inches idea could easily be done away with. For all the actual affect it has on the plot, they might as well be fifty-feet tall, or just normal sized. At no time (other than when they first approach Kirk) do any of these little people adventure to a normal-sized world or have to face normal-sized opponents. It just seems like a gimmick idea that got out of hand.
"Hmmm...can I have a script rewrite?"
In a quick interlude, we go back to the Lunar Base. We hear that no word has been received from Kirk's lost ship. Duh, the bonehead deviated from his course without telling you. I see here that the entire crew of this Lunar Base consists of two uniformed officers and two female technicians. They have some artificial gravity working as they walk around normally. They also have a large supply of hair spray and Bryll Cream on hand.
A bit later, Kirk is summoned to talk with Sessom. The leader explains to him that he's stuck here so he better get used to it. He can even pick a wife! He gestures over to Liara and another woman named Zetha, and says he can even pick one of these. And so we have the romantic triangle...square, really, between Kirk, Liara, Zetha and Herron, who is still none too pleased with Liara's continual lusty looks at Kirk.
Zetha is played by 19-year old beauty Doloris Faith. She only appeared in nine total movies, many of them cult classics like 1965's Mutiny in Outer Space and 1960's V.D. She stopped acting altogether in 1966 at the young age of 24, which is a bit curious. I know she ends up being the love interest for Kirk, but I have to say that Zetha is a barking dog. Woof, that's one butt-ugly girl. If I were Kirk, I'd hook with one of those Playmate jurors instead. Zetha is said to be a mute girl, though we have to wait until later to find out why.
Kirk is interested in both of the ladies, but has to get some exposition out of the way before he can think about lovin'. He and Sessom discuss the other two rockets and why they crashed. Watch poor Francis Bushman's back-and-forth eyes in this scene, he's plainly reading from cue cards off-camera.
Kirk and Liara go off again alone, this time to eat and rest. She gives him a chemically-produced hunk of substance that "is similar to your breadfruit". It seems that nothing grows on this planet, but their bodies do not require much sustenance due to the funky gasses in the atmosphere. Hmm...if they can chemically reproduce breadfruit, can they do the same for a New York strip steak or maybe a bacon ranch club from Subway?
Then Kirk gets sleepy and takes a nap, lying on a stone slab with the single most uncomfortable-looking pillow ever seen. But sleep he does, and when he wakes up, Liara is still there, fawning over him. Thinking a bit clearer now, Kirk asks to go see his spaceship. Liara informs him that it's no longer here, it was "sent off into space" while he was sleeping. Rotten aliens.
Out into space we go, following the drifting spaceship. Perhaps by design, or just by accident, it drifts within radar range of the Lunar Base. There, the two female technicians (including a cute Hawaiian girl) alert their superiors. The sets for the radar gear and the attached control panels are extremely barebones, with just a bunch of unmarked dials and switches on a plain flat panel. The officer in charge orders another rocket readied (presumably the Pegasus V) to rendezvous with the drifting ship.
Radio tech babes.
We enter the crew cabin of the Pegasus V for a moment to meet the two pilots. In one of the better touches, the camera is turned on its side to simulate the vertical launch of the ship. Notice the youthful-looking co-pilot, Lieutenant White, who is played by 15-year old Mike Marshall. Yes, not a typo, 15-years old, thanks to being the film's director William Marshall's son. He would eventually move to France, but as a James Bond fan, I will give him kudos for a bit part in 1979's Moonraker.
They pull up alongside the drifting ship and one man gets out and jumps (!) across to it. Wow, that was a leap of faith, without any tether or emergency propulsion if he had missed he would have been in serious trouble. And kudos to the prop master for leaving the access panel door off when the man gets to the Pegasus IV, despite them using the same set for both ships. Inside, the man plays Kirk's final tape-recorded message (just before he landed on the planet) and reports back to the Lunar Base. He then takes this ship back to the Moon, while his co-pilot takes the other.
Back on the rogue planet, Kirk is now starting to get antsy. He demands to talk with Sessom again, this time about the "gravity control" machine that controls the planet's movements. Why he's so interested in this technology is not questioned, though it should be, and Sessom readily shows him the machine. In one of the stupider bits of an already monumentally stupid movie, the gravity machine is little more than a collection of what looks like broken champagne glasses upended on a table that Sessom simply passes his hands over in some random pattern. A large view screen shows us...something. I think it's supposed to be the planet, itself, but if so, then where the hell is the camera taking the image placed? Out in space?
Sessom flies the rock.
Kirk asks about how they can move their own planet around like a june bug, and Sessom reads from his cue cards, "The high density of our planet made it possible for us to advance gravity, and therefore anti-gravity theories". When asked what causes the higher densities on the planet, Sessom replies, "The atoms on this planet have narrower electron orbits...The smaller they become the easier it is for us to take advantage and control the positive and negative gravity." Further, when asked why the planet is getting smaller, Sessom answers, "This planet is slowly using up the energy that holds the atomic particles together....the danger is that a concentrated burst of heat might speed up the process..." Hmm...wouldn't the loss of energy in holding the atomic particles together cause them to expand, not contract? And what does "narrower electron orbits" mean? Ok, ok, it's just a movie, right? No need to get all mad and irate, right? Techobabble is the glue that holds b-movies together, right? Right?
So, with nothing better to do, Kirk is now wandering around the city. He passes an open doorway and peeks inside. Reclining on a flat stone slab is Zetha, sans blankets but with a stack of those thick, uncomfortable pillows. Man, all these people must have terrible back pain in the morning! And what's with no doors on the bedrooms? If they're that liberal about personal space, then why aren't they all walking around nekkid?
"Ow, my back, I want off this rock!"
Anyway, Kirk clearly has a hankerin' for Zetha, though in a quaint 1950s way that the real Kirk seemed to ignore. He asks her for a nice walk and they hold hands discreetly as the leave. Being a mute, Zetha can only look demure and blush a bit to show her mutual attraction. I seriously think that they needed a prettier girl to play the Zetha role, especially if they're going to have her be a romantic lead. Sorry, but it's true.
The two of them go outside and stroll around. Soon they come to Kirk's deflated spacesuit, still lying where he left it. The two of them stop by the helmet and Kirk tells Zetha that he's falling for her ("I like you.") and hopes they might have some hot monkey lovin' soon. As they walk off, we see that slimy Herron was hiding inside the open helmet and heard everything they talked about. What was he doing in there, anyway?
Herron beelines for Sessom, and tells him he has a major problem with Kirk's attitude. He says that his snubbing of Liara's affections for Zetha is an affront to her, and by extension to both Sessom and Herron. Hmmm...what he's saying basically is that he's pissed at Kirk because he won't bang his wife. Weird planet...do you have directions? Herron demands that he be allowed to challenge Kirk to a duel to avenge his honor. Would he prefer that Kirk just go ahead and bang his wife? Really, what is Herron's issue here, is he jealous of Kirk and his blonde locks, is he mad that his career went so badly south after Valentino? That's not Kirk's fault.
So Sessom calls Kirk in and he's confronted by Herron and accusations fly. The duel is agreed to by Kirk, before he even knows what it entails. He will learn that it's a test of strength and stamina, a fight to the death as the two men will try and push the other onto a "gravity plate" which will kill them. Hmm...this all looks like the Amok Time episode from the second season of the original Star Trek. What the hell kind of society is this anyway? Ultra-high technology machines and primitive brutal death games? What is wrong with these people, you can just taste the bloodlust in the air as the crowd gathers to watch the duel.
Fighting over the women, how typical.
As you might expect, Kirk wins the fight. While Herron is shorter and heavier, and therefore maybe has better leverage, Kirk has the height and the perfect hair to even it out. Just as Herron is about to fall on the plate, however, Kirk pulls him back, saving his life. "Killing is not my way." he says, and means it.
Liara pulls Kirk aside and tells him that she loves him. Kirk rightly deduces that Liara was just waiting for the fight to end and then she would profess love to whoever the winner was. Liara doesn't deny this, but seems a bit taken aback that Kirk doesn't love her back. "I don't even know if I like you." says Kirk, and means that too. Kirk now more than ever wants off this rock. He tells Liara that if she really does love him, then she will help him escape back to Earth.
That night, Kirk is awoken in his room by Herron holding a knife to his throat. But Herron is not here for revenge, in fact, Kirk saving his life in the duel has left Herron a CHANGED MAN. He's now fully on Kirk's side (right...) and even has a plan to permit him to escape. Good lord, how formulaic can you get? How many millions of times do we see one single act of goodwill totally transform a formerly dastardly evil man into a nice guy? Does this actually happen in real life? No, in real life, Herron would have killed him in his sleep for embarrassing him in front of everyone by clearly besting him in the duel.
Anyway, Herron says that he has checked the air tanks on Kirk's spacesuit and they still hold some air. Hmm...what? Then why did Kirk shrink to begin with! Even if his helmet visor came open, exposing him to the planet's unique atmosphere, he was still getting enriched oxygen from his tanks. I hate this movie.
Any success this plan has is based on the assumption that the US Air Force Space Exploration Branch is out there searching for Kirk. At a good time, Herron will use his access to the "master control center" to maneuver the planet close to the Moon. When the humans detect the planet and come to explore, they will find Kirk inside his spacesuit where it lies. Herron is not doing this for Kirk's benefit alone, but he's hoping that with Kirk gone, Liara will love him again. Hmm...seeing how petulant and coldhearted Liara is, I think he could just kill Kirk and she would still take him back.
You are a cold bitch.
Anyway, as they chat about their plan, a siren sounds. Rushing to the control room, Kirk and Herron see that the planet is under attack by the "Solarites", age-old enemies of these people, also called "fire people". They're from a "sun satellite" and have been after their gravity control for generations. Sessom warns that eventually they might even attack Earth. A "sun satellite"? Isn't that just another name for any planet orbiting a star?
The Solarites arrive in spaceships that look like flaming charcoal briquettes, racing at the planet in a tight formation. Waving his hands over the lame-ass controls, Sessom jinks the planet out of the way of the incoming Solarite ships. Again, we see on the big monitor a third-party view of this happening, where is that camera?
Hmm...I guess the Solarites fly off a bit and stop for breakfast, because we now have a lengthy interlude where there's no action. Liara takes Kirk down to the prison section to show him a Solarite prisoner that they have captured. This is a big ugly beasty, standing about a foot taller than Kirk. Well, I guess in reality the Solarite is about seven-inches tall. Not going to pose a lot of threat to Earth, I'd say. Inside the Solarite suit is none other than 7'2" tall Richard Kiel, soon to become Jaws in the James Bond movies, but here just a giant 22-year old kid trying to break into Hollywood.
The Solarite prisoner is kept behind a force field, which he tests occasionally by tossing hunks of rock at it. Liara attempts to explain the force field by saying that it uses the gravitation control system, "by using a high magnetic field we can lock molecules so closely together that they form a solid wall." Ok, so you are saying that gravity and magnetism are linked somehow? That the ability to control one necessarily means you can control the other? Is there a quantum physicist I can talk to?
We also learn that it was during an attack several years ago that Zetha lost her voice. It seems she was "scared" by the very Solarite that is imprisoned here, the fright of her encounter causing her to become mute. All this technology and they have no qualified psychotherapists on staff?
Back to the control room now, where we see that the Solarites are back, and this time they're pissed. We hear that they're approaching in a "concentrated Attack Pattern Six, Vernier Index One-Two". What the holy fuck? Whatever that is, a visual on the monitor shows us at least two dozen of the flying flaming things coming in hot and fast. We get a close-up of one of the ships, which looks like a beer can covered in oil and set on fire, and of the Solarite pilot inside. They shoot little white laser beams that go "pop" and "high-intensity heat bombs". It's these latter weapons that Sessom is most afraid of, as they "have enough concentrated heat to blow up our planet instantly." Damn, and I thought the Carbonite bombs were powerful!
Sessom is on his game here, viffing the planet out of the way just in time. [Editor Pam: I would have expected a planet to be very slow and cumbersome to maneuver. Of course, if you can maneuver a planet at all, maybe you can manage to move it fast. Those broken champagne glasses must be powerful stuff. I would also expect moving the planet around to cause severe earthquakes, but maybe those broken glasses also work on that.] The Solarite ships break off to give chase, easily keeping pace. Tiring of running all the time, they decide to turn and face the Solarites in battle and let the chips fall where they may. More lame visuals of the planet moving in space follows, with some equally lame dialogue to go with them.
So the final battle begins, and it begins strangely. The planet just sits there as the Solarites make THREE strafing passes on it, zapping it with their popping lasers. Still the planet doesn't fire back. What are they waiting for, Christmas? Finally, Sessom unleashes the "gravity curtain", which ensnares the bunched-up Solarite ships and blows them all up real good. Battle over, and though Sessom says that "I'm deeply plagued with regret when I'm forced to destroy." he rejoices with the rest of them.
Oh, saw this coming. A laser hit damaged the force field holding in the Solarite prisoner. Wandering out of his cell, the beast shambles through the empty corridors (everyone is still hiding from the attack, I guess). The Solarite suit design is miserably slipshod, with a lot of plastic and foam rubber and fringe. Watch as the actor inside, who clearly couldn't see diddly in that mask, gingerly walks down the steps.
We learn that Zetha "went to sleep early" and we see her in her room, stretched out on her slab with her painful pillows. Who goes to take a nap during an assault by alien attackers! She deserves what she's about to get. And that, of course, is a visit from the escaped Solarite, who zaps her unconcious with his fingers (don't ask).
The Solarite spies some fine booty.
Scooping her up in the overly-cliched "monster with the girl pose", the Solarite carries her off. They wander about the empty halls a bit, before bumping into Sessom, who is off wandering around himself.
Sessom yells out as he goes down injured, and Herron and Kirk come running. Meanwhile, the Solarite has picked up his Barbie doll again and carried her to the now-empty control room. Once there, it lays her down (with some obvious help from the actress who didn't want to get bruised) and goes to tinker with the controls.
Kirk goes to the control room alone and finds Zetha lying on the ground. As he tends to her, the Solarite "sneaks up" behind him. Zetha, now awake, recovers her lost voice just in time to scream bloody murder and save Kirk. Watch as the Solarite stumbles down some rock steps here, nearly losing his balance. The cameras keep rolling, though, must have been a tight shooting schedule. Herron arrives just then, and he and Kirk begin some hand-to-hand with the much bigger Solarite.
After a bit of lame tag and jostling, they push the Solarite onto one of the gravity plates, which I guess they activated at some time off-screen. Watch as the Solarite at first steps just on the edge of the plate, then the actor inside looks down, and then shuffles to the side to be fully on the plate before reacting to the fuzzy glowing blur that signals his death.
Death of the Solarite.
Later, we see that Herron and Kirk are still going with their plan for his escape. Zetha comes to visit Kirk the night before he leaves, now fully able to speak. They exchange some lame words of love and two 1960s twisting, overly dramatic kisses (nobody kisses like that in real life). Kirk loves Zetha, but she knows he must return to Earth. She gives him a fancy rock, to remember her love by.
It always works that way, fall in love with an alien babe, and then have to leave her.
So, Herron moves the planet close to the Moon, where Rocketship 380 picks it up on radar and comes to investigate. It's said to be located in "Nine degrees in northern cluster field." Did they not understand how stupid that sounds for an astral location? Seriously, who wrote this screenplay?
I'm really having trouble finishing this review. You know how this ends, don't you? Sure you do. Kirk grows back to his normal size in time to be found by the search party. As they blast off, Kirk is sure that no one will believe him, even though he still has the now-tiny rock that Zetha gave him. Old story, man finds lost society, escapes and can't prove it happened. Eek.
Yep, that rock is too big, tell the propmaster to get a smaller one.
The End, sorry it hurt so much.
Written in September 2005 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
comments powered by Disqus
that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...