The Kim Newman Web Site

Film review – The Phantom Planet

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My notes on the cheap science fiction film.Given its one-damn-thing-after-another plotting, it’s strange that this 1961 s-f quickie is such a plod. Sober and conventional in coping with wild material, it doesn’t have the slyness which make Cat Women of the Moon or Fire Maidens From Outer Space fun, though on a scene by scene, concept by concept, character by character basis, it’s just as demented. It opens and closes with a heavily-narrated near future (1980) when man is out in space doing scientific things, even going for that hoary ‘the beginning’ end title, but the story bracketed by this sobriety is pure lost race ‘n’ bug-eyed monster guff, played by the stiff Dean Fredericks as if he were in Destination Moon rather than a Flash Gordon knock-off.

After the usual meteor shower and EVA scene, with a doomed astronaut reciting the Lord’s Prayer as he floats off to be forgotten, astronaut Frank Chapman (Fredericks) crash-lands on an asteroid that might be a phantom planet which has caused a couple of accidents and stumbles out of his ship observed by some Lilliputian types in robes only to be affected by a bullshit scientific effect which makes him shrink inside his suit. It makes for a striking still – a naked man crouching inside the helmet of his collapsed suit – but all subsequent talk (breathing oxygen makes him grow again, we’e told) is gibberish and the fact that most of the characters are tiny has absolutely nothing to do with the storyline. Weirdly, the bad guys (the Solarites) picking on the little fellers may be Richard Kiel-sized giants in proportion but they’re also scaled along with the Rehtons, suggesting that humanity are the giant race of the universe. There’s no reverse Gulliver scene where Fredericks grows to his regular size and stomps the invaders, for instance. Among the little folk, Chapman goes through the usual stuff: a love triangle with the daughter (Coleen Gray) of the ruler Sesom (Francis X. Bushman) and lovely dumb girl Zentha (Dolores Faith, a striking looker) which excites the enmity of Gray’s admirer (Tony Dexter) and leads to a duel in which Chapman spares his rival’s life and wins his devotion (cf: Flash, Aura, Barin). A big silly-looking alien captive gets loose after his invading buddies have been zapped (elements from This Island Earth) and is bested by those anti-gravity disintegration plates. When Chapman is restored and rescued, he thinks it might all be a dream (which would explain a lot) but a tiny rock token suggests it really did happen.

Directed at a primitive plod by William Marshall; loved by no one.

Here’s a trailer.

Here’s the whole film …

 

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