Sony // 2009 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // March 11th, 2010
Right stuff. Wrong planet.
2009 was a pretty mixed year for family entertainment. Up and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs really impressed, Fantastic Mr. Fox was something of a disappointment, whilst Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs was an outright bore. However, each of the aforementioned productions is superior to Tristar's Planet 51, an inert and ham-fisted sci-fi pastiche. The central premise is adequate, but the story is drab and the characterization amounts to badly written clichés. A few of the geeky sci-fi references are sort of funny, but leaving those aside, Planet 51 works out to be a dull motion picture.
Lem (Justin Long, Accepted) is a talented astronomer with a bright future, enjoying life on his Martian home world of Planet 51. However, when human astronaut Chuck Baker (Dwayne Johnson, Get Smart) lands in his back garden, it sparks off a state of national panic. Baker obviously means no harm, but the inhabitants of Planet 51 suspect he might be the forerunner of an alien invasion. With the government in hot pursuit, Lem is forced to try and help Baker return to his space craft in orbit, all the while fearing he might lose his job and the girl of his dreams (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist).
I laughed only a handful of times during Planet 51, and I consider myself something of a science fiction fan. The film does indulge the viewer's inner geek with references to Alien, E.T, Star Wars, and The Terminator, but many of these nudges lack intelligence or genuine wit. The link with Alien is particularly obvious and overwrought, the filmmakers using a dog-based creature with a Giger like design to titillate film buffs. The idea that this dog/alien hybrid can urinate acid is quite clever but other gags such as its name (Ripley, sigh...) indicate the sort of unsubtle spoofing Planet 51 provides. The humor also contains an abundance of lowbrow poop jokes and even some gentle riffing on the subject of butt plugs. Not only is it relatively unfunny but it also feels out of place in PG-rated family fare. Kids are going to be totally stranded by Planet 51 -- between the nerdy winks and scatological fumbling I can't see the average 9 year old gleaning much pleasure from this endeavor.
The idea of a human being seen as the outsider on an alien planet is modestly refreshing but the predictable storytelling isn't. The film takes 90 minutes to unwind its laborious plot and deliver its obvious moral (don't be scared of difference), leaving audiences utterly bored in the process. Things aren't improved by the average animation, which has more of a direct-to-DVD feel than that of a theatrical release. The visuals in Planet 51 are colorful but they lack detail or personality, resulting in a Saturday morning cartoon level of immersion. At least the film offers a playful and talented voice cast for your listening pleasure. Justin Long is affable as the terminally dry Lem, whilst Dwayne Johnson practices his usual but fun shtick as the knuckleheaded Baker. My personal favorite piece of casting has to be John Cleese (The Pink Panther 2) as a wacky and villainous alien scientist; the British comic is excellent in the part. Jessica Biel is wasted as a love interest (and in the realm of CGI animation she can't even offer us her lovely looks) and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight) is gunning for a paycheque in the role of General Grawl.
The DVD is only okay but better than such a forgettable film deserves. The bonus content is limited but the presentation of the film is very good. Fans can treat themselves to three useless deleted scenes and a raft of short and uninspired featurettes. The best of these is the 12 minute Life on Planet 51 that makes at least some effort to offer a hint of filmmaking insight. A music video montage is as annoying as it sounds, and the interactive Run Rover Run is a game that will appeal only to the very young or undemanding. Still, the audio and video are surprisingly sharp, at least allowing the hollow film to look it's best.
Guilty of making me want to attempt space exploration in search of funnier
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Montage
* Interactive Game