If you really want a sci-fi spaghetti Western, add salsa and Tang to the tomato sauce, then freeze-dry, Judge Eric Profancik advises.
Two female bounty hunters…One lost treasure…
I love science fiction. Ask anyone that knows me and they'll call me a sci-fi geek. Many readers here know of my passion for Star Trek and, while that's at the top of my list, I do watch many other sci-fi shows and movies and also read quite a few sci-fi books. There are very few sci-fi "things" that I've watched or read over my years that I didn't like. In fact, the only one that comes to mind is Dark Star. I remember watching that with my old high school buddy expecting a serious piece of sci-fi only to be assaulted with a beach ball masquerading as an alien. Maybe if I were drunk I would have enjoyed that one more. I guess I also have to mention that I don't have any love for Firefly. I watched several of the episodes, but when I got to the one where the captain accidentally ended up married to someone's daughter, I instantly stopped watching.
So, in all of sci-fi, I can come up with only two things that I didn't like. This week, No. 3 has been added to my short list. Planetfall just joined an elite group of sucky sci-fi.
Facts of the Case
On the planet Zita, a shuttle crashes in the Volcano Zone. That shuttle contains Psylenol, an illegal psychic power enhancing drug, and everybody wants it. Everyone realizes the amazing power of this compound and some want it destroyed while others want to use it as a horrible, powerful weapon. Two female bounty hunters will stumble into the hunt for the lost shuttle. Along the way they will encounter unwanted political intrigue, power-hungry psychics, and fields of molten lava. Who will find the lost container and be able to open it up first?
Within 60 seconds I knew that Planetfall was going to be a dismal viewing experience. I hoped that my initial impression would be wrong and things would get better but they didn't. From start to finish, this little independent feature is a prime example proving that just because you have the time, resources, and energy doesn't mean you should do something. Why did they make Planetfall? As detailed in the bonus material, they made this film because they had some down time, four military camouflage uniforms (purchased for $20), and some weird notion that it would be a good experience. Perhaps they had fun, but just because you spend twenty bucks on some cheap costumes doesn't mean you should inflict such dreck on unsuspecting viewers.
Why am I so harsh? I'm harsh because there is nothing good, fun, or enjoyable about this movie. It's a complete stinker, boring to the bone. Usually you can find something redeemable in a movie but not in this one. Everything screams amateur hour. It's not so much a failure as an independent endeavor but a failure in filmmaking. From the script, to the acting, to the music, to the special effects, Planetfall crumbles on all fronts.
You can't make a good movie if you have a bad script. Well, actually, you could make a technically stunning turd, but that's not the point of filmmaking and that's not the case here. As I said just a paragraph ago, Planetfallâs genesis of an idea came from four cheap costumes. Through some weird permutations, these camo uniforms turned into sci-fi on the western frontier, the spaghetti sci-fi western. (Interestingly, these camo uniforms don't play a prominent role in the movie.) They took The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and played it out in the sci-fi world, utterly destroying a classic spaghetti western. Adding another layer of failure to the fire, when they finished filming their script, it clocked in at about an hour. They then realized the movie was too short and didn't work, so they typed up another 30 minutes of script, tying to flesh things out and expand the breadth of the movie. What you have in the end is a disjointed narrative filled with characters you couldn't care less about, a political struggle that has no teeth, bad guys who have no goal beyond the Psylenol, and some man ass.
Even if Planetfall had a decent script it would be for naught, since it has some of the lamest D-list acting I've seen in a long time. This movie doesn't have one respectable acting performance in it. Every single person is wooden, taking their direction too far (a.k.a. overacting), making it obvious that they need to actually go to acting school. I can't find the words to describe how inept the acting is. Let's try just one example of thousands from the movie. In the Star Wars cantina rip-off scene, one of our female bounty hunters gets her man, then talks to the bartender. All the while, said bartender is supposed to act impressed yet dismayed (I presume) at what he just saw. To do this, Mr. Bartender lowers his head, then shakes it in dismay, playing directly to the camera. I know that doesn't sound so bad, but it's the classic wooden overacting that every single person displays in every single scene. You won't find one unaffected, natural performance or nuance in the movie, and Planetfall makes George Lucas look like a directorial god.
Normally I don't spend much time talking about a film's soundtrack mostly because I haven't heard a really good one in a long, long time. (Right now I'm listening to Star Wars and that's an excellent soundtrack.) With Planetfall, that continues; its music is awful. It's hokey, adult contemporary Muzak at its worst. Music is supposed to enhance a scene, and the only thing enhanced by this score is your desire to want to take a nap.
More so than the music, many of you will consider this next paragraph unnecessary, yet we have to talk about the special effects. We've all come to lament the amount of CGI work in films (Lucas again), but we've also come to see that these CGI effects are getting better and better with each passing day. They aren't quite as obvious, they blend better into the scenery, and they do enhance the artistic vision of the film. That is not the case here, as the special effects are the very derogatory definition of special. All the effects are painfully obvious, and they all stink. They all look, at best, like effects made on a ten-year old PC. Video games look better than this movie. Granted most games have a bigger budget than this movie; nonetheless, they look awful and are immeasurably distracting. They don't create the environment; they enhance the fact that it's all fake.
My last quibble with Planetfall pulls together my references to George Lucas and his infamous trilogies. Perhaps in an affectionate nod to the glorious original trilogy, Planetfall references them ad nauseum. In the first five minutes of this movie we have a bar scene, and it's a poor man's Cantina. You have a mix of aliens (all with sad prosthetics and ridiculous overacting), and one of our heroines uses her sword to chop one of them up. Sound vaguely familiar? How about two guards chatting about T-16s? Maybe you've heard of Correlians? (If not, Han Solo is Correlian and so is his Millennium Falcon.) It's just insulting and annoying to see this movie steal, er, reference so much from Star Wars. I guess the same needs to be said about what it did with The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
Don't despair, folks, there is a glimmer of hope in this dark and dreary review. I do have a few kind words to say. While the movie is a colossal bore and failure, the DVD itself is better than the movie. Starting with the transfers, the video and audio easily belie the film's low-budget roots. I found the 2.01:1 anamorphic print (my deduction on the ratio as official specs are not listed), which was filmed using "consumer grade mini-DV" equipment, quite pleasing. There's excellent detail and sharpness throughout, and I detected no significant errors. I can't say much about color accuracy as post-production applied all manner of skewed palettes to the film. The one noticeable weakness is in black detail, which is a bit soft and not as crisp as it should be. For the audio, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is good, with clear dialogue and atmospheric use of the surrounds and subwoofer. At times the sound does fluctuate, making it somewhat difficult to hear things over backg round sounds.
What surprised me about the DVD was that not only was its design clear and sharper than the movie (with its only weakness being a lack of time coding on anything), but that it contained quite a wealth of interesting bonus material. Too many major releases with budgets a million times greater than this film fail to deliver the slightest sliver of special features, but this little indie film keeps on giving. Sadly, the problem with the bevy of bonus material is the fact that I disliked the movie so much that I had zero interest in wanting to wade through it all. But I did, and I found most of it quite interesting and thus better than the movie itself. Starting things off are three audio commentaries. Excuse me, but why are there three commentaries? Does this movie really warrant three commentaries? Are there any serious Planetfall groupies screaming for three commentaries? I think not, so everyone should have been put together and recorded one track. Still we have three ; while I did not listen to all of them completely, I did listen to each for a while and, again surprisingly, they weren't too boring and did have some interesting moments. The first track is with producer Michael Heagle; the second, actors Heidi Fellner and Snype Myers; the third, actors Leitha Matz and Troy La Faye (not to be confused with Troy McClure). There's a third, unidentified voice on the actor commentaries; if he was introduced, I missed it. To continue their homage to the spaghetti western, here are the rest of the bonus items:
• "Doc, You Sucker" (60.5 minutes): A thorough, informative, and mildly interesting about the production of this fine feature. There are all sorts of odd things to learn about the evolution of this piece of indie fare.
• "A Few Scenes More": Eight deleted scenes but no play-all option.
• "Once Upon a Time in the Mill" (21 minutes): A way-too-long tour of Pickwick Mill, a location used for less time in the movie than shown in this bonus item.
• "My Name is Still Gianni" (3.5 minutes): A fluff piece on director Gianni Mezzanotte (also known as Michael J. Heagle, Go to Hell).
• "Fans of Style—Designing Planetfall" (5.25 minutes): A quick tour of props and clothing used in the movie.
• "Corpse Grinding—An Interview with Ted V. Mikels" (6.75 minutes): An interesting, brief piece with cult fave Mikels.
• "Discovering Rosemount Ruins" (6 minutes): A faux, tongue-in-cheek, In Search Of-styled piece about the Rosemount Ruins, also used as a location in this movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I normally play devil's advocate in this part, but I honestly can't think of anything positive to say about Planetfall. Sorry, this one is bad from start to finish. Its only saving grace is the DVD itself.
Things should be plain as day for this horrible, low-budget spaghetti sci-fi, but just in case you don't quite get it, let me try one more thing: If you loved Firefly, then you'll hate Planetfall. That's all that needs to be said, so don't even think about renting this one.
Planetfall is hereby found guilty of being an awful movie.Case adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Heretic Films
• Three Audio Commentaries
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