Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Journey to the Seventh Planet

There are lost motion picture classics, and then there are films that are simply lost. Until its recent re-release on DVD courtesy of MGM and its B-movie collection, Journey to the Seventh Planet was considered pretty much long gone and totally abandoned. Like an unwanted cat left in the woods, it has once again found a home among the budget discs at the back of the rack.

Which is a profoundly appropriate spot for this classic piece of bad cinema which is both artless and almost provocative; beyond shoddy and oddly half-memorable. Though it has a supremely stupid story line delivered at a snail's pace and conveyed by mediocre performances by a cast largely composed of obscure European players, Journey to the Seventh Planet manages to hit the occasional Jung spot in the arrested adolescent brain.

The plot is simple enough: five incredibly horny astronauts are sent on a discovery mission to Uranus (carefully pronounced yuu-ray-nus, not yoor-a-nuis) where they encounter an insanely hostile alien brain-like thing-a-ma-bob that loots their subconscious as part of its plan to destroy humanity. Since these guys mostly think about girls, they are routinely tempted by a parade of large-bosomed women. The fate of the Earth would hang in the balance, except that the brain-thing is stuck in a cave on yuu-ray-nus and there is no rational way it could threaten much. Occasionally, the astronauts are threatened by a gigantic one-eyed mutant rat and stock footage from another movie.

Journey to the Seventh Planet may be one of the worst lit color films of 1962 with a sense of photography that would have looked better in black and white. Since the only known member of the cast is John Agar (who was well on his way to a special place in the Cinema of the Damned), it is a safe bet that the producers did not worry about profit sharing. To round out the cost-cutting aesthetics, the movie was shot in Denmark in order to save money and at least one cast member swears that he was sick at the time and actually was never in the film.

But the one thing that is important about this film is the screenwriter, Ib Melchior. During his long career as a screenwriter and occasional director, Melchior combined the best and the worst in a giddy display of B-movie cliches, grade zilch narratives, and - often at the damnest moments - provocative commentary. In his screenplay for Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), he succeeded in a surprisingly intelligent updating of the Defoe novel. With his original story for Death Race 2000, he predicted the social policies of the Bush administration. When Melchior was good, he was very scary good. That is one of the main reasons why Melchior is one of the great unsung heroes of pulp science-fiction.

Journey to the Seventh Planet (which has a bizarre resemblance to the novel Solaris) is neither goofy enough nor smart enough to be Melchior at his best. But it is the only one of his key films to receive a decent release on DVD. It is also available via Movies Found Online (http://www.moviesfoundonline.com/journey_to_the_seventh_planet.php).