Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Roger Corman could be considered the consummate “green” artist. Back before it was fashionable, he was recycling everything he could get his hands on—including movies. You may recall that in a previous installment of the Mis-Treatment series—Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet—Corman took a Soviet science-fiction film called Planeta Bur (Planet of Storms), hired a director to shoot and edit in some vaguely related footage of American and English actors, and released it as a separate film.

Corman then took the exact same Russian film, re-reedited it, hired newcomer Peter Bogdanovich to shoot some footage of Mamie Van Doren and a bunch of other scantily-clad, buxom women cavorting about on a beach, and re-released it as Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Aside from the absence of Basil Rathbone, Faith Domergue, and complete confusion, it’s essentially the same movie—it’s the same dialogue from the Russian movie, although there is the occasional voiceover by the Alexei character that tries to explain things. Despite what some online reviewers thought, I actually found this version to be less confusing than the Basil Rathbone version. At least you can figure out who everyone is. At any rate, welcome to Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.

Previous entries in this series are:
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet
The Wasp Woman
The Horrors of Spider Island
The Atomic Brain
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World
Interestingly, they altered some of the plot elements (and I use the term “plot” loosely) for this version, so it’s kind of like the characters are their on twins existing in alternate universes.

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

Auteur/Perpetrator: Peter Bogdanovich (credited as Derek Thomas)
Star of Shame: Mamie Van Doren
Monster(s): Guys in lizard suits; flying reptile puppets
In a Nutshell: Venusian women are pissed that interlopers from a Russian sci-fi movie have killed their petodactyl god

As the movie opens, a deep-voiced announcer tells us “The future of mankind is being decided behind closed doors.” Well, if you leave the door open, you’ll let all the bugs in. Were you born in a barn? Anyway, please continue. “All around the world, scientists are working on projects that will take mankind beyond the confines of this Earth.” Ah, so I guess the door will be opened at some point, unless you’re going to shoot a rocket right through the roof. We are then treated to a montage of the “original models” of the spacecraft they are using. Well, at least they’re honest about the fact that they’re showing us models.

There is then a lot of voice-over blather about the wheel, the original explorers of the Americas, yadda yadda yadda. And then: “The motion picture you are about to see can best be called a ‘fantasy of the future.’” I bet.

We then cut to the titles superimposed over a beach. Hoo boy—there’s that same piercing whine I remember all too well from the other version. I see that although Peter Bogdanovich used a pseudonym for his director’s credit, he used his proper name as the “narrator.” Now, was that the big-voiced guy we just heard or the Andrei guy who narrates the rest of the movie?

“Venus...Venus,” says Narrator #2. “Named after the Goddess of Love.” He sounds like Woody Allen. “This is...where I left her.” Who? The goddess of love? Let’s be frank, that was probably an affair that was bound to end. “26 million miles away.” Well, at least Venus is closer in this universe than it was in the other one. “I heard her, her and that sweet...haunting sound.” What, the shrill, piercing whine? I thought that was Celine Dion on the soundtrack. “They think I’m crazy back here on Earth.” As well they should. “Wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.” Well, we all think you’re crazy, so don’t worry about it. “Let me tell you the whole story. All of it...See what you think. You be the judge.” You make the call. Did he have control of the football before he stepped out of bounds? Was the catch in the end zone? Was it pass interference? You make the call.
OK, please, continue.

“It was two years ago, in 1998, that the first manned spaceship left Earth.” Wow, the future ain’t what it used to be (to coin a phrase). Destination: Venus. But, a meteor hit the ship, and it was destroyed. Ah, now we’re in the Russian movie. Six months later, a second attempt was made, largely comprising footage that was not included in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. The code name for Earth Control was “Marsha.” Well, I guess Faith Domergue got promoted. Oh, wait, she’s not in this one. “Marsha” in this version of the movie is everyone who is not on Venus. Check. We run through an entire room of people sitting at desks who announce they are ready. “Air conditioning, ready.” What?

Nothing pads a film like getting a rocket ready for take off, so this takes rather a while.

The narrator tells us that there are two people on the new mission: astronaut Howard Sherman and Captain Alfred Kern. And we see who they are as they are introduced. Ah, I was right in the last movie, the balding guy was Kern. And the robot is still there, and it is still named John.

At this point, I feel if Corman can recycle, so can I, so I will use the same text I used for Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet where appropriate. So nyah.

Close up of a balding man muttering “Awaken, John.” (It was a bold choice of the sound editor to have all the voiceover actors read their lines with marbles in their mouths.) John is the robot. Is John the best name for a robot? Then again, in Russian it would have been “Ivan,” which would have at least sounded a bit cooler. The robot speaks in the halting, word-by-word manner we have come to associate with talking robots.

The narrator tells us that they made it halfway to Venus without a mishap. They stopped at a space station—Texas (huh?)— for refueling. This takes rather a while.

We then cut to another ship and the narrator tells us they are the command crew. They are “William (Billy) Lockhart, astronaut Hans Walters, and me, Andrei Fernau.” Ah, so that’s who they all are. See, movie, how much clearer everything is when you know who the people are!

Ah, and we still have the wall-mounted speaker, the fourth crewmember.

The ship leaves Texas and is purportedly on its way to Venus. This also takes rather a long time.

At last! The first ship makes it to Venus, and prepared to land.

Kern stares out the window, and says, dourly, “A planet of fire below us.” It is? “Is it a new world, or will it consume us all?” Jeepers, what a downer.

The oven timer rings and the ship lands, or tries to. And they’re off. Apparently. Everyone watches the landing ship as it descends into white clouds. “I don’t like the looks of this.” Join the club. Kern gives control to the robot who, again, immediately screws things up. “This landing place is strange,” we hear. “This truly is a prehistoric planet.” What? Do uninhabited planets usually have some kind of recorded history?

The landing ship lands and gives the command ship their coordinates. Remember that: they know where the ship landed. They say there is water beneath them, and they are drifting. There is what sounds like the engines firing, and everyone starts getting worried. Andrei is sweating profusely and shouting “Kern! Sherman!” into the radio. “It’s hopeless,” he says. They’ve lost radio contact with Kern and Sherman. The others start moping around despondently. Jeez, it’s like a shipful of Morrisseys. But at least we know who is supposed to have landed, unlike in the alternate universe. That’s something.

So the unholy trinity decides that they have to go after them. On the plus side, it wasn’t a case of inexplicably having three ships converge on Venus simultaneously. It has that going for it.

And off they go. They rerun some of the rocket launching footage. It takes rather a while.

We then cut to a partially assembled robot lumbering across the rocks toward Kern who is holding its head. The ship has crashed, and the robot is in pieces. Ah! So that’s why the robot was in pieces; Faith Domergue had been wrong; it hadn’t been disassembled prior to...controlling the ship’s landing. That makes a tad more sense now, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, they are attacked by small jumping lizard creatures. Sherman shoots them while Kern finishes putting the robot together. They tie the robot to a boulder (?) but he lurches off and is followed by the lizard creatures. But still: baby got back. That robot has a huge butt. It is not so much a robot as a robutt.

Meanwhile, Kern and Sherman engage in some witty banter:
“I’m wondering if we should be here at all.”
“Why don’t you catch a bus and go home.”
“Don’t think I wouldn’t if I could find one.”
Ah, the great spirit of interplanetary exploration! The two of them and the robutt do...something involving ropes.

Andrei then explains that the third ship was ready to take off. This takes a while. They again refuel at Texas. This takes a while. “The refueling was accomplished in record time.” I guess if you set the bar low enough...

Andrei then uses the whole second leg of the flight to wax poetic. “Maybe there was some reason that Venus was named after the goddess of love.” Well, um, yeah...most things are named for a reason. What, do you the planet came named that way, that ancient astronauts looked at it through a telescope and saw a “Hello, My Name Is Venus” badge stuck on the cloud cover?

Before he could dwell on that too much, they arrived. Thankfully.

The ship (called the Typhoon in this version) then lands. “We’re landed,” pronounces Andrei dramatically, “Voila.” “Don’t begin celebrating yet.” On this ship? Not much chance of that. They stand up and start jumping around. “It sure feels strange to have weight.” Oh, the novelty wears off; trust me.

Outside, they see nothing but clouds and “formations of weird rock.” They turn on the “outside sound pickup” and hear an odd moaning noise, followed by a shrill, piercing whine. For some reason, they think it is a human sound. This gets Andrei going. He can hardly contain his narration. Lockhart tells Andrei to get his spacesuit on, as they are going outside. “I’ll be right behind you,” he replies. “That’ll be handy if I slip. Now get popping.” OK, then. It is at this point that they all start turning into the Lockhorns and ragging on each other. Walters says, “It’s 4.7 on oxygen.” What? “That’s pretty close,” says Lockhart. Huh? Are they speaking in code?

Outside, Andrei starts walking slowly along the rocks. His narration starts waxing poetic about how desolate Venus is. Now he sounds like Percy Dovetonsils.

Meanwhile, Lockhart and Walters explain to each other that Marsha (remember, that is Earth Control in this universe) has just called and detected “radar movement,” which may be Sherman and the robot.

As they call to Andrei to return to the ship, he is attacked by a weird tentacled plant thing that kind of looks like a giant Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion. At the ship, they hear Andrei making strange groaning noises. They run and free him from the Bloomin’ Onion. Andrei denies having called out as he was being attacked.

Knowing from Marsha where the objects believed to be Kern and Sherman were, they set out in their hovercar and trundle along the rocks. This time, tough, they don’t stop and get a blood sample from a brontosaurus grazing on a barren cliff (?). Funny, their twins in the alternate universe did, and found it quite hysterical. These guys don’t know what they’re missing.

Cut back to Kern and Sherman, who are finished with the ropes. “We have very little oxygen left,” says Kern. Well, maybe they should stop ragging on each other and conserve it. Sherman hopes the others are looking for them. “Through this heat?” says Kern. It’s hot? No one else has said anything about heat. One of them has a torn suit; “the infection is getting through.” Huh? “Maybe we should take some quinsulin.” “No, we’d have to rest after.” Ah. “Must... keep... moving,” says Kern in a way that would out-Shatner Shatner. And they lumber onward, the robutt ahead of them. True, the enormous metal ass is a bit of a beacon, I’ll give it that. (One could so easily make a Bender/Futurama reference here. But I shan’t.)

They continue on and find a waterfall. The robutt does not like the water and says it is in danger. Kern tells it to look for shelter. The other two are as equally wussy. The robutt finds a cave, and Kern and Sherman stagger into it. They collapse. Kern starts deliriously going on about how useful mathematics is, before he passes out. Sherman, meanwhile, deliriously repeats “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.” What is he, Jan Brady all of a sudden?

“I await your order,” says the robutt. Well, I’m guessing it won’t be a Bloomin’ Onion.

In the hovercar, the trio hears the piercing whine. “That voice again,” says Andrei, excitedly. Down, boy! “Almost sounds like a girl.” “Or a monster,” adds Walters. It is a fine line, I guess. How long have they been in space?

Speaking of girls (and monsters), we cut to a shoreline, and Mamie Van Doren—wearing white spandex pants and seashells over her naughty bits, lie on the rocks, and awaken. (There is no truth to the rumor that another version of this movie featured Charles Van Doren in the same outfit.) As we hear the piercing whine that has Andrei all hot and bothered, Mamie says “Our sisters are calling. They are hungry. We must go into the sea.” Since the decided not to record the dialogue live, and I guess they felt that synching the ADR would be more trouble than it was worth, they opted to have the women communicate psychically. As they march along the beach, they look like they are in a bad 1980s music video.

Meanwhile, more witty banter from our intrepid explorers:
“It’s a human.”
“Well, there sure are no humans here.”
“We’re humans.”
Doh! So is one of them making the noise?
Lockhart muses about the possibility that other men have been to Venus before. Walters is having none of it. Andrei goes off excited by the idea that the voice belongs to a girl.

Mamie and the Van Dorens go for a swim and catch some fish. And if the sight of a hot blonde biting the head off a live trout doesn’t turn you on, well, then there’s something terribly wrong with you.

We cut back to Lockhart and Walters, and Walters then adds, “I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind exploring planet Venus.” Does he realize what he just said? I guess the space program isn’t all that selective about who it lets in.

Meanwhile, as the 80s music video women are swimming, they see a cutaway to the dorky flying pterodactyl puppet from the Russian movie. Mamie says, “It’s our beloved god, Ptera. And he’s angry.” When are gods ever not angry? “We must leave this place.”

As the hovercar darts over the sea, they make contact with Marsha, “who sounds horrible,” as a weird whooping noise drowns Marsha out (it sounds like Curly from the Three Stooges is in Earth Control). They then manage to make contact with John the robutt, who gives them their position. They then ask about Kern and Sherman. “They do not speak. They do not move.” Well, that’s extra precise, isn’t it? Are they dead? Sleeping? Watching this movie? “How much time until we get there?” Walters asks Lockhart. “Who knows?” is the response. Didn’t the robutt just give them their position? Shouldn’t they at least have a vague idea?

Lockhart then instructs the robutt to administer some kind of medicine to Kern and Sherman. This takes a while—“You must do this quickly”—and John drops what looks like a BreathSavers into the mouth of an unconscious man (is that a wise idea?), dumps water on his face, then closes his helmet. Oddly, this seems to help.

The hovercar is then attacked by the really goofy looking pterodactyl puppet—the god Ptera, apparently. They try shooting down the puppet with the “astrogun,” but its clumsy, awkward, lethargic flying apparently makes it a tough target. Still, the voiceover tells us that they did kill it, which their twins in the alternate universe of the other movie were not able to do, so score one for these guys. The narration tells us that they end up diving into the water because of the damage the creature caused, despite the fact that it came nowhere near them.

To simulate the astronauts being under the water, the director placed an aquarium between the camera and the actors to give the illusion that they were underwater and surrounded by fish. Yeah. Andrei wanders off to find something interesting. What are the odds he will be successful?

Meanwhile, the 80s music video women find a rubber pterodactyl lying on the rocks—the remains of their god, killed by the Earth people. They are not happy. They have some kind of board meeting on the rocks, and then carry the carcass to the holy place and pray to his spirit. And if the sight of a parade of scantily clad women carrying a giant rubber pterodactyl doesn’t turn you on, there is something terribly wrong with you.

Underwater, Lockhart then finds an idol, which Walters thinks is just a petrified tree. Lockhart pulls some seaweed away to reveal a ruby—and it does look like the eye of some kind of reptile bird thing. They all insist that there was some kind of civilization. “And I’ll bet there still is,” says Andrei, still eager to find the female components of one.

The 80s music video women pray to a big carved pterodactyl. The moment of silence lasts rather a while. They then put a chef’s hat on Mamie Van Doren—ah, so I guess the ritual involves eating the remains of their pterodactyl god. Yum; eatin’ good in the neighborhood. Actually, they plan to avenge Ptera’s death, which won’t be easy since they’re not in the same movie.

Meanwhile, Andrei wanders off again (“Something drew me away”), bounces about and has a brief run-in with an octopus puppet. I want that puppet! There is also a half-hearted attempt to juxtapose shots of Andrei bouncing around with two of the 80s music video women swimming underwater and staring. “I felt like I was being watched,” his voiceover tells us.
Andrei then finds a cave that he thinks was carved. He finds a weird rock that looks like an elephant ear pastry.

The 80s music video women are still dragging the rubber pterodactyl around, and must return his flesh to the sea. Which they do, and it takes rather a while. Two women emerge from the sea and report that there are demons under the sea (apparently, Planeta Bur was playing at the undersea movie theater)—Mamie is sure it was the ones who killed Ptera, and she once again vows revenge.

Meanwhile, after their underwater odyssey, Lockhart, Walters, and Andrei pull the hovercar onto the shore. Every part of the hovercar is perfectly dry except for the radio (of course). “I’ve tried everything I know,” says Walters. “Have you tried a long string and an oatmeal box?” Is he Wilford Brimley all of a sudden? Lockhart is still obsessed with the idea that there is a civilization on the planet surreptitiously watching them. “Let’s face it. They built a city that is now under the sea.” Oh, right: one reptile bird statue and suddenly it’s an underwater city? That’s a bit of a reach, even for this guy. The shrill whine starts up again. “Beautiful song and a beautiful girl,” says Andrei. No, and...probably no. “If I could just see what she looks like.” Andrei then goes off and talks to the rock he found.

Lockhart and Walters are then about to drive off without Andrei, but they beckon him into the hovercar so they can rag on him about being in love with a Venusian woman.

Across the sea, the 80s music video women have built a little stone cairn and walk around it repeatedly. I guess this is their revenge ritual. Or something. “Oh, god of the fire mountain,” Mamie chants, “let your red hot earth rain down.” “Red hot earth?” But they’re on Venus. They glare at the pile of rocks for a while and it bursts into flames. They would be handy to have along on a camping trip.

Meanwhile, Kern, Sherman, and the robutt are fully recovered and are hanging out on some rocks. Kern says “That’s strange. It’s suddenly gotten dark. There’s an ash cloud above us.” They look out and suddenly see an erupting volcano. I guess the 80s music video women’s fire god is on the ball. They are amazed by it. “Look at the magnificence. No one on Earth has seen such a sight.” Tell that to the people of Pompeii. Or Krakatoa. Or... They want to get a better vantage point, which can only mean one thing: they will be trapped by lava flows. They busily collect samples...while the whole time the robutt just stands there and does nothing. A fine analytical tool it is.

The 80s music video women are really into the chanting of “Fire fire fire fire!” One is just begging Arthur Brown to leap out and bellow “I am the god of hellfire and I bring!” Time to dig out my Crazy World of Arthur Brown record.

As the lava covers the only path to safety, they climb on top of the robutt, which then wades through the lava. Oh, so a few drops of water would destroy it, but it can walk through molten lava with no problem?
“Fire! I’ll take you to bun/Fire! I’ll take you to learn/I’ll feel you burn...”
Well, only for a short while: as the temperature approaches 7500 degrees, the robutt announces that it’s self-preservation mechanism will force it to toss off the extra weight, which it proceeds to do. Kern wastes no time in instructing Sherman to yank out the robutt’s self-preservation mechanism. He is unable, however, and John grabs Kern and tries to chuck him into the lava. The robutt suddenly goes dead, just as the hovercar shows up and rescues them. They leave the poor robutt standing in the lava, until it slowly tips over and falls face forward into the lava. “I never thought I’d see your ugly face again,” says Sherman to his rescuer. Good one. They should have saved the robot instead. “We should have saved Kern’s robot instead.” Doh! It takes a long time for the lava to completely cover the robot’s giant ass.

To Kern’s credit, he does gaze on the remains of the robutt sadly. “It was just a metal monster, but when his destruction was imminent, he called my name.”

The guys all loaf around as they fix the hovercar (or something). Andrei’s voiceover tells us that the volcano destroyed much of their provisions and the rocket’s excess fuel supply, and there was a issue of the extra weight of Kern and Sherman. Wait—they went on a rescue mission and didn’t take into account the weight of the guys they’d be rescuing? What are they, FEMA? On the plus side, they don’t have to lug the robot back. The butt alone was good for 700, 800 pounds.

Walters shows the others a picture of his children, triplets whom he has named 1, 2, and 3. He jokes about it. OK. Lockhart is still on the “there must be a civilization here” kick, using as evidence the fact that on Earth humans once lived in the water when the air was toxic—uh, when was this? (Yeah, and humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Uh huh.) Kern brings up the lizard people. “They may look like lizards, but couldn’t they be people?” Wow, that’s like, so deep. “They saw the ship, got frightened, then donned their lizard costumes, and jumped up and down to spook us away.” Actually, now that you mention it... They argue about this for a while. “Here, you two. Have some coffee and rest your voices.” Coffee?

Andrei then launches into an internal monologue about the so-called “woman” he keeps hearing. Walters jolts him out of his reverie by donning some vegetation and pretending to be the Bloomin’ Onion creature. They all laugh. Isn’t this over yet?

The 80s music video women, a hard day’s work done, return to lying about on the rocks. Mamie is the morning alarm call; as the women get up, Mamie spots something on the beach. It is the lava-encrusted robutt, which they begin pawing and believing to be a sign from the god of the fire mountain. Mamie realizes the earth people are still alive, and are disappointed in the work of the god of the fire mountain, and believe that Ptera—who is dead—will cover for him. This is like a bad (or a good, actually) workplace dynamics training video.

Meanwhile, the dorks take the hovercar back to the ship. “I think we’ve done a job we can be proud of.” What did they do, exactly? At least their twins in the alternate universe made this pronouncement after doing a fair amount of research via a lengthy montage. Ah, they had done some research; we just didn’t get to see it. Shucks.

The 80s music video women gather again at the statue of Ptera and beg him to “bring forth the waters from the fiery heavens.” Huh? Anyway, it starts raining rather heavily.

The dorks in the ship prepare for take off, and notice the heavy rain. Andrei’s voiceover laments the fact that every drop of rain is taking him away from the woman. He’s got some issues.

The area around the rocket starts flooding, and the ground starts to fissure. The dorks panic, and start lightening the ship’s load.

Meanwhile, Andrei takes out his elephant ear pastry, chips away at it, and reveals a carving of a woman’s face. There is life on Venus after all! He implores them not to leave, but they do anyway.

And as they ship disappears into the sky, the 80s video women are annoyed at their various gods for being inept at revenge. They give their god a performance review and fire Ptera—which involves throwing rocks at the pterodactyl statue. If only all religions were subject to this kind of review! I’ve heard that faith can move mountains, but I didn’t know the reverse was true.

They think for a moment, then decide to worship the lava-encrusted robutt instead. That’ll go well, I’m sure. And of the sight of Mamie Van Doren wearing a chef’s hat while praying to a dead, rock-covered, huge-assed robot doesn’t turn you on, then there’s something terribly wrong with you.

And as the ship streaks through space, Andrei tells us, “Well, that’s the story.” Ah so that’s what that was. I thought it was a fever dream brought on by some bad swordfish I had for dinner. It has apparently been two years...and although there are no more missions to Venus scheduled, Andrei insists he’s gong back. “Or I’ll die trying.” We should be so lucky.

The end.

The idea of taking one movie, re-editing it, shooting vaguely related footage, and creating an entirely new movie (or two entirely new movies) sounds like a wacky idea, but it’s actually not without precedent. Few people—even hardcore film buffs—realize that some of the classic movies of all time were created in just this very way. Here are just a few examples:
  • The Return of the Jedi—Lucas was having a dearth of inspiration when it came time to make the final film of his original Star Wars trilogy, so he took footage from a live action Care Bears movie and used cutting-edge effects and editing technology to seamlessly integrate footage of the rest of the Star Wars cast to tell the story of the destruction of the Galactic Empire.
  • Casablanca—Originally a short subject featuring a one-man piano performance called “Sam! Sam! Sam!” eventually an entire World War II romance was filmed and edited around it.
  • Gone with the Wind—Originally a public service announcement about fire safety and prevention, David O. Selznick beefed it up by adding a whole Civil War epic.
  • The Godfather—Originally a home movie of an Italian wedding, Coppolla bought the rights to it and padded it out with a whole Mafia-related subplot.
  • Citizen Kane—Orson Welles took a 30-second TV spot for Rosebud brand sleds and constructed an entire film around it.
So when we look at Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women—or even Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet—let us remember that it isn’t so strange after all. Or better yet: let’s just not look at either of them at all ever again.

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