War of the Planets (1977)
aka Anno zero – Guerra nello spazio, Cosmos – War of the Planets
Article 5475 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Alfonso Brescia
Featuring John Richardson, Yanti Somer, West Buchanan
What it is: Space adventure
A spaceship crashes on an alien planet, where they discover a group of telepathic people trapped by the tyranny of a homicidal robot.
For the first thirty minutes or so the movie seems to wander randomly from scene to scene before finally settling down on the plot described above. It sticks to that plot for about thirty minutes or so before starting to wander around again, but finally settles in for an ending. The movie is a confused mess, and even when it gets around to the plot, it gives you a headache while trying to follow it. All in all, it’s a very subpar Italian science fiction epic that makes the Antonio Margheriti examples from the previous decade seem bright and inspired. Granted, a lot of the badness I experienced may be the result of the bad dubbing and the pan-and-scanned print, but I think the problems run a bit deeper than that.
The movie did make me realize one thing, though, and that is, in a science fiction film, I’d rather have bad special effects than no special effects. One of the big annoyances of this movie was that once it reached the alien planet, many of the scenes were so full of inky blackness that you never get a sense of what the planet looks like. Furthermore, so many of the sequences involved close-ups of the actors talking against black backgrounds. The source of my irritation finally became clear; what’s the use of having an adventure on another planet if you can’t get a look at it?
I remember once having been appalled by the final scene in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, in which an alien landscape is portrayed by an obvious painted backdrop. This movie made me realize that wasn’t the worst way for that one to have ended. If the movie hadn’t shown the planet at all, but only close-ups of the people looking out at it and saying how wonderful it was, and then ended the movie without giving us a view, that would have been much worse. I’d rather have the obvious painted backdrop than nothing at all.