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Planet Terror (2007)



I'm going to preface this by saying that I'm not going to be reviewing the film. If you want that, I suggest you go check out Nate Yapp's review of Grindhouse, the double feature experience of which Planet Terror was one part. Instead, I will be reviewing Planet Terror as a DVD release. Why does this film deserve its own DVD review? Well, aside from the fact that the DVD includes 10 minutes of added footage and a noticeable lack of fake trailers, Planet Terror truly shines in a DVD format. Stripped of the big screen experience, the care and skill with which director Robert Rodriguez composed Planet Terror becomes more apparent, and his use of exploitation-esque special effects more ingenious.

An obvious advantage to a DVD over a theatrical experience is that DVDs come with special features. Like any DVD release, Planet Terror comes with all the standard accouterments – the poster gallery, the cast featurette, and, of course, the obligatory commentary track. The “audience reaction” track is ridiculous. Why would I want to listen to an absentee audience clap and howl for a film I'm watching in my own living room? However, despite the seemingly standard feature fare, Planet Terror has one thing that most standard DVDs don't: Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez, while giving the backstory of the film and the occasional anecdote, doesn't fall into the common trap of telling stories and jokes only relevant to people on-set. Instead, he discusses the technical aspects of the film and his directorial choices with a personable and down-to-earth manner that makes the insider perspective on filmmaking accessible to even the most cinematically-challenged viewer. Additionally, the DVD features another “10-Minute Film School”, something that Rodriguez has included on most of his DVDs since 2003. The featurette is informative and insightful, offering an inside perspective on how the special effects for this CGI-extensive film were created.

Unfortunately, there is one glaring omission to the special features line-up: fake trailers. As in the theatrical version, “Machete” precedes Planet Terror in the DVD release, but “Don't”, “Thanksgiving” and “Werewolf Women of the SS” are all absent. The only rationalization I can fathom for this decision is that, since in theater the other trailers aired during the Grindhouse “intermission”, the Weinstein Company decided there was no place for them. However, given that the missing trailers don't appear on the DVD of the other Grindhouse feature, Death Proof, either, I think their logic might be flawed. These trailers were an integral part of the theatrical experience, and while they may not have had a place as part of the DVD feature, they at least deserved a spot on the Special Features disc.

The DVD release is also an “Extended and Unrated” cut of the film, and, like so many of it's “Extended and Unrated” predecessors, Planet Terror could have done without the extra footage. It's not so much that the added content detracts from the film, but rather that it adds nothing. Rather than including entirely new scenes, this extended version includes longer takes of already existing segments, bringing us such moments as Josh Brolin saying “I'm going to eat your brains and gain your knowledge” in a call-back to a previous scene. Overall, the film isn't really better or worse for the extra time, though the theatrical version was absolutely perfect at 95 minutes. It's hard to improve on perfection; the DVD release of Planet Terror leaves you feeling like the film runs just a little too long, though you can't pinpoint exactly where the extra time is coming from.

The most intriguing part of the DVD, however, is that it really highlights how much thought Rodriguez put into the aging effects. Back at C-H headquarters, as the DVD started to play and the familiar scratch lines began to flicker across the screen, my co-editor turned to me and said, “You know, I really wish they'd done a fake ‘restoration’ of this.” And, logically, that makes sense. The old-print feel of Planet Terror is, on the surface, meant to simulate the grindhouse experience, watching a battered print on a screen in an old run-down theater. Without the big screen, it would be easy to just assume that the aging effect was redundant and wish it removed.

The "aging" techniques are still in effect on the Planet Terror DVDThe "aging" techniques are still in effect on the Planet Terror DVD

However, unlike its counterpart Death Proof, Planet Terror's deteriorated look wasn't created by just beating the crap out of the print. Every detail of "damage" was lovingly applied using digital technology to accentuate events on screen. Chopping motions are accompanied by splice effects, danger is indicated by increased “wear”, and moments of anger and passion are accompanied by that strange magenta quality characteristic of older prints. The missing reel effect in particular is beautifully placed; its omission is actually scripted and, as such, the scenes were never filmed. Personally, I like it that way; the sudden jump from the sexy bedroom scene to the burning building keeps the pace moving at a good clip, without bogging it down in silly plot details. The audience just accepts that something must have happened, and doesn't worry about how they got from point A to point B.

The Special Edition of Planet Terror is a nice addition to any DVD library. The special features are actually worth the extra disc and the visual effects and aging techniques are just as impressive on a television screen as they are in the theater. However, the omission of the extra trailers is almost painful to think about, and extra footage does make the film just a little too long. While this disc is certainly an option for anyone who loved the movie in theaters and can't wait to have it on their shelf, it might be worthwhile to see if the planned Grindhouse box set does things a little better.