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The Angry Red Planet is what's referred to as a 'lesser' space saga. Its major claim to special interest is an effect called Cinemagic. That process is covered in one of the first Savant articles back in 1998. Sadly, MGM's new DVD has some real drawbacks.
Although biograhies on both Ib Melchior and Sid Pink would have you believe that The Angry Red Planet is an outerspace classic, it simply isn't so. The direction is woefully flat, and the script is dull even by lowbudget standards. Too much of the Earthbound part of the show is comprised of stock footage material, and the sets are cheap and flat-lit. A good music track has animated many a genre picture worse than this one, but The Angry Red Planet gets shortchanged in that department too. A rough music edit at the end makes it seem as if an upbeat cue for the credits was imposed after the final mix.
What's left is the imaginative Cinemagic process, once described by inventor Norman Maurer as a complicated lab manipulation involving printing with negatives. What it ends up looking like is the solarization so often seen in later '60s psychedelic imagery. The idea with Cinemagic was to give the Mars sequences a credibly alien look, and Savant thinks it succeeds. The makers stated that they wanted to use the detail-leeching visual effect to make live-action photography look like hi-contrast line art, like a cartoon. The face of Naura (Nora) Hayden in her space helmet certainly gives this effect, with barely more than her eyes and lips resolving in the tinted red glow. But in general, it looks more as if the process were used to make line cartoon drawings and crude props look better than they would under normal photographic conditions.
Like any low budget space film, the effects are a quality grab bag. The rocket in space is tedious cel animation. The monsters on the Martian surface range from the humdrum carnivorous plant to the interesting amoeba, to the nicely designed but poorly executed Bat Rat Spider Crab. In Robert Skotak's thorough book on Ib Melchior, we learn that all of these scenes were done in great haste, mostly at Howard Anderson's optical shop. Often the monsters were delivered to the studio before Melchoir discovered that miscommunication had resulted in effects he didn't want, like the rotating eye on the jellyfish-like amoeba. The Bat-Rat thing was a marionette that proved difficult to operate.
One almost invisible effect was spotted not by Savant, who thought it was flaw in the print, but by Gary Teetzel. In one of the binocular shots of the futuristic city seen across the motionless lake, some pitiful frames betray a half-hearted attempt at animating a Martian flying saucer. A random-looking dot that zips by in the background, reappears as a little oval shape that zips by in front of the building too. Never seen it? You need to set your DVD player to a slow rate, to perceive this feeble bit of animation.
As with Reptilicus and Journey to the 7th Planet, the real fun in reading about The Angry Red Planet is the feud between its makers, Ib and Sid, that has kept up for decades. Sid tends to shamefully make claims to greatness for these sub-par pictures while claiming every facet of their production as his doing; Ib defends himself as best he can while playing the blame game as well. The Angry Red Planet was their first cooperative venture, entered into with high spirits and some good ideas. Frankly, most of these most seem to have come from the inventive Norman Maurer, the professional camerawork of Stanley Cortez (The Night of the Hunter) and solid effects photography by the Howard Anderson people. Press-shown late in 1959, the film was obviously a disappointment when the only offer came from AIP's Sam Arkoff; the color and Cinemagic gimmick wasn't enough to overcome the poor script and the plain fact that the picture was made a year or so behind the Sci-Fi cycle.
DVD has been generous to science fiction and fantasy; dozens of titles never considered for laserdisc have become DVDs of excellent quality that have enabled them to be rediscovered - don't forget the recent The Day the Earth Caught Fire and The Crawling Eye in this context. Unfortunately, MGM's new version of The Angry Red Planet, while a slight improvement on the OOP Image laser, is not the refreshing revisit to a nostalgic favorite we hoped it would be. It's essentially the same as the old Orion video versions, and what's shown on AMC television. Good original elements have either been lost, or a film restoration as was performed on Planet of the Vampires couldn't be done in time to make Home Video's release schedule. The picture is grainy and soft, with scratches and film damage intact; the DVD mastering adds small flaws, like excessive digital grain and bad contrast in some of the Cinemagic Mars scenes. Their color is an orangey-red; Savant's on record as remembering them as blood-red, but was hoping for a definitive transfer.
There's an opportunity missed here, and not just to nail down the proper colors. The movie's aspect ratio was meant to be 1:85, but what we get is the same old Orion 1:33 flat. With the picture still soft, grainy and the wrong shape, seeing The Angry Red Planet on DVD is a pretty frustrating experience. Sci Fi fans love this show in spite of its weaknesses. The possibility of a better video version showing up in the future is unlikely, so this is the best it's going to look, period.
A nice trailer is included. It tries to keep the Cinemagic process 'secret' by showing clips of the Mars scenes in B&W, but just makes the picture look cheaper. The lively cover art betrays a new trend in the Midnite Movies branded line toward pointless clutter. Why the faces of all four main actors need to be billboarded, is a graphic/marketing decision that baffles me.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,