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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Planet Terror (Blu-ray)
Planet Terror (Blu-ray)
The Weinstein Company // Unrated // December 16, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 7, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Robert Rodriguez'
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half of the Grindhouse experiment took a little Lucio Fulci, a fist-sized chunk of early John Carpenter, and two scoops of Nightmare City, shoved 'em all into a blender with a couple gallons of Red Bull, and mashed down the "Purée" button until Planet Terror oozed out. Yeah, I know I hammered out a long, rambling Intro to Film essay for Death Proof, but I'll keep this one short. Pinky swear. The TV Guide version...? Planet Terror is the most hyperkinetic, cacklingly brilliant schlock-horror homage this side of Slither and a big part of the reason why Grindhouse was probably my single favorite flick of 2007.

So, in the first few minutes of Planet Terror, you're lookin' at Rose McGowan writhing around in leather skivvies on the main stage and Bruce Willis muttering "where...is...the...shit?" while a few hundred thousand bullets and a jarful of testicles splatter across the screen. Who needs some extended runthrough the plot? That's the hook right there. The "shit", by the way, is a nasty green gas that creeps out of a mostly-abandoned military base on the outskirts of Austin and zombifies damn near everyone in town.

You know the drill: a straggling handful of survivors pitted against hojillions of the ravenous undead. You're lookin' at a frigid anesthesiologist (the always adorable Marley Shelton) who wants to drag her five year old son away from her domineering husband for a life of sapphic bliss with her lesbian galpal (Fergie). There's a hardassed sheriff (Michael Biehn) hellbent on snatching a barbecue recipe from his laidback brother (Jeff Fahey). Heck, there's even a money-grubbing geneticist (Naveen Andrews) and a squad of superdeformed soldiers (headed up by Bruce Willis). Oh, but the movie really revolves around Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), an unstoppable badass with a secret past, and his ex, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer with a parade of crushed dreams and a neverending string of useless talents. That long list of talents gets another notch after her leg is yanked off by flesh-starved zombies, and...well, you've already scrolled past that first screengrab I've tossed onto this review, so you know what she winds up with instead of grabbing a prosthetic righty off the shelf...

Rodriguez never eases off the throttle. The whole thing's sopping with splatter, churning out one depraved, gross-out effect after another. The flick hardly ever goes more than a couple of minutes without a megaton explosion, geysers of blood, or at least an armful or two of spent shells clinking to the ground. I mean, go-go dancing, skewered eyes, helicopter-fu, oozing scrotums and balls-in-a-jar, a Bellagio fountain prick,
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a grenade-launching machine gun for a leg, some sort of top secret black ops guy tooling around on a pint-sized motorcycle...I didn't know Robert Rodriguez had this in him. As you could probably pick up from that laundry list, he has a hell of a sense of humor too, and Planet Terror still manages to score a steady steam of laughs even as many times as I've torn through the movie over the past year and a half. He pokes fun at all the sarcastic-fingerquotes "clever" callbacks first-time screenwriters shoehorn into their scripts, and in one of the movie's best gags -- and definitely one-upping Tarantino's lame stab at doing the same -- he guts out pretty much all of the exposition and backstory.

As deliriously over-the-top as Planet Terror is -- again, machine gun pegleg! -- the cast plays it straight. That's exactly how a campy flick oughtta be...I mean, if you're doing your job right, the audience will already be smirking, so there's no need to have all of the actors on-screen winking back. That stonefaced approach lets Rodriguez sprinkle in some genuine suspense and thrills without it ever being deflated by the ridiculousness that oozes into pretty much every last frame. Oh, and like Tarantino's half of last year's double feature, Planet Terror also turns up extended and unrated here on Blu-ray, same as it was on DVD. It mostly seems to be transitions between scenes and better setting up some of the plot points that'd come into play down the road. Most of the differences come fairly early on, although there is at least a little more splatter, including a pal of Rodriguez' getting his guts munched on (I still keep waiting for him to shout "choke on 'em!") and a more gruesome shot of some brains being scarfed down.

Nah, Planet Terror isn't some horror flick that'll leave you dusting off that old blue canary nightlight, but it's exactly the movie Robert Rodriguez set out to make: a sleazy, overcaffeinated zombie flick kneedeep in a couple hundred thousand spent shells and sopping from head to dismembered toe in blood. I love damn near everything about Planet Terror: its hyperkinetic pace, that cacklingly depraved sense of humor, a pitch-perfect synth score that could've been nicked straight from a twenty-six year old John Carpenter flick, the dizzingly over-the-top action... Planet Terror is just a hell of a lot of fun, leaving my face plastered with the same goofy grin my sixth time through that I had when I first gave Grindhouse a whirl. Highly Recommended.

The whole point of Grindhouse is to carry over the experience of sitting through a double feature of vintage exploitation flicks in a sticky, rundown theater, and a big part of that is the weathered, tattered look of the prints that'd unspool. Robert Rodriguez shot Planet Terror on shiny high definition video cameras, though, so all of that wear and tear had to be digitally added in after the fact. This Blu-ray disc serves up two options: you can plow through the movie with all of the artificial wear intact, or you can sift through a "newly discovered negative" that's still sparklingly clean. Both versions of the movie are presented in full 1080p, and to get a sense of just how drastic the difference is...

The original HD photography
The same image after Troublemaker Digital finished getting a hold of it
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I've gotta admit that the heavy film grain and battered look are kind of a defining part of the experience for me, and Planet Terror really isn't the same movie without 'em. This shiny, glossy version is a heckuva extra, though, and it is pretty intriguing to compare the same shots in each version. The original photography is so sharp and clean that I can't help but be impressed by just how much time and effort must've gone into running it through the digital wringer. Oh, and to beat you to the punch, even though the menu lists it as a "scratch free version", the reel missing in every other version of the flick is still axed here too. That middle stretch was never even written, let alone filmed; c'mon, that's the joke.

Even the cut of Planet Terror that's been digitally beaten all to hell -- with melting film, warping, clunky color separation, worn sprocket holes, heavy grain, and brutal speckling -- still looks phenomenal on Blu-ray. The image is much more crisply defined and richly detailed than last year's DVD. There's a thick veil of artificial film grain in pretty much every frame of the flick, and even though that sort of texture had to be borderline-nightmarish to compress, the encoding never stutters or hiccups. Both versions of the movie snag straight digital transfers, so the presentations are about as perfect as they're gonna get.

The bruised and battered version of Planet Terror is encoded with AVC while the cleaner cut leans on VC-1. The bitrate is a lot lower on this alternate version, although the image is clearer, smoother, and less demanding this time around, and I couldn't spot any compression hiccups in either case. Both versions open up the mattes from Grindhouse's scope theatrical framing to Robert Rodriguez' preferred home viewing aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and the composition doesn't seem to be any worse for it.

The worn and weathered version of Planet Terror scores most of the audio options, headed up by a 24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Because this movie pays homage to flicks ten or fifteen years more recent than the ones Tarantino gave a nod to in Death Proof, the hyperaggressive sound design here in Planet Terror doesn't seem like all that much of a cheat. Neverending streams of gunfire, a couple hundred megatons of explosives blowing everything all to holy hell, Humvees and trucks flipping over and crashing into damn near anything with at least one wall, the meaty thuds of slugs to the face, legions of snarling zombies...hell, even a creaking elevator in an abandoned army base: Planet Terror is bolstered by a colossal low-end and assaults every speaker at its wiry little fingertips. Rodriguez' score sounds pretty incredible on Blu-ray too, from the big, booming Grindhouse theme to the banks of vintage Carpenter synths.

Subtitles are included in English (SDH) and Spanish along with traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French, and Spanish.

Because the "newly discovered negative" of Planet Terror clocks in at a different runtime than the digitally weathered version, it can't share that same extensive set of audio options, and it's limited to just a 640Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

Planet Terror snags all of the extras from last year's two-disc DVD special edition. The bulk of them are ported over in standard definition, but one featurette does get an upgrade to high-def. The sparklingly clean version of the flick is the only notable new extra, although this is a BD Live enabled disc, so something worth tracking down might make the rounds online once Planet Terror actually rolls into stores. Because packing on two versions of the movie with so many audio options gobbles up nearly all of the space on even a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, the featurettes spill over into a second disc.
Yup, Machete is on here too.
Disc One
  • Machete trailer (HD): The first frame of film -- well, HD video -- shot for Grindhouse was the trailer for Robert Rodriguez' gritty exploitation homage Machete. This is the only of the four faux-trailers from Grindhouse to claw its way over to Blu-ray, and because it's attached to Planet Terror directly, it still sports 1080p video, audio commentary, and the same sprawling set of audio options as the movie proper.

  • The Newly-Discovered "Scratch Free" Negative (HD): Yeah, yeah, this is the fourth or fifth time I've mentioned this, but once more with feeling...! Exclusive to this Blu-ray release is a second version of Planet Terror without all of the wear and tear that Troublemaker Digital slathered all over the movie. It's worth noting that the "newly discovered negative" only includes Planet Terror, slashing off the coming attractions intro, the Machete trailer, and the rating warning. Because that makes for a different runtime, Robert Rodriguez' audio commentary as well as the audience participation track can't be played alongside it.

  • Audience Reaction Track: This alternate soundtrack captures the crowd at one screening in full Dolby Digital 5.1, with the applause, snickers, cheers, and screams scattered across all of these individual channels. It's a novelty, and I can't really picture myself sitting through the whole flick from start to finish this way, but...hey! If you're interested, there it is. Nothin' wrong with having lots of options.

  • Audio Commentary with Robert Rodriguez: Planet Terror's writer-slash-director isn't quite as chatty as usual on this commentary track, but it's still a solid listen. Rodriguez notes how he wrote Grindhouse's theme before he sat down to hammer out the script, belts out stories like Marley Shelton accidentally stabbing one of his pals with actual needles instead of the retractable props, shooting two actors separately during their piano ballad sex scene, and explaining why, exactly, the movie has "Planet" in its title. Some of these same talking points are covered elsewhere on the disc, but I still dug this track enough to find it worth setting aside an hour and a half and change.

  • BD Live: Planet Terror does sport some sort of online functionality, but it hasn't been enabled as of this writing, and The Weinstein Company hasn't really dropped any hints about what might be lurking off in the shadows.
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Disc Two
  • 10 Minute Film School (12 min; HD): That's right: the 10 minute film school clocks in a few seconds shy of 12 minutes. Hey, that's okay: this featurette narrated by Robert Rodriguez crams a heckuva lot of information into its lean runtime, including raw footage from the effects-heavy shoot, different stages of CG renders, slews of effects tests and comparisons, animatics, videomatics, raw plates, different elements later composited together, an early morning sky doubling as an oversized bluescreen... Yup, its focus is mostly on the standouts of the 450 effects shots (!) scattered throughout Planet Terror, explaining not just how -- but why -- these shots were pieced together.

  • The Badass Babes of Planet Terror (12 min): This casting featurette serves up stories about how so many of the characters didn't really take shape until after some early casting, Tarantino biting Fergie in a zombified frenzy and continually ruining her takes, Marley Shelton's double jointed wrists making her literally born to play the part of this hardassed anesthesiologist, and Rodriguez casting his own nieces as "The Crazy Babysitter Twins" who pack some pretty heavy artillery.

  • The Guys of Planet Terror (17 min): Kind of a ditto, only swap the gender around. Some of the notes this time around include how Planet Terror is really the story of one intrepid cook's search for the perfect BBQ sauce, Naveen Andrews finally bringing life to a script Rodriguez had scribbled down ten years earlier for an unproduced videogame, Freddy Rodriguez' character taking a complete 180° after his audition, and assembling a "badass police force" with El Mariachi, Michael Biehn, and Tom Savini.

  • Casting Rebel (6 min): Rodriguez cast his tyke Rebel as Marley Shelton's on-screen son, and the writer/director mentions here how he shot takes of certain scenes that wouldn't cast Planet Terror in...y'know, quite so dark a light. Some of the other actors chime in too, boasting about how Rebel isn't just adorable: he's fearless, fiddling with a tarantula and a scorpion without flinching at all.

  • Sickos, Bullets, and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror (13 min): This featurette runs through Planet Terror's grueling stuntwork, from gun and knife training to its enormous pyrotechnics to helping the actors tackle as many of their own stunts as possible.

  • The Friend, the Doctor, and the Real Estate Agent (7 min): Rodriguez chats about how casting a pal of his as an oddball surgeon caught the attention of Dimension execs, bringing his own doctor into the flick after he'd so effortlessly rattle off medical lingo about squirmworthy lesions and sores, and inviting his real estate agent to bring his thick Texan drawl to the sleazy manager at the go-go club.

  • Planet Terror International Trailer (2 min)

  • International Poster Gallery: This collection of lobby cards and posters tackles Machete as well as Planet Terror.

The Final Word
Even though I miss the trailer spoofs and the whole experience of a double bill of barely-feature length exploitation flicks, Planet Terror still holds up ridiculously well on its own. I mean, the two great loves of my life are schlock cinema and batshit crazy zombie movies, and Planet Terror is the most deranged and deliriously campy undead flick this side of Nightmare City and Hell of the Living Dead. Planet Terror is what grindhouse flicks knelt by their futons and prayed they'd grow up to be like one day. Highly Recommended.

A Few More Screengrabs Just for the Hell of It
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