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Planet 51

Sony Pictures // PG // March 9, 2010
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 2, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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It's supposed to be one of mankind's greatest achievements. Sure, maybe the rocky planet that astronaut Charles T. Baker (The RockDwayne Johnson) has trotted off to isn't the Venetian Hilton or whatever, but still...! This is a far-flung planet in a completely different galaxy, and Chuck's the first Earthling to have ever planted his country's flag in its soil. Okay, okay, maybe it'd be a little more impressive if it weren't just a couple feet from a nicely manicured lawn...y'know, if Chuck weren't within spitting distance of some schlub grilling burgers for the family. Oops. This planet is supposed to be uninhabited, but Chucky and NASA didn't get CC:ed on that memo. Instead, it's kind of like E.T. flipped on its head. Technically, Chuck's the alien this time around, and talk about fear of a green planet...! All the little green men on Planet 51 know about the human is what they picked up in drive-in flicks...that humaniacs gobble up brains for brunch and turn their victims into zombie-fried slaves. The military is on full alert, and it's up to a reluctant teenager named Lem (Justin Long) and a couple of his pals to keep Chuck from stumbling into the Feds' paranoid clutches. At the same time, Chuck's mission is only supposed to last a few days, and if he's not able to hop back into that landing module and blast back off to his ship, he'll be stranded on this planet...cue the ominous DUH-duh-duh in the score...forever!

I was kinda hooked on Planet 51 at first. I really like the way that 1950s smalltown America has been transplanted to another where everything is round and usually hovering a foot or two off the ground. Think what the suburbs might have looked like in 1955 if Walt Disney had given 'em a Tomorrowland spit-and-polish, and you're somewhere in the ballpark. Other than all that hover-tech and the fact that there are little green men with antennae poking out of their heads, this world
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really isn't all that different than ours in the '50s. Kids are still tearing into sci-fi comics, schlocky monster movies with that sort of William Castle showmanship are unspooling in theaters everywhere, there are still only three black and white TV channels at their fingertips, and everything just seems all innocent and wholesome, down to the nicely groomed lawns and the mailman being chased around by the family dog. Here that pooch is a Giger-esque alien, but still, you get where I'm going with all this.

As much as I like that backdrop and as much as I dig its Bizzaro World take on E.T, Planet 51 coasts way too much on it. Some of the slapstick is cute and charming, sure, and there are oodles of '50s gags about ducking under desks and know-it-all scientists. The movie's even just clever enough to sneak in jabs at Cold War-era paranoia, only instead of the Red Menace, here the question is if your next door neighbor is a zombie slave of a creature from another world. It just feels like Planet 51 is a few really good ideas wrapped around the most generic, paint-by-numbers CG animated movie formula they could dig up. It settles into a really predictable rhythm, to the point where you could almost keep an eye on your watch and say, "...and Action Sequence #3 wraps up here, and cue the Big, Kinda Weepy Emotional Beat in" None of the one-liners are all that memorable. Planet 51 paints Chuck as being a coward with an undeservedly arrogant swagger -- hey, he's People Magazine's 19th sexiest man alive...he can afford to be cocky! -- but he doesn't really beam with any sort of genuine personality either. Ditto for Lem. He's not a character in the sense of...y'know, a character either. He's just there 'cause the plot needs him. The same
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goes for Neera (Jessica Biel), who only seems to be around because every movie's gotta have a love interest. Heck, the most interesting character in the movie is Rover, and he comes across as a straightahead WALL·E knockoff.

Planet 51 just never ranks more than okay at much of anything it does. There are plenty of action sequences, and although they're all pulled off well enough, they're not much of an adrenaline rush either. None of the jokes really linger. I didn't exactly find myself caught up in any of the characters or pretty much anything that was going on. Sure, Planet 51 kept me smiling, and I dug the really expressive animation, the nods to eight hojillion different movies, and the way it serves up a slightly skewed view of the 1950s. The movie grabs a fairly clever idea and plays it as safe as it possibly could from there...this just feels like a marginally different version of a movie I've watched fifteen or twenty times already. I mean, I don't have anything bad to say about Planet 51. I'm not going to pretend like it was a chore to watch, and if one of my pint-sized relatives asked me to buy 'im a copy as a birthday present, I wouldn't try to talk him out of it or anything. Planet 51 is the sort of movie you pop in, smile a bit over the course of an hour and a half, and then you move on...not a bad way to kill eightysomething minutes but still forgettable, completely disposable entertainment. I don't regret watching Planet 51 but can't really picture myself ever giving the movie another spin, and I guess that's a longwinded way of saying Rent It.

Hey, even if Planet 51 as a movie winds up being kind of an indifferent shrug, at least it looks great in high-def. The scope image is ridiculously crisp and overflowing with detail, and I'm really impressed by how terrific Chuck's reflective visor winds up working in HD. Planet 51 is consistently smooth and clean on Blu-ray, and its bright, candy-colored hues are so vibrant that they leap a couple dozen feet off the screen. If anything, the only gripe I have is that Planet 51 sometimes lets itself get too dominated by greens and grays, and I found myself wishing for a little more variety in the colors as it breezed along. Other than that, though...? Pretty much as perfect as I could hope to see.

Planet 51 is letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and its AVC encode spans both layers of this BD-50 disc.

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sports a six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It's not manic or hypercaffeinated the way I'd waltz in expecting an otherworldly, animated action-comedy flick to be, but the mix is definitely spry and lively enough. The sound design definitely got the memo that this is a 5.1 mix, with ships soaring across the night sky, a little reverb when Rover whacks into his snowglobe prison and some nice directionality when glass is sent scattering everywhere afterwards, and reinforcing all the oversized action that's lobbed out in the last few minutes. There are even some smooth, seamless pans to the dialogue as a couple of chatty soldiers stroll down a sidewalk. Bass response doesn't hit like a slug to the gut but is nothing to sneeze at either, particularly the low-frequency hum of an electrical trap, the throaty growl of some of the flying saucer hover-cars, and the colossal blast of Chuck's thrusters. All of the dialogue is rendered cleanly and clearly throughout, and the score is reproduced nicely too, especially that whirring theremin that kicks in every once in a while. The audio isn't anything breathtaking or spectacularly immersive or whatever, but it's effective enough.

A second DTS-HD Master Audio track is served up in German, and an English audio descriptive service track has also been piled on here. The list of subtitles includes streams in English (traditional and SDH), German, Spanish, and Turkish.

  • Target 51 (HD): Audible gasp! Chuck has managed to plow his way back into space, but he still has to get his landing module back to the ship in one piece. In this game, players'll have to zap any robots or asteroids that come careening his way before he lands safely and soundly in the command module.

  • Extended Scenes (3 min.; HD): The first two scenes pal around with Chuck a little longer in Lem's bedroom, including Chucky cringing when he realizes that he's landed on a planet that only has three TV channels. Last to bat is a gag in the comic store where two double-digit IQ soldiers really, really want to be the best mindless zombies they can. A couple of the shots in that last one haven't been fully rendered, but everything else is in sparkling, shiny HD.

  • The World of Planet 51 (3 min.; HD): Nope, no voiceovers or anything this time around. "The World..." grabs its virtual camera and spins it around many of Planet 51's different backdrops. Pretty much every key location is showcased, giving viewers a chance to check out some of the attention to detail they might've missed the first time through.

  • Life on Planet 51 (12 min.; HD): Once you wade past the overly promotional first few minutes, "Life on Planet 51" serves up lotsa footage of the voice actors at work, and they chat about how they shaped their performances one line at a time with no one else in the cast to play off of. After that, the featurette takes a peek at how Planet 51 came together, including hammering out a roomful of storyboards, designing a round, flying saucer
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    -centric world, and the animators shooting reference videos of themselves goofing around. It's a decent featurette overall, so don't get thrown off by the first few minutes recapping the plot and churning out so many clips from the movie.

  • Planetarium - The Voice Stars of Planet 51 (3 min.; HD): "Planetarium" is...pretty pointless for anyone who's actually sat through the flick already; sticking to the standard issue trailer-plus-fluffy-interviews formula, Planet 51's cast rattles off the plot in between oodles of excerpts from the movie. This is the sort of thing you'd expect to plug Planet 51 on Nickelodeon in between episodes of Fanboy and Chum Chum or something.

  • Planet 51 Music Video Montage (2 min.; HD): Hey, now that's a catchy title! A bunch of footage from the movie plays against snippets from "Aliens Exist" by Blink 182 and "Spaceman" by The Killers.

  • Animation Progression Reels (16 min.; HD): This extra chops up the screen into four quadrants: rough renders, storyboards, animatics, and the polished finished product. Six of Planet 51's biggest sequences are tackled here.

  • Shameless Plugs (HD): Last up are a bunch of trailers and promos. There isn't a clip for Planet 51 lurking around anywhere in here, though.

Also along for the ride are a DVD of Planet 51 and digital copies for iTunes, Windows Media-powered devices, and (whew!) PSPs. So...yeah. No matter what hardware you're lugging around these days, chances are you can probably give Planet 51 a whirl on it. Oh, and the movie also comes packaged in a glossy, embossed slipcase.

The Final Word
Planet 51 kinda plays like a kids'-size Frosty from Wendy's. Sugary sweet...? Absolutely! It tastes okay going down, sure, but there's not all that much to it either, and it'll be a distant memory within a couple of hours. I mean, I'd say that I like Planet 51, but it's pretty disposable and forgettable. There aren't any particularly clever gags that lodged themselves in my brain, none of the characters are beaming with all that much personality, and the action and ::sniffles!:: emotional beats always feel like they're marching in lockstep with a standard issue CG feature film blueprint. Planet 51 marks the debut of Ilion Animation Studios, and instead of roaring out of the gates with something unique and distinctive to show the world what they can do, they opted instead to play it really, really safe. Likeable enough but completely forgettable, Planet 51 is worth picking up if your kids are clamoring for it, but it's probably better left as a rental. Rent It.
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