Strange Planet
Wellspring // Unrated // $24.99 // June 10, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted June 17, 2003
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Movie: Foreign movies are often a mixed bag for me. While I can appreciate their unusual perspective, all too often their humor or cultural references are lost on me. I'm a regular guy and I really dislike having to study a bunch of reference material in order to appreciate a film. There are exceptions to this rule but let's be honest, most movie watchers are not self important know it all's and if a director wants to be obscure, they run the risk of alienating viewers unnecessarily. I know the USA is not the center of the Universe but would it hurt these directors to consider adding in some liner notes or some other means of filling us in with an extra or two? Luckily, in the movie Strange Planet, the director's commentary fills this role.

The movie takes a look at two groups of people, 3 men and 3 women, all in their late 20's to early 30's, who are looking for love and meaning out of life. The women are a mixed bunch; Judy is a career viper, often sleeping her way to the top with older men and then discarding them when they are no longer useful to her plans, Sally is a hedonist who will have sex with anyone or take whatever drugs just to more fully experience life, and Alice is a shy, reserved type who seems afraid of taking either path her friends have set in front of her. The men, on the other hand, are a bit less defined; Neil is a geek, Ewan is coming to terms with his nesting instinct, and the last was Joel who's wife has left him (in pieces). The movie looks at these 6 characters over the course of a year, using a plot device of showing their transitions on a month to month basis.

I liked the way the characters interacted with one another most of the time. The performances, and the writing, seemed pretty solid. The two groups were not interacting in any meaningful way until well into the movie (towards the end in fact) and that limited the movie to me. Perhaps if the movie had fewer leads, it was an ensemble cast, it would've been able to provide more depth. I suspect that each character here could've had a separate movie about themselves and it would've been great rather than the hit or miss nature of this film. In a way, it was like watching a standup comedian-even good ones have a lot of weak jokes compared to the few really good ones.

Most of my specific complaints about the movie's performances center on how some of the transitions were awkwardly handled. Don't get me wrong, movies focusing on "growing up" or moving forward with one's life are very interesting to me. I just think the pace was accelerated and truncated to accommodate the large cast in an effort to give them each plenty of air time. Other times, the characters seemed a bit less focused or out of character (when visiting Judy's rock star dad, you'd think Sally would've fit right in but she seemed shocked but this was only one example).

The movie had plenty of bright spots and even though there were some significant flaws, I think the movie's well worth a Rental or two. The director's commentary almost elevated it to recommended status but it just fell short by a bit. A good sophomore effort by director Emma-Kate Croghan.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio Widescreen and looked a bit rough around the edges at times. There was some grain and the picture appeared a bit soft at times with lighting issues. The transfer looked good with only minimal compression artifacts.

Sound: The audio track provided a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround with some decent separation at times or a simpler 2.0 track that wasn't bad either. The vocals were mostly clear and the music enjoyable.

Extras: The extras included an audio commentary with the director. Most of the time, she concentrated on discussing quirks in the story but also took the time to mention a few of the technical aspects. There was also the trailer to the feature and a limited filmography of the director and a couple cast members.

Final Thoughts: If the movie had limited itself to 2, or even just 4, characters, I think it might've worked out better. It explored a number of ideas that I'm personally familiar with, and they seemed true to life, but simply lacked the depth that would've made this one a really good movie. I also wish the director had spent as much time developing the male characters as the females as well as explained a bit more of the quirks on the commentary track. Still, it was a decent movie that's worth a rental.

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