Back in 1977, a group of young special effects artists got together to make a science fiction film, Planet of Dinosaurs.
Now this is one of those films you can’t watch with any illusions: they didn’t have much cash, their no-name cast isn’t particularly good, the script is just as bad, and there’s a lot of talk — and I do mean a lot of talk.
But, let’s fact it, it does its job, more or less — it fills in the gaps between a series of stunning dinosaur attacks.
Stunning is definitely the word for it, as they are brought to magnificent life with some very fluid and impressively real stop-motion animation. It should come as little surprise to see such familiar names as Doug Beswick and Jim Danforth attached to this one, and even with their tiny budget, they are still among the best movie dinosaurs you’ll find before the digital era — and, let’s face it, they’re better than most of those, too.
It feels almost a last gasp for the traditional stop-motion animated creature film: The Day Time Ended (1979) (which is also the independent product of a group of special effects artists) is nowhere near as good, Ray Harryhausen’s final film. Clash of the Titans, would appear in 1981, and you’ll only find a few, isolated bits of stop-motion in most of the other such films of the time. The art isn’t completely dead, even now, but increasingly rare in our age of digital animation and mostly left to independent creators like Brett Piper.
Sharp eye viewers will probably spot their homage to Ray Harryhausen’s legendary Beast from 20,00 Fathoms: one of the big T-Rex’s victims is a baby Rhedosaur, the imaginary dinosaur star of that film.
However, the film does have one dubious distinction: you may have seen at least part of it even though you’ve never watched the film. Due to poor planning, the film ended up in the Public Domain and has since been cannibalized for its effects by a great many other films — for example, check out Time Tracers, which borrows from here, Horror Express, and even a nearby Civil War Reenactment.
Ironically, this also makes Planet of the Dinosaurs a little harder to find, as it only seems to surface on relatively scarce bargain DVDs (although MST3K was among those who cut it up to use in their version!).. I’m not sure it’s even in any of those Mill Valley Fifty Movie sets
And most of them could definitely use a film which, despite its flaws, does have some excellent effects.
So file this one under “entertaining, if you can except its many, many flaws.” It’s far from perfect, far too talky, and needed something more to make it even a minor classic.
But what the heck, it has some really cool dinosaurs.
And that has to count for something.