REMEDIAL SF 101: Cosmos: War of the Planets

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Cosmos:War of the Planets

Last week, I wrote that "The Creeping Terror" was the worst film ever made.

I was wrong.  At least "The Creeping Terror" has plot progression.

"Cosmos: War of the Planets" is a movie that seems to have been created by stringing together all the bits off the cutting-room floor, and then discarding the actual film.  The plot, if it can be called that, seems to be a cautionary tale about putting too much trust in machines.  People even use a sort of virtual-reality device to make love, lying on side-by-side beds as images and sensations are projected into their heads.  At least, I think that was what they were doing.  Woody Allen did it so much better in "Sleeper."

Almost nothing in this film made any sense.  And it sounded and looked awful.  The film stock was grainy, the acting was dreadful, and the music was an inharmonious pastiche of everything from electronica to folk songs.  The astronauts wore space suits that looked like body condoms. The dialog was out of synch with the movements of the actors' mouths, but since the shots were often framed from the nose up, you didn't see the mouths all that much.

It would be a waste of what used to be called "ink" to give a plot synopsis; suffice it to say that this has to be the stupidest crew in the history of cinematic spacefaring.  Nobody seems to know anything about anything, including the supercomputer they put so much faith in--whenever "Wiz" is asked for an answer, it says it doesn't have enough information, or power, or both, and gives some lame probability factor instead.  He comes off sounding like HAL 9000's slacker brother, the one who did way too much hash in junior college.

The captain is a man who is supposed to have trouble with authority, but not a single one of the orders he gives to his crew gets obeyed.  Early in the film, one guy dons his vacuum-tube-like space helmet and goes out to make some repairs to the ship, and ignores the captain's furious order to return; when he somehow gets squirted with battery acid and starts screaming in pain, the captain then calmly tells him he has three minutes to get back to the airlock before his suit ruptures from the acid.  After two minutes of listening to him scream and groan and plead for help, you kinda hope the guy will just get on with it and die, because the tension they're hoping to build regarding his rescue is so drawn out and emotionless.  But he gets rescued with a few seconds to spare.  Oh.  Yay.

About halfway into the film, the spaceship is sent to check out the source of some strange radio transmissions, and winds up engaging two alien spacecraft in a two-shot laser battle, which damages the Earth ship and sends it spiralling out of control.

The biggest budget item must have been the ornately carved Spacehenge gates they encounter after crash-landing on a heretofore unknown planet that just happened to be skulking around our solar system.  The astronauts discover the source of the radio transmissions, which are broadcasting some kind of message which sounds like "Toccata and Fuge in D minor".  The gateway magically transports several of the crew members to some cave where they are first chased around by what looks like a wind-up tintoy robot, and then encounter a gaggle of nearly naked green bald men with pointy ears.  The bald men tell them--via telepathy--that they used to be of a race that trusted too much in machines, until the machines took over, and now they're facing extinction.  The lack of women might also have something to do with this, I dunno.  The astronauts vow to help them, but say that they need to get their weapons from the ship, and the green dudes demand to keep one of the females from the expedition as a guarantee the others will return.

They do come back, and by this time it seems that the girl has engaged in some form of *ehem* diplomacy with the chief of the Vulcan wanna-be's. At least they keep shooting each other meaningful glances.  I kept shooting meaningful glances at my watch.  We were forty minutes into a ninety minute picture before anything remotely related to the film's title had happened.

That supercomputer on the space ship tells them that there is a 70% probability that the robot entity on the planet can be destroyed by pushing its red button.  Two of the astronauts approach the robot, which looks like a cross between a slot machine and The Mighty Wurlitzer of Radio City Music Hall.  It sneeringly repeats the story about how the race that made it allowed itself to be killed off by the robots, and that it wants the humans to fix a faulty circuit so it can go ahead and conquer the galaxy.  Insert "muahaha" here.

AND THEY DO IT.  Ostensibly they're trying to get close enough to push the red button, which does almost nothing to the robot, so they have to sling a rock or something at it, which makes it blow up, triggering a planet-wide earthquake.

Doncha just love these things?

They somehow escape, with more techno-babble of the "Captain!  The engines will overheat if we do that!"  "I don't care!  Give me full power anyway!" sort.  Then after they break free of the planet's gravity, it's revealed that they brought along the green alien guy, who again is slipping meaningful glances to the girl who earlier in the movie was swapping spit with the Captain.  The crew gets congratulated by their higher-ups back on Earth, who had been trying to convince the media not to cause a panic by reporting that the Earth was in peril of alien attack.  Which is exactly what the media did anyway.

Ah, but wait, we haven't finished punishing you yet.

Just when you thought it was over, they throw in a bit about alien vampire zombies.  It seems the robot infected one of the astronauts, and he turns into a wart-faced fanged monster that foams at the mouth.  He kills a couple of people, then gets into a fist fight with Bald Green Guy who is trying to protect his Earth honey.  The captain appears, grabs the girl, then hits the airlock button and the monster and the alien both get sucked out into space.  The girl looks momentarily wistful for her lost alien lover, but that's about it.  After all, she still has the Captain.  And the Cosmic Love booth.

Then, to add one more "homage" to far better SF films, they slip in a baby when they have one of the younger crewmen--who until now was completely undescribed--find out that his wife had just had their son, who is held up to the vid screen.  Everyone wave and smile!  Nice to know not everybody uses the Cosmic Love booth.  The film ends with a montage of whatever leftover footage they couldn't fit in earlier, as the Captain realizes in horror the robot has also infected the ship's computer.

Okay, that's what I think the plot was about.  I don't really know.  The thing seemed like live-action manga, with disconnected sequences, extreme close-ups,and lots of weird but ineffective artsy-fartsy shots of solar flares and magma eruptions and backlit mobiles casting eerie shadows on colored walls.

It would all be very 1960's, if it hadn't been made in 1978, which was one year after "Star Wars" came out, so they really had no excuse to make a film this dreadful.  Frankly, there are not enough syllables in the word "bad" to fully convey the mind-numbing badness of this film.

In order to save money on building sets, they used tight close-ups of the actors' faces, or shot everything in low light so you couldn't see anything.  And perhaps it was the fault of my particular TV, but when a scene showed two actors, they were so far to the sides of the frame  that all you saw was the empty space between them.  Benny Hill made fun of this effect by saying a film he was parodying had been shot in "Inemascop".

I miss Benny Hill.

And I'm not kidding, guys, it seemed like this film was constructed from random scenes.  The dialog made no sense, the characters' actions and reactions were inexplicable, and then most of the action took place in the dark, so you could hardly make out what was going on anyway.  Not only did I not care for these people, I was hoping they'd hurry up and get killed so I could move on to something more absorbing, like paying my bills.

Shortly after they got transported to the cave of the Bald Green Men, one of the female anstronauts gasps, "We've disappeared from one place and appeared someplace else!  Captain, I don't understand--!"


If you value your brain cells, do not bother watching this film.  I've probably inflicted irreparable damage just describing it to you.  "Cosmos: War of the Planets" is an example of just how far off the rails a science fiction movie can go.  If you're new to the genre, avoid this like the plague, because it will negatively impact your opinion of science fiction forever.