THE ARCHIVIST Volume XV: Insane Italian Sci-Fi Adventures With WILD, WILD PLANET and WAR OF THE…

Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand and Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

Welcome back, you sexy astronomers! It’s time to venture (far) out into the final frontier with a couple low-budget science fiction pseudo-classics in this installment of The Archivist! B-movie maestro, Antonio Margheriti (Anthony M. Dawson on American screens) made a most insane stateside cinematic invasion with two back-to-back campy romps featuring the adventures of Commander Mike Halstead. He and his scrappy team of officers defend The 1960s Of The Future against whacky conquerors from within and without.

A scientist attempts to create a “perfect” race of human hybrids by any means necessary.

It is a rule too often observed that older films couldn’t live up to their vibrant and enticing poster artwork. Wild, Wild Planet isn’t quite an exception to that rule, but it comes awfully close. The poster boasts a wealth of action that, from the opening credits, we can tell couldn’t possibly be delivered by its modest production values. That being said, that measly budget does provide a lot of colorful whimsy, charm, and laughs. Amongst the endless library of B pictures from the classical era, this is in that much smaller category of goofy films completely worth your time. Sometimes, you just want to watch something that will make you smile.

I found myself grinning ear to ear for nearly every second of this lively and ambitious little movie. I have seen plenty of Italian genre films before this, so I was prepared for sub-standard ADR. But nothing could have prepared me for the screenwriters’ apparently sub-standard acquaintance with the English language. One of the film’s greatest joys materializes in the form of dialogue that just isn’t… right. After only a few minutes of conversation between some chief cast members, I tried to remember if I had hit my head or something. It’s not complete nonsense, and there are a few moments of genuinely witty exchange, but about every five minutes, somebody says something that is just a couple steps to the left of correct. Be prepared to be audibly asking the empty darkness in which you view the film, “What the hell?”

Many aspects of the film will inspire such a question, but the material that does make sense should carry you through the confusion. The special effects are, indeed, strung together on the lowest of budgets (think Thunderbirds), but are coherent, and often surprisingly effective! The film ends with a giant underground bunker flooding with about one million gallons of blood (yeah, it hella-goes-there), and somehow watching a bunch of miniature sets populated with stiff doll stand-ins be destroyed by slow-motion kool-aid really grossed me out. Between its adorable effects work, a couple sincerely kick ass fight scenes, and one of the earliest performances from Franco Nero, this movie makes for some supremely nerdy fun.

A gas-like alien species threatens to possess the entire human population for nefarious purposes.

War Of The Planets, (maybe shot at the same time as its predecessor — they were released the same year and look exactly the same) is a shockingly different film. The light and swinging vibe found in the previous picture has been abandoned, and the result is a film with the same cheap quality, that desperately tries to hold up a spare plot, with a darker tone and no dramatic propulsion.

Although I have to admit the work on both of these films largely demonstrate poor filmmaking, some credit is due for crafty shooting and editing. Many scenes would easily provide thrills if only we could possibly take the movie seriously enough to invest in its characters. Quick cuts, intense close-ups, and disturbing soundscapes do all they can, but by the time the movie is ready to make us jump or scream or feel for a character in trouble, it has already unintentionally caused us to laugh too many times to respond to its sudden visceral evocations.

For the most part, however, both films make for interesting viewing. Just as I can understand why Warner Brothers sees these works fit for preservation, I see how Margheriti developed a reputation for “working wonders” on a barely-there budget. I would like to know just how little money he had. He created rather detailed worlds with a willing and energetic cast, and showed this steadfast cinephile a handful of things he had never seen before. That’s got to count for something, right?

So laser blast an ice-cold juice capsule, and orbit a bowl of popcorn. It’s double-feature time!

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