The Planet (2006)
While scientists have been debating for centuries if there is life on other planets the issue has already been resolved at least in the minds of film makers. For as long as there have been movies audiences have been treated to stories of life forms on other worlds. Since it makes for more action those extra terrestrial creatures are usually mean, violent and ready to dispatch every human begin in the vicinity. One of the latest in this long standing sub genre of science fiction is ĎThe Planetí by Mark Stirton. Overall this is an above average movie that delivers action, an actual story and even a modicum of suspense. I donít way that last part lightly. It seems that too many flicks of this type are so predictable that I find myself mouthing the dialogue even if it is the first time Iíve seen the movie. This film can pull you in from the start and hold your attention. It was apparently made on the cheap costing some £8,000 and shot in an extremely short time frame of ten days. Considering the quality of the production values this would appear to be either a very low estimate or this is a crew that is simply amazing. Iíd like to believe the later in this case. As for the short shooting schedule this number is a little misleading. It may have taken only ten days to film but there was obviously many months of intensive post production work done here. The special effects are nearly on par with many films with budgets equal to the gross national product of a small nation. It just goes to show you what a dedicated cast and crew can do with talent and some modern computer effects programs. For those out there not up on their Scottish independent films this is one that will certainly get you interested. Now MTI has released the film to American audiences on DVD so it can reach a well deserved broader audience.
Scottish film maker Mark Stirton both wrote and directed this film. His only previous credit in either field was a comedy-drama shot he made two years prior to this one. Here he also worked as the cinematographer and editor so it would be fair to say that this was his vision from start to finish. One of the best things about little Indy flicks like this is watching the early works of someone destined to go on to a high degree of fame. Mr. Stirton is certain to be counted among the next generation of up coming film makers. In his script he does well weaving a gripping story of survival on a strange planet. The men not only have to ward of an alien menace they have a dangerous human prisoner to cope with. Now this may seem a lot like another Sci-Fi flick, ĎPitch Blackí and in some ways that is a correct assumption. The thing here is a lot of science fiction is really variations on a theme. In many ways creating a movie like this is akin to playing jazz. You may start out with a familiar rift or two but then the musician makes the piece into something he can call his own. The story concerns a space freighter that has been hired out to transport a group of mercenaries as they transfer a prisoner. He has to be bad news since no one would engage this motley crew of soldiers for hire for someone wanted for tax evasion. Suddenly the ship is attacked and the mercenaries manage to escape. Also able to get to a coffin like pod was the captain of the ill fated ship and, of course, the prisoner. They land on a desolate planet that just happened to be close enough for the pods to reach. The story does seem like it has one too many coincidences to be believable but Stirton is a fine son of Scotland and knows well that the story is in the telling. You over look the plot holes here because you want to be entertained not instructed in the mechanics of space travel and survival on a hostile planet.
As the director here Stirton doesnít waste time at all. He opens with the first of some 400 special effects shots just to set the mood and pull in the viewers. Stirton integrates the computer effects seamlessly cutting between that and the live action with style. He does leave some exposition out of the story such as what happened to the people on the freighter not fortunate enough to get an escape pod. There is one annoying omission that concerns the prison, on his own on the planet, finding a sword that seems to become magically restored when some of his blood touches it. This plot device is not really mentioned subsequently leaving a little too much to wonder about to ignore. Other than that he does a very good job of presenting the flick in an entertaining fashion.
Commanding the heavy goods space freighter is Captain Morgan (Mike Mitchell). Since this is a locally made flick from Scotland they probably donít realize that over here in the States Captain Morgan is better know as a brand of rum with campy commercials. As the green computer screen text tells us there is a crew of 126 and the cargo for this run is a single prisoner. Guarding that man is a squad of mercenaries with one task; get the prisoner to his destination. As the ship passes a planet suddenly a group of smaller space ships appear and they are hostile. They attack Morganís ship completely knocking it out. The freighter does have an anti-aircraft type of guns but there are just too many of the smaller craft. The ships takes on so much damage in such a short time it is miraculous that anyone survived long enough to escape. Fortunately the pods that make it to the planet land fairly close to each other. There is the typical alpha male conflict between the Captain and the commander of the soldiers but this takes a back seat once a mysterious life form endangers them all.
Almost everyone involved in this film is new to the business but for the most part you would never know it. The acting is much better than you would expect especially consider the ten day schedule for the live action shooting the fact that this is the first film for most of the locally recruited cast. The bottom line is the film has flaws but I didnít care much about them. This is a film made by people who obviously love movies for others that feel the same way. Donít try to analyze this film just enjoy it.
As always MTI has fond another film that most Americans would not have heard of and released it on DVD. They never cease to amaze me as the films they discover. They are not always the best around but they certainly are always interesting.