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Now in our ninth calendar year!
PCR #439 (Vol. 9, No. 34) This edition is for the week of August 18--24, 2008.

"The Rocker"  by Mike Smith
Let's Stroll Historic Roser Park! The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part 10 by William Moriaty
DVD Grindhouse: "War of the Planets" (1977)  by Andy Lalino
DVD Review: "Frogs"  by ED Tucker
Pop Culture Potpourri by Lisa Ciurro
Welcome To The Trop .... Gene Upshaw .... Citrus Park Loss .... A "little" Problem .... .... .... ....  by Chris Munger
I Hate Being Sick .... 11 Delegates Behind??? Wtf .... So Long Gene .... Cancer Test by Matt Drinnenberg
Movie Notes .... Hypocrisy 101 .... Wrong Place, Wrong Time .... 4 Banana, 3 Banana, 2 Banana One! .... Passing On .... .... .... .... And The Oscar For 1980 Should Have Gone To... by Mike Smith
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Oddservations by Andy Lalino

DVD Grindhouse: "War of the Planets" (1977)

Italians have always had a knack for horror. But science-fiction...well, that's another story. With select exceptions, War of the Planets one and Bava's Planet of the Vampires another, Italians found themselves incessantly guilty, especially in the '60s, of producing flat, uninspired science-fiction that often bored rather than excited. An admittedly easy trap for genre filmmakers, however the Italians were masters at stepping in it.

Cult movie fans may have found a little gem in War of the Planets, a PD title frequently spotted on countless sci-fi/cult compilation DVD's. War of the Planets is a strange hybrid of 1960's/1970's Italian sci-fi cinema imagery, with the visual scales tipping more toward the '60s.

Briefly, the plot concerns a team of starship troopers assigned to investigate a signal in deep space that threatens mankind. Led by maverick captain Alex Hamilton, his overworked crew begin their treacherous journey to reach the planet where the signal originates. In the future, starships and even strategy are pre-programmed by computers, which Hamilton harbors a distaste for, instead relying on old-fashioned human skill and ingenuity. This man-vs.-machine theme runs the storyline gamut, and actually serves the plot well.

Eventually, the crew reaches the planet, encountering a Stonehenge-like portal that transports the entrant to either a portion of the planet or a different dimension (couldn't tell which) where a vicious, robotic overlord enslaves an alien race. After a jolting laser gun battle with the clunky mecha-man (and suffering several casualties, sometimes uncharacteristically bloody), Hamilton and crew manage to turn tables on the machines, and return home - bringing along one of the alien race beings (Etor). In a surprise ending, the ship's navigator becomes possessed by a robot(!) and attempts to kill surviving crew members. Of course it's up to the swashbuckling, Kirk-like captain Hamilton to subdue him, with the valuable assistance of Etor, who is all to keen to rid himself of every shard of robotic dominance. But is that the last foil the deep-space robots have for mankind? Don't bet on it!

This all sounds great, no (and since when has Antonio Margheriti offered as much)? Well, now for the bad news. It's easy to feel for War of the Robots when one considers that by 1977, the sci-fi landscape was changing dramatically, with the release of Star Wars and CE3K, which instantly upped the ante for cosmic special effects. War of the Planet's visuals are more in-tune with earlier sci-fi efforts dating back to the '60s, and one could argue the '50s(!), especially those shots portraying star travel and planetary geological phenomena (volcanoes, lava, etc.).

The costuming - surprisingly for the time - hearkened back to the '60s, no doubt influenced by Bava and Margheriti's bygone space tales. Starship crew members wore tight-fitting jumpsuits accented by hilarious headgear resembling bald caps with bolts attached, which even females were forced to endure. The race of aliens, though very cool, were simply bald, muscular Italians smothered in slate greasepaint and adorned with fake Spock ears, and could easily have fit in to any later season episode of Trek.

On the positive side, the mechanized effects fared slightly better. The aforementioned robotic overlord seemed genuinely menacing (despite a corny, dubbed-in American voice) and at one point Hamilton and the ship's navigator do battle with a monolithic supercomputer (again with stilted dialogue) that seemed in-tune with the times, even recalling '70s TV shows Space: 1999, from which War of the Planets reportedly was influenced by.

The cast is full of recognizable faces with Anglicized names (if you're into Italian cult movies, that is): the legendary John Richardson, who fans will recognize from Black Sunday, Torso, Frankenstein '80, The Church, and Eyeball, plays the charismatic captain, swooned over by short-haired Meela (Yanti Somer, also in War of the Robots, Star Odyssey, and War in Space), West Buchanan (also a War of the Robots/War in Space vet), and Aldo Canti (Etor), also in the similarly-titled The War of the Planets (1966)!

"Oddservations" is ©2008 by Andy Lalino.  The Oddservations banner is a creation of Andy Lalino. All other graphics, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.