ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 11/07/09
Today we have a request. Our own Neorandomizer asked us to do “Journey to the Seventh Planet,” a Danish film that he saw a lot as a kid. I can’t say definitively if I saw this movie or not as a kid - portions of it seem familiar, but others don’t. My impression is that this is a new one to me, but I might just have blocked it out…
PLAY BY PLAY
It is the distant future! The year 2001! AD! The world is now a happy, peaceful, egalitarian wonder world governed entirely by the UN, not that it matters since this has absolutely no relevance in the plot, despite the fact that they spend a lot of time talking about it in the opening narration. The UN Space Force has explored the solar system as far as Saturn, and found no life.
A mysterious radio signal has been detected coming from….your anus! (Ok, I promise it’s the only time I’m going to do that) A space ship is hurriedly dispatched with a multinational-but-entirely-Caucasian crew. Their mission? To probe your anus! (Ok, I was lying before, but I’m done now, really.) Did I mention that they’re all men? This is a movie about a bunch of men probing your anus? (Ok, I was lying the first time, and the second time, but I swear I’m done now.) A bunch of strange European men, many of them probably democrats, probing…no, no, I’m done.
Anyway, that kind of thing is exactly why they called this movie “Journey to the Seventh Planet” for it’s American release, rather than “Journey to…” well, you know. They didn’t want the title to sound like a porn film, or one of those creepy health films from the middle of the last century (“You and your rectum: Gateway to defecational health!”)
In any event, the UN has dispatched a crew of entirely-interchangeable dudes to probe the planet they insist on pronouncing as ewe-RAH-nus in the movie. We’ve got Eric, the captain, who can’t be told apart from Svend, who can’t be told apart from Graham. Just to indicate where this glacier of whiteness begins and ends, we’re given a bit of ethnic color in the form of Barry O’Sullivan - an Irishman - and Eric - a German - these guys are still pretty damn white, but I guess they’re as close as this film can come to exoticism. Eric is a doofus, by the way. Keep that in mind, it’ll turn up again later on. This is the doofus’ first trip in to space, by the way.
While orbiting the seventh planet, they’re suddenly mind-blitzed by a flanged voice and some cheap proto-psychadelic affects (Lights optically processed on overexposed film). They’re paralyzed for a bit while Flangey McVoice talks about possessing them, bending them to his will, and in essence being a new font of satanic evil in this brave new world of UN Utopianism. It’s unclear why he’s telling them all this, or even who they’re talking to, because no one remembers it afterwards, and he has to repeat himself a lot. Anyway, the guys all wake up, and quickly realize that your anus has somehow caused them to black out, but despite that they decide to go ahead on in to your anus, (Yeah, yeah, I know. I promise nothing.) and land.
Uranus is, as everyone knows, composed entirely of papier-mâché and dry ice, but no sooner has their ship landed than the entire fake landscape is transformed in to an equally fake landscape composed of HO-scale trees and things. The astronauts rightfully goggle at this, and while deciding what to do, Flangey Voice opens the door on their ship by remote control. Since this didn’t kill them, they decide to go outside.
It’s lovely, just like Denmark. Eric, the German Doofus, remembers it as being exactly a place he used to go back when he was a young boy or something. He accurately describes things they haven’t seen yet from his memory, which doesn’t freak anyone out as much as you’d think it should. They quickly discover that everything is fake - no roots on the plants, or what have you. Eventually, they come to a hedge that surrounds the forest, and when they try to get through, they find something like a wall that’s tingly and yielding. Really. They conclude that this is a force field, and wonder what’s on the other side of it. “Your anus is on the other side of it,” says the captain, just as bold as brass. Then he takes a stick and pushes it through the - I’m laughing uncontrollably while typing this - yielding barrier and in to your anus. When he pulls the stick out, it’s all frozen on one end.
Eric, who you’ll recall is a doofus, immediately says “I’ll find out what’s on the other side, skipper!” and shoves his arm through the hedge, then screams and blacks out. They pull him back out, and of course his arm is all frozen because outside their little bubble o’ fake life, it’s 200 below out there.
Eric recovers. That night at the campfire, in a truly bizarre scene that I promise you I’m not making up, the astronauts are sitting around, and the Irish dude comes up and literally, honest-to-God lays down with his head in between the legs of one of the other astronauts!
What the hell?!?
I mean, seriously, “Anus” jokes are one thing, but actually gay irish astronauts? What the hell? That’s just disquieting. The astronaut in question pushes Peter O’Tool the hell out of his lap, and because this isn’t a Larry Niven story set on Mars, he doesn’t try to kill him for that. The captain tries to distract everyone from this awkwardness by telling a long rambling story about his childhood in Denmark, and a girl he loved. While he’s discussing this, the things he’s describing appear behind him, so they all go to investigate, and it’s very clearly his father’s barn, and the girl he loved is there, too.
They head back to the ship, leaving the horndog guy outside to guard it. He’s the subject of a barrage of Danish fantasy girls on the make, all simulacrums of women he’s known (In the biblical sense) before.
The crew decides to get suited up and check around outside the bubble, so they do. The surface is snowy and treacherous, and the captain almost dies in some ‘quicksnow.’ Eventually they find a cave, but before they can really do anything, they’re insulted by Flangey McVoice and attacked by a stop motion Cyclops. Once again, Eric the doofus nearly costs them their life, but they blind the beastie and head back to the bubble.
Eric admits to a life-long irrational fear of rodents, from whence Voice took the monster.
From here on out the film becomes a series of repeating actions - talking to the phantasms of women they knew, going out to find the Voice alien, giving up for whatever reason and coming back to the bubble. This happens several times, and they blur together. Eventually they get far enough in the cave to recognize that a one-eyed brain alien is the one causing all this, and that he wants to take over earth because, face, it, what fun is it being a brain guy with nearly godlike powers if you’ve got no one to screw with? At one point the alien says he’ll wipe out humanity and start a new race, but a lot of the stuff he says doesn’t make much sense, and I think he’s just going for some dark, foreboding crap to scare them for reasons we’ll see later.
Eventually the captain decides they’ve padded out the film enough with their perambulations, and they should build a dingus that will allow them to kill the creepy voice brain alien dealie. This they then do. Rather than take it with them, they decide - for no reason - to leave it in the (fake) barn with Eric the doofus watching it. Predictably, he immediately screws up, and starts macking with his (fake) girlfriend while another (Fake) woman comes in and futzes with the dingus.
The next day, they go out to kill the brain dude, but when they pull the trigger, the dingus don’t do diddly. (Uh-oh. Alliterations. That’s never a good sign!) Eric heroically (or possibly just by doofus-accident) gets himself eaten to death by the alien, I think. It’s a little unclear, but whatever it was it was nasty. This accomplishes nothing, but then the captain hits on the idea of just pouring the liquid oxygen they’ve been carrying around all this time. This freezes the alien, and then they just shoot him until he shatters.
Everything goes all higgledy-piggaldy, and they run back to the ship while the whole fake world is falling apart, and they find the captain’s (fake) girlfriend passed out on the ground. She pleads for her life, and the captain takes her on board. They lift off, escape to space, and then she vanishes.
The captain looks forlorn as the entirely-inappropriate closing titles song plays:
There is, at root, a neat idea here: A being that can create perfectly accurate simulations of anything, or any one. That said, it ain’t original: Stanislaw Lem did it in his novel “Solaris,” which was published the same year this movie came out. In that, an alien uses recreations of a cosmonaut’s recently-deceased wife in an attempt to communicate with humanity.
The difference is that the alien in that case isn’t evil, or even terribly comprehensible (It’s a sentient ocean). It’s never encountered life until humans came to its planet, and it’s trying to figure us out just as we try to figure it out, but even though it can create exact simulacrums of humans based on people’s memories of them, it can’t really understand us or them. In this movie, however, the alien is just a big brain in a cave that wants to go live on a warmer planet.
The movie is also similar to Ray Bradbury’s 1948 story, “Mars is Heaven!” in which astronauts go to Mars and find all their deceased loved ones there. These later turn out to be Martians in disguise, who kill them. Given the candor of this film, I think the similarity to Solaris is probably coincidental, but the similarity to the Bradbury story is probably a case of a blatant rip off.
That said, there’s some elements here that could be nicely creepy if played out better - the contrast between nice, beautiful Danish countryside and the dead, frozen wastes of Uranus, the visitation by women who couldn’t exist, and so on. These elements could have made it a better film, but in the end it’s kind of like a neat idea that accidentally got stuck to the wall while you were spackling it: it’s neat, but it’s only incidentally neat, and it isn’t really *about* the neatness, really.
They tried, though, I’ll give ‘em credit for that.
Though we only see one room in it, I like the interior of the space ship - a 2-level cyllender with a cool little elevator connecting the upper and lower levels. There’s a neat tracking shot down the elevator, too. Conversely, their space suits are pretty shabby - clearly just ski suits with Playtex living gloves and the chunkiest helmets I’ve ever seen.
Actually, there’s two helmets - an inner soft one with a faceplate, and an outer, hard one with a weird kind of hinged Plexiglas box thing on the front of it by way of a visor. Awful.
The stop motion is brief, but adequate.
Eric’s irrational fear of rodents might stem from his having no idea what they look like. Not only is the monster that attacks them 15 feet high, and a cyclops, it doesn’t have the buck teeth. It looks nothing like any rodent I’ve ever seen or heard of.
The movie is in widescreen, and looks pretty good, actually, though direction is woefully slow and flat. There’s a scene where the captain realizes they’re all more-or-less living in an illusion and they need to fight back and stop skrogging the fake chicks that struck me as very Captain Kirk. That got me to thinking that this would have made an adequate 2nd season TOS episode, or a pretty solid Twilight Zone ep. In the end, I was thinking that the movie might have been more effective with less of a budget and a smaller scope, but then I found out the whole thing was done for just $75,000! Oh well, bang goes that idea.
John Agar is really the only ‘name’ in the movie. He’s got a zillion genre credits, from Attack of the Puppet People to Zontar, the Thing From Venus. Eric the Doofus went on to have a surprisingly prolific career, and he died early, poor guy. His only other genre credit was Reptilicus, the year before. Reptilicus is a much better movie. Think about that for a minute: *Reptilicus* is a much better movie than this. Those of you who’ve seen it will understand how hilarious that is. Ove Sprogoe, as the gay (or at least too damn comfortable with his body) Irishman likewise went on to be one of Denmark’s most popular actors.
And that’s really all I’ve got by way of observations for this one.
If you’d like to see the movie, you can watch the whole thing online here
WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS MOVIE?
Maybe, if they can stay awake.