Classic Sci-Fi: VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET

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Matt Donabie takes a trip to Venus...


Well this is a bit of an oddity! 1965's Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet is a cannibalised and re-dubbed version of a Russian science fiction movie called Planeta Bur (Planet of the Storms), which includes some newly, hastily shot American footage for the English speaking market.

If you've ever seen the film then it should come as no surprise that Roger Corman is the man behind it, together with director Curtis Harrington the pair created this movie and Queen of Blood (which also used footage from Planeta Bur, as well as other Soviet films including Mechte Navstrechu and Nebo Zovyot) in very little time on a combined budget of $33,000!

Star Basil Rathbone (yes, that Basil Rathbone) appeared in both titles playing pretty much the same character under different names. He filmed his scenes for the two in under a day. This should maybe tell you something about what we're getting into here. Yet, in spite of all this Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet is great fun. It's an entertaining space B-movie that, whilst would never ever win any awards, might just win you over with the epic ridiculousness of it all.


Rathbone plays Professor Hartman, a scientist heading the first mission to land men (and a robot) on Venus. Faith Domergue plays Dr. Marsha Evans, an Astronette who must remain in the orbiter, seemingly because she is female. Different times. Both of these performers appear courtesy of new footage shoehorned into the original movie, and therefore communicate only via radio with the main cast and John the Robot. Interestingly, because Corman and Co were trying to pass this off as new to the American market, all the original Soviet actors were "renamed" with non-Russian names (Gennadi Vernov as Robert Chantal, Georgiy Zhzhonov as Kurt Boden) or left completely uncredited. 

The Russian scenes really are the best, Planeta Bur was clearly an epic production, with great spacesuit and robot design, plus a really impressive hover-car. Also, it feels different from other B-movie productions, and that's clearly because it was filmed in Russia using their style and quirks. It's fairly action packed too, whilst still maintaining the relatively leisurely pace that was the norm in features of its day. The cosmonauts battle with lizard-men, a flying reptile, and the previously benign John the Robot, who goes from serving his masters by toppling rock towers to fashion bridges for them, to giving up halfway through carrying them across magma and deciding to throw them in it instead!


The actual adaptation is done surprisingly well, the dubbing of the Russian footage nearly always matches up with the actor's lip movements to the point that if you didn't know it was dubbed then you may well not have guessed it was. Plus the inserted scenes work, they didn't need to be there as such, but they work. Remember Dr. Evans, our Astronette who had to stay on the orbiter to prepare meals for the men or whatnot, well she saves the day when she pilots the craft to Venus to rescue her fellow scientists, and the cutting in of scenes in this sequence works very well.

There's a wonderful final shot too. The astronauts had previously heard mesmorising singing on Venus, and as the last scientist boards the rocket he hears it again and turns to see the reflection of a female alien in a pool of water.


Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet was not the only American movie produced with footage from Planeta Bur, Peter Bogdanovich's Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women was released three years later, with Bogdanovich inserting multiple shots of sexy Venusian women in hip-hugging skin-tight pants and seashell brassieres for our familiar astronauts to enjoy looking at. This film is awful, compared to this film Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet is a genuine masterpiece. Yes, they share many similar scenes but the end results are vastly different.

Not everyone was happy with the end result of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet though, primarily director Curtis Harington who refused to put his name to the movie, instead he is credited as John Sebastian, in homage to Johann Sebastian Bach. A strange decision as it really is an odd bundle of joy that Harington should feel proud of as there are far, far worse science fiction B-movies from this era.

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet is a delightfully innocent story of discovery, one that's low on budget and scientific accuracy but high on imagination and clever use of resources. For 1965 (well, 1962 for Planeta Bur) it shows quite some achievement in film making, and comes highly recommended to those with a love for science fiction B-movies and a sense of the absurd.

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