Sunday, September 19, 2010

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965)

Time again to delve into the 100 Sci-fi Classics movie pack. This movie has the words “prehistoric” and “planet” in the title. The last time I saw that combination of words in a title it was for a MST3K episode that included dorky cave men and provided the catchphrase “Hi-keeba”. Would this film be an improvement, and would it provide us with a better catchphrase? Grab your clay-mation dinosaur and get ready to find out.

Earth has sent a three rocket expedition to Venus. Along the way a meteor destroys one of the rockets. The remaining crew decides to land on Venus in a smaller force. The first is comprised of Dr. Kern (Georgi Tejkh) the creator of John (John Bix) the robot, and Allen Sherman (Yuri Sarantsev). In the dense cloud layer the landing party is lost. So the remaining explorers descend leaving poor Dr. Marsha Evans (Faith Domergue) in the orbiting rocket and in touch with the lunar base and Professor Harman (Basil Rathbone). The rescue party of Andre (Gennadi Vernov), Hans (Georgi Zhzhyonov) and Commander Lockhart (Vladimir Yemelyanov) must face all kinds of dangers on Venus, including lizard men, exploding volcanoes, dinosaurs and a mysterious voice that may be a siren song to doom. Can the expedition survive their Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet ?

Good Points:
  • Once the astronauts get to the planet things move pretty quickly
  • Is filled with all kinds of adventures
  • The special effects range from “not bad” to mind-bendingly goofy
Bad Points:
  • Obviously a dubbed film with padding in English
  • Some of the characters are aggressively annoying
  • A confusing dub script renders logic useless at times
You’ve got another rocket movie that will probably remind you of a host of other films. In most cases it’s a fun little movie, but there are moments where things get too tedious or confusing. I stopped trying to keep up with the plot and just enjoyed the ride of silly antics on Venus. You’ve got a robot, hopping lizard men, a couple dinosaurs, a hover car and rockets galore. If only the dubbing scriptwriter and dubbing actors had put in a little more effort (and the print was in better shape) this would have been a solid space exploration adventure. Adjust your expectations and you should get a kick out of this.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 2
Music: 2
Script: 2
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 3
Total: 3

In Depth
Venus has fascinated filmmakers for many years, and while it might not eclipse the allure of the red planet, Venus was often the target for early space adventures. This was because for the longest time, Venus was known to have an atmosphere and was assumed to have many similar qualities to earth. The cloud layer hiding the surface was intriguing, and heck – it’s name after the Roman goddess of love. How could it not be hospitable?

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet gives us a glimpse of a movie called Planet of Storms, a Russian film made a few years earlier. According to IMDB, Roger Corman and company grabbed the rights to this film and packaged it for release in the U.S. They hired Mr. Rathbone and Miss Domerque to provide some actual acting and then dubbed the hell out of it. This same type of process was used in the film The Magic Voyage of Sinbad which was actually a Russian fairytale adventure called Sadko. Just like it’s fantasy brother, this dubbed film suffers a bit in the translation.

What doesn’t suffer is the imagination and excitement of space travel. Much like the similar First Spaceship on Venus another Russian coproduction, this movie throws in as much technical and visual effects as it can manage. Much of it looks primitive to us now, but it’s got a spirit of adventure and fun that rings through the rough script and poor dub acting.

The movie opens with a blast of rockets as they hurtle through space. One is struck by a meteor and destroyed – all in the first few minutes, Michael Bay would be proud. From there you get a tentacled flower of death a strange siren song a hover car, a stop motion dinosaur, a flying dinosaur a submerged ancient city, hopping lizard men (some of the funniest sequences in the movie), a waterfall that almost overwhelms John the Robot, and an volcano.

So you can see, this movie is jam packed with crazy adventures and otherworldly goodness. Visually the look of the space suits and rockets is pretty well executed. A lot of location shooting went into the filming and the sequence with the waterfall is pretty impressive. Most of the work with sets is limited to the interior of the rockets. It is certainly more convincing than a lot of low budget rocket adventures I’ve seen, but it lacks some of the panache of the ship from First Spaceship on Venus. Then there’s John the Robot. He’s definitely influenced by the robot from Forbidden Planet, with his cumbersome body and whirling antenna. He moves very slowly and while he’s dubbed with a very annoying voice, he actually serves a valuable member of the landing crew. Just don’t expect R2-D2 or even the android from Metropolis.

In stark contrast are the padded scenes with Rathbone and Domerque. The sets are obviously thrown together, lacking the detail of the Russian counterparts. The costumes look more futuristic as opposed to the more conventional outfits of the astronauts. The scenes with Dr. Evans work a little better. She seems to be in a different part of the rocket, maybe a more streamlined and less cluttered part. Even if the dubbing was a lot better, you’d still know she was filmed at a different time. The whole print I saw was very faded with drab colors that made everything look brownish. This is a shame I suspect there was a lot of color in this movie. It probably looked much cooler when it was first released in Russia.

The sound isn’t too bad. The music is another beast all together. The score takes away from the film, distracting at times and not seeming to be married to the actual scenes in many cases. I’m not sure if this was an addition made by Corman’s crew or this was original to the film, but it’s not effective.

Rathbone is given top billing but he’s really nothing more than a glorified cameo. Dr. Evans falls into the same boat. I think she was added so a woman could actually appear in the film. Marsha is left on the rocket, so she can fret, make log entries, communicate with Rathbone and fret some more. I feel bad for saying it but Domerque’s performance is so vague and spacey I wonder if she was bored or a little high (or both).

The rest of the cast is hard to judge, because the Russian actors do a decent enough job as far as I can tell. They seem to be into the parts as the brave and adventurous heroes. But the dubbing is horrible. At its best the actors inject a little emotion into the parts, but most of the time you get bored sounding voices droning on and on (reminding me of the MST3K episode of Hamlet). The worst is the robot, John, who does the typical …I… AM… A… ROBOT… voice. He gets really annoying really fast.

I’m not sure what director Curtis Harrington actually did, other than shoot the footage with Domergue and Rathbone. He certainly didn’t film the bulk of the movie, but maybe he helped edit the film together. I do know he worked on the script and to be honest it stinks. Some of the dialogue makes no sense and only confuses the plot. The injection of Dr. Evans forces the story to warp not in the Russian version. It’s a real mess, one that increases the problems with the dub.

In the end, I can’t condemn the movie too much. I know what it was trying to do and the Russian elements are inventive and fun. At the time of its release this movie would not have been shown in the US. It was the middle of the Cold War and Russians are still the enemy. So this may be the only way a fun movie like this could have been released. But now, Corman’s take seems like a relic and makes me curious to see the original version. If you enjoyed First Spaceship on Venus then check this out. They would make a fun double feature. Just get ready for some riffing on the horrible dub.


  1. I'd suggest a double with Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, which is the very same Russian film recut again. Despite the addition of a bevy of beauteous blondes (including Mamie Van Doren!)in clamshell bras, it actually manages to be worse.

  2. heh heh heh... that film was screen in my house a couple of weeks later... a review is in the wings. Ahhh, sweet Mamie!

  3. Roman--I've yet to breathe the sweet rarefied atmosphere of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, I might be afraid too. :) I'd have to guess Corman threw that one together to cash in on young male teenager hormones and the SF rage at the time. That crazy huckster--no doubt he made money off it too. :) You did a good review, and it seems you had the same general response I did. The original Russian film was fine and might have been a small semi-classic until all the editing took place, and it would be nice to see it in that format with English subtitles. I might have to check out First Spaceship on Venus. Glad to know others enjoy these early space adventures. Thanks for posting the link, it's good to read another review of the film. I'm slowly making my way through your blog.

    1. Yeah this was a fun one, but I should seek out the original un-dubbed version. I'm guessing it's a lot better. "First Spaceship on Venus was tackled by MST3K. I did a review last year for it. It's one of the few episodes that I think they kind of missed the boat on. The movie was actually pretty interesting and their riffing wasn't good enough to distract me from the film. They admit that they were burned out by a furious filming schedule at the time, so they felt they weren't at the top of their game. Still the movie itself was intriguing.

  4. You've been working through that collection as well? I've been going through it over the course of the summer and I'll confess this was one of the harder ones to sit through. I even did an article of my own about it (

    If this was originally a Russian film, as I've heard people claim, that might explain a few things. This dubbed version was terrible, but I do wonder if it was any better in its original context. I don't know if there is still a print of the original Russian version available, though.

    1. Yeah there are the makings of a good movie somewhere in there, but the dubbing and editing really looks like it killed it. My pal El-vox appears to have seen the original and thought it was a pretty solid rocket flick. Yeah going through this box set is a mixture of pain and joy. :)