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Journey To The Seventh Planet
(1962)

Director: Sidney W. Pink
Cast:
John Agar, Greta Thyseen, Carl Ottosen


I know that in a few decades from now, I won't be kicking around anymore, and I'm kind of bummed about that. Not just for the obvious reasons, but also that I won't get to see various significant achievements by mankind in the future. One of the things in the future that I regret that I won't get to see is space travel. Oh sure, I live in a world right now where we have landed man on the moon and we have a space station orbiting around the Earth, but I don't consider that real space travel. I will consider mankind real space travelers when they start to land people on some far away planet. If that were to happen in my lifetime, I would be very happy... but at the same time, I would hope that if that starts to happen, mankind would have learned enough from its mistakes in the past to not start screwing things up. Let me give you two examples concerning mankind settling in new places far from civilization in the past. There is Australia, for example. For some reason or another, some settlers of Australia thought it would be a swell idea to bring rabbits to Australia. Big mistake - the rabbit population soon swelled out of control and became pests to the farmers and other settlers, and still remain a problem today. Another example of man screwing things up started in World War II. During the Pacific War, the American military sailed to a remote island that had a native population in it, and set up an air base. The natives were quickly stunned by what they saw of the military, especially with their airplanes. When the war ended, the American military left, but by then the natives considered the departed soldiers gods of some sort. The natives now had a new religion, where they worshipped their new gods and built replicas of airplanes to pray to, among other things.

I think you can see the potential problem I have with the idea of people traveling to a new planet. Even if a new planet that gets visited turns out to not be inhabited by some form of life, visiting astronauts could still screw up the new planet some way or another. I wonder what will happen several decades from now when NASA plans to send people to Mars. Well, probably nothing that bad will happen. Mars has been observed countless times by satellites, telescopes, and ground probes, and it does appear to be a desolate place with no life. Still, you can never be too sure. So if mankind manages to leave this solar system and travel to a new solar system that has some planet that could contain life, how should we approach it? I've done some thinking, and I have come up with a plan that I think space explorers should follow. First, observe the planet from a distance, maybe with some sort of space telescope like the Hubble. At the same time, constantly probe the planet from a distance for anything like radio signals. Then after gathering enough information, maybe send satellites to orbit the planet for a closer look. After doing that for some time and gathering more information, if it seems safe, send some sort of probe down, but in an isolated corner of the planet (like a small island, for example.) And after getting even more information from these probes, if it seems safe, only then should humans be sent to the planet. And these humans should not only be sent to those isolated corners first, they should be properly trained in ways to not screw up the planet's ecosystem. Lastly, if intelligent life should be detected at any of those above stages, there should be a serious discussion by mankind if we should present ourselves to this intelligent life.

I think most people of reasonable intelligence would more or less agree with me about how a new planet should be approached. Unfortunately, as you probably know by now, so many movies that have been made about approaching new worlds have the space travelers acting very stupidly. Take the 2013 movie Europa Report. Now, I liked the movie for the most part, but if I recall correctly, there was one Journey To The Seventh Planetthing about it that bothered me - that there was no evidence Earth had sent unmanned probes to land on the moon of Europa before sending space travelers there. But that flaw seems meaningless when you compare the movie to most space travel movies from the 1950s and 1960s. In those movies, space travelers more often than not explore the new planet with hardly any preparation beforehand - if any at all. That's what I expected with Journey To The Seventh Planet. Did the movie surprise me in that aspect, or at least have some features that made up for any shallow thinking? First, the plot. In the year 2001, space travel to other planets in the solar system has long become a reality, and most planets have been visited by mankind. However, Uranus has yet to be visited. The United Nations decides to send a five man team, including one Captain John Graham (Agar, The Brain From Planet Arous), to explore the planet. During the space journey to the planet, the five men are briefly knocked out by some sort of presence, but eventually wake up with seemingly no ill effects. When they soon after land on Uranus, they are stunned to find they in a warm and Earth-like forest that is surrounded by some kind of barrier. The mystery deepens as they explore the area some more, with their discovery of an Earth-like Danish village containing sexy women the various crew members knew back on Earth. Obviously, all of what the crew has so far seen on this planet can't be real, but what is generating all of these sights? And is it possibly a threat to not only the crew, but all of mankind back on Earth?

If you have even just a limited knowledge of classic science fiction literature, more likely than not you will have seen that the plot of Journey To The Seventh Planet has a strong whiff of the 1948 Ray Bradbury short story Mars Is Heaven!, which a couple of years later was later included in the Bradbury novel The Martian Chronicles. While I'm pretty sure that the similarities were not a coincidence, I am also confident there was a more pressing reason to imitate Bradbury's story than admiration or bankrupt imagination, and I'll discuss it later in the review. Anyway, the decision to take what was originally a short story and stretch it out to feature length is one reason why this imitation does not work. It doesn't take long to realize that the story here is thin, with a lot of padding between what few plot turns that there are. The movie is so slow and uneventful that in the first hour of this seventy seven minute long movie, none of the five astronauts are killed or even suffer from major injuries. I have to admit that I was so bored with the slow moving central story, whenever I was observing a particularly slow bit I was wondering about various implausible things that I had observed earlier in the movie, many of them having to do with the alien force on the planet. I guess I could buy an alien force able to generate breathable air, a warm atmosphere, and a Danish village full of voluptuous women - who knows what real aliens might be able to do? But why would an intelligent alien force choose to create stuff that (supposedly) intelligent humans would instantly see was fake? A more subtle (yet all the same inviting) approach would have been more logical. Also, when the humans get dangerously close for comfort, the alien doesn't go all out to repel the humans. Instead, its actions come across as half-hearted, as if it wants to give the humans a chance to kill it. That doesn't make sense at all.

The alien force, when we get to know it more, is a real disappointment. We do eventually get to hear what its ambitions are, but when it comes to showing any sort of personality or character, the movie simply does not try at all. We learn nothing about its past, like how it got there or if there are any more of its kind. It's too much of a mysterious creature for its own good. For that matter, the human characters in Journey To The Seventh Planet are an equal disappointment. The top-billed John Agar, the only "star" of the cast (who oddly plays the second in command instead of the chief commander of the space mission), isn't as embarrassing here as he sometimes was in other B movies around this time, but his character isn't written to be very interesting. We learn the character had an eye out for the ladies back on Earth, and that is about it. In fact, the character is pretty interchangeable with the equally bland four other astronaut characters. Because of this, I didn't really care whether or not the five astronauts would survive. And because of that, the scenes involving the characters getting into various perils (quicksand, a space suit being punctured, etc.) didn't hold that much interest for me. Though I feel I should also point out that the direction of the movie is as equally at fault in those scenes as the unmemorable characters. Director Sidney Pink (Reptilicus) more often than not uses an approach in those scenes that more comes across as a matter of fact than anything else. For example, you would think that mankind's first direct meeting of an alien force would generate some kind of big emotion - awe, fear, curiosity, or something else along those lines. But these five astronauts again and again handle the alien as well as its powers almost like they were expecting it.

You may be wondering at this point what the special effects are like when it comes to depicting the alien when it's finally revealed. Actually, I don't think we ever get to see a really clear look at it, since it's usually shot close up and with murky optic effects clouding the screen in its limited footage. But there's a reason for that, and it also seems to be the reason why much of the movie takes place in that Danish village. The budget of the movie was reportedly only around $75,000, which was pretty low even by 1962 standards - especially for a genre movie such as this. So it's understandable why much of the movie was shot on existing places and sets available to the Danish filmmakers. The set designers did manage under the tight circumstances to construct an okay (for its time) space ship interior, and equally passable are the frozen Uranus landscape and caves the astronauts trudge through at certain points in the movie. However, the special effects mixed in with these sets are less than satisfying, not just with the depiction of the alien. A gigantic spider, for example, is accomplished by borrowing footage from 1958's Earth Vs. The Spider and tinting the black and white footage blue to match the surrounding color footage. And the less said about the stop-motion monster branded by one astronaut as being a giant "rat" (which looks nothing like a rat), the better. Actually, the special effects we see in the movie could have been a lot worse. Reports say that when Pink submitted the movie to American-International Pictures, the studio brass were so horrified by the awful special effects that they quickly and cheaply (though not as quickly and cheaply as they were done originally) came up with their own as a replacement. Of course, this means that the version of Journey To The Seventh Planet we are seeing now is not the director's original vision. If someday MGM (which now owns the movie) releases a director's cut of the movie, I will rewatch it and add a footnote to this review as to how that version of the movie plays out. But to be honest, considering how bad the rest of the movie would still be, and that the original special effects would likely be worse than they are now, I hope that director's cut doesn't come out any time soon.

(Posted September 7, 2015)

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See also: Dark Planet, Invader, Lifepod

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