- Street Date:
- December 16th, 2008
- Reviewed by:
- Joshua Zyber
- Review Date: 1
- January 14th, 2009
- Movie Release Year:
- The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment
- 105 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
It was a noble experiment. After the success of their previous genre homages like 'From Dusk Till Dawn' and 'Kill Bill', best buds and B-movie enthusiasts Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino decided to team-up for a two-punch double-bill of '70s-style exploitation fun. The 2007 theatrical release of 'Grindhouse' gave audiences a full evening of campy chills and thrills, complete with two 90-minute features -- 'Planet Terror' by Rodriguez and 'Death Proof' by Tarantino -- and a smattering of spoof trailers in between. For those who got what the directors were going for, the experience was a total kitschy blast. Unfortunately, the average teen theatergoing audience had no idea what a grindhouse was and little concept of why they should sit through a three-hour tribute to bad moviemaking. Everyone else made the mistake of waiting for DVD. As a result, 'Grindhouse' flopped.
Blaming the double-feature format, producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein decided to dismantle 'Grindhouse' entirely. For the overseas theatrical run, 'Planet Terror' and 'Death Proof' were released separately, each padded with some extra footage to expand their running lengths. In the process, almost all of the fake trailers were jettisoned. Publicly, Rodriguez and Tarantino tried to be diplomatic about the deconstruction, claiming that 'Planet Terror', 'Death Proof', and 'Grindhouse' should be thought of as three distinct experiences, each with their own merits. The directors no doubt assumed that viewers would be able to pick their favorite viewing method on home video. Sadly, that didn't exactly work out either. To date, the Weinsteins have kept the movies split apart. 'Grindhouse' remains a memory shared only by the few that saw it during its original run.
For his opening volume, Rodriguez made 'Planet Terror' into an old-fashioned monster movie cheesefest. One dark and foggy night, some rogue military commandoes accidentally release a biological agent into the air that starts turning almost the entire population of Austin, TX into psycho mutant freakazoids that crave human flesh. Immune from the contagion are Cherry (Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer who has had one of her legs grawed off by the sickos, and her ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a tow truck driver with a mysterious past and an affinity for firearms and edged weapons. Together they must lead a small band of other survivors in a last-ditch effort to fight off both the monsters and the lunatic soldiers.
In spirit, 'Planet Terror' is a B-movie all the way. The picture is filled with gratuitous sex and violence, juicy gore, ridiculous stunts, and plenty of babes in skimpy outfits carrying machine guns. To give it that proper grindhouse ambience, every frame in the movie is awash in simulated scratches, grit, and other film damage, like the print had been scraped off the projection room floor. There's even jokey section where the picture cuts out and a placard informs us that a reel is missing before jumping back to the story with a great deal of plot skipped over.
On the other hand, 'Planet Terror' isn't a low-budget grindhouse production at all. It's more like Rodriguez's feverish interpretation of what he always wanted a grindhouse movie to be. For all its bad dialogue and hammy overacting, the film has very modern, professional visual effects, huge action sequences, and high-concept ideas (Cherry eventually replaces her missing leg with a machine gun and rocket launcher) that could never have been pulled off so convincingly in a real grindhouse movie.
Of the two 'Grindhouse' co-features, 'Planet Terror' is the most unapologetically silly and fun. Most viewers preferred it over Tarantino's entry. Personally, I like 'Death Proof' more. Regardless, neither feature is as strong individually as they were together. This is truly a case where the parts don't add up to the sum of the whole. Lacking a compelling story or characters, 'Planet Terror' is hurt the most by the separation. On its own, it's basically just a dumb B-movie scratched up to look old. The extra 10 minutes added to the Extended and Unrated cut don't amount to anything significant (that "missing reel" is still missing). Quite frankly, as far as B-movie horror homages go, I think that 'Slither' pulled off the concept a whole lot more effectively.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Planet Terror' has been available on DVD since October of 2007. Due to fall-out from the HD format war and The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment's ambivalence towards releasing its movies in High Definition, the title has only now made the transition to Blu-ray. Going by the packaging, the studio has officially given this release the unwieldy title of 'Grindhouse Presents Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror – Extended and Unrated 2-Disc Special Edition'.
The Blu-ray contains only the 105-minute extended cut of 'Planet Terror', which runs 10 minutes longer than the version that played as part of 'Grindhouse'. Rodriguez's trailer for the fake Mexploitation thriller 'Machete' is attached at the head of the film. Quentin Tarantino's co-feature 'Death Proof' is available separately.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
How do you rate the picture quality of a movie that's been intentionally designed to look like a ratty theatrical print? Although actually shot on digital video, 'Planet Terror' is smothered from start to finish in simulated film scratches, splices, dirt, grain, warping, and even color bleed. The colors themselves are usually either oversaturated or completely faded depending on the scene, with a few instances where the image goes pink like the print is turning to vinegar. This is all obviously deliberate and not the sort of thing you can criticize the disc for.
For what it is, the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is at least a modest step up from the DVD edition. In addition to everything else, the picture also looks like it's been softened a bit, so the overall sense of detail is only fair. I'm sure many viewers will argue that Blu-ray isn't necessary for this particular movie, but in comparison to the DVD there is certainly an improvement. Those nicks and scratches are crisper than ever in High Definition. While the DVD looks like a bad 16mm dub print, the Blu-ray at least looks like a battered 35mm print. Realistically, the movie can be enjoyed either way.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray are sourced from the same digital master, which has been opened up to screen-filling 16:9 from the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio that it played at as part of 'Grindhouse'. This was done at the instruction of Robert Rodriguez, who previously requested the same for home video editions of 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico'. The photography is composed loosely enough that it looks fine either way. I doubt that anyone who didn't know about the change beforehand would ever think that anything is wrong with the Blu-ray's framing.
In the supplement package on the disc is a "scratch-free" version of the movie (more on this below) with a separate 1080p/VC-1 encode. The digital video origins are much clearer in this version, which is sparkling clean for the most part and has perfect, vivid colors. Detail is also decidedly sharper. From an eye candy standpoint, the scratch-free version has merit, but in terms of artistic intent and entertainment value, the theatrical version is still preferred.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Other than a few pops and crackles for effect, the lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack has a modern, energetic 5.1 sound mix that belies the movie's supposed low-budget grindhouse origins. As far as audio goes, this is an A-list action movie all the way.
Sound effects are sharp and clean. The surround channels get plenty of action, and low frequency activity is loud and rumbly throughout. Fidelity is fine, though the track rarely exhibits the sort of crispness and clarity of the best high-resolution soundtracks. To be honest, I didn't hear all that much difference between the lossless TrueHD and the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 option on the same disc. Still, for what it's meant to be, it gets the job done nicely.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
All of the bonus features from the DVD have carried over to the Blu-ray.
- Audio Commentary – Robert Rodriguez's commentaries are always engaging and insightful. Among the many topics of discussion in this one are the history of the 'Grindhouse' project, script development, the differences between the two versions of the movie, and working on a tight budget. Rodriguez also makes repeated references to how much character the film scratches and dirt give a movie, which is an odd sentiment from a director so gung-ho about shooting his movies (including this one) digitally.
- Audience Reaction Track – In the grindhouse spirit, you can choose to watch the movie with obnoxious hoots and hollering from a theater audience. It's kind of funny for about a minute, and then starts to wear thin.
- 10-Minute Film School (HD, 12 min.) – This segment of Rodriguez's long-running featurette series actually runs 12 minutes. The piece gives a concise overview of how the machine gun leg and other VFX were accomplished, along with some gore and the film degradation appearance. Rodriguez closes by mentioning a planned DVD release with more bonus features and the theatrical cut of 'Grindhouse', which may or may not actually come to pass.
- The Badass Babes of Planet Terror (SD, 12 min.) – Straight from the movie's Electronic Press Kit is this look at the female leads.
- The Guys of Planet Terror (SD, 17 min.) – Similar to the above is this piece about the male characters.
- Casting Rebel (SD, 6 min.) – Rodriguez discusses the decision to cast his own young son in the movie, and filming an alternate ending so that the boy wouldn't know his character's fate.
- Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror (SD, 13 min.) – Explanations of how some of the movie's signature stunts were achieved.
- The Friend, The Doctor and the Real Estate Agent (SD, 7 min.) – Rodriguez reveals that he filled several of the movie's supporting roles with non-actors from his real life.
- Planet Terror International Trailer (SD, 2 min.) – A vintage-looking exploitation trailer with no mention of 'Death Proof' or 'Grindhouse'.
- International Poster Gallery – Exactly what it sounds like.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Although the disc is BD-Live enabled, at the time of this writing there is no online content available for 'Planet Terror'. The Blu-ray does have one exclusive feature, however.
- "Scratch-Free" Version – Claiming to be sourced "from a newly discovered original negative" is a second High Definition encode of the movie without most of the scratches and aging effects. Other than the lack of the 'Machete' trailer at the beginning, the movie is otherwise exactly the same as the primary theatrical version. Some of the film damage effects are still present when narratively important. Jump cuts remain in place and the "missing reel" is still missing, because that's how the movie was edited for its final cut. The transitions from crisp and clean digital video to ratty film print and back again are very jarring and make for a schizophrenic viewing experience. All things considered, the theatrical version is preferred, though this does make for an interesting curiosity. Only Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is available while watching this version of the movie.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
Obviously, the most important thing missing from this Blu-ray release is the rest of 'Grindhouse', including Quentin Tarantino's co-feature 'Death Proof' (available separately) and three of the mock trailers: 'Werewolf Women of the S.S.' by Rob Zombie, 'Don't' by Edgar Wright, and 'Thanksgiving' by Eli Roth. The full 'Grindhouse' experience is currently available only in a 6-disc Region 2 DVD box set in Japan.
The Weinstein Company is really doing 'Grindhouse' fans a disservice by keeping 'Planet Terror' and 'Death Proof' separated. Neither movie is as strong on its own as the original 'Grindhouse' experience. The closest we can get now is to watch the two Blu-rays back-to-back, but even that's not quite the same. For what it is, 'Planet Terror' is a fairly fun B-movie homage, and the Blu-ray has a faithful transfer of the intended gritty appearance. The disc comes recommended. Or rather, half-recommended, since you pretty much need to buy 'Death Proof' to complete the package.
- 2-Disc Set
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc (Disc 1)
- BD-25 Single-Layer Disc (Disc 2)
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (Theatrical Version)
- 1080p/VC-1 ("Scratch-Free" Version)
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- English DSH
- Spanish Subtitles
- Audio Commentary
- Audience Reaction Track
- 6 Featurettes
- Poster Gallery
Exclusive HD Content
- "Scratch-Free" Version
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