Planet of Dinosaurs (1977)
Directed By James Shea
Written by Jim Aupperle and Ralph Lucas
This is an important film for the dinosaur movie fan because it is the last full-length *dinosaur world film to feature stop-motion animation dinosaurs. The film was a labor of love by the (at the time) up-and-coming special effects artists and animators. Most of the animation was handled by Doug Beswick and the effects photography was done by Jim Aupperle who was a knowledgeable special effects camerman. The models were built by Stephen Czerkas and Jim Danforth did some of the matte paintings.
The dinosaurs strive to equal the quality of the men’s mentor and hero, Ray Harryhausen and they even pay tribute with a Rhedosaurus-type dino in the film. The numerous dinosaurs have a unique lizard texture, scaly and knobby and are each marvelous creations for their stop-motion format. The dinosaurs engage in some violent scenes pushing the envelope of the past, such as when the Ceratopsian impales one of the crew with his forward horn. This film has a large amount of dinosaur action and scenes, as they are the main reason for the film being made. In fact, Aupperle designated most of the limited budget for the film to go into the special effects. Dinosaurs include, Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Rhedosaurus, Ceratopsian, Brontosaurus, Tyranosaurus, Kentrosaurus, Allosaurus, and Struthiomimus.
The story is a fairly lame hodge-podge of old ideas and is only outdone by a terrible script and hokey dialogue. A spacecraft veers off course and lands in a lake on a distant planet. The crew get out alive but all their equipment is lost. (Sound Familiar anyone?) They find the planet to be populated with savage dinosaurs that attack them relentlessly. The ships captain wants to take a passive path through the land, avoiding the dinos and finding a secure place to hide until help comes. The older experienced macho-man, Jim, wants to show these dinos who’s boss and kill the biggest one in town, the T Rex. At one point the Captain yells at Luke Skywalker dude for giving an hysterical woman a weapon. This was 1977, the year of Charlie’s Angels, didn’t they know women had the power by then?
There’s some weird dialogue about being a vegetarian and a meat eater and how only the meat-eaters survive. To prove the point, all the ‘vegetarians’ die first. The remaining crew sets out to kill the T. Rex. They first kill a Kentrosaurus, stuff it with poison berries and bring it to Rex’ s cave. Well, old T. Bone skips right over the Kentro and grabs Luke Skywalker dude in his teeth. Ouch! Another team member gone. They come up with a new, more aggressive plan to kill Rex and it works. And they live happily ever after on their new planet.
Realizing early on that the actors are not going to carry the film, the filmmakers take lots of footage of them walking. Up mountains, down hillsides, across deserts, there’s just too much walking. The hokey dialogue is funny at times but wears thin as the film continues. The only saving grace is the last 45 minutes of the film has a lot of dinosaur scenes
If you’re looking for a good story, interesting sci-fi themes or any tense character drama, your ship is way off course with this film. But if you just want to see some impressive stop-motion dinos, and some humans get gobbled up by them, you will find this film enjoyable.
Check out more dinosaur film reviews at my master page: Dinosaur films
* other films beyond this point did feature stop-motion animation dinos, most notably The Crater Lake Monster and Q: The Winged Serpent, but POD was the last to show a full dinosaur world with many species of dinosaurs using this form of animation.
Note about the dvd release:
In a homage to stop-motion effects animation, the dvd special features also include the silent Willis O’Brien shorts, The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1919) and Dinosaur and the Missing Link (1915)
Notes about the effects crew:
Jim Danforth – worked on films as an animator and/or matte artist quite often uncredited. He made contributions to titles such as: Jack The Giant Killer (1962), The Outer Limits (1963-64), Equinox (1970, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) (the Wonkanator), Diamonds are Forever (1971) (Submarine models animation), Flesh Gordon (1974), The Crater Lake Monster (1977), Clash of the Titans (1980), Creepshow (1981), and many more…
Worked on notable films such as The Terminator (1984) (stop motion terminator skeleton), Aliens (1986) (Mechanical armature design), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Flesh Gordon (1974), Beetle juice (1988), Evil Dead II (1987), episodes of Xena Warrior Princess (1998 – 2000), to name a few.
Worked on some mega hits as well including, Ghost Busters (1984), The Thing (1982), Hellboy (2004), Creepshow, Flesh Gordon (1974), Troll (1986), Dinosaur (2000), Harry Potter (part 2), and Ted (2011), to name a few.
And a special note about Stephen Czerkas who passed away January 22, 2015.
Stephen provided modeling and effects work early in his career to films such as, Dreamscape, Flesh Gordon and Planet of Dinosaurs. In 1981 he was commissioned to do some life-sized models of dinosaurs for museums. In the years following he released several books on the subject of paleontology including, Dinosaurs: A Global View, My life with Dinosaurs and Feathered Dinosaurs. In 1992 he opened The Dinosaur Museum in Utah which will continue to astound, inform and educate visitors on the subject of prehistoric beasts.