Cast: Michael York, Paul Mercurio, Harley Jane Kozak
Here is another science fiction movie on the lines of
that is, a movie that comes close to being a good movie, but overall
quite make it. Dark Planet also shares some of the same
problems of that other movie, such as cheap sets and unanswered
though also, like that other movie, it has some unique problems. If
movies were people,
Lifeform would be a person who starts
telling you a story, stumbling a little occasionally along the way,
becomes more and more intriguing as it progresses - then just before
you the end, gives you a mocking smirk while popping his middle finger,
and walking away.
Dark Planet would be a person who stumbles
a lot more during his storytelling, sometimes going completely off
but is trying hard, and does at least manage by the end to tell enough
so that there is something of a story in all of his words.
In the year 2638, the world is pretty screwed up. Six
world wars have now occurred, 1/3 of the population is dead, and one
people are dying every year. And yet the fighting goes on - the two
that are fighting in "The Cleansing War" are the Alphas (genetically
humans) and a rebel group consisting of "normal" humans and mutants.
sides come to a realization that the earth is dying, and that they must
work together to find a solution.
There is one possibility of a new home - years earlier,
Captain Hawk (Mercurio) was traveling in and out of a wormhole in
and the limited data he managed to bring back suggested that at the
end there was a planet that might sustain human life. Since he is the
person who has come back alive from the wormhole, both sides agree that
he'll be released from prison (it's never explained why he's in prison)
and be the navigator for the joint mission. Captain Winter (York) and
of his men represent the Alphas, and Colonel Brendan (Kozak) and some
her men represent the rebels, and both groups fly off in their
obviously a little uneasy. Of course, nobody is telling everyone
they know, or plan to do. And nobody is prepared for some totally
things that come up.
"Prejudices die hard in war or peace," someone comments
during the movie, and as I said, the two sides are distrustful of each
other. However, when they actually meet, we do not see them screaming
or obscenities at each other or getting into fist fights at the
(There isn't a cafeteria, anyway.) They are distrustful, but they are soldiers
- professionals. Sure, they dislike the other group they are working
but they have a job to do, and try to act in a professional way. And
actually talk with each other, not just within their own
but with people in the other groups.
This movie actually has character development. Hawk over
the movie slowly gets to know the Alpha telepath, and she gets to know
him more. (This relationship isn't fully developed, though.) Brendan
a long and bitter monologue later in the movie where she explains where
she came from, and why she volunteered for the mission that's sounds
plausible. And later in the movie, when a character's shuttle craft
while saving the occupants of the main ship, Brendan says out loud that
she wishes she had gotten to know the unlucky person. I wouldn't say
every character is as well developed as Brendan, Hawk, and the
but there is an emphasis here on making more realistic characters who
realistic actions. The movie isn't even afraid to be a little sad when
exploring the rougher parts of the characters' lives. As a result of
this character development, I actually found myself caring more about
happened to these people during their mission.
Michael York has aged quite a bit since I've last seen
him; here he has a striking resemblance to Al Bundy from Married...With
Children. He actually does a good job playing a commanding figure.
Although it's obvious from the start that his character isn't the
guy around, his actions and attitude towards them don't come from any
vendetta or sadism, but because simply that's because how he's been
to act during a mission. Kozak does well with a character that's is
through different situations and emotions during the mission. She is a
lot more interesting than Mercurio, whose character is mostly there for
the action sequences. He actually does well in a couple of sequences
he has to show emotion silently, though viewers better watch out when
talks. It's okay when he just has to utter one or two lines at a time,
but his acting during his longer speeches caused me to cringe. Near the
end of the movie, he has a lengthy monologue that, though not bad in
writing, sounds extremely silly coming from his lips. It's a monologue
that requires emotion and conviction, and Kozak simply can't do it.
Kozak is also humiliated during those action sequences,
but it's not his fault here. These sequences generally require special
effects and props, and (how to put this kindly...oh, what the hell)
of the special effects and props in this movie are some of the worst
ever seen. The opening dogfight scenes has spaceships so badly
on the screen, they look like colored black and white overheads your
showed you in grade school. Hawk's space suit has a goldfish bowl like
helmet, like you used to see in sci-fi movies from the 1950s. Earlier
the movie, he's first seen in a jail cell with a mattress that looks
it was stolen from a homeless guy living behind the studio. (It also
like this room was recycled to become a room of torture later in the
When people are stunned with special stun guns, the
is rendered by shining a spotlight on the actors, and the actors
in their tracks. The other weaponry people take aboard the ship are
20th century pistols and shotguns, so instead of having any cool fights
with exotic weaponry, we just get generic shoot-outs in the darkened
Speaking of dark, the movie should have been called Dark
because the cheap, cramped sets are so dimly lit that it's frequently
to tell what's going on. The characters try to help us sometimes,
at their (offscreen) monitors and telling us what dangers lie ahead.
because the movie is usually too cheap to actually show us the
- and if it does, it's only for a few brief seconds. That's probably
we get to see stuff like mines drifting in space that suddenly have
fits, shuddering a little as they drift.
I'm not sure which is worse - showing this badly made
stuff, or just telling us about it. Thinking about it, I would have
the explanation to the narrative. There are some really confusing
in this movie. Since the sets are so cramped and dark, the camera
focuses on the actors' faces, sometimes making it hard to see what they
are doing. For the life of me, I can't figure out how two of the
escaped a section of a ship that was depressurizing, with the action
so fast and at tilted angles. On the other hand, the climatic battle is
in slow motion, and I still couldn't figure out how characters got to
where they were, or what they were exactly doing. There was also the
with another ship - apparently filled with space pirates - that came
of the blue, with the pirates' actions making no sense.
Without a doubt, this movie is filled with flaws.
it also has its moments along the way, not just with the acting and the
characters. The method of torture used in the interrogation scene was
original, and directed effectively. I also enjoyed the clever escape
plus a few other little original moments. And the direction also always
gives us the feeling that something's not quite right, something is
and things may not end happily. So there's also no doubt that there is
some good and interesting stuff here. There's not enough to give this
a recommendation, however. It goes over the deciding line by not only
too cheap and shoddy for its own good, but with too many unanswered
As well, it's a bit too slow for its own good. It's only fair that I
note that I don't really regret watching this movie, and I think some
may find it interesting to watch (as an example of an interesting
on a lazy day, as long as they realize that it never quite works up to
being good overall.
UPDATE: Bill Vallely sent me this information:
"I noticed your review of Dark Planet.
I was one of the original writers of the movie (who's name was removed
for reasons never explained to me). You're quite correct that the
movie didn't have an ending. It was removed because, well, it
ended the movie.
"In our version, when the warring factions made it to the Dark Planet,
they were on the verge of killing each other. However, at a
critical moment, they were doused with light -- the sun had gone nova,
and the warring factions realized that they were all that existed of
mankind. Reluctantly, they realized that they had to put aside
their differences and work together if mankind (which now consisted of
the ship's occupants) was to survive.
"The producers of the film worried that this ending would make a sequel
impossible. We pointed out that a sequel could take place on --
"We lost, they won, film stunk."
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See also: Lifeform, Retroactive, The Shape Of
Things To Come