Friday, March 29, 2019

The Strange World of Planet X

The Strange World of Planet X (aka The Cosmic Monsters)
Gilbert Gunn

A series of experiments has torn a hole in Earth’s magnetic field that allowing in cosmic rays that create giant insects which infest the British countryside. A mysterious being named Smith (Martin Benson) appears and teams up a brigadier and an army unit to stop the insects and the scientist responsible. He also befriends a small child along the way. This mystery person can stop the horror with his gadgets but he insists that humans must make the call about killing one of their own.

Although The Strange World of Planet X predates Doctor Who by a good six years, it does bear a striking resemblance to that show’s earthbound 1970's era. I would be very surprised if this film had not been seen by some of Doctor Who's writers and producers prior to teaming the Doctor up with the military organization U.N.I.T. to fight off menaces around the UK.

"Giant bugs! Aliens! Super science! Let's make sure we just stand around and talk about it."
The premise of The Strange World of Planet X has a lot of possibility but wastes it on long talking scenes. I can understand the need to sell the outlandish threat of giant insects, but the scene of one bug eating a soldier’s face is far more effective than the three or four spent sitting around talking about what is happening. The one thing I did appreciate is that the humans accept Smith’s alien credentials fairly quickly. I will, however,chalk that up to the expediency of the short running time more than the quality of writing.

The movie starts out with some pretty sharp edged misogynistic comments from one character and I braced myself for the worst, 1950's genre films were often unabashedly sexist, so it was pleasant to see that this was all a set-up to show that Michele (Gaby AndrĂ©) is, in fact, a skilled computer engineer. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t do else much to poke at the stoic woman-hating scientist trope, but in 1958 even the smallest push back should be seen as a positive.

*Record scratch* "You're probably wondering how I got here."
Oh right, we’re here for the giant bugs. The invaders seem to mostly consist of roaches, spiders, and millipedes. Most of the bug action is created by filming actual animals with miniatures and rear projecting them. The dense forest surrounding the estate where this is all happening is shown with a menacing grace, and there is an effectively chilling spiderweb scene which owes everything to some great design over the clunky camerawork.

The Strange World of Planet X is slow and talky, but it has enough interesting elements to keep it afloat. For a movie that is a mere 75 minutes long, it manages to pack in aliens, flying saucers, giant invertebrates, and mad scientists, but it never quite figures out who to work it all together visually, choosing instead to explain everything through long talking scenes. Still, we get to see an alien use a ray-gun on a giant black widow so I can forgive most of its flaws in the name of pulp storytelling.

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