Friday, September 25, 2020

The Dark Planet

The Dark Planet

Richard Corben, Christopher Wheate

For Heavy Metal magazine aficionados, Richard Corben is known as the creator of "Den". Corben also enjoyed making short films in his spare time. His use of latex prosthetics, stop-motion animation, and miniature work is an obvious labor of love. The passion for what he’s creating fills the screen, but the attempt to weld these separate short films in a single narrative does not work. That doesn’t mean The Dark Planet isn’t enjoyable, but it is best to approach it as more of an art film than a cinematic story.

How I want to look at every Zoom meeting.

The film is broken into two main stories, Tower of Blood and Relief Station. There is no dialogue in the entire film, and I can’t imagine that any amount of it would help clarify these stories, but we’re not here for clarity we’re here for the atmosphere. Tower of Blood is the longer of the two and it tells the tale of shapeshifters, cavemen, and tentacle monsters. The story is slow, constantly shifting, and violent. Relief Station involves a space pilot, a lot of sex, and a supercomputer. I’ve rewatched this story a few times and I’m still not completely sure what is supposed to be happening. These wordless stories playout almost completely visually with minimal additional sound effects. I can see how Corben would compose and approach these stories as comics and they seem especially fitting for the graphic and lurid stories featured in Heavy Metal

Your enjoyment of The Dark Planet is going to depend on your tolerance for a slow tonal story with a shifting dream logic versus a tight narrative. If you are a fan of such things as Phase IV (1974) or Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010), I could see you settling into the quiet weirdness of this film. Also, if you are a lover of lo-fi movies like the woks of the Polonia Brothers or Todd Sheets you can find something to enjoy in the visuals. I understand that these are small niche interests and that most people are going to find it difficult to get into and I don’t blame them one bit. This has cult film written all over it.

Time of the Apes 2: The Reckoning

If The Dark Planet had been released just a few years later it might have ended up as supplemental material on a DVD or a curiosity on YouTube, but thankfully we got it when VHS was cheap and plentiful and a well-known artist could put together their passion project and sell it to curious fans sight unseen. Only 2000 tapes were produced so it is a rarity to find the actual VHS tape, but it has been uploaded to YouTube for the curious. 

The Dark Planet is told through a mix of lo-fi video and 16mm film, the music is an ambient mix of tones and discordant bleeps. The pace is slow and the whole thing feels like an ambitious public access show but if you are like me and like ambitious public access show it is definitely a plus. 

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