Planet of the Dinosaurs (1977) — Jurassic Park, eat your heart out

“Well I’ll tell you something, it wasn’t a streetcar, baby.”

Tom’s rating: The stegosaurus should have won.

Tom’s review: Star Wars came out in 1977 with an amazing $11 million dollar production and changed science fiction forever. But have you ever wondered what else was happening in the world of science fiction movies in 1977? Well look no further than Planet of Dinosaurs! Yes! It’s as if I can hear a full cadre of animated clay dinosaurs growling their hideous dino-laughs in the direction of Star Wars. GWAAARRRAARRRRRRAAAAHA HA HA HAAAA! Who needs your $11 million dollar production? We’ll give you sci-fi goodness for less than a million bucks!

That’s right. This little known cult gem even won a prestigious award, from what Wikipedia is telling me. Apparently, for a short period of time, there used be a special Saturn award given to low budget scifi movies, and in 1980, that award was given to none other than Planet of Dinosaurs.

That said, whoooo boy, was this a bad movie in the best of ways. Let’s break it down.

The sound and music: Not gonna lie, if you dig ’60s and ’70s analog horror synth jams, then DANG, this is a gem. It’s awful in all the best ways. I think possibly the funniest sound moment came around the 50-minute mark where the whole crew had become drunk and started clapping rhythmically, but at one point the camera focuses on the captain, who started to slow his clap and look concerned as one of his crewmates slipped away to have a private conversation, but instead of making his clap happen out of time, for some reason they chose to have everyone slow down their claps to match the captain’s. It’s the weirdest thing, you gotta watch it and be paying attention to understand how funny it is. I rewound it and watched it a few times. Maybe it’s just me. I love unintentional humor.

OH OH OH! One more thing about the sound in this movie. They did an electronic version of the “sad trombone” sound after a couple of the jokes in the movie. My word it was glorious!

The dinosaurs: There’s something about the mental image of a Stegosaurus and a T-Rex fighting that kind of everybody loved back in the ’70s. I swear I’ve seen this pairing a handful of times, and Planet of Dinosaurs did not disappoint. Back in the ’70s and even today, I’m a Team Stegosaurus person, and I can’t believe the T-Rex won that fight! (Let’s not kid ourselves, the T-Rex always won that fight. Sigh.) The claymation animation in Planet of Dinosaurs was very much in the vein of Ray Harryhausen and is truly the highlight of this film.

The sci-fi: You know what I love best about 1970s spaceship flying? The truly awful ship navigation panels with big buttons, dials, and levers. I was so happy that in the first five minutes of the show, there it was: the classic ’70s sci-fi analog electronics panel.

Another thing that made this movie great, the laser guns were absolutely worthless against the dinosaurs. Usually a sci-fi laser gun blast shoots a pure beam of super heated light that burns a hole through the universe, but not these laser guns. They did NOTHING to stop the dinosaurs.

The acting: It was truly terrible, and I loved it. It was like ’70s porno-quality acting, but instead of money shots, you got dino shots. Oh this movie is PG, but I couldn’t help but wonder with each stilted line when things were going to get less than family friendly. No, it never did. I gotta quote a my favorite lines of dialog here because they are really, really bad, and the delivery is worse.

Nyla: “What’s the matter?”

Jim: “I’m just not a party type”

Nyla: “Everyone is if they let themselves be”

Nyla: “Oh Jim. Have some compassion. Lee is doing the very best he can.”

Jim: “I know, but out here it’s not enough.”

Nyla: “He’s not like you. He doesn’t always know what’s right”

Jim: “Don’t be sarcastic.”

Nyla: “I’m not. I mean the last few weeks I’ve just watched you become more rigid. Invulnerable and god like. Have pity on us mortals.”

Jim: “Lee is nice. Lee is kind. Lee is weak.”

Nyla: “Don’t be cruel.”

Jim: “On this world you have two choices. Be cruel or die.”

The story: I mean, they wreck their ship on a Planet of Dinosaurs, and half the crew gets eaten by claymation dinosaurs. It’s like Land of the Lost without Chaka and the Sleestak. What more do you need to know?

It’s kind of funny because in the end, the weird subtext of the movie is really about styles of leadership? So you have this guy who’s the vice president of some spaceship company, Harvey Shain. Harvey is your typical douchebag who continually reminds everyone of his position of power and tries to use the threat of docking pay and firing people to motivate them.

It doesn’t go over well and he gets eaten 30 minutes into the show.

Captain Lee Norsythe takes command and does his best to organize the troops and get everyone on board with the plan to find high ground and wait it out until they’re rescued. Lee is nice. Lee is kind. Lee is weak. Then you have Jim, Jim is a man’s man leader! Could they have picked a hairier actor than this? We’re talking a beautiful dark black mane of ’70s hair, full beard, with chest hair out. Jim’s a man of accidental leadership. Jim ain’t gonna hide in a corner, he’s a doer! And then there’s Nyla, the second in command who is intimidated by the very thought that if Lee dies, then she might be the next in line to lead the rag tag bunch of survivors. Good thing there’s men to lead us, right ladies? (I’m kidding of course) It’s a really weird commentary on leadership styles and how they do or don’t work when the situation becomes dire. I’m sure you could overthink it . . . but . . . clay dinosaurs!

Overall this show drags on, spent all of its budget on ’70s claymation stop animation effects, and has bad acting and bad writing. But I ask you, isn’t that the essence of a cult classic? The answer is… duh!

Didja notice?

  • There’s a dinosaur fan page for Planet of Dinosaurs with a ton of fun trivia about the movie
  • Rifftrax covered this movie, and if you like that MST3K style of humor, then check it out! 
  • There really is nothing more glorious than a ’70s scifi unitard, is there?
  • What was the fascination with doing knee-level camera work of these actors walking around? Their butts are nothing special to look at. I would know. I’ve seen my back side in a mirror. It looked like that. Embarrassing.
  • Could you imagine if the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were more like these? It’d be hilarious. That should happen as a fan made film. Just saying.

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