Planeta Burg (1962)

Genres - Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Space Adventure  |   Run Time - 75 min.  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

In 1962, it seemed as though the Soviet Union was definitively winning the space race -- their cosmonauts had logged hundreds of hours more time in space than our astronauts, and they were sending up individual missions that were orbiting longer than the combined Mercury flights; it did appear that the Soviets were going to be major players, if not the dominant nation, in space for the foreseeable future. The only thing they lacked (as a result of the secrecy surrounding their space program) was publicity and some compelling argument for space exploration beyond simply working for the greater glory of Communism. The Soviet film industry -- as always working with the approval and direction of the government -- came up with its answer in Pavel Klushantsev's Planeta Bur (aka Planet of Storms or Storm Planet, 1962), a straightforward story of a manned landing on Venus that attempted to bring an American-style sense of excitement and adventure to the future of the Soviet space program. The movie also utilized state-of-the-art special effects, and the result was a compelling mix of science fact, adventure fiction, and startling verisimilitude of a kind that hadn't been seen in science fiction movies since Fritz Lang's Frau im Mond, made 30 years earlier. Even with those virtues, Planeta Bur was a dubious prospect for wide American distribution, lacking anything resembling star power, even at a kid's level. Roger Corman, however, was so impressed with the movie and the effects, that three years later he arranged to buy the rights to the film for American distribution and then proceeded to use its action footage and special effects for his own purposes as a producer. One of the two resulting movies was Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965), which was essentially an Americanization of the original film, leaving its plot intact. New footage with Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue was intercut with the space adventure material, which was dubbed reasonably well into English, and a new score, utilizing elements of Ronald Stein's music from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, was laid in. The film was credited to John Sebastian, which was a pseudonym for Curtis Harrington. Peter Bogdanovich later had his own crack at the same footage, under yet another pseudonym (Derek Thomas), and he turned it into the much different (and poorer) Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. The Soviet original, available in a subtitled print from Sinister Cinema, still holds up extraordinarily well after 40 years, with genuinely sincere performances throughout and a seriousness of purpose that gives the movie tremendous kinetic energy even today.