Journey to the Seventh Planet
What horrors will we find on the planet Yoo-rah-nuss? A cyclopean dinosaur? Nasty spider monsters? A megalomaniac cerebellum that can turn our X-rated sex fantasies into flesh and blood people? Let’s go! Sid Pink’s flashy and slightly idiotic adventure stars space cadet John Agar as an average guy willing to have sex with a phantom from his own imagination. Say, doesn’t Woody Allen make dirty jokes about that?
Journey to the Seventh Planet
KL Studio Classics
1962 / Color / 1:66 widescreen / 77 min. / Street Date April 5, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95
Starring John Agar, Carl Ottosen, Ann Smyrner, Greta Thyssen, Peter Monch, Ove Sprogoe, Louis Miehe-Renard, Ulla Moritz, Mimi Heinrich, Annie Birgit Garde.
Cinematography Aage Wiltrup
Visual Effects Krogh, Wah Chang, Jim Danforth, Ronny Scheemmel.
Art Director Otto Lund
Editor Tove Palsbo
Original Music Jerry Capeheart, Ib Glindemann, Mitchell Tableporte
Written by Ib Melchior & Sid Pink
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff & Sid Pink
Montage directorIb Melchoir
Directed by Sid Pink
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Journey to the Seventh Planet was a big title for playground discussions in 1962; I didn’t catch up with it until years later, but photo layouts in fan magazines, along with its outlandish ad art, make my 10-year-old mind ache that I missed it. Finally available in a video format that presents it at its very best, the movie is revealed as an absolute mess, a fascinating, frustrating amalgam of excellent purloined idea, mis-directed actors and painfully sloppy filmmaking. For his third and final science fiction opus release through American-International, producer Sidney Pink proves once and for all that he lacks the talent to put together a competent entertainment. In his autobio he shamelessly overstates his achievements and eagerly lays the blame on others. Filming in Copenhagen, immediately after the finish of his 1961 biggus lizardus epic Reptilicus, Journey repeats the space voyage theme from Pink’s The Angry Red Planet. Given enthusiastic and misleading advertising campaigns, all three pictures reportedly made a tidy profit.
It’s difficult to know how to credit contributions to Sid Pink’s movies, as he continually discounted the work of the ingenious writer-director Ib Melchoir and gave himself unearned screenwriting credit. Pink decided that the screenwriter-director wouldn’t be needed on the Denmark-filmed productions, despite the fact that as a Dane Melchoir was in a lot better position to make the filming go smoothly. Reading the battling memoirs of both Pink and Melchoir, the un-melancholy Dane comes off as more credible, even though he sometimes engaged in the same kinds of wishful thinking hyperbole. He told an audience at the Egyptian that the government had really built a time machine just like the one in his The Time Travelers, but qualified his statement by saying it could only look a second or two into the future. Sid Pink expert Kip Doto noted some ‘truthiness’ whoppers from the Melchior camp as well. Watching Journey to the Seventh Planet, I get a mental image of both men standing on each side of the cinematic mess, pointing at the other and saying, “He did it!”
The main reason Journey is watchable is its truly excellent story idea — even though it is (a) purloined, and (b) poorly developed. No less an authority than Brit critic Raymond Durgnat, in his must-read book Films and Feelings wrote, “One thinks avidly of what might have been done with the ideas behind a few turnips, notably Sid Pink’s Journey to the Seventh Planet, where an interstellar creature, defending its terrain, weaves destructive mirages out of the spacemen’s own minds….” Hey, I want to see that movie.
In the great Stanislaw Lem / Andrei Tarkovsky space epic Solaris, the ocean of a distant planet is a sentient being. It interacts with invading spacemen by playing mind games, probing their brains for memory images that it then materializes in living flesh and blood. For years I thought that Pink had swiped his idea from Lem, but Solaris was published in Polish in 1961 and not in English until 1970. Then it was pointed out to me that the same concept is fully expressed in “Mars is Heaven,” one of the stories in Ray Bradbury’s older book The Martian Chronicles. So unless Sid Pink came up with the exact same idea out of the blue, the central concept of his Journey originated with readily available published science fiction. Did Mr. Bradbury not respond because older sci-fi tales had similar ideas? Complicating this weak attempt to trace the source of the idea is a note in Robert Skotak’s book about Ib Melchior that says that Melchior may have embellished the ‘something creating things out of men’s minds’ idea during the scriptwriting process.
Ib Melchior’s script, has a quintet of astronauts land on the seventh planet Uranus. In charge are Captain Don Graham (John Agar) and Commander Eric (Carl Ottosen). At this point in his career Agar was not quite scraping the bottom of the sci-fi barrel, while the un-photogenic Ottosen returns from Reptilicus, albeit with fewer inappropriate facial expressions. Once the ship has alighted on the frozen planet, the icy landscape around their ship changes to resemble wooded Denmark in the springtime. They determine that they’ve been placed in a force field bubble. Inside they enjoy a warm, breathable atmosphere, safe from the incredibly cold natural conditions of the planet. After proving this with a piece of wood, one of the spacemen sticks his arm through the barrier. It is frozen solid (but apparently not to any permanent effect!)
The astronauts are soon overwhelmed by miraculous recreations of environments from home, mostly idealized rural Danish farmhouses. They aren’t hallucinations, but real 3-D objects. The astronauts correctly conclude that these bucolic settings must have been generated from their own thoughts; but they then behave inconsistently with that knowledge. Then each voyager is confronted with a flesh and blood woman, the same buxom babes they’ve been exchanging locker-room braggadocio over since scene one. The sweethearts appear as desired — in a revealing nightgown, or an idealized traditional costume, or a classy formal gown. They are enacted very inconsistently by a brace of calm Scandinavian beauties with come-hither smiles on their faces. The statuesque Greta Thyssen (Terror is a Man) plays herself, as Agar’s Don Graham boasted about knowing her back on Earth. Lookers Mimi Heinrich and Ann Smyrner return from Reptilicus. Other beauties materialize as needed.
The film’s gimmick is brilliant and inept at the same time. The impossible recreations of home, hearth & companionship could have an uncanny appeal if handled delicately. The astronauts are neither troubled nor weakened in any way by the new companions, but instead simply accept them in a rather humdrum way — “Oh, an impossible dream girl has shown up to entertain me. How nice.” Neither are they outraged when it becomes clear that the buildings, the girls and the greenery are all the protective illusions of the ruler of Uranus, an intelligent creature with no other means of defense. Mission? What mission? The putative manly-man Don Graham is eager to shack up with his phantom female. “Sure, you’re nothing but a deadly alien trap, but Oh You Kid.” Sid Pink’s film could rightly be re-titled, Planet of Masturbatory Fantasies. And it played mostly to little children!
But I’m not being fully honest about this. Our astronauts do realize they’ve been snookered when the girls drop prejudicial hints like, “You don’t want to go looking around any more, do you dear?” The men suit up for action and penetrate the force field bubble of their alien-created comfort zone. Clumsy verbal hints dropped by the girls lead them to a suspicious ice cave and encounters with a series of monsters. They eventually confront their ultimate enemy, the expected evil brain. How do they know? The evil brain talks like a villain: “You have come to me, feeble, stupid men, armed only with courage and foolish weapons.” That’s pretty close to the classic, “your puny weapons are no match for my advanced technology.”
The clodhopper script of Journey undercuts its nifty concepts. The ‘illusions’ of Home in Denmark are visualized just by filming the real thing. We never receive the mind-bending thrill of some of Philip K. Dick’s stories (I’m thinking of the must-read book UBIK) where an advanced telepath can trap other people in virtual worlds, that must be consciously maintained in detail. Dick’s heroes think they’re looking at reality, until they do something or go somewhere that the illusion-weaving intelligence hasn’t had time to properly prepare. They find that they’re living in a virtual mirage when they cut into a piece of fruit, or open a door and find a blank space. It’s like a little kid getting a glimpse of the support machinery behind the fantasy illusions of Disneyland, and receiving a jolt of disillusion. Journey tries to address this, weakly. The astronauts discover that the plants have no roots, but the story logic doesn’t distinguish between which things are real and which are artificial. The ‘comfort zone’ around their ship cannot be a subjective illusion: it is either 200 degrees below zero or it isn’t, so the Uranus brain must be making ‘real’ changes to reality. But none of this is properly explored.
The colorful fantasy Journey to the Seventh Planet is packed with the kind of adolescent space movie thrills that kids loved back in 1962, when NASA had barely put a man into orbit. But producer Pink’s production looks like it was filmed at a fun fair. Uranus is represented by tiny sets on tiny stages, barely big enough to show the astronauts sitting around a campfire. The colorful set for the cave where lurks the giant brain is too small for the actors to move. Journey is the most claustrophobic ‘space’ movie ever made. Pink repeatedly described the Danish special effects as state-of-the-art miracles, when they’re actually some of the poorest in any space movie. Crude ‘Gumby‘– quality animation must suffice for the space flight scenes, and similar clay animation techniques are used to transform the landscape from frozen to verdant and back again. Pink insisted that he relocated to Denmark because its effects experts were better than those in Hollywood. In reality, it’s more likely that he had burned his bridges as a producer and went to Europe to find new vendors eager to work cheaply.
This isn’t a criticism of the talent or creativity in Denmark or other places outside of Hollywood. Copenhagen has its share of fantasy film fans and special effects enthusiasts. I’ve seen old ‘trickfilm’ magazines from Holland & Denmark, and I believe it was German stop-motion artists that created the excellent animation effects for the interesting Fiend without a Face. But Pink was wrong to think that he was capable of masterminding the outlandish visuals in Melchior’s script . The effects crew was probably 4 or 5 individuals doing their best with resources appropriate for a Halloween funhouse.
Journey to the Septic Planet
Well-read Sci Fi fans are aware that the film that Sid Pink turned in to A.I.P. was rejected as too amateurish for release. Sam Arkoff thought several of Pink’s Danish monsters so terrible, he had them thrown out and replaced with work by a local company called Project Unlimited, under the direction of, who else? — the reliable and practical Ib Melchior. Effects men Wah Chang and Jim Danforth created a one-eyed monster for a few animated cutaways. Stock footage of Bert I. Gordon’s The Spider was raided, tinted light blue, and inserted to replace another monster called a ‘mole-grub.’ The replacement creatures are so substandard that one can only cringe at the thought of the monsters they replaced. Stills of the original mole-grub look okay but Melchoir assured us that it looked terrible in motion. The editing doesn’t remove all traces. We still see claws, eyestalks and twig-like things flash briefly into the frame, adding to the general feeling of incompetence. A.I.P. embellishment can be detected in another cheap fix, a ‘hypnotic’ spiral superimposed over the alien brain in an attempt to lend it added menace. Arkoff and Nicholson had done the same thing five years before, slapping a slapdash hypno-spiral effect over an unimpressive puppet monster for David Kramarsky’s Beast with a Million Eyes.
But one effect, a shimmering prismatic blur representing the alien intelligence, is quite progressive for 1962. It even goes well with the droning, ponderous alien voiceover. So good marks for that one. Is it fair to presume that this effect was done in the states… ?
None of Sid Pink’s three A.I.P. sci-fi pictures is a really good movie. Yet Angry Red Planet generates some genuinely unique visuals. Reptilicus and Journey to the Seventh Planet wowed the kiddies but are weak carbon copies of better films from their respective corners of the sci-fi / monster genre. Genre fans will remember Journey’s successful release as a kiddie matinee and be kinder to it for nostalgia’s sake. Sci-fi fixture John Agar does bring with him pleasant memories of other monster movies. And remember, the film takes place in the year 2001.
Despite the critique above, KL Studio Classics’ Blu-ray of Journey to the Seventh Planet is fine HD encoding of this movie that will definitely please those that remember the picture from kiddie matinees, or that just like goofball space adventures. Aage Wiltrup’s bright and sharp color photography shows up the general lack of design in the film. The space suits are colorful but klunky, especially space gloves that are nothing more than heavy-duty industrial gloves, which often come in identical bright colors. The tiny sets look like Christmas displays in old department store windows.
The excellent transfer is matted at 1:66, which helps make the show more of a coherent theatrical experience. With excess image trimmed top and bottom, the often claustrophobic scenes at least focus on the subject at hand. Overall Journey looks much better than the HD scan on Reptilicus. MGM has the original negatives on both pictures; the dinosaur Blu-ray was mastered from an older transfer, whereas Kino performed their own brand-new transfer on the space movie.
An original, well-done trailer is present, plus trailers for a couple more Kino sci-fi offerings. The big draw for disc buyers will be Tim Lucas’s commentary. Tim relies on the research of Robert Skotak (acknowledged) and adds his own observations to his thoughts on the film. He also provides some choice quotes from Sidney Pink’s autobio. Unless we’re to discount the evidence before our eyes, most everything Pink says is just plain self-serving malarkey. Tim Lucas reads these excerpts without comment or overt criticism, which is probably a good call — we auditors of the commentary can easily make up our own minds. Tim’s general interpretation of the plot machinations doesn’t offer any wild revelations, and even he can’t fully assemble an explanation that accounts for all the inconsistencies in the alien’s telepathic schemes. Hey Abbott, if the brain can create real, flesh and blood physical women, a force field and an entire landscape, why can’t it just conjure up a big rock and use it to squash the uninvited astronauts? Agar and company happily camp out in the warm and pleasant home-illusion the brain has created. Why doesn’t he wait until they’re unprotected and pull the plug on the comfort zone, and turn them all into popsicles? Answer, barely broached in the script: the brain needs the astronauts to help him invade the Earth.
Tim manages to dig up additional career information on the Danish actors and even the songwriters on this bizarre little space picture. He also saves an illuminating story about Sid Pink’s lack of finesse as a producer. Pink couldn’t make his crew understand that he needed a proper fog machine. In desperation he chased an ice truck down the street to find out where he could get some dry ice, to generate the feeble non-fog seen in a few of the ice cave shots. Gee, isn’t it a shame that Pink didn’t have a Danish-American along to help with the little things — like simple communication with the people making his movie?
A note: The word on the street is that TV versions goosed the death scene of one of the astronauts by inserting a shot or two of Jack Kruschen floating inside the amoeba monster from Angry Red Planet. Those shots are not in this version but their origin is still unclear. I can’t remember where I read it, but I think Robert Skotak claims to have seen Journey in theaters with the Angry Red Planet inserts. And the original gloppy lounge song used over the end credits is intact: early VHS tapes had replaced it with a Kendall Schmidt cue. I give Kino an A+ for this disc. My infantile inner self still loves pictures like this one, and I can’t imagine a better presentation. The inside sleeve replicates the marvelous original artwork from the ad campaign.
Recommended reading on the subject of Ib Melchoir and Sid Pink:
Ib Melchoir: Man of Imagination by Robert Skotak
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Journey to the Seventh Planet Blu-ray rates:
Movie: only Fair I guess, but nostalgia makes me want to rate it higher.
Supplements: Trailers, new commentary by Tim Lucas.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 30, 2016
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson