The planet Nova moves in next door to the Earth and the U.S. launch a manned expedition to investigate. The two man and two woman crew discover a world much like our own; apart from some rather outsized local wildlife.
Bert I. Gordon is a director/producer/writer/cinematographer/SFX technician and editor, who became famous for a series of ‘giant bug monster’ b-movies he produced in the 1950s. Although he’d already dipped his toe in the water as producer-cinematographer of little seen adventure flick ‘Serpent Island’ (1954), it was ‘King Dinosaur’ (1955) that became the template for his long career in cult cinema.
The movie opens with almost 11 minutes of stock footage (not bad for a picture that only runs just over an hour!) Planet Nova is seen from observatories, a rocket is built, a crew assigned and the rocket launched. All this is accompanied by our old friend ‘Voice-Over Man’ who informs us of many helpful things: ‘New metals must be developed with tensile strengths capable of standing great atmospheric pressures’ and ‘Switch on for jet engine test, number 87’. ‘Voice-Over Man’ is played by Marvin Miller, who was still at it almost 30 years later, providing the opening narration on the Leslie Neilsen TV show ‘Police Squad!’ The spacecraft launch footage is old library film of a V2 rocket test (helpfully reversed for landing purposes).
Finally, we get to meet two of our intrepid explorers as they disembark on Nova, climbing down an old garden ladder with a blown up shot of the spacecraft superimposed on the film beside it. They wear plastic goldfish bowl helmets with cellophane stretched across the opening in the front. Air and soil tests reveal that 40% of the local bacteria is ‘unknown’ but it’s still safe enough to go wandering about dressed for a hike in the woods and go bathing in a nearby lake. But everything’s fine as they shoot a giant spider with hunting rifles and pal up with Joey the Lemur, who can do sterling service as a watchdog. Apparently. Animal stock footage isn’t known to be deadly anyway.
But then everything goes tits up as the mission’s doctor decides to roughhouse it with a rubber crocodile and they investigate that mysterious island in the lake. Here they encounter a giant armadillo, a massive elephant and are menaced by some of the monster lizards from ‘One Million B.C’ (1940), still doing amazing work a decade and a half after their cinematic debut. They would probably have had a much longer career, if not for the coming of colour. Our heroes decide to blow up Dino Island with a nuclear device for some reason or other but set the timer for only 30 minutes and have to really leg it. And they don’t need no stinking fridge to hide in, lying on the ground behind a pile of mud is protection enough from the blast.
There are some obvious cheesy delights here but it’s also quite a drag on our patience as our 4 clueless boffins (the entire cast!) ramble about the woods, swapping inane exposition and pointing at things happening off-screen. The only sniff of character development or human conflict is a half hearted romance between the doctor and the blonde and there is little else to do but take a deep breath and try to stay awake for the shoddy SFX and the very silly climax.
Gordon went on to make much better movies with more generous budgets and, although he remained stuck in the world of the drive-in, it’s hard to deny the obvious charms of ‘The Amazing Colossal Man’ (1957), ‘Attack of the Puppet People’ (1958) or the giant grasshoppers in ‘The Beginning of the End’ (1957).
Amazingly enough, the Notorious B.I.G. (as he must be known) is still going strong at the age of 91. ‘Secrets of a Pyschopath’ (2014) is currently in post-production.