Il Planeta Errante/War Between the Planets (1966)

Il-Planeta Errante (1966)‘Your’e an a-ok officer except for one thing – you never learned how to take orders.’

Space Station Gamma 1 is the Earth’s last hope for survival as it investigates the cause of the extreme weather conditions that are devastating the planet. The station’s crew detect a strange object in nearby space and set out to investigate…

Completely humourless Italian space opera from the directorial hands of Antonio Margheriti (better known to English-speaking audiences as Anthony M Dawson). After a co-directorial credit, Margheriti began his long career in the film industry with a similar property to this: ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1960) which also featured a heroic space station crew as man’s last, best hope. Margheriti had initially left the genre alone after that, specialising in ‘sword and sandal’ melodramas but returned in 1966 with a vengeance, delivering a loose quartet of science fiction ‘epics’ that were all centred around the activities of Space Station Gamma 1.

This film was a followup to ‘La Morte Viene Dal Planeta Aytin’ (‘Snow Devils/Devil Men from Space) (1966) and main man Giacomo Rossi Stuart returned as square-jawed Commander Rod Jackson. Also returning were heroines Ombretta Colli and Halina Zalewska, although, somewhat curiously, Colli  now appears to be playing Zakewska’s character from the first film! Something lost in translation on stateside distribution perhaps. Enzo Fiermonte also features again as big cheese General Norton, and other supporting actors reappear.

So what’s the film like? Well, it’s pretty tedious. We open with a news report of the chaos on Earth, although it looks suspiciously like stock footage of real life disasters, and a lot of it is in black and white. Scientists and military types meet in small offices (no ‘big table’ conference for them!) to sort it all out, and decide it’s a gravitational anomaly somewhere in space. Rossi Stuart and his crew get the gig, and track down the problem to an invading planetoid with psychedelic lighting. Rossi Stuart is in love with Communications cutie Lieutenant Colli but is engaged to civilian Zalewska, who also happens to be the General’s daughter. She arrives on the station right in the middle of the mission (really!?) so she can scowl at our lovebirds and make a bitchy remark or two. Yes, that’s all she does!

Anyway, there’s some aggro between Rossi Stuart and his rebellious second in command (yawn!), everyone speaks in meaningless military terminology (‘We have an immediate five-seven with full priority!’) and it all ends up with a predictable life or death, self-sacrificing mission on the planetoid. In fact, it all bares more than a passing resemblance to Michael Bay’s bloated bore-athon ‘Armageddon’ (1998), except without the ‘edgy’ MTV rock and endless shots of the fluttering stars and stripes.

Il Planeta Errante (1966)

Let’s go to work!

As far as I can tell, this was only picked up for US release after ‘Star Wars’ (1977) when an English dub track was added and the film retitled. Although the running time is barely 80 minutes, it appears that little was cut. However, Voiceover Man makes frequent intrusions to provide a very serious running commentary, presumably in case we’re not sure what is happening.

Production information on the Gamma 1 quartet is hard to find and the films don’t seem to follow any noticeable story arc. Leading man duties for the other two films were assumed by US actor Tony Russel, which included the gloriously silly and far more entertaining ‘I Criminali Della Galassia/Wild Wild Planet’ (1966).

This, on the other hand, is a dull, dreary space opera without an original thought in its head.

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