The War of the Planets (1966)

Italian science fiction often runs into a problem.  The problem is to make a decent science fiction film - and not just something to keep the kids at the theater while the parents go shopping - is a proper budget.  Italian film studios were good at cranking out movies on a regular basis, and the Gamma 1 series, of which this is the second movie, was no exception.  The reason they could do it is because most of the movies they made didn't need a large budget.  

The War of the Planets attempts to make up for it in any way it can.  While The Wild, Wild Planet, the first in the series, had futuristic sets that looked like wind-up toys, the miniatures this time around are much improved.  Not to the point where anyone would mistake this for an American or even British production, but they are not bad.  Also, for all the criticism this series of movies gets, it was never meant to be hard sci-fi, but rather more in the Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon fashion.  The result is a series of movies that I happen to love but that almost everyone else hates for various reasons.  

It is New Year's Eve and all of the space stations in the solar system are celebrating, with Gamma 1 putting on the biggest show.  Things are interrupted when Delta 2 calls in an alert that they are being invaded.  Meanwhile, Captain Dubois (Michel Lemoine), who is supposed to be on duty at the control center on Earth, has failed to show up for his shift.  Celebrations are abruptly canceled as a crew is sent to Delta 2 to investigate, finding that everyone on board is dead or catatonic.  While investigating they are attacked by glowing clouds and the station disappears.

The same starts happening with the other stations.  Commander Mike Halstead (Tony Russel) orders everyone off of Gamma 1 save himself and a skeleton crew so he can see what they are up against.  Most of his team survive, and Dubois's reappearance brings an explanation.  A race of extra-galactic aliens made of energy is in search of hosts after being set free by a uranium mining platform on Mars.  The beings, while claiming to be friendly, turn out to be emotionless creatures that dispose of those who they can't meld with.  It is up to Halstead and his crew to stop the menace and save Earth once again.

One of the reasons I like this series so much is because of its vision of the future.  While the miniature work and much of what happens in space is laughable by today's standards what writers Renato Moretti and Ivan Reiner as well as director Antonio Margheriti concentrate on throughout is worldbuilding.  In this case it's a utopian one-world government with sleek rocket cars, routine space travel and everything overlaid by a 1960s Italian aesthetic.  The latter doesn't come through as much as it does in The Wild, Wild Planet, but it's still here and adds to the enjoyment of the film. 

As for the performances they are a bit better than one would suspect.  Tony Russel seems game to play his role as well, I'm sure, to be earning a decent paycheck.  Franco Nero returns as Lt. Jake Jacowitz, one of Halstead's trusted crew, as well as Lisa Gastoni as Halstead's romantic interest Lt. Connie Gomez.  Despite being given what sounds like a strong female role she serves a more traditional role as a focus of Halstead's rescue efforts.  Michel Lemoine, though uncredited, is good in his role as a reluctant villain. 

This does have its slow spots and isn't as strange as its predecessor, but it doesn't matter where one enters the series.  These movies are a whole lot of fun and, in Margheriti's long career, some of the best he made.  

The War of the Planets (1966)
Time: 99 minutes
Starring: Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, Franco Nero, Michel Lemoine
Director: Antonio Margheriti



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