Planet of Dinosaurs (1977)


USA. 1977.


Director/Producer – James K. Shea, Screenplay – James Aupperle & Ralph Lucas, Photography – Henning Schellerup, Music – Kelly Lammers & John O’Verlin, Visual Effects – James Aupperle & Stephen Czerkas, Stop-Motion Animation – Douglas Beswick, Mattes – Jim Danforth. Production Company – Deathbeast Productions


Louie Lawless (Captain Lee Norsythe), James Whitworth (Jim), Pamela Bottaro (Nyla), Chuck Pennington (Chuck), Charlotte Speer (Charlotte), Derna Wylde (Derna Lee), Harvey Shain (Harvey Baylor), Michael Thayer (Mike), Mary Appleseth (Cindy)


The crew and passengers of the starship Odyssey are forced to abandon ship after a reactor malfunction. Nine of them escape in a shuttle and crashland on an Earth-like planet. They discover the planet to be filled with dinosaurs. Amidst the harsh landscape and constant threat of predators, they try to survive and make a life for themselves.

Planet of Dinosaurs was a minor film of the 1970s. It was made by people mostly outside of the mainstream film industry and never received widespread distribution. All of the cast are unknown and director James K. Shea never went onto make any other films. The film does however does feature prominent work from effects artists who would go onto work onto much more high-profile things, including Doug Beswick, a stop-motion animator who worked on The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Aliens (1986) and The Evil Dead II (1987), among others, and James Aupperle who went onto a great many stop-motion and CGI films and work as a visual effects supervisor.

I had heard of Planet of Dinosaurs before the internet era but never had a chance to see it until it turned up on places like YouTube. As such, it proves a modest effort if one that never particularly does anything to stand out. The opening has been borrowed from Planet of the Apes (1968) – the crew of a space expedition crashlanding in a lake and then having to survive on a desert world. The film thereafter has been almost entirely premised around a series of stop-motion animated dinosaur effects. In watching, you have to remember that this was well before the CGI era. As such, the dinosaur effects are rather good for what would have been expected of this period – modest and well staged within the action (albeit with the occasionally ropey optical where they interact with the humans).

Planet of Dinosaurs is what you could call a professionally-made amateur production. Like a fan film of the era, it has been primarily made to act as a vehicle for the effects. These are one of the best aspects of the film. On the other hand, the human scenes are a little lacking. The main problem with a film set on a planet with no civilised habitation is a lack of drama. Most of the action consists of various dinosaur encounters and then the humans debating about what to do. A film like this should operate akin to a desert island survival drama and engage us in their constructing a means of survival and devising a series of ingenious solutions to deal with the dinosaurs but the film seems to take an awfully long time to get past the internal bickering and around to these matters. It is only at the very end that they build weapons to fight back and only in the very last scene that we see that they have constructed any kind of dwelling.

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