Planet of Dinosaurs
PLANET OF DINOSAURS
Notes: A.k.a. Planet of the Dinosaurs, but only because of sloppy marketing. 1978 according to Movies Unlimited catalogue; 1980 according to another catalogue; 1981 according to Encyclopedia of Monsters; but Derna Wylde tells me (yes, THE Derna, Derna from this film and “Ode to Derna,” e-mailed me!) that filming took place in 1977. “It was filmed entirely in the Vasquez Rocks area of California’s high desert (with the exception of interior scenes), an area also used on the original Star Trek for at least two episodes, and several other ‘natural environment’ scenes for various films going back many decades.”
Produced and directed by James K. Shea; script by Ralph Lucas; story by James Aupperle (who also did most special effects work).
Derna says, “There was virtually no budget and all the players had signed partial deferments for repayment once the film was released. Unfortunately, after its release I at least never got paid the balance of my contract and the offices were closed and phones disconnected. Ah the nature of independent film making.”
On the videocassette box: “On a Distant Planet, Far Into the Future, the Hungriest Jaws Belong to Flesh-eating Dinosaurs!”
Captain Lee Northside: Louie Lawless (but with the voice of director James Shea)
Jim (Engineering): James Whitworth
Nyla: Pamela Bottaro
Charlotte (Nurse): Charlotte Speer
Harvey Baylor (Vice-President, Spaceways Inc.): Harvey Shain
Derna (Secretary): Derna Wylde (now a Nevada artist)
Chuck (Navigation): Chuck Pennington
Mike (mustache guy): Michael Thayer
Cindy (Communications Officer): Mary Appleseth
Kid: James Shea’s new child.
Summary/Commentary: When the spacecraft Odyssey (with its reptilian head) explodes and disintegrates due to a “runaway reactor,” one shuttlecraft survives with nine people on board.Captain Lee insists to Nyla, “I need more control!” A planet lies ahead. Jim barks, “We’re caught in its gravitational pull; we don’t have enough power to fight it.” Nyla whimpers, “Captain, we don’t know what’s down there.” They crash-land in a lake, “Get the survival equipment out,” and swim to shore on the unknown planet. Harvey frets, “Captain, what’re we gonna do?” Lee responds, “Survive, Mr. Baylor.” “We’ve landed on a planet with atmosphere and life conditions much like earth,” but “light years away from any known civilization.”
Harvey Baylor, Vice-President of Spaceways Inc. (manufacturer of the reactor) is obtuse and belligerent. Mike tells him, “This isn’t Nebraska. There isn’t any filling station down the road. There isn’t any telephones; and if there were, the long distance rates would be something else!” Chuck goes swimming to retrievethe “distress transmitter” which is “designed to float,” and communications officer Cindy, following, is gobbled down (to the accompaniment of Jaws-like music) by a barely-viewed sea creature, apparently an ichthyosaur (“That thing maybe amphibious!”). Harvey frets more: “Well, the shuttle’s gone and we’ve lost the radio…. the most valuable piece of equipment we had aboard ship.” “Yeah, and a human being.” Captain Lee’s job is one of “survival,” “untilhelp comes or until we can adjust properly to this world.”
The eight remaining castaways “move out to safer, drier ground” until possible rescue. During their trek, led by Captain Lee Northside, they run into a swamp, at which point Derna is hydro-traumatized (having seeing Cindy eaten) and Mike gives her a laser gun: “If you see anything that frightens you, press here. It’ll kill almost anything.” She falls in the water and ruins the gun. Lee pitches a fit: “You gave a weapon to a civilian — a hysterical civilian at that?! She might have shot all of us!” “It seemed to comfort her. She was — she was frightened.” Lee: “By doing that you’ve reduced our chances of survival by one gun!” [Existence is measured in numbers of guns?] Lee finds the opportunity to pronounce, “I’m in command here!” And there’s a lot of talk about how “the Captain’s right.”
During one of the frequent “rest periods,” we hear Mike explain that their food is fully nutritious: “It says here the government guarantees this product containsan adult’s daily requirement of vitamins, minerals, and protein. It enables a person to complete his daily tasks with strength, energy, and a cheerful attitude. Funny — I don’t feel a bit cheerful.”
Lee is worried, never having covered survival in space center training. “Until we’re rescued, we’ll use the survival tools we have and live off the land as best we can.” Harvey sneers, “Heh heh. Live off the land?! What are we, a bunch of raccoons?” Lee: “Perhaps if your company had been more careful in how they built reactors….” Jim snaps, “We’re obviously miles from any intelligent habitation, Mr. Baylor, if there is any at all on this planet.” Charlotte tries to mollify: “We’ll be fine; we’ll just take one day at a time. They’ll find us.” Muttering Chuck raves, “We’re never going to be found. We’re going to stay here, like Cindy.”
At night, Charlotte yammers, “You know, this is just like camping out. When I was a little girl we used to go to this beautiful valley in Ohio. There were weepingwillows and–” She is interrupted by a roar. Mike remarks, “I’ve heard something like that before, once when I was in Africa.” Someone asks, “What kind of animal was it?” “I — I don’t mean the animal is familiar; I mean the sound. It’s a hunting call. Whatever is out there is carnivorous, and it sounds very, very hungry.” [Good ear, Mozart! The type of animal is immaterial to the carefully nuanced hunger utterances?]
In the morning, a brontosaur sighting. Lee gapes: “My God, look at the size of them!” “Looks like some sort of dinosaur.” “But here?” “Why not? This planet is similar to earth: similar elements bring about similar life forms.” “I never saw anything likethat on Earth!” “Sh-h! You would have millions of years ago. Obviously this planet is much younger than that of [sic] our earth. Still want to stay here, Mr. Baylor?” They discover a track and a carcass left by a “very large predator.” Jim deduces, “Whatever made this print killed that animal, and it’s definitely not an amphibian. It can roam anywhere, hunt anywhere.”
At another rest period, the splendid Derna [hearts hearts] complains, “Captain, I’m hungry.” Lee tells her, “Take your rations.” “But what about all these fruits and berries?” she asks. “The nurse is scanning the flora now to make sure that it’s safe to eat.” Derna turns to Charlotte: “What have you got there, Charlotte? Anythingedible?” “It tastes like shredded wheat; it’s high in protein value.” “Shredded wheat, great. Now all I need is some prune juice to wash it down with.” Derna considers a plant. Charlotte warns, “They’re much like bella donna on Earth.” “Ah, friends from home.” “Deadly poison, of course.” [So the plant world is vicious too!]
A stegosaur herd roars. The humans climb rocks. Charlotte scans berries and a stegosaur appears; so they run screaming. A tyrannosaur fights the stegosaur while Mike risks his life to retrieve a gun. The T-rex twists the other’s head. Lee plans for them to get away: “We find high ground and climb. A big awkward thing like that’ll never be able to climb rock walls.” Hoping to escape the larger dinosaurs, the group ascends a high plateau. Nyla slips and drops their food off a cliff, and Harvey protests: “Hey, that was our food.” Lee insists they not retrieve it: “We’ll find food on the plateau.” [So the food, completely nutritious, is dismissable, vs. the laser guns which prove useless?]
Then, the riveting water scene: Harvey commands Derna to fetch him water. Mike intrudes: “Hey, Robinson Crusoe, get yourself a new girl Friday.” The pretense here is that rank and hierarchy are no longer relevant, with buffoon Harvey clinging to his obsolete corporate authority. Derna sends off Mike, but presents Harvey with a rock on which she has written her resignation with lipstick. “I quit,” she says.
In a cave, despite Harvey’s protest (“Doesn’t being a vice-president pull any weight around here?”), he and Nyla are sent through an upper passage, and Harvey discovers large eggs in the dirt. “Do you know what this is, sweetheart? This is eggs benedict for a week, scrambled eggs, sunnyside-up, cheese omelet for ten. Can you imagine what must have laid these? We’re looking at fried chicken for a month! … Here chicky chicky, come here to Uncle Harvey, sweetheart!” When a torosaur appears, Harvey yells, “Shoot it!” and Nyla advises, “Just back away slowly.” But Harvey shoots and angers the dinosaur, which paws the ground before giving chase and skewering Harvey on its horn, and dropping him off a cliff. They bury Harvey under a pile of rocks. [Rock on, Harvey.]
Lee finds a place to halt the trek. “It’s a good spot, easy to defend. We’ll stay here until we’re rescued.” But Jim barks, “Let’s face it: we’re stuck here. This is our lifenow; this is our world — our world.” Lee: “We’ll be here and safe when they come.” Jim: “If something doesn’t get us first.” Nyla: “We can’t go out and fight that thing.” Then Jim’s version of Natural History, Part One: “Listen. Centuries ago on Earth, wolvesused to wipe out whole villages until men went out and hunted them. Wolves learned. We’ve got to go out and teach them.” Lee: “We can’t risk lives trying to tame dinosaurs. We’ll stay; here we’re safe.” Jim: “Safe?! We’re prisoners! Lee, there’s land out there — land to farm, land to build on. We’re technicians. We can build a civilized community. Here, we’re nothing but savages hiding in caves.” Charlotte: “We can’t risk any more lives.” Mike: “Our job is to stay alive, not conquer new planets.” Lee: “All right everybody, we’re home. We’ve got work to do, weapons to build, tools. We’ll build up this wall over here, and then we’ll be safe.”
On the plateau they erect a sorry-looking “stockade” and manufacture spears, hatchets, and bows and arrows. Lee’s stockade decision is questioned by Nyla; perhaps Jim’s hunting idea is valid? Angst about survival strategies ensues.
Nyla is menaced by a giant spider some two feet across, which she slaps and which Jim dispatches with a spear in the back, asking Lee sarcastically: “We’resafe, huh?” Lee is chagrined.
Mike chats up Derna, who says, “It’s so beautiful now — could almost like this place — could almost feel at home. What’s over there?” Derna considers the place or scene is “beautiful.” But of course aesthetic appreciation seems to be wrong-minded in this film and perhaps this is why she’s doomed. (Sorry. Brace yourself early.) Derna Wilde herself, when I asked her about the death of her character, said, “my charactor was really just a high-priced call girl with no ‘science/survival’ skills with which to help the remaining people stay alive and prosper.” While sorting through mixed feelings concerning the death of Harvey, Derna admits, “He never did grow up,” and “I haven’t led an angelic life.” Mike announces humbly, “I’m just another guy.” Derna adds, “But maybe you’ll be the last one.”
The “stockade” is finished. Mike has “fermented up” some berry juice. Most agree to drink, though Lee suggests, “Maybe someone should stay on the alert.” Derna stands and announces the “dance of desire,” which is accompanied by clapping (and a flute?). Outside, Nyla approaches Jim, standing guard: “What’s the matter?” “I’m just not a party type.” “Everyone is if they’d let themselves be.” They discuss Lee’s competence. Nyla tells Jim, “The last few weeks I’ve just watched you become more rigid, invulnerable, godlike.” Jim: “Lee is nice. Lee is kind. Lee is weak.” Nyla quotes Elvis: “Don’t be cruel.” Jim: “On this world you have two choices: be cruel or die…. Civilization is like that uniform you’re wearing. It’s getting dirty and torn, and pretty soon it’s going to rot away. You had better decide what you’re going to wear then.” Back at camp, where Lee says, “We’re all as safe as if we were home in bed,” the others drunkenly cheer “Happy New World” and sing Auld Lang Syne, which quickly fades out in uncertainty. [Boo hoo hoo.]
Note: Derna says that for this “fermented berry juice” scene, they drank “grape Kool-Aid but in those wooden supposed coconut ‘cups’ it tasted like liquid cardboard.”
“Dawn breaks on Marblehead,” as they say. Charlotte, worried over Chuck — “sometimes he doesn’t seem as alert as he should be” — finds him laying out the “Astral Reflectors” (glorified aluminum foil). Scanning parties might pick up the “mythonium,” you see. Chuckles is depressed and whiney about the possibilities: in ten years, “where will we be?” “I don’t know. We don’t think ten years ahead. We just do what we have to today. Oh, maybe you’re right. Maybe we’re wasting our time. We could set the reflectors out and something would just come along and eat them.” Chuck cheers up: “back to work.” On the way back an allosaur attacks Charlotte. The scene plays like an attempted rape. She throws dirt in its eyes and Chuck spears it mildly in the back. Jim then shootshis laser gun at it to drive it away: “There’s your safety. She was nearly killed. This is that thing’s hunting ground.” Chuck shouts, “Hunt it! Kill it!” Lee: “Are you crazy? Some of us could get maimed or killed.” Jim: “So we wait until that thing gets hungry and comes back? No! I say we get it now while it’s hurt.” Mike: “They’re right, you know. I’m tired of hiding and jumping at every sound. God, I just want to fight back!” (Their aggression is read as the natural outcome of circumstances, as Nyla tells Lee: “They’ve got to do this. The fear — the tension. It’s doing something to all of us.”) A gigantic tyrannosaur (“several times bigger than that thing you were hunting”) chomps the head of the allosaur. They discover a big track and go back to camp.
Somehow, the plan to hunt predators goes awry and we next see them stalking a pair of small bird-like dinosaurs (ornitholestes?); they were going to go after something that posed a threat. Chuck idiotically weaves and dodges, finally spearing the downed dinosaur; but they celebrate as a group: “We did it!” [So they’re occupying the sameecological niche now as their predators? Wise?]
A pensive Nyla stares at the fire: “I was just wondering how many other things we’re going to have to get used to. Things like eating dinosaurs.” Charlotte broaches the subject of Lee’s competence: “He’s so tense lately.” Nyla defends him: “We’re all tense. You can’t be relaxed in a situation like this…. It’s not easy making decisions when it could be a matter of life or death.” Charlotte points out that although Lee was at the top of his class at the Academy, Jim has “more space travel” and has “beenin more alien worlds.” Lee seems so “uncertain, insecure.” Nyla: “After all, we’ve gotta have rules, even on this world.” Both women are nostalgic for Earth.
We hear a roar. Jim: “That’s a hunting cry.” One of the women: “I don’t think it’llattack us.” Jim: “We can’t wait around to find out.” Mike: “How’re we gonna deal with an animal that big?” Lee: “Besides, we’re safe here in the stockade.” Jim presents his version of Natural History, Part Two: “Are we? What if it attacks outside the stockade? Are we gonna let it pick the time and place it decides to kill us? We’ve got to hunt it down now in its lair and kill it…. It’s an animal — a dumb animal. We’re rational, thinking human beings. We’ll find a way.” Nyla supplements: “Jim’s right. What’re we gonna do; sit around here like cattle in a pen waiting for that thing to come get us? Millions of years ago, on Earth, an ape — an ape! — took a club and killed his first predator. Well, we’ve gotta kill that thing or, or, that something inside of us, thatdignity that makes us human — fear’s gonna kill that.” [So, uh, what essentially makes us distinctly human is how we resemble ancient violent apes?]
Chuck and Charlotte have a moment. She’s nostalgic about her goddamned farm in Ohio again. Chuck: “Hang on — just hang on.” The dinosaur looms again, chases them back to camp, busts their “stockade,” and (it pains me to report) eats Derna. “In the scene where I got killed I was disappointed that part of the scene got cut because I did my own stunt where I am first dragged, fighting the Rex, across the ground before he scoops me up and eats me. Yum Yum.”
[A moment of silence, please.] Sigh.
Jim is determined “to find its lair!” Jim and Lee encounter an ornithosuchus on the way to the cave of the T-rex. As they approach the opening, Jim comments on the entire film: “And that stench!”
Back at camp the others discuss how to kill the dinosaur. Nyla thinks fire. Mike attempts to develop some Natural History craziness on his own: “Years ago Indians did it with buffaloes. I think we can drive it off a cliff.” Charlotte votes for poison berries; Lee proposes putting them into a dead carcass for bait. “I’m for a direct attack,” says Jim. They decide first to try the bait idea and kill a polacanthus (?). On the way to the cave with the dead creature, the T-rex appears behind them and kills Mike.
Jim has a new idea: “We’ll plant stakes in the ground, big ones, tipped with the poison from the berries and we lure the beast down to it; and if it’s angry enough and as stupid as I think it is, it’ll impale itself on the poison stakes.”
Lee sees a valley beyond their current location and insists on leaving. Jim defies him openly: “You’ve got a whole damn world to run in but you’re gonna have to run alone…. No one’s listening to you anymore. You’re just another guy around here. That uniform means nothing.” Lee challenges Jim with a spear: “Maybe this means something. … If you think differently, prove it.” Jim gloats: “I’ve always said you had to fight for what you really wanted. Sometimes aggression is necessary. I was right. But I won’t fight you. Not now. Not while that beast is still alive.”
We hear a roar. “He’s coming!” “He’s smashed everything — all our work. We’re not ready!” Lee runs to attract the tyrannosaur with a mirror, shining a bright light at the T-rex, and gets it to chase him towards a smaller dinosaur, which it kills and takes to its “lair.” Lee, having given “our friend a little exercise,” has proven himself for Jim, who says, “We’re ready. Just give us the word.” Lee: “Let’s do it!”
They scream into the cave so that the dinosaur will chase them. The tyrannosaur runs right into a sharpened stake propped in its path and falls on top of Jim, who, it is soon found, has survived: “I told you we could do it. Maybe now we can make a new world.”
Survivors Lee, Jim, Nyla, Charlotte,and Chuck settle in for a long stay. Obviously years have passed, and they have set up a small agricultural commune. Nyla calls, “Hey,supper’s almost ready.” Jim asks, “What is it tonight? Lizard again?” Lee: “No, we had that last night. Today we’re having fillet of swamp monster.” Breeders Chuck andCharlotte have a son who Charlotte encourages to learn counting. Charlotte: “Think we’ll ever be rescued?” Nyla: Somehow, it doesn’t really matter anymore”; for civilization (i.e., serene hunting and killing) has come to the Planet of Dinosaurs.
Now you’re ready to read the “Ode to Derna.”