Planet Terror: Extended and Unrated
October 19, 2007
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are hardcore film buffs that grew up to become very successful filmmakers and friends who have collaborated on several projects over the years. Recently, they decided to indulge their love of Grindhouse movies of the 1970s (low budget exploitation films that pushed the boundaries of good taste) by each making their own motion picture and then releasing them together on a double bill just like the original films back in the day. The Weinstein brothers, god bless ‘em, went for the idea but made the critical mistake of releasing them on Easter weekend (cheeky counter-programming that backfired) and failed to emphasize that people were going to see two films for the price of one. As a result, attendance was poor and those who did go, some left after the first film. The Weinsteins freaked and when it came to distributing the double bill outside of North America, they split them up. Thus ended an interesting experiment and the first financial flops for both Rodriguez and Tarantino (although, both of these films should easily make their money back on DVD).
Rodriguez’s film, Planet Terror (2007), introduces Cherry Darling (McGowan), a beautiful go-go dancer who quits her job because she wants to be a stand-up comedian. Meanwhile, at a nearby military base, a deal between a no-nonsense officer (Willis) and a shady scientist (Andrews) goes bad and some nasty, toxic fumes are released into the atmosphere. Back in the town, Dr. William Block (Brolin) and his wife Dr. Dakota (Shelton) deal with a patient suffering from a nasty looking bite wound. Pretty soon, more and more people show up with similar kinds of wounds. Cherry crosses paths with her ex-boyfriend, a tow truck driver by the name of El Wray (Rodriguez). They get involved in a car accident and she loses her leg to some infected zombies. Before you know it, infected townsfolk turned zombies start over-running the town, forcing Cherry, El Wray, Dakota and the scientist to team-up and start kicking ass.
Two of the most significant cinematic influences on Rodriguez’s films are genre filmmakers George Romero and John Carpenter. After all, The Faculty (1998) was Rodriguez’s nod to Carpenter’s remake of The Thing (1982) while From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) had the same kind of siege mentality as Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1979) while even featuring long-time Romero collaborator Tom Savini. With Planet Terror, Rodriguez gets to make his own zombie movie with a Carpenter-esque badass protagonist.
Rose McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez make for an ideal, no-nonsense couple right out of a Carpenter film. El Wray harkens back to tough guy protagonists like Snake Plissken from Escape from New York (1981) or Nada from They Live (1988). Like them, Wray has a mysterious past, is a man of few words, and lives for the next 60 seconds, while Cherry is transformed into a machine gun toting babe…it just so happens that the gun is strapped to her stump.
To further the homage to the Grindhouse aesthetic, Rodriguez digitally altered the transfer so that it resembles a crappy, worn-out print that you would see back in the day, complete with bad splices, lines through the image, fading colours, and even a missing reel. He is clearly having a blast with the genre as he gleefully throws in all sorts of over-the-top gore, random explosions and wildly inventive action sequences as you would come to expect from one of his movies. Would this film ever have appealed to a mainstream audience? Probably not. It was destined to develop a cult following which home video will no doubt help develop.
On the first disc is an audio commentary by writer/director Robert Rodriguez. He wanted to recreate the experience of seeing a Grindhouse double bill at Quentin Tarantino’s house, complete with trailers before and between the movies. Rodriguez shot his movie in stripped down fashion on a low budget and with little time, just like his early films. He points out the differences between this version and the theatrical cut. The filmmaker also talks about the screenwriting process and tells plenty of filming anecdotes in one of his typically solid commentaries that he is known for.
Like with the Sin City Special Edition DVD, you can watch the film with an enthusiastic audience reacting to the film which is a nice touch if you didn’t get a chance to see it in the theatres.
Also included is a collection of international posters for the movie and an international trailer.
Disc two starts off with “10-Minute Film School,” a staple of all Rodriguez DVDs where he lays out how he made the film economically. He shows how they did Cherry’s gun leg and how he did the aging effect on the print of the film. Rodriguez says that the print deteriorates more when something bad is about to happen. He also shows how they did more obvious CGI effects and more subtle ones in this extremely informative extra.
“The Badass Babes of Planet Terror” focuses on the female characters in the film. Rodriguez talks about how he came up with the character of Cherry and how he wrote most of the female characters with specific actresses in mind. Some of them talk briefly about their characters.
“The Guys of Planet Terror” is the male flip side as Rodriguez cast his actors in the same way he cast the actresses. He was a fan of Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, et al and wanted to work with them. The actors talk about how jazzed they were to do the film.
“Casting Rebel” takes a look at how Rodriguez cast his son, Rebel, in the film and proceeds to kill off his character. He did, however, shoot an alternate version for his son where his character lives.
“Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror” examines the extensive stuntwork for the film. McGowan actually did some of her own stunts and speaks highly of the stunt people who helped her. Freddy Rodriguez had never shot a gun before and trained for several weeks in order to look like a badass action hero.
Finally, there is “The Friend, The Doctor and the Real Estate Agent” takes a look at an old college buddy of Rodriguez’s whom he put in the film. Some of his own personal experiences even made it into the final version. The filmmaker also put in his doctor and realtor because he liked their stories and the way they talked and carried themselves.