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Sunday, August 25, 2013

WAR OF THE PLANETS -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: Since this review was first posted at in 2005, the film has undergone more name changes--from its original title of TERRARIUM to WAR OF THE PLANETS and, in the U.K., LOST VOYAGER and EXODUS.)

"What's it doing?  WHAT'S IT DOING?"
"It's devouring her, Robert."

After crash-landing on an unknown planet, a crew of space colonists awaken from suspended animation to find that a hairy, carniverous beast has entered the crippled ship and is breaking into their cryo-chambers one by one, dragging them away.  Unable to move until their bodies overcome the effects of their 15-year sleep, they are little more than a human buffet.  Or, as one of the characters aptly puts it:  "We're the goodies behind the glass."

Thus begins WAR OF THE PLANETS (2004), an extremely low-budget thriller (shot on 16mm) written and directed by Mike Conway, who also photographed, edited, and scored in addition to playing one of the astronauts.  The credits are filled with various other Conways and also reveal that several of the lead actors took part in set construction, camerawork, still photography, etc.  Sheila Conway, who plays "Nicole", doubled as one of the mysterious aliens that also inhabit the planet.

The beast, who resembles a man in a Halloween gorilla costume, returns every five hours or so for a fresh victim.  The helpless astronauts struggle to revitalize their long-dormant bodies between attacks by doing isometric exercises as each character takes advantage of the opportunity to fill us in on their backstories, which are pretty standard -- the captain lost his family while gaining the stars, Nicole's dreams were the ticket out of her small hometown, Kim entered the space program after "an overdose, a suicide attempt, and a stint in the psyche ward..."  (Okay, maybe they're not all that standard.) 

During these scenes the cast gets to act from the neck up a la Richard Dreyfuss in WHOSE LIFE IS IT, ANYWAY?, with varying degrees of skill.  None of them are really bad, though -- the performances range from passable to pretty good, and the characters are likable enough to sustain interest.

When the creature inevitably returns, there is a fair amount of suspense as the crew waits to see who is next on the menu.  Noticing that the first three victims have been women, and figuring that a colony bereft of females might be at a bit of a disadvantage in the procreation department, some of the men valiantly start thrashing around and hollering to attract attention to themselves. 
But suicidal Kim will have none of that, and screams:  "Leave him alone, Sasquatch!  Come and get me, you hairy bastard!" and "It's me you want, you son of a bitch!"  I won't reveal what happens next, but let's face it -- if you find yourself in a monster movie, perhaps those are not the best things to say to the monster.

Eventually, however, the survivors finally regain their motor skills and manage to put a locked door between themselves and the voracious beast.  Later they are able to subdue him as well, at the cost of more lives -- but an autopsy reveals that he hasn't been eating them after all.  So why did he abduct them one by one?  Where has he been taking them? 

The mystery deepens when the astronauts venture from the ship to discover that it is surrounded by an impenetrable glasslike barrier, and their night-vision goggles reveal strange alien beings creeping around in the darkness beyond.  The most likely conclusion reached by the captain and what's left of his crew is that they are the subjects of some ghastly experiment -- but at this point, the only thing they know for sure is that they must somehow escape from the barrier and strike back at the aliens with whatever means they have available. 

Obviously, it's reasonable to assume that a movie called WAR OF THE PLANETS might contain elements similar to films like WAR OF THE WORLDS or BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, with entire civilizations waging spectacular war against one another, but what it all boils down to in the end is this small skirmish between the space colonists and the aliens in a remote location near Las Vegas.  (The original title was TERRARIUM.) 

The filmmakers do their best with a very low budget (originally $27,000, but with added special effects reportedly donated free of charge by former STAR TREK:VOYAGER and BABYLON 5 visual effects artists who became fans of the movie during a two-week run at a Las Vegas theater!), and despite the cardboard sets, videogame-level special effects, an uneven cast of volunteer actors, and some unintentionally amusing dialogue ("Your hair looks the same whether it has cryo-fluid in it or not" "That's what they tell me"), it's sort of a fun movie to watch if you're in the right mood. But I'd suggest renting WAR OF THE PLANETS before adding it to your permanent DVD collection or presenting it to that special someone on their birthday.  It's no ROCKETSHIP XM.

Buy it at

Here's our two-part interview with Mike Conway:
Part One
Part Two


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