Quentin Tarantino’s Deathproof need no longer be sad and alone on your DVD shelf. Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror – Extended and Unrated (Two-Disc Special Edition) streets October 18, completing the one-two-punch release of the directors’ Grindhouse double feature.
Separating these two schlock-fests begs the question, which one’s better? Don’t ask me. I didn’t catch Grindhouse in theatres, and haven’t gotten around to Deathproof on DVD. All I can tell you is Planet Terror throws down 105 minutes of mindless, campy and gory fun. So pop your lid, take out your brain and enjoy. But don’t leave that brain unattended, ’cause there be zombies about.
In Planet Terror, a rag-tag bunch of folks take on a legion of zombies created by the release of a bio-chemical weapon. Rose McGowan (The Black Dahlia) is Cherry, a go-go dancer whose bad evening becomes a terrifying night when zombies attack her, making a meal out of her leg. Thankfully, her ex-boyfriend, El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, Six Feet Under), is back in town, ready to take charge if he can only get the cops off his back. No one explains why, but those cops don’t want El Wray anywhere near a gun, even when a horde of zombies attacks the police station. Later we see what El Wray can do with just a pair of knives, and we understand the cops’ reticence. El Wray is a dangerous man. And when zombies are taking over the world, he’s just the guy you want on your side.
There’s more to it, but I’d hate to spoil the fun of discovering just how the other stars, like Marley Shelton (The Last Kiss), Josh Brolin (Into the Blue), Michael Biehn (Aliens), Naveen Andrews (Lost), Quentin Tarantino (From Dusk Til Dawn) and Bruce Willis (Die Hard) fit into Rodriguez’s ode to exploitation b-movies.
Unfortunately, Planet Terror isn’t quite fun from start to finish. The film has its share of lulls, and there are plenty of gags present “just because,” as we learn from Rodriguez on the commentary and in the bonus materials. There were a lot of disparate ideas and one-offs the director has been wanting to fit into one of his flicks for some time, and he threw the whole lot into this zombie fest just because he could. The result is uneven, but there are enough great moments to keep viewers interested.
Frankly, the best part of Rodriguez’s half of Grindhouse isn’t found anywhere in Planet Terror‘s 105-minute running time. The real highlight is his mock trailer for Machete, which opens for the main event. Starring Danny Trejo (Once Upon a Time in Mexico) as Machete, a Mexican day labourer-slash-hired killer and Cheech Marin (Tin Cup) as a shotgun-toting priest, Machete is the best, campiest trailer you’ll ever see. In fact, it seems to me that this is the film Rodriguez should have made instead of Planet Terror.
Presented on two discs, with the feature film on disc one in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format, Planet Terror‘s video quality is a tough case to judge. You’re most likely aware that the filmmakers intentionally deteriorated their Grindhouse films to get that old film reel look. While it was shot digitally, and could have been near-perfect, Planet Terror is instead all over the place with a dizzying array of intentional film artifacts. The special part is that since these were applied on purpose, Rodriguez could pick and choose which artifacts to apply and when to do so. As he explains in the bonus materials, the director took full advantage of this situation, using the deteriorations to enhance all sorts of moments in Planet Terror, from zombie attacks to the claustrophobic elevator scene when Tarantino’s character begins to antagonize the female leads. It’s a cool aesthetic that definitely helps create the viewing experience Rodriguez was going for, but it’s certainly not something you’ll use to show off your new 50″ plasma.
Main audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it forgoes the deterioration of the visuals for a primo surround sound experience. Planet Terror‘s audio is big, loud and moody, making viewers honorary deputies in the battle to survive the hordes of flesh-eating zombies. From the mouth-watering sounds of zombies chowing down on tasty brains to big explosions and Cherry’s iconic and devastating machine-gun leg, your system will have plenty to do all around.
DD 5.1 audio is also available in Spanish, while subtitles are offered in English and Spanish.
This two-disc special edition release offers up a zombie’s feast of special features, with plenty to sink your blackened, rotting teeth into. Here’s the rundown:
- Audio Commentary: by director Robert Rodriguez, who consistently strikes a fine balance between discussing the technical aspects of his film and the stories behind the Grindhouse production. An excellent track.
- Audience Reaction Track: this silly bit of fun offers the chance to watch Terror Planet in the comfort of home with the ambient noise of the theatre experience. Get ready to laugh, groan and cheer your way through the film with this boisterous crowd.
- 10-Minute Film School: Robert Rodriguez’s specialty is combining old-school tricks with modern techniques, and breaking it all down for the layman. Running about 11 minutes, this featurette is basically “Making Planet Terror For Dummies.”
- The Badass Babes of Planet Terror: running about 10 minutes, this featurette is all about Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton and Fergie, who played the film’s tough female characters (less-so Fergie, who makes an early, zombie-induced exit).
- The Tough Guys of Planet Terror: like the babes featurette, this one runs through the important male characters, spending the most time on Freddy Rodriguez, the film’s mysterious bad boy. Since there are more male characters, this piece clocks in longer, at about 16 minutes.
- Casting Rebel: this is a shorter featurette about Rodriguez’s decision to cast his own son as the film’s lone child character. Here we learn that the director shot two versions of the film, the theatrical version in which his son is killed, and an alternative in which the boy survives. Rebel still has no idea he dies in the official version.
- Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: this one’s all about the stunts of Planet Terror, which are plentiful. Nice to see the actors, especially Rose McGowan, were so eager to take on the tough stuff.
- The Friend, the Doctor and the Real Estate Agent: a shorter piece about the three friends/acquaintances Rodriguez cast in the film, and how the non-actors pulled off their roles.
As my first taste of the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse project, this Planet Terror two-disc special edition has whet my appetite for more of its schlocky, so-bad-it’s-good entertainment. The film might not be the best thing ever, but the discs’ excellent bonus materials raise this release to must-buy heights. Be warned, though — Rodriguez says in the extras that there will eventually be a double-dip release packed with even more of the Grindhouse experience.