Planet Terror (2007)

Planet Terror is better than Death Proof. That needs to be said, though it would mean more if Death Proof weren't shit. Planet Terror is the much more enjoyable half of Grindhouse, although bizarrely it's also the less coherent half - and that's no mean feat. The meagre plot wanders all over the place, vital scenes are (deliberately) missing, and the characters are mostly as developed and nuanced as cardboard cut-outs; in terms of narrative, structure, and general ability to hold together, Planet Terror is a hopeless mess. But at least it's not boring.

The thing about Planet Terror, though, is that the original idea for the Grindhouse double bill - to use expensive digital effects in an attempt to recreate some of the atmosphere of the exploitation movies of years gone by - is horribly flawed. It's a joke. And it's a one-dimensional joke that's really only funny to the two filmmakers who came up with it. Planet Terror and Death Proof are really just attempts by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino to out-wank one another - to use more clichés and in-jokes than the other, to show off their extensive knowledge of the less respectable genre films in existence, to amuse themselves onscreen. And while an intentionally bad movie isn't quite the same thing as an unintentionally bad movie, it still isn't anything like a good movie.

What makes it all so, so much worse is that both Death Proof and Planet Terror had potential. Each of them could have been made into a decent action/horror movie if they'd only been played straight: the first half of Death Proof is great, and should have been restructured into a real movie, while Planet Terror was littered with brilliant ideas and excellent moments that couldn't really stand up after all the shit that was piled on top of them. Neither Tarantino nor Rodriguez is really a bad director. It's just that instead of applying their talents with any seriousness, they've reached a point in their careers where they can release movies that are nothing more than pointless chunks of self-indulgence and expect to get away with it.

Hasn't really worked, though, has it? Grindhouse flopped in America; the re-edited Death Proof flopped in the UK; and the re-edited Planet Terror has had such a low-key release you'd have to be actively looking to know it was out at all. Originally, each movie was around 90 minutes long, which was already too long for a grindhouse/exploitation movie. The re-edited versions are even longer, making them far, far too long for anyone not to notice that the joke has worn very thin indeed. The fake movie trailers that were supposed to be sandwiched between the two movies unfortunately highlight exactly how lacking in content Death Proof and Planet Terror are - they could each have been effectively edited down into 5 minute trailers that would be just as full of cool images as the feature-length versions, and virtually nothing would be lost in the process. Except the admittance fee.

Film students will inevitably have a field day with both movies, and their lack of mainstream appeal will probably only increase the wank value, but as films in their own right - well, it's not even that they fail, is it? It's that they weren't ever trying. And that's just not good enough.

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