Planet Terror (UK - BD RB)
Chris checks out the Blu-ray release of Robert Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse...
Somewhere in a small Texan town a group of military types, under the command of Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis), are engaged in some shady dealings with a scientist called Abby (Naveen Andrews). Muldoon and his men are seeking a mysterious chemical referred to only as 'the shit', but when the deal goes south the chemical storage tanks are damaged and it is released into the atmosphere. At around the same time a go-go dancer by the name of 'Cherry Darling' (Rose McGowan) quits her job and ends up at the Bone Shack, a barbecue restaurant owned by JT (Jeff Fahey) and his brother, Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn). It is here that she runs into her ex-boyfriend 'El Wray' (Freddy Rodriguez), who offers to run her into town. On the way Cherry is attacked by a group of deformed creatures who make off with her leg, but when El Wray takes her to the local hospital he is arrested by the Sheriff, with whom he has some history.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin) and his abused anaesthesiologist wife Dakota (Marley Shelton) are treating a slew of townsfolk affected by an unknown illness. When Block discovers that his wife was going to leave him for her lesbian lover Tammy (Stacy Ferguson), he stabs her with her own anaesthetic needles and locks her in a cupboard until he can 'deal' with her. When he returns to the infected patients he finds that they have transformed into horribly disfigured, homicidal mutants with a penchant for human flesh! At around this time El Wray— having escaped police custody—arrives to save Cherry. After carving his way through the mutants, he and Cherry escape to the Bone Shack where they meet up with other survivors including Dakota, her father Earl McGraw (Michael Parks), her babysitters (the Avellan twins), JT, the Sheriff and his deputy (Tom Savini), where they must make a stand against the hoards of marauding 'sickos'.
This version of Planet Terror contains footage not seen in the version included in Grindhouse, but as the UK didn't get the full version I have never seen the original version. From what I understand the additional material consists of some additional dialogue and some added gore, which bumps the running time up by around ten minutes or so. Before you ask, the missing reel section of the film definitely hasn't been added back (probably because it was never filmed).
Oh where to begin? The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) is intentionally ugly, so traditional criticism simply doesn't apply. Film artefacts are everywhere, grain is excessive, the image is blurry, jumpy and generally looks like crap, but that's the point. If this were any normal release I would have to award an astoundingly low mark, but since this is the intended look of the film and the transfer is actually very faithful to the source material, it would be most unfair of me to do so. Looking at it from a purely aesthetic point of view, all of this muck is pretty hideous, but it actually assists Planet Terror in its attempts to honour the grindhouse genre. It might look like crap, but it's some of the most impressive crap I've ever seen. Despite Rodriguez's best efforts, colours are great, black levels are deep and detail is surprisingly good (no one needs to see Danny Trejo’s face in 1080p).
The disc also includes a 'scratch free' version of the film (1080/24p VC-1) that looks surprisingly good despite having a much lower bitrate. However, this version of the film doesn't have the same 'feel' as the dirty version, which is far better suited to the grimy, sleazy tone of the film. The scratch free version is just too glossy and 'nice', revealing its digital origins for all to see. With that said, it is still a nice addition to the disc if only for the opportunity it affords viewers to make a before and after comparison. In an age when people demand perfection from their home video releases it's odd to favour the soiled version of a film, but in this case I think it adds a huge amount to the viewing experience.
Oh, before I move on I feel I should address the aspect ratio. When exhibited theatrically as part of Grindhouse, Planet Terror was shown at 2.35:1 to match Tarantino's Death Proof segment. However, because it was shot digitally, the movie's original aspect ratio is actually 1.78:1, so you're effectively seeing more of what was filmed with this Blu-ray release. Had both films been released as a double feature I'd have cried foul on the aspect ratio, but since this is a stand-alone release I think it's fair to say that 1.78:1 is correct.
Momentum deliver both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks, along with an audience reaction track (more of which in the extras section). Like the video, the TrueHD track has been carefully 'broken' so that frequent pops and glitches can be heard throughout. Although all five channels come into play the mix is somewhat biased towards the frontal array, with the surround channels used to add depth and broaden the sound field. Although effective, I would have liked a little more surround action during the frequent moments of carnage, but I guess that would have gone against the 'grindhouse' concept. The use of ambient sound during quieter scenes is very effective though, crafting some genuinely creepy moments.
Bass is punchy without overpowering the other elements of the mix—the various guns sound especially satisfying—but I felt that the explosions could have done with a little more 'kick'. Dialogue could also have benefitted from a more prominent position in the mix, but everything is still audible for the most part. The score is a particular highlight; suitably sleazy and reminiscent of John Carpenter efforts of old (Carpenter was actually involved for a while). The aforementioned caveats aside, this is a very solid effort. I don’t believe that it’s up there with the best the format has to offer, but when you consider what Rodriguez and Tarantino set out to do with their respective projects, creating a more bombastic and aggressive track would have been contradictory.
The ‘scratch-free’ version of the film is accompanied by a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 640Kbps. It still sounds impressive, but obviously it’s lacking the fidelity of the lossless track. Given that most of the extras on the second disc are standard definition only, it would have been nice if the alternate version had been moved to that disc and given a lossless track (and a higher video bitrate), but alas it was not to be.
Audio Commentary: I own a couple of Rodriguez DVDs with commentary tracks ( From Dusk 'Till Dawn and Sin City) and he usually has some pretty interesting things to say. This track is no exception, with the director discussing the film’s origins (and Grindhouse in general), the differences between the theatrical and home versions of the film, shooting on a shoestring budget and the usual technical issues. It’s not his best track (probably because he’s not bouncing off of Tarantino), but it’s still worth checking out.
Audience Reaction Track: If you own the extended edition of Sin City you know what this is all about. Basically, it's just a track of people cheering along with the film and getting overexcited at the appearance of anyone vaguely famous. If anyone did this in my local cinema they'd get the cold hard stare down, so I have to assume that Americans are more tolerant of this sort of thing. However, if nothing else the track shows that there was an audience for the film.
Scratch-Free Version (01:41:48): As mentioned in the video section, the first disc includes a scratch-free version of the film. This is a nice addition as it allows you to see how the film looked before all of the dirt was added in post-production, but personally I prefer the original 'grindhouse' effect. It’s worth mentioning that the not all of the scratches are removed and the ‘Coming Attractions’ and ‘Machete’ trailer are not included with this version.
BD-Live: At the time of writing the BD-Live features are still not enabled, which is a bit useless when you consider that the set has been out for a week. Hopefully they’ll turn out to be something other than the lame trailers studios normally offer up.
10-Minute Film School (11:50 HD): Rodriguez's now customary film school featurette actually packs a hell of a lot of info into its short running time (although it does cheat the ten minute mark by a bit). If you ever wanted to know how they replaced Rose McGowan's leg with a machine gun or created the artificial print damage, this is the place to come. Curiously, the director mentions his 10-Minute Cooking School featurette on the upcoming Grindhouse DVD release. I wonder if we'll ever actually get to see it?
Badass Babes: The Girls of Planet Terror (11:49 SD): This featurette is all about, you guessed it, the lovely female stars of the film. I'll say one thing for Rodriguez; he knows how to pick 'em. Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton, Stacy 'Fergie' Furguson and the Avellan twins (Electra and, well, Electra) are all on hand to talk about their characters, along with Rodriguez and Tarantino. As an aside, I think it's quite telling how taken the director appears to be with Rose McGowan.
The Guys of Planet Terror (16:30 SD): I was a little disappointed to learn that this featurette was longer than the 'babes' one, but I guess there are more blokes in the film than women. As before, Rodriguez and Tarantino talk about the male cast members, who also show up to discuss their roles. Nothing against the fellas, but I was considerably more interested in the previous featurette.
Casting Rebel (05:38 SD): This is a short featurette that shows Rodriguez on-set with his real-life son, Rebel, who plays the part of Dakota Block's on-screen son, Tony. Although this is a bit of a vanity piece, it's clear Rodriguez has a lot of affection for his boy and it will be a cool memento for the two of them in years to come.
Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror (13:16 SD): This featurette takes us behind the scenes to meet the stunt team who ensure that the actors stay safe and look good while performing in some of the action scenes. We're also introduced (albeit briefly) to some of the stuntmen and women who fill in for the actors. To be honest I'd have liked there to be slightly more face time with the stunt people, but I guess we can't have everything.
The Friend, the Doctor and the Real Estate Agent (06:40 SD): This is a short featurette that, once again, basically does what it says on the tin. Rodriguez's friend Tommy Nix plays a paramedic call Nixer, his doctor Felix Sabates plays, well, Dr. Felix, and his realtor Skip Reissig plays Skip, the owner of the club where Cherry dances. I wonder if he needs someone to fix computers and criticise Blu-rays?
Planet Terror International Trailer (02:17 SD): Pretty self-explanatory this one, it's the film's international trailer... It was the trailers that got me excited about the whole Grindhouse thing in the first place, so it's nice to see it here, even if it's only for half of the original film as planned.
An International Poster Gallery: This is a still gallery containing a bunch of theatrical posters and stills from the film. I've never been particularly bothered with this sort of feature, but the completists will be most pleased by its inclusion.
Planet Terror is a hell of a lot of fun, with a mix of laughs and over-the-top gore to rival anything in the comedic-horror genre. Of course it's also an homage to grindhouse pictures of the seventies and eighties, but seeing as that whole scene passed me by I'm not particularly qualified to comment on whether it succeeds or fails in capturing the spirit of those shlock movies (I like to think it does though).
As for the disc, well I'm glad I held off on buying the DVD because this Blu-ray release is great. Rodriguez usually puts a lot of effort into his DVD releases and Planet Terror is no exception. A great transfer (albeit an unusual one), brilliant TrueHD soundtrack and entertaining extras make this an essential purchase for fans of the film and riotous, gooey movies in general.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 26th January 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentary, Audience Reaction Track, Featurettes, Ten-Minute Film School, Poster Gallery, Trailer, Scratch-Free Version
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Stacy Ferguson, Tom Savini, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan
Length: 106 minutes
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