Filmed in California in 1977, PLANET OF DINOSAURS by one-shot director James K. Shea is a labor of love made by science fiction fans for science fiction fans. Influenced by such important SF sources as STAR TREK, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, and PLANET OF THE APES and shot at legendary movie location Vazquez Rocks, PLANET OF DINOSAURS is a real treat for anyone interested in low-budget miniature and stop-motion effects.
Jim Aupperle and Stephen Czerkas, credited with special visual effects, also worked on FLESH GORDON and Filmation’s Saturday-morning SF series JASON OF STAR COMMAND; Aupperle still works on Hollywood effects films (DRAG ME TO HELL). Doug Beswick, who did the stop-motion, went on to THE TERMINATOR, ALIENS, and EVIL DEAD II. Two-time Oscar nominee Jim Danforth (THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO) painted the mattes. Elsewhere, the credits are filled with names recognizable to exploitation fans: gaffer Paul Hipp (cinematographer on THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT), camera operator Ron Garcia (director of THE HOT BOX), prop man William Malone (director of CREATURE), editor Maria Lease (who acted in the notorious LOVE CAMP 7). Cinematographer Henning Schellerup directed a lot of Sunn Classics pictures. The point being the makers of this independent effort weren’t in it for the money, since there was none, but for the love of filmmaking, which greatly shows.
The acting is stilted at best and horrid at worst. The story is nothing special either: the crew and passengers of the spaceship Odyssey crashland on an Earth-like planet populated by dinosaurs. Armed with only four laser rifles, the men and women of the Odyssey, along with corporate VP Harvey Shane and his sexy secretary Derna Wylde, try to survive the arid environment with a bunch of hungry creatures that don’t like sharing. A macho battle of wills ensues between by-the-book captain Louie Lawless and pragmatic James Whitworth (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) on the proper method of fighting dinosaurs that is neatly wrapped up by the finale.
There’s too much wandering around the desert and chatting, but there’s also a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a stegosaurus, a nod to Ray Harryhausen’s rhedosaurus from THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, and even a cool giant spider that terrorizes Pamela Bottaro. Dramatically inert but thrilling in its visual effects, PLANET OF DINOSAURS may not play for all tastes, but it’s a moderately effective slice of old-time pulp with love evident in every frame.
Cineworld Pictures, which handled mainly sex and kung fu pictures, released it theatrically with a PG rating in 1978. It later appeared on a no-frills full-frame Goodtimes DVD and a 20th (should have been 30th) Anniversary special edition disc on Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia label.