Well, here's something that detractors from the film 300 will hold up in evidence against it - Planet Terror's Blu-ray release actually showcases two versions of the film; the first, the scratchy, glitchy, warped-out, frame-skipping miasma that was intended all along, and then we are treated to a scratch-free version that maintains the image, with only a couple of occasions of pseudo-print damage (the recovery from the missing reel sequence), in proper, obvious 1080p. Both are presented in the re-configured 1.85:1 image, taken from the original Double Feature's 2.35:1 and encoded here via MPEG-4.
Dealing with the “original” version first, then. What we have here is an image that has been deliberately altered and tampered-with post-production. Grain fluctuates from scene to scene from almost non-existent to pure infestation, colours warp and speckles, scratches, lines, flickers etc proliferate to mimic the poor quality, worn-out and degraded prints that made Grindhouse movies such a visually (and well as thematically) grubby affair. All done digitally and to the exacting approval of the makers, this version has moments when the contrast veers out of control, detail wobbles and we get those awful green-warps surrounding the edges of characters and buildings to denote an intensely out of focus and colour-jacked picture. There is even the infamous moment when the film appears to burn and melt away in the projector, coffee-staining the screen for a spell.
Of course, all this meddling does make it somewhat difficult to measure the actual quality of the transfer. But, as far as I can remember from the cinema experience that I had with this movie, everything seems perfectly present and correct. The colours, when they are allowed to be, are strong, although the blood can appear in variable shades of spectacular crimson to the deepest, darkest black. And, speaking of blacks, these again veer from thick and impressive, to washed-out and beleaguered. Detail, at times, is actually very good. Things that I noticed were eyelashes, some wounds, eyes and hair especially, which, in some shots, looked finely rendered in the conventional hi-def manner. I didn't notice anything particularly “new” to this image in the way of transfer errors. But, then again, even if there are any, they would probably only add to the whole disrupted, mucked-about-with experience.
Then we get the “Scratch Free” version. Well, this is different kettle of fish entirely. Highly colourful and vibrant, the image is sharp, clean and crisp. But, if anything, this added clarity, better colour and overall stability of the scratch-free version detracts from the intended experience. Suddenly everything looks too clean, too fake and too over-produced. The difference between the two, to put it in a genre-movie context, is like moving from the original print of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Night Of The Living Dead to almost anything by Stuart Gordon or Brian Yuzna, such as Reanimator or From Beyond. The image is a fine one, though, and makes for an interesting comparison. Suddenly the blood is bolder and the wounds more explicit. Exploding heads offer much more detail and the whiskers on Fahey's now-jowelly face stand out a whole lot more. Muzzles-flashes, police lights and neon signs have more scintillating dynamics. There is more depth to the image, though this is still compromised by the style of the film itself, which doesn't necessarily lend itself to a broad canvas that invites you in, its overt cartoonic nature acting as a barrier to vivid three-dimensionality. Although, we now get a much more profound 3D effect when Cherry swings her gun-leg around and various other weaponry is thrust at the camera.
So, at least you get the choice. Personally, I prefer the wretched, scorched-out look, myself (just ask the wife) as it totally fulfils the Grindhouse set of aesthetics, but you could also stake a claim that watching the movie in its unblemished condition is a whole new experience.
The “original” version of Planet Terror arrives furnished with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, whilst the scratch-free version carries a DD 5.1 track.
The TrueHD definitely has more presence, but this is still not an audio treat that has been created to wow you with excessive dynamics and intense wraparound immersion. This is still a very good track, however. First of all, the score from Rodriguez and Revell is energetically positioned and certainly adds oodles of both menace and cool. The music is also spread quite widely across the soundscape and the sexy taunt of the sax always hits the spot. Rodriguez's Carpenter-esque vibe comes over well, with some delightfully pulsing synth cues that throb through the speakers.
But Planet Terror is also a film with guns. Lots of guns. And these guns have a tendency to go off ... frequently. The lossless track presents this ballistic display with verve and evidences a fair amount of separation and steerage as bullets are strafed across us with smooth panning and individual gunshots are acoustically directed from source to destination with pleasing accuracy. Shattering glass is okay, though nothing too amazing and there is some attempt at smaller, flirtier effects such as hypos nipping into flesh or whizzing through the air, or gobbets of brain-matter being wrenched free from skulls, knives slicing through infected hides and the cracking of a thermometer between someone's teeth etc. The crunch of Dakota's anaesthetised fingers is squirm-inducingly rendered too. Dialogue is always discernable and clear no matter what type of bombardment is whistling around it.
The bass level could be a tad deeper, though. We have explosions - big ones, I mean, and not just heads taking bullets - that have some reverb and power, but Planet Terror's track doesn't go overboard with this. The revving of engines and the crashing of vehicles are also bolstered by the sub though, once again, this is good but not great. The floorboards and the neighbours won't be distressed. There's a good few instances of rear support that come into play, as well. One particular effect, a second before a certain character's head flies in every conceivable direction emanates from the rear right as the round is fired from some distance behind you. But the sound effect is a little confusing and the delay before impact just that second too long. I only say this because, to me, it sounded like somebody thumping on our front door - enough to make me go out and investigate. And even playing the moment back again, just to make sure, made me think the same thing had happened again! It is not a fault, mind you - just a strangely sounded and timed effect.
Overall, this is a robust track that is perfect for the film it accompanies. There is definitely better audio out there but, even if this seems a tad too frontally-based considering the wealth of gunfire, explosions and all-round chaos on display, Planet Terror offers a sturdy and exciting experience with its TrueHD.
As we already know, this release carries both the Scratched and Un-scratched versions of the movie ... and I think it is best to view the cleaned-up alternative as an extra feature and not as the main presentation. Planet Terror was always intended to look wrecked.
The full trailer for the mock-film Machete, starring Danny Trejo in the title role of the scarred super-assassin out for revenge against a corrupt tycoon who set him up. Mucho violence ensues in the coolest of uber-cool trailers. A film that demands to be made, folks, Machete would be one of the dumbest actioners of all time but would certainly bring the house down. Also before the Feature Presentation actually commences we get those naff hallucinogenic 70's graphics telling us that the Feature Presentation is about to commence. It's great, honestly. If only we could have had the Pearl And Dean jingle as well.
Robert Rodriguez commits himself to a Commentary Track that is packed with trivia and nods to the filmic references and in-jokes that you may have missed. He also tells us how he came to cast his eclectic characters and how, quite sincerely, he was prompted and inspired more by the actors, themselves, than by anything he had actually written down in his initial screenplay. Naturally he turns his attention to the look and feel of the film but he is much too savvy to simply bore us with technical details. A cool, gregarious and quite unrelenting track, folks.
And also on Disc 1, we are bestowed the dubious delights of an Audience Reaction Track. Now this, naturally, is culled from an American audience. Had it been a British track it would no doubt have been virtually silent except for the sound of patrons telling other patrons to “Be quiet!” all the time, and the frequent blurting of ring-tones. As it stands - and I have not actually listened to the whole thing, you understand - we get to hear cheering, whooping, mass laughter and the odd expletive as the onscreen carnage and heroics gets the communal adrenaline flowing. Quite a novelty actually ... but there were still too many lulls along the way to keep me entertained. But what a ridiculously clever idea, eh?
Disc 1 is capped-off with BD-Live.
Disc 2 houses the featurettes.
The Badass Babes Of Planet Terror (11 mins) is a revealing look at, well, the ladies on offer. We meet the heroines, or anti-heroines, if you prefer. Rose McGowan discusses her view on wielding a machine-gun for a leg, whilst Rodriguez maintains that most of Cherry's personality came from the things that McGowan said and the attitude that she carried. Marley Shelton shows us her amazingly pliable wrists (!) and this gives us some insight into how she managed to pull off the tricky “dead hands” manoeuvre of getting into her car. The Crazy Babysitter Twins, Rodriguez's nieces from Venezuela, show off their shooting skills and Stacy Ferguson reveals the bite on her shoulder that an over-exuberant Tarantino gave her whilst portraying a roadside zombie.
All things being equal, we then get to meet from the Guys Of Planet Terror in a slightly longer featurette at 16 minutes. Most of the dudes get to shout about their respective characters. Josh Brolin argues that career moves don't matter when you're having this much fun. Rodriguez spills the beans about his namesake, Freddie, working out like crazy to try to fit the bill as an action hero, and also how he wore his own jacket throughout the entire production because they couldn't find a better one. Tom Savini recalls how he got the part to play doofus Deputy Tolo, and the double-act of Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey sit and reminisce about how their careers have kept pace one another before they finally got the chance to work together. A fair bit of time is given over to Tarantino's sick puppy squaddie-rapist, and he does confirm his unmistakable enthusiasm for playing such satirical psychos. Naveen Andrews crops up and Michael Parks does some improv to add spice to Rodriguez's script so that he winds up as Dakota's daddy. El Mariachi, himself, Carlos Gallardo was also roped-in to the production as well as Rodriguez's own son, Rebel, who gets to play Dakota's insect-loving son and has his own little five-minute featurette called Casting Rebel which follows on from this. Sadly, we don't get to hear from Bruce Willis, but his involvement is certainly discussed. Throughout all of the fun trivia and pop quiz EPK on display, Rodriguez and Tarantino provide an almost constant babble about the making of the film as they sit together and crack funnies at a furious rate of fire. Although only brief, these pieces still provide plenty of easygoing information about the creativity and the freedom that was encouraged on set.
Sickos, Bullets And Explosions: The Stunts Of Planet Terror is a 13-minute on-set glimpse into the wire-work, squib-effects, fireballs and all-round ruckus that Rodriguez wrought in bringing the film to fruition. Showcasing, primarily, the wild explosive leap that Rose McGowan, as Cherry, makes as the military base goes incendiary at the end, this also introduces us to the people who make such crazy things possible. Weapons and fight training are also covered and, even though this is the kind of thing that may bore some people to tears, I loved it and wish that it had gone on for a lot longer. It is also somewhat refreshing to be able to listen to someone other than either Rodriguez or Tarantino for a change.
The Friend, The Doctor and The Real Estate Agent is a 6-minute examination of how Rodriguez drafted in some of his friends to play various characters in the movie because they, in real life, are such bizarros. The funny thing is that two of them - the viral doctor with the hideous images on the screen behind him and the guy who runs the Go-Go joint that Cherry leaves at the start - both struggled to literally play themselves as Rodriguez wanted. I like this stuff. It's daft and largely irreverent, but this is exactly how exploitation pics were made - friends, colleagues, family members and people off the street who just looked or acted weird and/or cool - and Rodriguez is simply following the genre etiquette.
The Ten-Minute Film School (actually over 11 mins) is a look at the CG work that was done on the movie, such as Cherry's peg-leg and the more constant, though actually quite intricate wrecking of the movie's image.
The package is finalised with the film's International Trailer and a poster gallery.
Excellent stuff, folks. Planet Terror, the most accessible, most enjoyable and most repeatable entry in the Grindhouse experiment comes to Blu-ray in its nastier extended form and packs in a clean and (mostly) damage-free image as well as its original scratchy, warped-out look. The film is a glorious, rip-roaring send-up that straddles the savvy, pop-referential side of things with the deliriously subversive to create a gory spectacle that is bravura, comical and eminently crowd-pleasing. About as serious as O'Bannon's Return Of The Living Dead, but upping the gore almost exponentially, Rodriguez's second stab at sleazy, gutter-level horror is a darkly simple joy. Chock-full of wicked imagery and shock-concepts, the film has already won a demented place in schlock gore-shriekers' hearts. Yet it still belongs in that niche bracket that serious horror/action fans struggle to fully embrace. Basically, it takes the proverbial out of a much-loved genre. Yet, it does so with such free-wheeling gusto that it would be starched mind indeed that wasn't swept away on its torrent of idiotic, yet highly accomplished zeal.
The Blu-ray release is an excellent one. The Grindhouse image is real treat, which is obviously a strange thing to consider when we hi-def lovers want amazing depth and detail from our transfers, but it is certainly faithful to the original idea, and that is exactly what counts. The extras are fun and the overall package is glued together with such ambitious enthusiasm that it is difficult not to succumb to its contagious bonhomie.
An excellent release and highly recommended.
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