This Is Proteo Theater

WILD, WILD PLANET (Antonio Margheriti, 1966) is a weird, trippy kind of thing. The sci-fi world presented is fairly familiar, at first glance — the rockets, the domes, the rotating space station — but all the narrative and character beats are either wrong, or absent, or hideously effed up. Impossible to work out who it’s meant to be about — whenever a character is introduced, they either get shrunk into a suitcase and are never seen again, or make so little impression you don’t recognise them next time they turn up.

Why did the plot seem a jumbled abstraction, a succession of unrelated and incomprehensible incidents? Is it possible we only thought we were watching the film and were merely facing in its direction?


Who needs drugs? The sterile dubbing, stiff performances, ludicrous futuristic dancing (a favourite sf movie trope), preposterous props, costumes and makeup (the girl with the coordinated eyeshadow and binoculars was a nice touch) induce all the confusion, alienation and gnawing anxiety you could ever hope to achieve with the ill-advised ingestion of petroleum byproducts or poisonous berries.

I can’t really show you the funny stuff in framegrabs because much of it requires motion to bring out its humour, like the space disco and the sleek jetcars that trundle along at 4.3 mph. I must say, it’s somewhat ambitious — instead of the usual limited supply of cheap, unconvincing stuff, this sixties scifi movie offers up a VAST ARRAY of cheap, unconvincing stuff.

As in PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, all the people appearing on TV monitors are actually standing behind TV-shaped windows, causing extra amusement. In what might be a clever touch, the conversations characters have using vid-call technology have all the stilted hesitancy you’d expect if one half of the conversation were prerecorded. How did they get them to do that? Just hired awful actors, I suppose. (Yet Franco Nero is among them.)

It’s really something. Terry Southern once said something about it taking a particular mixture of talents, non-talents and anti-talents to make a notably bad picture. Here we have something that’s at least as alien as FELLINI SATYRICON — a dismal, inhuman, unrecognizable and incomprehensible experience — while still giving every impression that what everyone wanted (I know, the intentional fallacy and all that) was to make an exciting sci-fi romp, a pop James Bond / Flash Gordon mash-up. But Jesus, it’s nightmarish.

One of the people the baddies try to put in their evil suitcase doesn’t go small enough, and is left a dwarf at the end of the picture, and the goodies laugh at him because he is a small man and therefore funny.

“It’s remarkable how much of this has come true,” I said to Fiona, “just while we’ve been watching.”

6 Responses to “This Is Proteo Theater”

  1. Scott Dwight Says:

    In the 1960’s I saw this as part of the most forgettable Saturday matinee I ever attended. It was paired with “They Came from Beyond Space.”

  2. Bits of TCFBS remain etched in my memory, but not necessarily accurately. I imagine a few bits of TWWP will likewise lodge there.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    The stuff with people on tv monitors actually being actors who stand behind tv-shaped windows reminds me of similar images seen in PROJECT MOONBASE (1953), which — like WILD WILD PLANET — was made with tv in mind. PROJECT MOONBASE had Robert Heinlein as a participant, but he later disavowed it.

  4. Heinlein in that era would have always made for dubious source material, since the movies would shy away from his more interesting ideas and his plywood he-man characters would fit right into a B-movie scenario.

    The director of that one is silent star and stuntman Richard Talmadge, not so much an actor who did his own stunts as a stuntman who did his own acting.

  5. chris schneider Says:

    One interesting idea that was kept in PROJECT MOON BASE was that the U.S. astronauts reported back to a Madame President. This took place in 1953’s notion of 1970, mind you.

  6. A nightmare vision of the future!

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