Voyage to a Prehistoric Planet
Director: Vladimir Yemelyanov

Director: Curtis Harrington
(as "John Sebastian")

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
(as "Derek Thomas")

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Voyage to a Prehistoric PlanetRoger Corman's company bought the rights to a Soviet Russian film Planeta Burg (Planet of Storms aka Cosmonauts on Venus, 1962) which they dramatically re-edited & dubbed WITH a trumped-up story TO fit the images. They added a couple characters including a scientist played blandly by an aging Basil Rathbone, the extra characters communicating with the characters from the Soviet footage exclusively over radios.

Unexpectedly it added up to a fairly reasonable science fiction cheapy. The space ship models & especially the space station Texas are very well done; we even see people walking about on the space station, rather than mere cut-aways from characters to models.

There's a military moonbase where Rathbone radios out of, & they have sent ships to explore Venus. On board one of the ships is Robot John (not as cool as Robbie the Robot, but still cool), a handful of astronauts in the best-designed space suits from any film of the era, & an extra patched-in character (Faith Domergue) who remains in orbit so that she too need never interact except on com system with the Soviet cast.

The Soviet actors are given bogus credits to disguise that they're Russian (Gennadi Vernov is naively romantic Andre, Georgi Tejkh is spooky-gazing Kern, Georgi Zhzhyonov is Hans, & Vladimir Yemelyanov is the stony-visaged as Commander Lockhart), even though now & then we glimpse Russian lettering on the ships.

Voyage to a Prehistoric PlanetLots of hoky but effective stuff events happen while on Venus. They hear a siren call that sounds like a woman, but they never find the source of the music, which remains a mystery until it's revealed in a most poetic fashion to us viewers in a coda after the astronauts have left Venus.

An astronaut survives the attack of a man-eating flower or anemone. There's a battle with guys in man-sized dinosaur suits, referred to as lizard-men. They take a blood sample from the tale of a nearly motionless brontosaurus. Photos of actual lizards are intercut with minimally animated stop motion dinosaurs.

Their air-car is attacked by a silly looking pterodactyl, forcing the explorers to take refuge at the bottom of the Venusian ocean, where they find a ruby-eyed idol as evidence of an ancient civilization. Robot John saves two astronauts' lives & is later sacrificed during a volcanic explosion & his tearful inventor laments John as a true friend.

After these many colorful events everyone except Robot John returns to the main ship in orbit & take off home for Earth's moonbase. Considering the patchwork of English-speaking & dubbed Russian actors, two grades of filmstock, & a story at least partially written as a retrofit, the end result is a better-than-shlock low budget sci-fi adventure very easy to enjoy.

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric WomenBut a couple years later, for reasons I've not found recorded for posterity, Corman's company released an alternative version retitled Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women (1968). It has also been known as The Gill Women of Venus & though they have no gills there is one scene that insinuates they can remain under water long stretches at a time.

This one has a few extra rockship models & a newsreel-style opening about how the inevention of the wheel led to space craft & colonization of space. When the Soviet cosmonauts dubbed to become American astronauts reach Venus, less happens than in the previouis version because cuts were made to provide screen time with a parallel story about the local inhabitants, this new footage being Peter Bogdanovich's directorial debut.

Spliced in at intervals are a tribe of telephathic beach bunny babes (led by the film's top-billed Mamie Van Doren) who wear blond wigs & seashells as bras. They are not "prehistoric" women either in appearance or as presented by the minimalist story. They are the remnants of an ancient society which apparently reproduces bewigged blonde babes by parthenogensis since their are no men.

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric WomenThe Soviet cast exploring the planet & the Venusian babes never meet & the film footage matches badly. Periodically there'll be a cut away to the babes who are watching the astronauts without being seen. One of the astronauts who narrates in Peter Bogdanovich's voice mentions he feels as though he's being watched.

When the astronauts kill Tera the Pteradactyl whom the beach babes worship, they use their telekenetic powers of prayer to cause a super-storm, a volcanic eruption, & an earthquake striving to destroy the killers of their god. But only Robot John is killed & the humans get off the planet unscathed. After the astronauts leave, the beach babes salvage ruined Robot John & set him up as their new idol, replacing the slain pterodactyl they used to worship.

It's my guess the first edit of the Soviet footage did not make sufficient money to pay all its costs, & Roger Corman was nothing if not profit-conscious. Being surprisingly well done wasn't good enough to insure Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet's success. So it was done a second time, less well, but with the sexploitation angle spliced in for Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women. It was can be a disconcerting experience to watch both versions back-to-back, but if only one were to be bothered with, it should be the one with the unnecesary addition of Basil Rathbone rather than the unnecessary addition of Mamie van Doren.

Planet of StormsThe original Planeta Burg has had subtitled distribution from Sinister Cinema, but it appears not to be the complete film. In it's entirety it is longer than either of the Americanized re-edits & was a huge commercial hit in Russian & Iron Curtain countries of its day as well as in some western block countries. Because the added footage in the American versions is inferior to the original, it is too bad the original is not well known in the west.

The purpose of the film was partially propogandistic as Russia was quite rightly proud of their space program. In order to insure that space travel was presented to dramatic, romantic, & political advantage, a great deal of effort went into the model work & design of spaceships & space station. Beyond making a good impression, however, it is surprisingly devoid of propoganda in the sense of promoting communism.

To compare this vision of space exploration to those devised by Stanley Kubrik for 2001 Space Odyssey (1968) it is impossible to believe Kubrik never saw some version of Planeta Burg, which would seem to be the granddaddy of "romantic realist" space craft & space stations in the majority of science fiction cinema to follow.

For more dinosaurs, see:
Teenage Caveman (1958)

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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