Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror

Planet Terror (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Robert Rodriguez
viewed: 04/11/07 at CinéArts @ Empire Theater, SF, CA

I had a bit of a conundrum about how to log this movie, as it has been released as the first half of Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s homage to late 1970’s to early 1980’s trash-pop-genre cinema, something that Tarantino actually made a bit of a nod to in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) with some intentionally “distressed” film stock (probably all digitally “distressed”) and some camp interruptions meant to imply the experience of watching films in low budget cinemas of the period.  The Grindhouse experience is more than the two films, with four or five “fake” trailers and some theater promotions and advertisements.  But I have read that the Grindhouse experience, the double feature, hasn’t been as successful as they’d hoped and they are considering releasing the films separately.  So, anyways, to make a long introduction short, I’ve decided to write about the two films separately.  After all, they are two different films and it’s probably more of a disservice to Rodriguez to mitigate the badness of Tarantino’s film with the near pure glee of his own film.

Planet Terror, a zombie flick, actually really captures the spirit of the films to which the homage is intended, a straightforward action film with camp and comedy but overall, despite its relative ridiculousness, takes itself seriously.  It just works this way.

Actually, I found the “distressed” film stock a bit annoying.  The only reason that the old films were tattered and scratched was from overplay, going through the projector too many times and not being cared for.  The filmmakers of the day were obviously trying to deliver as quality a product as they could.  And the deleted scene (“lost reels” according to both films) was dumb.

But let’s just say, Planet Terror is great stupid fun.  It’s action, explosions, spurting blood, gruesome gore, and some over-the-top stuff that just works.  It’s actually, I think, perhaps Rodriguez’s best film to date.  Even before heading to the theater to see this, I noted to a friend that Rodriguez can be fun but he’s almost completely shallow and meaningless.  There isn’t a lot to analyze in his work, other than his use of Latino actors and cultural references, which is cool and everything, but not all that interesting to talk about.

Rose McGowan, who I’d seen in a couple things before, is the one whose career will be most positively effected by this film.  She looks fantastic and she’s pretty right on as Cherry, the go-go dancer (not stripper), who ends up losing a shapely leg to hungry zombies, but eventually gets equipped with a table leg and ultimately, and iconically, with a machine gun.  This is the visual element that defines this movie and will stand for time to come.  It’s hilarious, silly, campy, sexy, and somehow, it’s fucking genius.

In a sense, that pivotal image and action defines the qualities of Rodriguez’s film.  It’s just really fun and works fully and entertainment.  It’s not deep, even with its little political aside at the end, critiquing the US government.  I’d enjoyed Sin City (2005), and I thought that he’d actually managed to find his niche, and I think this film furthers that.  He shouldn’t be making stupid kids movies, but should keep channeling his action genre sensibility.  I recall seeing Desperado (1995) and totally enjoying it for similar reasons, but this really, really crystalizes the things that make Rodriguez an interesting filmmaker.

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